Our review of Canadian Music Critics: ★☆☆☆☆
There are bizarre human diseases in which the body decides one day to attack itself. Biologists scramble to find the cause and a cure. Physicians do the best they can to minimize the symptoms and ease the patient into an inevitable death. But such a phenomenon is not confined to the human body; it also exists in the body politic. What happens when a country decides to attack its own successful citizens? And we’re not talking attacks with the sword but with the mightier pen.
I remember playing on the beach on Vancouver Island as a child, building sandcastles. Once the castle was built it was boring to sit and look at it, so I would knock it down. This is what Canadian music critics and entertainment journalists like to do with our celebrities. If you read the reviews of the new releases and concerts of established Canadian rock stars (and I do not recommend that you do), you would find that these critics use the same old arguments over and over again in an attempt to dethrone a pop king or queen. All of these arguments are flawed right down to the core. And, here, we are going to list them and refute them one by one.
Roles of Recording Artist versus Record Company
A key to exposing the fallacies of such arguments lies in understanding the different roles played by the recording artist and his record company. Music critics are often guilty of ignorance in this area which is unacceptable given that they presumably have obtained some kind of educational certifications that helped gain them employment.
In general, the artist is responsible for creating the music and performing it. Promoting the recorded works and the artist’s concert tours are the responsibility of the record label, not the artist. But we are continually hearing music critics blame the artist for a decline in record sales or poor attendance at concerts. They assume that the cause of this is not a lack of promotion from the record company but that there must be something wrong with the artist’s music or performance abilities. Such a faulty assumption is unbecoming of an entertainment journalist.
Because they pin the poor sales and attendance on the artist instead of the record company, they reach to find fault with the music or the artist’s performance skills. They point out that the artist is not smiling on the album’s cover photo, criticize the costumes the performer wears at his concert, magnify the slightest incidence of the vocalist hitting a note off-key, suggest that the artist has failed to reinvent himself, etc. The problem with this is that many artists who are guilty of these have enjoyed huge record sales. It is not enough to make good music and dazzle as a performer. Large finances and resources must be diverted to promoting the recordings, getting them aired on the radio, shipped to the record stores, and advertising the concerts in all forms of media. When a conflict of vision and disagreements between the artist and his label begin brewing, the company will be less motivated to promote the artist’s new material.
Below are some common jabs that the press likes to take at recording artists and a refutation of each of them.
Charge #1: The artist’s album sales are in decline
What artist doesn’t have declining record sales these days? Of all the Canadian albums released so far this year, none has been certified platinum. Bryan Adams’ last studio album, 11, failed to go even GOLD in Canada. The multi-award-winning album The Suburbs from the Arcade Fire has not been certified GOLD either. The last Canadian albums to achieve diamond status in Canada were releases from Avril Lavigne and Shania Twain way back in 2002, nearly ten years ago. Things aren’t any better in the United States, the world’s biggest market for music sales. Consider that, while Katy Perry’s album Teenage Dream tied Michael Jackson’s record for generating five #1 singles, it has sold only 1.8 million copies in the U.S. Jackson’s Thriller, in the 80s, sold 29 million copies.
A report by the IFPI found that sales of music from debut artists in 2010 were only one-quarter that of 2003. In the United Kingdom, over three-quarters of music downloads online are unlicensed. Overall global music sales were down 25% from 1999 to 2008. CTV news reported that Canadians bought a total of 31.4 million albums in 2010 (including digital sales), which was down 11 per cent from 2009.
The economic downturn in 2008 and rampant piracy amidst easy access to digital music via the internet mean that people are spending less on music these days.
Music critics, rather than doing their jobs by researching and delving into the stats, simply blame individual artists for not selling as many records as they used to, concluding sloppily that this can only be attributed to the artist’s newer music being substandard.
Mark the charge
Charge #2: The artist’s concerts are no longer well-attended
Canadian critics are guilty of short-sightedly looking only at the attendance of an artist’s concerts in Canada, not in the rest of the world. If a Canadian singer’s concerts sell out in the rest of the world but not at home in Canada, there certainly isn’t anything wrong with the singer. Box office receipts from concert tours of all artists fell by 12% in 2010. The Canadian economy is in bad shape and Canadians are smart in prioritizing their spending during tough times. We won’t even go into the mortgage situation in Vancouver.
Moreover, because all artists are not selling many records these days, there is less revenue being generated with which record companies can promote the concert tours of their artists. Many fans have complained that they found out about concerts after they had already transpired. Critics, rather than considering these facts, blame low concert attendance on the artists’ performance techniques, inability to adapt, and the quality of the new music itself. They should know better.
Mark the charge
Charge #3: The artist’s audience is comprised mainly of teenage girls
We can understand why misogynists and youth-haters would be intent on pointing this out. But for most people who do not embody such prejudice, what’s wrong with that? Are females or teenagers less important as people? Note that if a rock star’s concerts are attended by mostly 30-something males, critics will never mention this in their reviews.
As with the first point in CHARGE #2, Canadian critics do not take a look at the artist’s fan base outside of Canada. There are Canadian artists whose fan base within Canada is a certain demographic but a totally different demographic in other countries. This fact has been pointed out by a number of recording artists. Tears for Fears, for example said that, in Europe, their concerts attracted mostly males but in North America, mostly females.
An interesting question which entertainment journalists fail to ask is “Why?” There are a number of reasons for this. It could be that radio stations in Canada whose listening audience is comprised of, say, teenage girls, are the only ones who play the artist’s music, so naturally, this demographic is the one who is familiar with it. On the other hand, in other countries, stations that have an older or male audience may be the ones who showcase the artist’s tunes. Different countries may also have different conceptions of the kind of music people of various ages and genders are supposed to like which may influence an artist’s fan base.
But these unthinking music critics in Canada have failed to consider these truths.
Mark the charge
Charge #4: The artist has nothing significant to say
We have addressed this argument previously. In brief, music critics who grew up in the 60s and 70s expect current music to reflect the themes popular in those times. Music was a big part of the hippie movement those years and began to embody rants about society’s problems: military conscription, the Vietnam War, the Kent State Massacre, and so on. These days, artists who do not take a political stance are seen by these has-beens of hippiedom as not doing their jobs. If we look at the history of rock and roll, however, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Pat Boone, and Elvis did not delve into the political arena much. They sang about love, romance, and relationships. In fact the term “rock and roll” was a metaphor for you-know-what. Today, when recording artists sing about personal life, like the founders of rock did, they are branded by flower-power critics as bantering on about nothing.
Mark the charge
Charge #5: The artist is having difficulty making the transition from teen to adult star
We have addressed this before. In short, making a transition from a teen star to an adult has been a problem for American singers, not for Canadians. But Canadian critics blindly follow along with their American counterparts, parroting the same concerns which do not apply north of the border. They go on and on about how an artist needs to reinvent himself in order to maintain his fan base or attract new fans. Paul Anka, Ginette Reno, Andy Kim, Claude Dubois, Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, and Avril Lavigne all started out as teen stars and all continued their success into their adult years. Many of them became even more successful as adults.
Mark the charge
Charge #6: The artist is greedy despite being filthy rich
Critics tend to emphasize how recording artists are filthy rich and despite this are still trying to milk money out of people every chance they get: selling merchandise, opening clothing lines, charging exorbitant prices for their concerts, etc. If you’re going to attack anyone for being rich and greedy, corporate executives and CEOs are the ones to target, not recording artists. There seems to be a misconception in society that celebrities are the richest people in the world. Not true. A star can earn seven digits. A superstar can earn 8. But it all stops there. CEOs of large companies earn 9 or even 10 digits. Remember too that most of the revenue from records and concerts go to the record company; normally only 10% goes to the artists themselves.
Mark the charge
Charge #7: The artist is guilty of using product placement in concerts
As an extension of CHARGE #6, journalists accuse artists of “product placement” at their concerts, despite the fact that merchandise and memorabilia have always been a big part of concert tours. This certainly is hypocrisy on the journalists’ part as the newspapers and magazines they work for are littered with ads. Companies pay these tabloids money to post ads of their products so that extra revenue can be generated. It’s the same thing.
Mark the charge
Breaking the Vicious Cycle
The vicious cycle of a recording artist’s decline goes something like this. Canadian entertainment journalists work hard to build them up. When they feel that the artist has become too big for his britches, they become infected with the spiritual disease of sourpussdom, and switch their role from cheerleader to a stick in the mud. No one’s going to read a journalist’s article if he is wired for sound listening to a great record. So the critics become jealous and begin tearing the artist down. Those who are gullible enough to fall for it stop buying the artist’s records. Low record sales spur the backstabbing journalists on their vindictive crusade which leads to even less support. While the artist continues enjoying huge popularity in the rest of the world, he falls from grace in his own country, something about which we, as Canadians should be very embarrassed.
It’s time to smarten up, people.
See also: Ridicule for Profit