Well, another year has passed, and wow, calling it a rollercoaster doesn’t even come close to accurately describing it. Amidst national tragedies, the current political climate, and personal turmoils (am I talking about me or does this really apply to everyone? You decide), it seems like music is really the one cool thing that still remains for you and I.
Indeed, even though my blogging adventures took a lot of rocky turns this year (all caused by me though), I still love using my free time to do this. Writing and listening to music is something I almost have to do at this point. It’s like a disease (except I often enjoy the disease). When I was a little kid I would write random garble on pieces of paper I found around the house. It was like a habit that I had to get out of my system. I never really thought about how it could apply to music until I started reading (good) music blogs around 2013 and 2014. Since then it’s been a hell of a ride, and personally I’m looking forward to as many more years as I can afford (which might not be many more since Ajit Pai decided repealing net neutrality was a good idea…)
With that said and with this year done, I wanted to take the time to state some resolutions I hope to implement in 2018. I know we aren’t even at Christmas yet, but considering this will be the true final post of the year, I figured I’d write them down now. Will I actually stick to them? If we’re going by the traditional meaning of New Years resolutions, probably not. I am going to try my best, because like I said, I love this. Enough of that though, let’s get to my goals for 2018 now!
Not shut down – Laugh if you want. Hell, even I can poke fun at this one. However, I am serious. It’s easier to talk from hindsight, but as I look back at my old outlet, Country Music Minds, I realize I wasn’t in the right head space when I was operating that blog. I often tried to be something I wasn’t, and once it got “big”, the pressure to keep up with all while balancing a real life got to be too much. As I’ve said before as well, writing under a pseudonym was a horrible idea. Granted, I prefer to go more along the lines of “anonymous” here with just “TMD” (although I have no problems with you referring to me by my name). It’s better than adopting the personality of a completely non-existent person. Right from the beginning of the year I had pretty much regretted it, causing me to make other blogs throughout the duration of the year and just being someone I wasn’t. Plus, I also wanted a blog with a name that truly reflected something. What I always wanted The Musical Divide to reflect was that music is the one thing where we can be completely divided on and still act civil. Well, I should just say it’s “easier” to act civil with music, but even that’s hard to truly implement, especially when you’re an opinionated blogger 🙂
So overall, now that I’ve found my happy place so to say with this blog, I want to keep it that way. I was able to recover a bunch of my earlier reviews this year, and between that and my current pieces, I’ve got a blog that feels more complete to me (and of course, Andy still has his posts as well so he’s always welcome to write as well 🙂 ). With that said, even though I plan to not shut down, we need to get something else out of the way…
Talking less about myself while simultaneously giving my reviews more of a personal touch.
I know, the framing of this one is weird. But let’s face it, what you just read up above sounds like a bad sob story, and it is considering this is all centered around a music blog. Therefore, I’m likely going to stop referring to my blogging history after this post. What’s past is past, and while I’d like to have just one great full year, I’ve at least got almost three years worth of posts to be proud of. I’ll take it.
However, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be hearing less of “me” in my posts. While I would always prefer to read something rather than watch it (a critical issue facing journalism by the way), a lot of the people who make me want to be a better critic spawn from Youtube (yes, there are bloggers who do too…chill). I’m talking specifically about The Needle Drop and Spectrum Pulse when I say this. They’re brutally honest, and they don’t care what anyone thinks about their opinions. Believe me, I’ve got lots of criticisms for both of their styles, but there’s still that element that makes me appreciate what they do.
Earlier this year I published a piece about just how subjective music truly is, and while I have since retracted that statement (there is such a thing as good and bad music, but that doesn’t mean we can only like the former), I still think there’s something to it. As humans, we don’t like all of the good music out there. The best EDM album in the world may have come out this year, but considering I’m not wild about hardcore EDM unless it’s fused with say, Bluegrass or something, I probably wouldn’t like it. That’s not to say it’s not good, again, it’s just not for me. That happens all the time with music. I’ve talked with writers in private who have told me they wanted to like Rhiannon Giddens’ ‘Freedom Highway’ a lot more than they did, an album which objectively is one of the most well-constructed albums of the year that has a lot of depth to it. It just wasn’t clicking for them. To most readers and music fans, this may be considered as sacrilegious, but hey, it happens to all of us at some point. Nobody can possibly like or dislike everything out there, not even the albums considered “good”.
Critics like Anthony Fantano and Mark Grondin are able to acknowledge that while also running down their reasons why the album might not appeal to them as much. Ultimately, you’re going to hear where THEY stand because they’re doing this for themselves. As much as I do appreciate anyone who stops and reads my ramblings, at the end of the day I’m going to do a better job next year of telling you MY thoughts. As such, I’m implementing a new rule where I don’t read any reviews of something I’m covering until my review is published. It’s not because I’m easily swayed (well…I used to be). It’s because I don’t want to steal someone else’s thoughts or cool insights that they’ve thought up on their own.
Continue to distance myself from the groupthink culture
Ever since about July I honestly felt as if I’ve found my groove as a critic. I feel like my writing has improved, and honestly being myself has done more for me than going with the crowd ever did. I don’t hate all pop-country, and I don’t think the everything “indie” means it’s automatically better than what you’ll hear on the radio. Now, I do think Country and Americana have a strong groupthink culture. Certain artists are untouchable in regards to criticism, and certain artists are artists you’re pretty much expected to completely dislike, especially since they “ain’t real country”.
Look, I’m not here to fill a quota or anything. I review what I like and I like/dislike what I like/dislike. I do think good and bad music exists, but I also don’t think it’s as black and white as everyone makes it out to be. I once saw a comment from someone on Twitter saying something along the lines of “so many music critics are giving good albums 6/10…I don’t get it”. Well, that’s why different opinions exist. For example, I gave Chris Stapleton’s From A Room Vol. 2 album a 6 when lots of other people showered it with love. I provided a review with my reasoning for my thoughts as well as the score. Instead of asking questions like the one above, why not engage with my viewpoint and challenge me on it? Ultimately another big goal I want for this blog is to at least get some thoughtful discussions going around, either here or on Twitter. Don’t just assume my stance is the end all be all, and more importantly, don’t assume any critic’s point of view is the end all be all. We’re not perfect either.
Of course, ultimately when I say “separate myself from the groupthink culture”, I don’t say it just for the sake of being different. Writing a review that always reflects the opposite of what everyone thinks is just as useful as following the crowd is (meaning it isn’t). I’m just trying to say that here, I want my thoughts to be unbiased, presented clearly, challenged, and most importantly, solely my own.
Not tag artists or get involved with them or anyone involved with their teams
Heck, tagging artists in reviews that I’d publish to say, Twitter or Facebook was how I grew any other blog I had, and it’s a common practice for many people. With The Musical Divide, I’ve rarely done it. I have on occasion, and I really broke my rule to not do it when I published my “best songs” list (and best albums list too, but I ended up deleting that tweet), but in truth doing so makes me incredibly anxious at this point. I regret doing it. This is one thing where I know some people think I’m being too harsh, but I’m putting my foot down on this one – I want to be completely independent. I hate getting too close to an artist or their team since it clouds my judgment when talking about their music. It will inevitably cause me to be super-duper positive even if that may not be how I feel, and lying would just eat me up inside. It seems silly, I know, and truthfully it is. After all, aren’t there a bunch of artists out there who need support? Sure, but I’ve found that most of the artists I truly love and really want to show all of you have been found on my own time anyway. I explore a lot of music every week, and trust me, if I wanted to feature it, I would. A lot of what I hear isn’t worth it. That’s not to say we’re in a dry age of music, folks. In fact, with the Internet age, we’re probably in the best age of music in a long time. You can’t just expect thousands upon thousands of great albums to just come to you. There aren’t that many in reality (hell, in terms of truly great albums, we’re lucky to get fifteen to twenty or so every year), and moreover, some of it is harder to find than others.
With that said, I am implementing somewhat of a “contact page” starting in 2018. For those who know my “What I’m Working On” page, you can actually leave a comment there. That page is going to be switched around a bit. Instead of updating the list with albums I for sure am going to cover, I’m going to list a bunch of albums I’m interested in well in advance IN THE ORDER I’M INTERESTED IN COVERING THEM IN. This will be updated near the first of every month. For example, I’d likely place Jason Isbell well above Joe Gussie and The Dirt Pickers because well, Jason Isbell is more of a high profile name (and Joe Gussie doesn’t exist). However, let’s say you wanted Joe higher up on the list. You can say in the comments below that you’d like to see a review for that album, and that will bump it up one spot on my review list, therefore passing Isbell.
Additionally, every Friday starting at noon (eastern standard time), you may also vote to have one album added to the list if I don’t already have it there. For example, you don’t have to waste your vote on something like say, First Aid Kit since I definitely want to cover that album already. What this is meant for is to bring some unknown albums to not only my attention, but also the readers’ attention as well. Additionally for those who want me to review an odd ball non-country album, there’s your chance as well. There’s a catch here though. I will only consider the first 3 comments asking for new albums. Any others after that will not be considered, not even for next week. I set a time for a reason. You may also request songs as well, and seeing as how three albums weighs about to be approximately thirty songs, I’ll take the first thirty comments for songs. If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask, since I know it seem confusing.
With that said though, just because you list an album or bump it higher is not a guarantee that it will get a review. Some albums take longer to digest, and some just leave me with nothing much to say. It’s just how it is. What you’d be ultimately be doing is increasing your chances, not getting a guarantee. Also, artists, if you read this, feel free to jump in on this as well. Please note I will not review anything early, and again, we don’t owe each other anything, so if I don’t like it, no hard feelings (I could love it though).
As for possibly exploring other genres…
Here’s my answer – I don’t know. Some people have wanted me to branch out and cover more acts outside of the Country and Americana realm, and truthfully, all I can say is “maybe”. Country music and everything else with it under this giant umbrella will always be at least 95% of what I cover here, and if I do cover something outside that realm like I did with Ron Gallo, Yelawolf, or Kesha, it’s likely to just be a one-off thing rather than something I implement regularly. If you don’t like it…well what can I say? Start your own blog. You can either do that or you can choose the new option of dropping a request on my “What I’m Working On” page. Aside from that, all I can promise right now is that I’m going to keep writing. What I actually write remains to be seen.
And a final one…actually do a better job of proofreading my material
I rarely go back and read old posts I’ve written. I do it for other blogs, but for me, considering we’re our harshest critics, if I actually ever really combed through what I wrote, I probably wouldn’t publish anything. I have a bad tendency to write the same way I talk, and Lord knows I could afford to cut down on the profanity. Aside from that, I also know literally all of my posts are littered with either bad grammar, typos, additional unneeded words, and so on. All I can promise is that I’ll try to do a better job of being my own editor for 2018. I may not like it, but it has to be done.
Also, on a lighter note I’d also like to cut down on the vulgarity. Sure, those Dustin Lynch and Walker Hayes albums were absolute nightmares, and they were both fun to write about. Still, if I’m going to curse next year, I want it to just be the occasional “hell” which I usually just as a trasitionary word anyway. I kept it about the music, yes, but there’s really no need for angry rants either.
I think that just about covers it. To everyone reading this, thanks for reading the site, and have a Happy New Year! Here’s to a (hopefully) better 2018 for all of us!