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Whistling Into The Wind Alan Rider ponders the pointless existence of the reviewer

Whistling Into The Wind

Alan Rider ponders the pointless existence of the reviewer

by Alan Rider, Contributing Editor
first published: August, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

Every review is only one person's opinion. They make little individual difference to sales, as most people already know what they like and you will not change their opinion in a few paragraphs

Here at Outsideleft we try to do our best to find and draw your attention to new sounds and culture, helping you in our own small way to navigate the vast oceans of content you are floating on in your metaphorical rubber dinghy.  At times though, it can feel (in the words of Paul, our Publisher) as if we are just useful idiots for record company PR agencies.  You get the final product as it were, but to put you in the picture of how we get to that couple of paragraphs in Outsideleft Week In Music, or the occasional interview or feature, every record label employs one or more PR agents.  These are a strange crew who take each release and coat it in PR bullshit before sending it round a circulation list of press along with a download link and a video.  The language they use in these is industry in-speak.  Tracks are ‘shared’ not released, videos become ‘visualisers’ (who in the real world calls them that?), and every release is “long awaited” regardless of whether you have heard of them or not.  Most press releases now mention the pandemic somewhere and even list comparisons with other artists to save us the trouble of doing that.  Hard copies of anything are rare, even books are often just an electronic PDF copy.  Images appears to be key, though the vast majority of band press shots are embarrassing or worse and the standard press shot usually features the band standing around like they are waiting for a bus.  Most don’t seem to much care about what they look like, with some appearing to have slept in their clothes after a heavy night out, whilst others just look bored.

The quantity of this stuff can be huge too.  Frequently OL will get 30-50 or more press releases coming in each week, with more coming direct to individual writers or self-sourced.  That’s all well and good, but the thing is, the vast majority have absolutely nothing to recommend them.  They are quite simply terrible.  Dull, formulaic cannon fodder, fired in our direction like so much shit hoping that some will stick.  And that is when I find myself wondering what the point is?  Every review is only one person’s opinion after all.  They make little individual difference to sales, as most people already know what they like and you won’t change their opinion in a few paragraphs.  In many instances, the music is just the background to videos (sorry, visualisers) that now resemble mini-films.  Singles are pumped out ahead of albums at a rapid rate, rendering them meaningless and there are no charts worthy of the title to top anyway.  It’s a relentless process. There are also hundreds of different sites reviewing this tsunami, ranging from industry mouthpieces like Louder Than War, The Quietus, Pitchfork, etc, who seek to emulate the old print version music papers Sounds, NME, and Record Mirror respectively, to blogs, podcasts and TikTok/Instagram sites.  Then there is Outsideleft of course. Sifting out the quality amongst this cacophony of crap is tough, but we do our best each week.

So why do we do it?  No site can afford to pay writers or photographers these days and you even have to submit an application to be allowed to work for them for free.  In some cases it is an ego trip, others might see it as a way to blag some free stuff or meet their idols, but still others (OL) do it because they genuinely believe there is more out there than nostalgia and carbon copy bands. Many do it because once they have started up,  they just keep going.

So next time you skim through the reviews and interviews on Outsideleft before instantly forgetting them, spare us a thought.  We are doing this so you don’t have to.

Alan Rider
Contributing Editor

Alan Rider is a Norfolk based writer and electronic musician from Coventry, who splits his time between excavating his own musical past and feeding his growing band of hedgehogs, usually ending up combining the two. Alan also performs in Dark Electronic act Senestra and manages the indie label Adventures in Reality.


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