Earlier this year I bought a book in a charity shop for 25p called ‘The Happiness Project’, which is kind of a self help manual for privileged people with too much time on their hands. Despite the simple writing style I freely admit that THIS BOOK CHANGED MY LIFE. The writer Gretchen Rubin encourages people to start their own blogs, explaining how blogging gave her ‘a new identity, new skills, a new set of colleagues and a new way to connect with people.’ After reading this I felt inspired and started Highway Queens the next week. I had a simple purpose: write about the music I love. Gretchen’s book proves that not every piece of writing has to be high art in order to have value.
What, you may ask, has prompted this moment of self reflection? Well this week on Twitter amateur music bloggers were openly criticised by a musician (I won’t name names here) who said:
‘It is horrifying how much bland & fundamentally poor writing is out there. Not only do enthusiastic hobbyists set up as musicians but also as journalists & reviewers. In what other professional sphere does this exist?’
First things first: there’s a lot of genuinely ‘horrifying’ things in the world but ‘poor’ writing really isn’t one of them. I work with kids on their literacy every day and some of what others might call ‘bad writing’ is a true form of self expression, which in itself is a gift. I read some small music blogs before setting up my own and was so inspired by these writers who promoted music just for the love of it. If they could do it, then so could I.
So what if our writing is not up to standards of the traditionally published press? We don’t have editorial feedback or subs to support us. All we have is our enthusiasm. The Internet has levelled the playing field in a beautiful way – allowing anyone to express themselves and share it with the world. You never know what musician might be desperate for that review or what reader might need to hear about that song. The end target of all music journalism is the same: get people to listen to the goddamn songs. Readers aren’t stupid – they will consult different blogs or online publications for different things. One form of music writing does not negate the other.
Another thing I find troubling is the sight of professional music journalists attacking bloggers. Honestly I don’t think it’s necessary to point out the flaws in the writing style or content of any blogger if they are writing a positive review. In the end some people will always prefer to hear the opinion of their friend rather than the perfectly researched and argued views of the chief critic of the New York Times. Bloggers make things more personal and can develop a voice to appeal to certain people. That’s just the way it is. If you don’t like it then don’t read.
Targeting music bloggers and amateur musicians for not being pro standard is like going to a fun run and yelling at people for not being as fast as Mo Farah or like Mo himself criticising the runners at the back of the pack. Every year thousands of people take part in these races with no chance of winning or ever making a penny from this activity. In fact most people actually pay to enter these races. They do it because the race itself has value, whatever the outcome. Each time you run you challenge yourself to get better. Maybe people will turn up to cheer you on. Maybe you might win a medal, not the Olympic gold but something you can hang on your wall and admire. Maybe you will even inspire someone else to take part themselves.
Writing is no different. Anyone who wants to write about music should write about music. No one improves at anything in life if they don’t try. I for one would love to read more music blogs by women. I don’t care if they’re written in haste with a hundred spelling mistakes – tell me what you like and why you like it. So what if your grammar is poor or you aren’t using poetic language? You wouldn’t tell a kid to stop playing the piano because he wasn’t as good as Mozart.
Don’t get me wrong there are many brilliant amateur writers out there too but this can’t be an ‘us and them’ scenario. In the end we are all just out here doing our best to share the love of music. How can that ever be wrong?