I’m Still Reading the OA Until They Ban Me from Doing It

Someone, and I won’t mention who, for fear that Smirnoff is going to start challenging folks to duels next, told me to skip ahead to the Grant Alden piece and it’s thought-provoking.  The stuff he writes on music criticism and what the role of a music critic does is extraordinary.  And then, as you might guess, from the tone this whole conversation has taken, it turns to a discussion of how the internet is ruining everything and writers who write on the internet are basically the cause for him having to work at a coffee shop.

And, of course, I both feel for paid writers who feel that way and am a little angry about it.  Does it suck that it’s harder for writers to get paid because so many people are giving it away for free on the internet?  Yeah, I think it sucks for writers who need to eat.

But I wish that we could talk about that without putting down people who write on the internet.  I mean, when I write about music, I’m not sitting there being all “Bwah ha ha!  I hope this means that Grant Alden’s children have to eat generic Pop Tarts!” and twirling my gigantic moustache.  I’m writing about music for the same reasons kids play stickball in the streets, because I love it and I love seeing people do it, and I want to share in that.

It’s hard to see what you’re doing because you’re inspired by the writing of someone like, say, Grant Alden or Marc Smirnoff, derided by those same people as somehow ruining what they’re doing.  Spoiling it for them.

I mean, who wants to be told that you’re fucking it up for the people who inspired you in the first place?

But, on the other hand, the world is changing.  Even if we all stopped writing and just left it to the people who have decided that it’s their turn to be the taste definers, the way that information is transimitted has changed and all the complaining about the internet in the world isn’t going to change that.

6 thoughts on “I’m Still Reading the OA Until They Ban Me from Doing It

  1. But they are special snowflakes because they get paid to be the shapers of what American tastes ought to be and therefore, they’re smarter than those of us who merely know what we like and want to tell others about it.

    Boo hoo, Mr. Writer, so you have to work in a coffee shop to make ends meet. You’re not entitled to a life of recondite scribblings and don’t try to put in on me that you need to dirty your hands with making lattes. Writers who support themselves and their families on their earnings are a rare commodity in any age. Good books sell poorly and overpriced low-circulation magazines don’t sell at all. I teach. Others edit, or hang drywall, or carry bags to the fourteenth floor. That has fuck-all to do with blogging (which is your friend, as it encourages writing, thinking, and the intelligent discussions that feed a life of the mind in a way that watching The Biggest Loser does not).

    I do not agree that it’s harder for writers to get paying gigs now because of the internet. I think that it’s probably a lot harder for writers who persist in trying to pretend that it’s the 1920s and they’re going to be the next Harold Ross, but maladaptive people never thrive in times of rapid change. I know of many people who are instead jumping in and at least making a sound supplemental income who would not have been able to get their foot in the door ten years ago. For example, there’s a big expansion in women writing about their daily lives. There’s a huge market for that. Mr. Cry in His Beer needs to address the fact that economically successful writers (as opposed to those who want you to suffer for their art) have to find the connection between what they feel compelled to write and a part of the public who is interested and willing to pay for what they do.

  2. Oh, gosh, can I defend Alden just a little bit here? He’s a tad scared of the internets and all, but I really didn’t pick up from his piece in the OA that he thinks he’s gone from being a critic to being a barista because of them. As a long-time reader of No Depression I think it’s clear that what pushed them from the printed page to the web was advertising money drying up. And that has more to do with the economy generally, the consolidation of record labels, the switch in music consumption from albums to single songs, all those trends which don’t necessarily have a thing to do with new technology, than it does with the fact that there are people all over the tubes opining about music for free.

    But the fact that — admit it — there’s a lot of really, really bad writing about music on blogs and websites that finds a bigger audience than the good music writing that can or could be found in (some) magazines and can be found on (some) blogs and websites, that fact <is sad. It’s especially sad for someone who wants to make a living writing about music, to be sure, but I can say as someone who just tries to find good discussions I can engage in that most of what’s out there is of the it sucks/it rocks/your [sic] a loser variety. And that’s what the majority of people seem to want to be involved with, instead of really digging into things.

    I don’t blame Alden for feeling a little blue about that. I do blame him for not being able to write about it without bringing in the personal poor-me element (and, ironically, isn’t that what some folks blame bloggers for doing?), which I think detracts mightily from the point he’s trying to make. But I know that I don’t want to have to spend my life googling to find the good music writing (and discussion) out there. Sigh.

  3. Yeah, rereading that, I was too harsh. I’ve been snowed in for a couple of days and it’s a blizzard outside right now and I will have to shovel out in a bit to go to a Hannukah lunch, so my milk of human kindness has curdled.

    Still, no one’s owed and it’s not blogging’s fault he’s not having the career he imagined when he got into the biz.

  4. Hmm, well, as someone who writes about music on the internet (plug!: http://www.hardcore-troubadours.com) I have hard time having any sympathy for Alden. Yes, there is a lot of bad writing on the net, and sure, it probably is diluting the entire pool, but on the other hand, many people have figured out how to use the internet to both make money and present decent writing. There’s no reason that Alden can’t be on the forefront, making both the internet and music writing better. He just chooses not too. I mean yes the new No Depression site is better, but it’s still not great and the old one sucked sweaty balls. It’s like no one at ND could be bothered to read the signs as media changed, they just steadfastly tried to force the old ways on us.

    I haven’t read the OA music issue yet, but my hackles are all up because Alden has always struck me as someone who would rather lament losing whatever he thought he was the top of, rather than trying to build new mountains to rule.

    Bleh, I need more coffee so I can make my insane ranting more clear.

  5. I guess it just hurts my feelings a little bit to be constantly reminded that some folks want good little readers who will just uncritically accept what’s read and gust over it, when I think the real compliment is that I read what they do and I want to try it for myself.

    Plus, I’d think that the rise of the internet would mean that more people in our own country are becoming really functionally literate (I think many people can read and write, but don’t but thanks to the internet, we have many more folks who do read and write) and that’s going to change the culture profoundly–if you have everyone online assuming that they are readers AND WRITERS.

    I don’t know. I should let sleeping dogs lay, but the thing that cracks me up about Alden’s piece is that he talks about how good music criticism builds a bridge between the reader and the music (a sentiment with which I fully agree) and my complaint about the OA is that, for me, there is little bridge-building, and yet the editor–who had to okay Alden’s piece–seems to think that’s an unfair criticism.

  6. I’m sorry, B, I love the internet and some of the things that I find on it (like your blog, for just one), but there is so much garbage out there that I can’t think it’s making more people functionally literate. Unless “LOL yuo suck” is functional literacy. But I think — hell, I know — that the internet can get conversations going that simply couldn’t have happened without it. Frivolous conversations, and half-baked conversations, and serious, thought-provoking conversations, including conversations about the very subjects Alden (and, presumably, Smirnoff) would like us to be addressing, and even meta-conversations about criticism and gate-keeping.

    I dunno … I struggle to understand this all. But I don’t think the issue for Alden and Smirnoff is all about who gets to say what’s good and what isn’t. I mean, I think they, like all of us, expect to have their minds changed and their eyes/ears opened by things other people say. But I think it may be that they’re so used to being the ones in charge of the conversation, the ones leading and directing it, that they can’t give that up to bloggers without something of a struggle of their own.

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