Monday, June 19, 2017

Charge of the shite brigade

How music should be paid for and how music-makers should be compensated for their art is a regular subject of discussion (as it was in Episode 8 of Sounding Bored, on streaming) - but what about reviews and reviewers? It's a thorny issue, one brought into sharp focus by the decision of one website to start charging for reviews.

I must admit that Arctic Drones, an online magazine specialising in post-rock, hadn't appeared on my radar until yesterday, when it was brought to my attention by Dan Salter of Echoes And Dust, formerly a fan of Arctic Drones who profoundly disagrees with their recently adopted paid-for model. Salter's issue is not with the decision to create some revenue but with the way Arctic Drones are going about it: it's not readers who are being charged, but bands.

In response to Salter's online criticisms, Arctic Drones posted a lengthy Facebook post attempting to explain and justify their stance and reasoning, which has provoked a significant amount of further debate.

I'll admit that there are times when I feel uncomfortable for continually providing free copy - but it does mean that I'm able to hear many more albums and go to many more gigs than I could afford to otherwise. But I would never even attempt to equate (even obliquely) the time and effort I put into reviewing with the time and effort musicians put into their art - and how much money they expend in the process.

Even if Arctic Drones' reviewers do feel entitled to receive some sort of financial compensation (for, it should be pointed out, writing only about albums they like - as per another site policy), surely it should be generated through adverts, crowdfunding or some kind of paywall - in other words, generated from readers who think the site's content is worth paying for. Arctic Drones' model is the equivalent of the despised "pay-to-play" model operated by some unscrupulous gig promoters, and removes all credibility from their reviews, which (however you look at it) are now nothing but advertisements. If they want to morph into a site that provides a PR service, fair enough (I guess) - but they need to drop all claims to being reviewers.

While, to me and many others, the decision looks like a misguided attempt to bite the hand that feeds, Arctic Drones have made clear that they don't really care if it results in the demise of the site. Arguably, that's the most damning thing about the whole affair - if the writers have collectively lost the passion for what they do or at least are resentful of the time and cost that running the site incurs, then far better to admit that and close Arctic Drones down than adopt a model that discriminates against the very bands and music scene they claim to love.

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