The days of the critic over the consumer are OVER.
Don’t think so?
You’re already done.
You just don’t know it yet.
That is, perhaps, the best way I know to honor what Seth Godin set out to do with Triibes – a precious online community coming to a close… Back to that in an upcoming braindump…
We professional critics, full-time appreciators of art (tip of the cap to High Fidelity) have but one thing to realize during these insane times – or, rather, if we are left to one thing: We are merely guides. That is an incredible gift in itself. However, we’re not wiser, greater, better, or superior in any way to our readers. They are absorbing information at the same rate as we (perhaps more-so) and the sooner you realize the paradigm shift you’ve convinced yourself didn’t exist in the age of Malcolm Gladwell, Bob Lefsetz, Seth Godin and Xeni Jardin – you’ll eventually understand it’s OK without your imaginary pedestal. When media had some control over the spread of information those privileged few voices that touched many at once over a page resonated deeper, even if they were shit, because the field was so small. Right now it’s infinite. Kids have a world of knowledge at the click of key strokes twenty-four hours a day. That’s here. It happened – crazy technological concepts we saw in science fiction films has materialized.
Think I’m trippin’? Maybe.
My boy Steven Rochlin was talkin’ to me today via his watch, and no, it wasn’t an Apple Watch (sorry – love you guys – but stop fuckin’ off BTW). There’s so much at our virtual grasp all the time, via pathways that used to be reserved for fuckin’ Capt. Kirk. It’s amazing and scary, but it is what it is. You think your readers/customers/tribe doesn’t live with the same pathways? The insane accident that lent a megaphone to a small number of media outlets at one time is part of technologies distant past. The New York Times no longer rules Sunday afternoons for the majority of daily readers. Do they still have a voice? Sure. And so do all of us. The thing that irks me lately, more-so than usual, are my peers who are so self-absorbed they imagine they’re some kind of celebrity. I’m speaking about the Hi-fi press in-particular here. None of us hi-fi and music critics are rockstars. Are you livin’ like Almost Famous? If you are, please ping me ASAP, so I can try your outlook and philosophy on life.
In the meantime…
The rest of us blessed with the privilege of experience in our hi-fi hobby, whether it be in the music production side, high-end playback, or as an artist, are lucky to be involved in the process. And many of us lose site of what a true privilege it is to live as a full-time critic, if you’re lucky enough to do so. I could be doing cement work like my friend Kevin (who’s a hero to me nonetheless for his service to his country), instead I get to evangelize about great sound and music. That’s a God damn blessing – as stupid as that may have read. Straight-up, and because of that, many of us need to acknowledge the crumbling of the walls or steps between critics and fans/users. That barrier, intentional or not, has been shattered to dust through evolution. As our outreach grew so did the pathways. If you think your advertisers or readers get something from banner ads at the moment you’re living in the past. Yes, you’re cashing a bigger check than me right now. But check in with me in five years. A dear friend of mine in the hi-fi press, who was lookin’ out for me (no hidden meaning here) once told me to literally “stop innovating and just monetize” – regarding one of my sites with partners. He was right. We’d be getting money and sticking to an editorial calendar there already. But we would’ve abandoned one of the core reasons we didn’t just monetize in the first place: We promised we’d try to approach everything we do there regarding music and audio journalism differently. We also know no matter how different it may seem it has roots to stuff Hp and John Atkinson did.
By the way: Larry Archibald – You played this game like a pimp 🙂
Oh, did my emoticon just offend your ego-driven literary intellect I-need-to-always-prove-I’m-the-smartest-one-in-the-room fragile sensibilities? I wish I could say I give a shit. Know why user reviews are effective? Because no matter how much experience we may have as the professional critic, that user took time out of their day, without earning a dime, in order to express how much they loved, hated, or didn’t think much of something. There’s generosity in that act, no matter what you think of their opinion. I’m not saying those of us engaged in the art of reviewing music and hi-fi gear should give it all away by the way: So nobody could make a living at this, but we’ve got to strive to be better in our self-expression. Pure and simple. We all need to shatter the pedestals that we inherited. We didn’t even build them, so it shouldn’t be a big fuckin’ deal to wrap your head around that. We all have voices, yes, that’s just the way it is, and there’s also room for all of us. However, there are a few fundamentals that are timeless, that come down to simple communication, that either build you a loyal, dedicated, energized readership, or drones in the midst of their daily fog: And the number one thing that comes to my mind is: Trust.
Don’t like what I like?
I can’t do anything about that. We’re all individuals, and our tastes may just be misaligned. That’s life. But I know in my gut so many more people deserve to be moved by their favorite music through an affective sonic experience, in addition to the sheer brilliance of the art itself. You know the look on someones face when you put your headphone rig on their dome? That look of bewilderment and joy at once. Many consumers haven’t had transformative experiences like that with music! It’s not as common as you think when you’re enclosed in the high-fidelity bubble. One of my favorite things that I’ve taken away from being a music addict, and therefore professional sound seeker, is passing on the joy of that experience to others. To this day, there are few things that bring me more joy than blowing somebody’s mental doors off with the sound of music delivered with clarity and authority. Seeing that look on their face the first time, hearing the words from someone who’s experiencing enhanced sonics for the first time while hearing music they love. When someone discovers that music can be a wholly visceral experience, like we all did for the first time, When you can give the gift of that, and plant that seed – we all benefit. It’s infectious. You gotta pick your battles in life. Rather that fight even a “good fight” as Hp (Harry Pearson) used to say – I’d rather focus on my contributions and consider us all “co-operators” as Tyll Hertsens said last year.
While some audio journos contemplate publicly who’s a “shill” and who’s authentic in this game – I’m making fools say shit like “I just came in my pants” in my backyard. My new friend Greg made this exclamation, upon hearing Bob Marley through a pair of Audeze open-back planar-magnetic LCD-2 headphones, Astell-n-Kern AK240 DAP (digital audio player) & Lehmann Audio Traveler battery-powered amp – all wired with Double Helix Cables. Judge how you wish. I’d rather be turning people onto sound than caught in a sewing circle of egos trying to point fingers at fellow geeks for having different tastes and desires. All the bio lines and disclaimers in the world can’t dress over the fact that most of you are selling ads on your website and also writing review copy of the products from the companies you take money from. So shut the fuck up. We’re all into stereos, headphones, speakers, music for Christs sake. No matter what I’ve ever done for an audio company in any capacity I’ve never put myself in that fuckin’ living, breathing, conflict-of-interest. So lets all do our thing and serve our READERS – our fellow ENTHUSIASTS.
After all, for me, while I’m far from rich, this is a dream. No matter how it materializes. I love to write about music and gear, and in that order. I should actually admit that I don’t always love reviewing gear. As a matter of fact, I don’t know that I ever loved reviewing gear. Did I just achieve a level of honesty bordering on stupidity? Fuck it. I’m ridiculously addicted to music. I wanna hear it in the bathroom, my kitchen, in my car, when we sleep, anywhere anytime. The gear is cool. I’m not denying that. Geekin’ out can be a blast, but my favorite listening sessions are still the ones that take my mind away from all that shit. I just wanna hear more and more music. Gear that connects me to music in such a way that renders its brand and model completely irrelevant while lost in listening is my ultimate goal. So it can be pretty, and should be easy on the eyes if pricey, but I could honestly give a shit what it looks like if it delivers my music in ways that continue to dazzle me over the test of time.
Living the life of a “professional appreciator” (gotta still give cred to High Fidelity for that nugget) is a blessing that warrants serious dedication from those of us on journeys for new sonic discoveries. That will manifest differently for all of us. And for every voice on this side, those of us that play with man toys and measure em’ up – there’s a voice on the other side that doesn’t have the time to sift through three hundred pairs of headphones in order to make an informed choice. It’s important to acknowledge the responsibility in trying to be a guide for people, and it’s equally important to recognize that our voices are no different from those of the consumer. We don’t have wisdom beyond even the average consumer, wisdom that’s worth a damn anyway, if we’re selfish and elitist in the way we share our insights. Insight is not something bestowed solely upon professional critics. We don’t have super-human powers of observation, though I whole-heartedly believe Hp had super-human hearing at one point in his life! We’ve been lucky enough to have our tools of observation sharpened and enhanced by teachers and mentors. The best I can do is take what they taught me, and push forward. All the rest is bullshit. I owe my readers that and more.
The bottom line is that you can deny the exquisite changes in consumer culture happening before our very eyes, even as I type this rant, but they’re happening. The way I see it, I’ve been really fuckin’ lucky. I learned about music and hi-fi from the teachers of teachers, and both mentors are gone. Cresting that level of honesty yet again: I think it’s as simple as my favorite sentence from the legendary Hunter S. Thompson:
“Buy the ticket, take the ride”
I’ve had a helluva ride in music and audio. Along the way I was fortunate to experience some life-changing shit. Wanna come along on that ride? That’s ALL that I wanna know. I’m figuring out how to leave the politics of business, monetization, and the other nastiness to friends and family who are skilled at that. It’s time to focus on our collective mission in hi-fi: Transcendence through music and great sound. At one point I thought my whole professional life was wasted – working for audio magazines, record labels, audio manufacturers, hi-fi shops, record shops. What was I thinkin’! It had to lead somewhere. Here it is. For my readers: You know I bring my soul with every word I type. For peeps reading my words for the first time: I fell into hi-fi and music, luckily, but busted my ass to stay init’ for over twenty years. It’s all I know. Scary right? Thankfully it serves me well when sharing about music and hi-fi that shakes me to my soul when I need my music fix.
Enter at your own risk.