Smile Politely

Why music criticism is OK

“Don’t criticize what you don’t understand, son. You never walked in that man’s shoes.” — Elvis Presley

You’ll never read music criticism from me, especially of a local band or show.

That’s not a dig on those who do; in fact, it’s entirely the opposite: I lack the confidence in my opinions and the general intestinal fortitude to make much of a statement about anything music-related.

As a musician, it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there, play a show and/or release an album, and subject yourself to others’ opinions and impressions. One might say it’s an even bolder move than writing a review of said work on a website. It’s certainly possible.

Lately around here, it seems that it’s a pretty short route from an opinionated music column to a flame war in the comments (see exhibits A, B, C and D). And that’s fine in and of itself, as we like it when people read and actively participate in our little internet community. Heck, I think Steinbacher even gets off a little on being hated, and Ben doesn’t seem to let much of anything bother him. But a few parts of it are getting a little tiresome, so there you go.

First of all: the “Seth Fein controls the C-U music scene” + “Seth Fein co-founded Smile Politely” = “Smile Politely’s music coverage is carefully orchestrated by Seth Fein” meme is pretty tired and shopworn at this point, and you’ve likely made up your mind one way or another, so I won’t spend any time trying to convince you. Please note that it’s fairly insulting to those of us who aren’t Seth Fein, also, which may be one reason why it’s so frequently used.

“My second favorite rock criticism quote is Martin Mull saying that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. That’s really true.” — Peter Buck

Instead, I’d like to spend a little time on the nature of music criticism. I’m no expert on the subject, but I’m pretty sure that we’re not dealing in objective truth here. You’re welcome to enjoy the indie rock or metal band of your choice without our permission. Sometimes it adds to the experience to have someone to argue about the experience with, whether they’re standing next to you or online.

If you’ve read this far, music has probably occupied a disproportionate amount of your time at some point in your life. I’m pretty sure that’s the case for anyone who writes about music for Smile Politely. Many times, that amount of time invested leads to outsized opinions as well. Maybe it’s possible to write something engaging about music without the writer’s point of view coming across, but I’ve certainly not mastered the trick, and I don’t know of too many who have.

If you think something’s great that we panned, or think something’s terrible that we praised, then let us know about it. We need to be up for an argument, since we’re putting our names (and often our pictures) next to what we write. Hopefully hearing someone else’s opinions will enrich your experience, or maybe it’ll just enrage you. But in my opinion, music is more interesting when it’s couched in a conversation, and I hope that you agree. If not, I’m sure you’ll let us know. And thanks for reading.

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