Editorial bias in music

18th March 2014

Editor admits his web site is biased.

Following claims that the content of Music in Leicester is biased, Trevor Locke commented: “Yes it is.”

As Editor-in-Chief of the Music in Leicester web site (responsible to the publishers for its day-to-day upkeep,) I want to make it clear that it is biased. Neither I or the publishers have ever said that it would be unbiased.

This blog article clarifies what that bias is and why it exists. Firstly, we are biased to Leicester and Leicestershire in our coverage of live music. That is why this website is called Music in Leicester. We do cover bands that are from other areas of the East Midlands and bands that come from elsewhere in the UK (and the rest of the world) to play here. We have no pretensions of being a national music outlet.

Secondly, we are biased to what, in our opinion,  is good music. We do not write reviews of bands that we consider to be less than good. We do not publish reviews that run-down, deride or negatively criticise bands that fail to meet our standards of good music. When I say “our”, I mean the writers who contribute to the website and of course the company that publishes it. If someone offered a review that was very critical of a band and dismissive of its musical abilities, I doubt we would publish it, even if the article was technically argued and the analysis carefully set out.

Unlike some reviews we have seen on the Internet, we do not want to take this approach to musical criticism. If a band is  bad we prefer to say nothing.

We do sometimes comment on the short-comings of a music act but that is usually in a review that offers a generally positive stance on the band and its performance.

We do see bands, at shows we attend, whose performance is less than adequate and we see singers whose work is below standard.

If we have failed to publish a review on a gig or a band that we have seen, it will be only because we have not yet got round to it. So, if you know we have seen your band but have not yet published anything, that should not be taken to imply that we think it is bad in any way.

So what do we define as being “good music”? To my mind there are three main criteria:

1. The band plays music that is listenable and enjoyable. That applies across all genres of music – from hardcore metal to soft folk. If it is music, then we will write about it.
2. Music is good if the audience reacted reasonably well to it. Leicester audiences are nearly always polite – they will applaud any act, however bad. Unlike some crowds however they do not boo an act or even worse ignore it completely. So we have to look for other signs of appreciation or disinterest. You can tell a lukewarm response when you see one.
3. One band might have good points and bad points. It is possible to watch a band that was generally fairly good but lacked something important. Some bands have remarkably good front singers backed by musicians who were ok without being impressive.

Our sense of “good music” is fairly ‘broad-church’ and very inclusive. We do not have set attitudes to what is good and what is not; we do allow writers a lot of latitude to write enthusiastically about the bands they personally admire. In some websites I have seen, a guy has turned up at a gig, dissed off a band he personally did not like and has given readers his own bias on music – telling us nothing about the gig or the audience that was there and leaving us only with a knowledge of him as a person.

I hope that we are not as bad as that. I do however recognise that some people regard the art of music criticism as requiring closely-argued reasons as to why a band’s music was good, indifferent or bad. I sometimes read the Guardian’s rock music columns, as well as those in NME, The Fly or other publications. Styles of music journalism vary a great deal. Some of these column inches go right over my head; others seem to portray negatively critical reviews as being cool. I personally don’t like music magazines that are written by 20 year olds for other 20 year olds –  where being seen to be cool or hip is the over-riding requirement.

Most of our reviews are not written for music buffs. As I have said elsewhere, our writers are just fans of music and they are writing for other music fans. Few of us are musicians. When I am at gigs I will sometimes ask musicians in the audience about some technical aspect of what we are hearing, e.g. “Did you think that band is tight?”, or “Is that person singing in tune or off key?”

Most of our writers do not talk about the way a band made key changes in the third bar of the intro or used a riff that was straight out of [insert a name of a well known band here and one of their more obscure albums].

If most of the people who stand before the stages we frequent do not understand the technicalities of the music they are enjoying, it does not need us to blind them with musical science and to prattle on about erudite aspects of rock.

What we try to do is to celebrate the feeling of the set, the atmosphere of the night, the vibe of the band, the enjoyment value of the gig. We have adjectives that we use to describe what we heard and the emotional impact it had on us and the crowd and we might also tell readers something about the band and give a link to its website.

When I have been at gigs, I might ask a variety of people what they thought about a band. In some cases that results in a divergence of onion – from “ace” to “shit.” Any group of people at a gig will vary in its reaction to a band, from very positive through to negative.

Some have complained that we [at Music in Leicester]  are biased to certain kinds of bands and certain styles of music; I find that very difficult to believe. Ours is not a wiki website; it is not intended to be an encyclopedia of Leicester’s music. If it was it would have to be unbiased but since it is not,  we stick to our intended bias and this article has tried to make clear what that is.

The bias of this website is towards good music; we don’t run votes or polls about this – we just trust our own judgement.