My friend brought up an interesting point the other day. Should music criticism be as huge as it is now? Being a voluntary music writer, I tilted an eyebrow and rushed to the defensive guns of "Of course, then how would you ever find out whether music was worth listening to or not?"
But if that was my main argument, I was struggling. To be told what you like and dislike in music is the easy way out, and it's part of the reason why fashions still have their cold fingers laced around the ventricles of the modern music scene. (To reiterate: music isn't good because it sold well in your peergroup, or simply because it's new, and that's what fashion dictates.) Other arguments for music criticism are forced: if there were no reviews, there would still be adverts, the radio, sites like last.fm and Spotify, articles on new music... so you can't say that it is our only gateway to music.
What other arguments are there for music criticism? It's always irritating to hear our favourite artists being slammed by critics who we would usually respect, (or not), especially as every sensible person knows that while there are technical qualities to albums, most of our judgment of music is subjective. Music criticism can make or break careers, and most of it is guided by peer opinions and personal prejudices anyway.
Then again, my best retaliation came with the argument 'there has to be a filter in the music system'. In businesses, there are promotions up for offer, you get increasing salaries and responsibilities and jobs with each step up. You could not impose a system like that on the arts. Criticism, however harsh and demoralising, can give a band the boost it needs to get onto the (albeit unevenly runged) ladder, and then offer educated opinions on what should and could do very well. As long as the reader can identify whatever spin has been put on the article, and can think for themselves, criticism can be the most helpful way to separate the cream from the milk. And the off milk from the good milk...
And of course, everyone wants to do it. Most people who love music have sneaky reviews somewhere in their computer, or in their minds, ready for conversation; many write online, or for magazines. It's a natural urge, putting into words what music makes you feel, think, do.
Music can change lives, and the kinder end of crit acknowledges that.
Have a read of my items on The 405 anyway (or not); I'm really glad the website's taking off. I'm not just spouting spiel when I say it's an exciting thing to be part of, as it's growing so fast, getting so much more professional and organised. If you can get yourself to any of The 405 nights in London, I'm assured they are amazing nights out, and Oliver Primus would appreciate your company!