A Musing By KC Orcutt
“Why these pigeons look like they ‘bout to drop the most fire album of 2014” is my favorite mixtape meme. There’s no shortage of them circulating out there. They crack me up, even when they probably shouldn’t.
“When your dad comes to career day and starts handing out mixtapes.”
“When your town is on fire but so is your mixtape.”
“When ya homie playing you his mixtape and you tryna act like he going in.”
“No, you can’t just write the link to your mixtape on the board.”
“It’s hip hop. You wouldn’t understand. Just take the f*cking picture, Hillary!”
THEY’RE ENDLESS. AND I LOVE THEM.
Can’t forget the headline, “McDonald’s Employee Fired For Placing His Mixtapes In Children’s Happy Meals.”
But on a serious note, and what I want to talk about in the first place, promoting one’s album/mixtape/soundcloud/new track/music video/etc. is a tricky beast of its own. It’s much like promotion of anything - it’s going to be annoying at some point. You have to do it. You can’t not. You created it, you own it, you must share it. The more creative and tactful you go about it, the better. But, it is what it is. The line between shameless self-promotion and promotion is fine and we all cross it.
I’m annoying. I rep my personal ‘brand’ and what I do hard. In this regard, writers are the same as artists, rappers, producers, DJs. I take what I do very seriously. I expect those with passion to do the same. ‘Yo fam peep my mixtape’ applies, but with my writing. I want you to read what I wrote, period. You’ll make my day with the words “I read your article,” on any given day, I promise.
When someone asks me if they can send me their album, majority of the time, I welcome it with excitement. I know many writers who don't. When someone asks me if they can send me their album EARLY, I respect that they get it and that they respect that the best music writing takes time.
As a writer on a local level, in Albany, I was overwhelmed in the beginning by album review writing, because I knew that once I reviewed one, I’d have to review them all. I quickly got over it because I realized the importance of an album review for an independent artist in a small music scene. Sometimes my review was the only one.
There were times when I had to say no, and there were times where I missed opportunities for one reason or another. Regardless of my involvement in my hometown’s music scene, to this day, getting an album sent to me early is my version of Christmas and I don’t think after 8 years of that feeling, it will change anytime soon. Thank you music friends for understanding and honoring that when possible. It all comes down to this:
I need to listen to your shit many, many times before I can touch my pen down.
It has been my integrity as a listener, a fan and a writer that if someone can spend a year creating their album, I can listen for a week straight or more. More time spent with it, the better. I want to listen to your music when I drive, when I shower, when I read, when I get ready for work, when I'm drinking a beer.
I’ve always felt that this dedication to actually listening has separated me from the demand of the industry - people want NEW music ASAP, along with reviews. I feel like a good chunk of blogs only care about what's new, what's selling, what people are talking about in that moment. I get it. My favorite days in my music writing career are when I finish my writing before, or on, the release date. I always feel like I win the round when I am prepared and can offer my written word in conjunction with a release and with other blogs and iTunes. I want to ride the share wave with the artist and with the audience. When the new Drake and Future mixtape drops, I want to talk about it just like every other music blogger on every blog ever. I wonder what gives me the credentials to do so, but this is another topic for another day.
I believe that album reviews are a necessary evil of music journalism.
In reality, for every piece of music released that gets any airtime online, there is at least one album review to match the music embed. The larger the album, the larger the quantity of words written and dedicated. Math. Science. Culture. An album review is an integral part of the process. But that doesn’t mean we, as writers, always enjoy them. They almost exist because they have to. They are part of the promotion, and maybe part of the problem.
I always get so curious - who is reading album reviews? As a music journalist, they are an inevitable practice in my craft. Ironically, my favorite music journalists don’t really “do” them, or don’t do them often. #Goals
I think this is because, by nature, album reviews are formulaic and can be stale. Mainstream media, and even my approach to writing a review, follows a formula on how to break it down. It often includes a numeric score, especially on the larger websites. That is my least favorite part, because there are as many opinions as there are listeners.
Often, we can agree on what is good and what is terrible, especially given a certain genre that is in our preference. But in order to separate a good album from a great album, it’s so subjective, I find it stupid to put a 7.5 out there when someone else would give it an 8. Who cares? People want a perfect 10 when they love it or 1 star when they hate it. To me, music is so much more complicated than that and an album review simplifies it and puts it into a categorical review. Album reviews help an album in the game of survival of the fittest, in terms of charts, blogs, sales, exposure, etc. and that is why they exist. But it doesn’t make them any less annoying to write at times.
Don’t get me wrong, an album review has been an important exercise to me over the past 8 years, and each one a unique challenge. One of my first pieces ever in 2007 was an album review. It’s hilarious to read now, but album reviews are just as much a part of what I do now as they were then when I was just starting to sharpen my swords. What I wrote then is way different than what I would write now, but the task is still the same.
At this point, I know how I personally approach writing a music review when I do my thing. I often find myself only writing about the music I actually love, because why waste time tearing apart something I’m not going to listen to again? I’m not a hater. I’m not about being negative in my writing. If I don’t like it, I most likely won’t write about it at this stage in my career. Let the silence of a music writer haunt you and your album. (Half kidding). I want to be critical but dish compliments when they are deserved. That’s just me.
I want each piece I write to be different and insightful. I often find that album reviews are stale, boring and forced because they exist out of necessity to assist with exposure and give validation.
How can we make album reviews hold more value? This is my biggest question for music journalism right now, in this moment, and maybe that’s because this year has produced so much quality hip hop, for example. I basically stopped reviewing albums because I didn't feel "caught up" and I’m perfectly fine with that. I welcome this break.
While I have a hate/love relationship with writing album reviews and what we get out of them from all perspectives, I write about the music I like because I want to help celebrate it. I’m also okay with being the softest music writer in the game, too.