With regards to the Next Big Thing album review recently published in the Threefold Advocate, I believe three major things should have been taken into account when writing these reviews: the size of this school, the weight of the contest, and the means by which the music was produced.
John Brown campus life is small, and most of us read the Threefold. When a student’s name is in the paper, it is likely the reader cannot only see that student in their head, but also recall an incident where they’ve met the student. If there is something positive or negative said about a student in the paper, the student and the student body will know. Those that do not know the student personally will be inclined to believe whatever is written about the student, regardless of whether or not the statements are sensible or accurate.
The students in the Next Big Thing take it seriously. They may play it off to not be a big deal, but it is. Nobody wants to lose, and the losers don’t want or need to hear they’re awful. But it is not just the bands that are invested in this. It is their families, their friends, and their mentors. Surely every mother deserves to read at least one thing good about her child if they’ve been mentioned in a Christian school’s newspaper?
Contestants had merely hours to record their music. It was recorded at the BPAC in a small studio with only one isolation booth. The engineers are green, and still getting their footing in recording software application and acoustics. The fact that there was an album made in the time that it was is a feat. When there are 6 bands, with no less than 4 members, recording track-by-track in a tiny studio, with only 3 hours to do it, and 2 sound engineers (tops) working on it, the final product is going to be an album that sounded like the one the critics listened to. It is a demo album. Butch Vig did not produce it, Bonnie McKee didn’t co-write it, and Gibson didn’t sponsor it. These are humble, simple recordings that should be “reviewed” with grace in light of these circumstances and limitations.
There is obviously great responsibility in writing a critique of musicians who have yet to compete. If it cannot be approached with emotional intelligence and proper understanding of the entire context, the task should not be taken up at all. There is no bicycle more ‘square-wheeled’ than a review with inflammatory language and no balance of negatives and positives. I will quote the two reviews that did this very thing.
“Unimpressive vocally, musically, and lyrically. The words sound like they were borrowed from a medley of Hillsong lyrics. Pretty forgettable.”
“Sloppy all around. This song muddled about from start to finish like a bicycle with square wheels. More direction, tightening, and vocal strength needed.”
Ouch. These artists are supposed to get up and play with confidence knowing that the majority of the student body has read these reviews and will be partial to them? Are these reviews personal? If so, perhaps other writers should have been considered. Were these read in their entirety by the editor before being printed, knowing that the effect they would have on the contestants?
If the critics feel that what they’ve said is completely called for, then it is best they didn’t speak at all. To write such scathing reviews next to reviews that lauded other contestants makes it that much worse.
I have some advice of my own and I do hope it is taken: Review not the demo album next year; Review the performances. That is what the contest is based on. And if there is nothing nice to be said, don’t publish it. Write it in your diary.