Sunday, April 20, 2008


A performer or composer gets a review from a newspaper critic. A musicologist or theorist gets an article published in a referree'd music journal. A composer or a musicologist gets a score or an edition published by a house with a substantial reputation. While there have certainly been cases of compromised, if not corrupt, reviewers, journal editors, or publishers, by and large, these institutional arrangements did a reasonably good job of providing at least one channel for the evaluation of a musician or scholar's work, and often this evaluation would become a permanent part of a bio or cv, which in turn became part of a performer's press package or an academic's tenure and promotion file. All of these institutions are in transition at the moment: newspapers publish fewer reviews, if they publish any, journals are notoriously slow to publish and face competition from other media, and traditional publishing has largely been subsumed by the broader commercial field of rights management, in which serious music plays an ever more insignificant role. In part, web-based media (including journals, music publishing, and yes, Virginia, blogging) have taken on many of these functions, but have institutions in professional concert management or academe recognized these changes? Does a composer still need to be published by B&H or Schott? Can a performer include online review in his or her promo materials? Can an academic get tenure with a non-referee'd, but oft-read-and-discussed online article?

It has been often objected that bloggers are self-appointed and lack the qualifications of independent referees. However, traditional publishers and concert managers and musicological authorities rose to their positions through market (or, at least, market-like) forces, and similar forces appear to be at work online. Any of the lists of the most-read blogs, for example, will reveal that the tops of the lists have gelled around writers with significant professional qualifications or experiences, including those writers who identify themselves simply as music-loving amateurs. Moreover, the incorporation of comments into blogs expands the content and context of the information and opinions in the blog, further assisting in the critical reading of a blogged opinion. I wrote here before:
"In other words, in order to read a piece of criticism, you have to read critically. Basta."
I believe that the one of the most important changes in these institutional structures is that participants in institutional systems must become far less passive consumers of information when using it to evaluate the work of their colleagues. This may well entail reading the information in greater depth, following its own argument, and not immediately assuming that information received from traditionally esteemed channels should automatically share that esteem. There are some small signs that music managers have begun to recognize and even solicit online opinions of artists, taking advantage of the rapid, cost-effective, permanent, and viral presence of online opinion. Academia is somewhat slower: a posting on the un-referee'd alternative tuning list with hundreds of follow-ups may well represent a more serious, timely, and productive bit of music theory than an article in Teh Journal of Music Theory but, as far as I can tell, only the JMT article is going to help with tenure at Podunk U..

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