A Letter from the Editor, January 10, 2011

Dear Readers,

It’s been almost four months since Driftwood Magazine launched, or became shipwrecked, however you want to put it. Deep winter in my life is always a time for retrospection and re-examination. Recently I have turned my attention to a long-standing but slightly controversial topic in the review industry: negative reviews.

Since the beginning, Driftwood has been firm in its commitment that we simply don’t publish negative reviews, though we strive to always honest in our assessment and be constructive. We carried this policy over from Dirty Linen, who managed to go 30 years telling people only what was good in the world.

This goes a little beyond your mother’s advice, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Negative reviews can be constructive for the artists, and many critics see it as a duty to find the areas where an artist needs improvement — in the interest of helping the artist or the art as a whole.

The flip side, of course, is that writers often have little desire to put the time into writing a review of something unexciting, and such a review would take time and magazine “space” away from more exciting material. Driftwood Magazine, despite being online and thus afforded infinite page space, still has to contend with our readers’ attention spans.

One other argument for publishing negative reviews is that readers might want to be “warned away” from wasting their hard-earned money on a new CD, especially by a big name artist. I, for one, don’t buy this. In the internet age we can all find free samples of music in which we have an interested in mere seconds. And those big name artists probably didn’t get to where they were because of reviews of their recordings.

There’s one problem, though: If you like everything, it might sound like you’re just shilling for the industry. Everything’s a rave! Nine thumbs up? I hope we don’t come across this way. DriftwoodMagazine.com is run out of pocket by a handful of individuals, and our reviewers get a handful of CDs in the mail each month that they’re interested in writing a review about, which can take multiple hours. Given the present price of a CD, new or used, I hope everyone realizes that this is unglamourous work that is worth minimum wage at best. We do it because we find at least one thing a day that we thought was noteworthy or lovable. We want to hug most of the CDs we get a chance to write about. Some of the albums we review weren’t even submitted to the magazine — the writer bought it on their own but was excited enough about it that they wanted to tell other people.

But I’m interested in hearing what our readership thinks of this. Are you happy with the reviews that you read? What would improve your experience with Driftwood? Please take a moment to leave a comment; we’d love to hear from you.

Jack Hunter
editor-in-chief, Driftwoodmagazine.com

p.s. Our regularly scheduled daily post, is, well, not regularly scheduled, and will arrive later in the morning.


9 comments on “A Letter from the Editor, January 10, 2011

  1. Being older and a little set in my ways I rarely listen online, so reviews still count alot for me.
    And while I strongly adhere to all of Mom’s advice’ I think there is room for constructive negative criticism.
    It often makes for good, thoughtful reading. I specially enjoy it about music I (thought) I liked !

  2. A bad review, to me, has as much relevance as a good one – it’s a subjective response. I look to sites like this one to expose me to an artist or their work. I couldn’t care less about the subjective opinion of the reviewer if they think the work is good or bad, honestly. I just look to notice an artist I might not be aware of and check out their work for myself.

  3. Music reviews are a way for me to discover artists unknown to me that produce music that I might enjoy. A good review is one that offers a comprehensive description of the artist and the music -– not necessarily the reviewer’s opinion of good or bad. If the music described seems interesting, then I would go online to sample it.

  4. I agree that the main reason I read this publication is for the discovery aspect. I’ve been around a while and I have always been an enthusiastic fan and promoter of roots music. Reviews help me to get an idea what an artist or an album is all about. I really appreciate the ones that have a link to the artists’ sites and maybe a sample cut. That is the great beauty of the online magazine, in my opinion– simply the ability to instantly link the reader to a richer experience. You might then ask: Why not bypass the review and just go scanning through YouTube? While that can lead to an interesting diversion, it’s sort of the modern version of Monopoly, a good way to waste away an afternoon or evening without much to show for it. There are millions of performances and wannabe artists out there among the noise that we call the internet, but we each only have so much time to listen. It helps to have some filter that will at least focus on our own area of interest.
    I don’t necessarily expect that the opinion of any one reviewer is in tune with my own, but over time I do discover common ground with a few and value their recommendations and insight.
    Over all, I second the editor’s view on negative reviews. As one of the contributers, I prefer to cover the stuff that I think has something significant to offer. I have only so much listening time and less writing time available. I prefer to spend it on material that excites me enough to recommend it to others.

    Steve Patton

  5. Reviews are of no use if they are only positive because one tends to thing the reviewer likes everything he or she hears which of course is nonsense. Therefore the reviewer would have no credibility for me and I would be reading for interest only, not as a means of considering a purchase (which is why I read reviews in the first place).

  6. I want to say that I enjoy reading the reviews sent by Driftwood and I am so glad that some kind of platform has been found for me to know about new music in the genre which I am interested in. I don’t always have the time to read all the reviews (sometimes they are too many) but I do read the title and something of the beginning so I know about what it is. Besides that just keep on the good work I have nothing else to say about it 🙂

  7. I am interested in finding new music that I think I will like, rather than hearing about music to avoid, so I generally prefer to read positive reviews – working on the assumption that someone writing for a publication as specialized as this has broadly the same tastes I do. Of course, even within our particular music community, tastes vary. Sometimes, I read a “negative” review and come away with the impression that it sounds like something I might like, even if the reviewer did not. So I think negative reviews have their place. This is particularly true if a particular writer is going to be doing a lot of reviewing for the publication – reading what a particular critic dislikes, as well as what he or she likes, gives me a better understanding of that critic, and makes his or her reviews more meaningful and useful.

  8. While I’m as amused as anyone by a clever verbal skewering of a piece of crap, I started writing for Dirty Linen twenty years ago because I wanted to help spread the word about music and artists I liked beyond my immediate circle of friends. I think that most other folks who wrote for Linen had the same motivation. I rarely requested a review CD without knowing something about the artist, even if I hadn’t heard him/her/them, that led me to believe that it would be something I’d like. Stuff that I really didn’t like, with just a couple exceptions, got sent back. The rare exceptions were disappointing disks by people who were generally good, where I did feel that critic’s need to point out that they had slipped up.

    Anyway, I like things they way they’ve evolved so far, especially when Driftwood is only reviewing one or two CDs a day. I agree that there isn’t space to call people’s attention to a bad disk just in order to tell them not to buy it.

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