Can critique exist in local press?
In the local press, the dailies, weeklies, and blogs, the presentation of music is treated differently, sometimes, than other arts and crafts. For art, film, and food, there are avenues for criticism. Film and food press are generally presented as a review of the product, where art is a mix of preview or review of an exhibition event. When looking at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tribune Review, Pittsburgh City Paper, and many transitory blogs, music is written about as a preview for a concert. The preview is essential to alert the audience to an event, but the preview has a limited ability to pass judgement on the event. Music is often described by comparison to other artists, reference to genre, maybe a lyric or two, and mood words. Background history is provided, but an in-depth critique seemingly cannot be accommodated by a preview.
Occasionally, a local music act warrants a feature article, which exists as a longer piece that combines the author’s thoughts, background information, and an interview. These types of articles provide better context for the environment that exists around the artist’s work, but often these types of articles are reserved for national acts with a larger audience.
Sometimes album reviews are published, but the dailies and weeklies lack either the audience, the time, the scope, or possibly the funding and page count to print in-depth album reviews. An extremely valuable role is fulfilled by the dailies and weeklies and that shouldn’t go away. There are arguments that the dailies and weeklies should take a more critical approach, but with the current climate of print media, it is an unrealistic expectation.
“but that doesn't mean they're not trying.” - tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE
With the rise of blog culture, there were spurts of review-heavy locally-minded blogs like Draw Us Lines and the initial iteration of Burghsounds.com. These sites focused on indie rock, folk, and rock. Burghsounds also provided a data-driven platform for all types of music to be catalogued and dispersed through automated social media inputs and feeds. Neither site is currently maintained. More often, the internet is a place for lists and pooled resources, which are beneficial like Nelson Harrison’s Pittsburgh Jazz Network e-mail list and website. Hughshows, which along with PJN and NakYouOut (which also covers non-music events), has been one of the most consistent presences. In the case of HughShows, the site has accumulated thousands of short-form interviews and live show photography. Pittsburgh New Music Net has consistently previewed classical/new music concerts. Sound Scene Express fulfills a number of functions - concert calendar, previews, short-form album reviews, short-form show reviews, but does not offer a comprehensive critique. There are resources for local music out there, but none of the existing platforms provide an in-depth analysis of the musical content, the context for the music, histories of scenes, and artist intent.
This is not a condemnation. Many of these sites are based on the passion of one person or a small team, much like daily and weekly papers at this point. With slim resources, written focus needs to cater, to some degree, to the market and truly depends on the interests and time of the writer. Since many of these blogs are passion projects, there is little to no funding, which also makes justification of the endeavor difficult. But that isn’t to say that the audience for music is not interested in critical music writing.
“I think that a more active documentation of local music would be fantastic; not just little reviews in the City Paper but thoughtful, articulate critiques, interviews, artful music videos, etc.” - Anonymous
“I think it would encourage a different kind of thoughtfulness about how we listen to things and a greater awareness of what exists and in what context it exists in.” - Anonymous
“there are a handful of blogs but activity can be sparse. i don't think there is a true source of someone who will sit down with a record or a live show and review it outside of a single quick listen through and write a paragraph of generalizations. it's rare to find a critic now that doesn't just treat it as a job and not as someone actually expressing their impression of a piece or performance.” - Bengt Alexsander