Photo credit: Haley Dekle
There’s a lot of pessimism about the state of music criticism these days — from the fact that there’s no money in it, to the tyranny of the listicle, to the instant availability of albums obviating the need for pre-release reviews. Do you have any thoughts to share regarding the state of music writing in 2013?
The fact that there’s no money in reviewing music is strictly the concern of people who write reviews for, ostensibly, a living. It’s a classic example of supply and demand — there’s now such an overwhelmingly huge supply of music writing that the price for it has plummeted to nothing. (I should point out here that the Talkhouse does pay for pieces, and we pay better than most online outlets. And the high quality of the writing on the site proves that you get what you pay for.)
However, good writing is in short supply. That’s because good writing comes from good thinking, and good thinkers will always be in short supply. That’s why most people can write, but not everyone can write well — just like most people can cook or draw, but not everyone can cook well or draw well. So there’s still plenty of room for writing that illuminates music in ways you never thought of, and musicians are perfect for that.
You told MTV recently that your site and Maura Johnston’s new project were “just the beginning of a revolution.” Could you maybe expand a little on what you meant by this?
New technologies always enable new kinds of communication. The thing is, you can’t predict what will happen. Look at Facebook — it started as a way for college students to network and now it’s this global behemoth with all sorts of applications that nobody ever anticipated. And although we already have one generation that’s grown up with the internet, the invention itself is still very young — more things are going to come out of it, but no one yet knows what they will be. I’m sure the Talkhouse itself will evolve in ways that no one anticipated.
Do you see this as a purely online venture, or might there one day be a print component?
The Talkhouse is like the revolution in online communication I mentioned earlier: it’s still in its infancy. Who knows where it will lead!
Ultimately, what do you hope for the site to achieve?
Looking back on my own body of work, I see that I’m really interested in showing that musicians are people, not caricatured myths, and that revealing that fact only makes music more magical, not less. And that’s one thing I hope the site will accomplish. I hope the Talkhouse will introduce people to different kinds of music. I hope the site will help stimulate people to think and talk more about music, and become a go-to destination for people who want to read interesting writing about all kinds of music. And, like I said, I hope it becomes something that nobody ever anticipated.
And finally, who has a more fragile ego: music writers or musicians?
I think that music writers’ egos about writing are as fragile as musicians’ egos are about making music. But when musicians write, they’re pretty egoless. You can see it in the writing on the Talkhouse — they respect their peers, it’s very cool. And on a practical level, virtually every musician I’ve worked with so far has asked me to work closely with them on edits, and that’s been incredibly rewarding on both ends — the pieces on the site have never been less than good, and some of them have been truly great. I’m really touched whenever anybody turns in a piece, and I think I’ll always feel that way. Writing is really hard — believe me, I know that first-hand — so when somebody who isn’t a professional writer turns in a piece, I’m just so proud of them, I can’t even begin to tell you.