I can hold on no longer. It has to be said. The sentiment, the message, the reason for writing this particular piece has been resting uneasily with me for far too long. It’s a monkey on my back that is at last losing its grip. I must write with honesty about subjects close to me – music, writing, creativity and grammar – for I am passionate about all four. Yes, grammar included. I’m a sucker for punctuation. Having spent nearly six years writing about and promoting music in my former hometown of Bournemouth, the subject is close to my heart. Now having spent the last few years watching and reading from a distance, this never-ending bugbear has to be exorcised.
I have a question:
If a website exists to critique, review and promote music, is it important for the site to be well written, both in terms of creativity and use of grammar? Can passion alone make up for substandard and laboured prose?
The reason for this question is the cause of my bugbear, but first some background. I started my own site in 2006 (bh one), with the sole purpose of promoting Dorset music. The site evolved, bh one expanded and after lots of highs and a few lows came to an end in 2011. The ride was a beautiful one, inspired by a lifetime of listening to music and reading the music press in all its forms. Much of the listening was centred around Bournemouth, and Solid Air in particular was a constant source of pleasure, acting as an inspiration for bh one.
Solid Air was run by Conrad Barr and Paul Tucker, two more musically obsessed and rather lovely men you are unlikely to find. In their many years together the benefit of their work upon local bands and artists cannot be overstated. Why? Their endeavours covering well over a decade – the writing, posters, promotion, gigs and quite simply everything they were involved with – oozed passion. But more than that their craft, and when in their presence their conversation, flowed with an artistic flair and a beautiful creative streak that gave it credibility. Music writing or promotion is nothing without integrity and skill. The less of those available, the less stimulating and convincing the product, be it writing, promoting or indeed performing.
I know my own limitations. It’s important for me to realise my literary talents are moderate and despite being a perfectionist, grammatical mistakes appear. I’m also a grammar nerd, so my own failings are a constant source of annoyance. But, to return to my original question… if I’m reading a review, or for that matter talking to someone about music, a band, and album, a singer or a live performance, as a music fanatic I want to be captured by the orators tone, by their use of vocabulary to convey their opinion and feelings. If, when reviewing a band who have poured their heart, soul and unique talent into their act, the words used are mundane, misspelled and lacking in verve or originality – surely prerequisites for a successful fanzine – how can the critique carry any weight or credibility?
This leads me to Rock Regeneration. The reason for the delay in writing this piece is due to the fact that – had it been written within months of my leaving – it could easily be perceived as a parting swipe at a website that appeared shortly before my departure from Bournemouth. Throughout its time bh one existed alongside many other similar promoters. Solid Air, Devils Music and Dorset Rock Online in particular all prospered due to their abundance of these fore-mentioned traits – integrity and skill. When Rock Regeneration appeared from the ashes of Dorset Rock Online the reasons for its existence were totally just. Chinners, the site’s founder, is as passionate about music as anyone you’ll meet, and having been immersed in it for some time his knowledge and genuine enthusiasm for local music is undoubted.
For obvious reasons I still have a genuine interest in the music being made by Bournemouth bands and artists. I would love nothing more than for Rock Regeneration to be a perfect source of well written reviews, in depth interviews, quality videos of live performances and, most importantly to be composed in a way that benefits the artists (regardless of the criticism contained) whilst entertaining and enthusing the reader. That is for me, and I assume for all other visitors of the site, the reason for reading. The passion is clearly there, but it sits alongside such an abundance of grammatical errors and lacklustre composition that my visits to the site have all but stopped. I believe they have a new editor, but errors still flow freely.
I love the English language, and listening to songsmiths, wordsmiths and creative curators is a joy. Reading Rock Regeneration is anything but. Errors and linguistics unique to a particular site or writer are, when used well, all part of the fun of language. Individuality and a unique style are important to a writer or website, however, when grammatical ‘anomalies’ are used inconsistently or simply by mistake I struggle to take the review seriously. How can you critique an artistic performance and expect it to maintain credibility when the review itself carries so little skill? There is a clear problem with quality control, most evident by their insistence of uploading live videos to accompany reviews, regardless of their worth. Such poor videos are instead detrimental to the band, giving any potential viewer an unnecessarily substandard view of the performer. Put simply, it’s all too much quantity over quality.
I say all of this for an important reason. What Rock Regeneration does is worthy, to be encouraged, and when done well can be of benefit to so many bands and individuals. As they themselves know only too well, feedback is important. Who reviews the reviewer? It’s easy to listen to praise – often from bands and artists whose music you have applauded and endorsed – and feel good knowing your approval has been noted. But if all you hear is “thank you, you’re doing a great job” without any constructive criticism, then how can you improve and develop? Again, as they themselves know, feedback both positive and negative is important. I loved it when I received it. It made me question what I was doing and how I was doing it.
Rock Regeneration has some fantastic qualities; a comprehensive list of upcoming gigs and links to local music businesses, lots of tour news, poster displays and the site is easy to navigate. The passion is clearly there, and their desire to promote local music is unquestionable. But, as long as their own defective performance struggles to give the site – and the bands they are reviewing – any credibility, they are in danger of harming those artists they are so keen to promote.
For what they’re worth, I have four suggestions…
- Know your own limitations as a writer. Passion is one thing, but the ability to totally engage, enthuse and entertain the reader is another far more difficult skill.
- Recruit an editor. Not someone who thinks they can edit, but someone who actually can. Reviews will instantly become a better, more credible read.
- Stop uploading videos that make the band sound like shit. A recording of an acoustic act drowned out by a noisy crowd sounds terrible.
- Keep on keeping on. What you are doing is hard work. You do it because you love it and giving your time and energy to local bands and artists should be encouraged and applauded.