Should City Paper Cover More Singer-Songwriters?
While City Paper's punk cred appears to be well intact, the same can't be said of our singer/songwriter cred. Last month, I looked back at the paper's print music coverage in 2011, in the hopes of copping to our biases and identifying genres I felt deserved more of our attention:
Our music coverage remains heavily titled toward indie rock, punk, garage rock, and post-hardcore. Hip-hop probably comes next, but while Oddisee, Black Indian, and Pro'Verb got squibs in print—and X.O. got a full review—plenty of the year's most notable mixtapes never got mentioned beyond Arts Desk. I'd like to see more full-fledged mixtape reviews in 2012, especially since the line separating mixtapes from albums keeps getting blurrier and blurrier.
Two of the biggest success stories in local EDM didn't nab print mentions (although they were all over Arts Desk): Volta Bureau and the Future Times label. Oops. We missed some notable experimental releases, too. Our go-go coverage was mostly pitiful. And not enough of [Mike] West's and Mike Paarlberg's and Steve Kiviat's excellent online jazz and classical and world-music coverage (respectively) migrated to our weekly edition.
Then I added this parenthetical: "For the most part, we ignored the area's abundance of pop-folksy singer/songwriters, but, yeah, that won't change in 2012."
Fast-forward three weeks, and some local singer/songwriters are strumming a sad tune about the remark. Scroll to the bottom of the comments on my earlier post.
One musician, Ted Garber, took me to task on Twitter (actually, he called me "#douche"). Then he sent me this note:
Per our volley on #Twitter:
I find your recent comments from December 2011's WCP issue indefensible. The first time I ever heard about the Washington City Paper was from the "area's abundance of pop-folksy singer-songwriters" who vehemently encouraged me to read and support it when I started as a full-time professional musician in 1996. I still remember the full-length features written on some of my first mentors, including Kevin James and Daryl Davis. These same types of artists founded and continue to fund The Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) and The Songwriter's Association of Washington (SAW). I am well aware that, as with any editor's desk, you and your staff have biases. However, admitting to one's inclinations is not the same as flippantly bragging about them–mocking hardworking professional artists with open disdain for their craft. Moreover, rather than confessing to an inherent bias which you seek to counter, you proffer that you and your staff plan on continuing this predisposition throughout the coming year: "Yeah, that's not going to change in 2012." You, sir, made it personal. Hence, it should come as no surprise that so many have taken it personally.
I would expect more from a paper that so many of my own clan helped to tout and proliferate. Furthermore, I am truly shocked and furious that a chief section editor would not only permit such a lop-sided leaning among his own staff but that he would have the Capital City know that the bias is grossly intentional and perpetual. Your comments mock and defame an entire faction of our city's rich and eclectic musical heritage.
I am not writing out of sour grapes–some "reckoning" for the feature article or album review I never received. I am fortunate to have made a living solely from music since 1996 without any help from The City Paper, not even a plug or an honorable mention. No, I am writing to you out of respect and admiration for my fellow "pop-folksy singer songwriters" that you consciously ignore. As with any other professional artists, these people often work exceedingly hard in exchange for little to no pay. As with artists in every other genre, they devote their time and their efforts to a career path most deem too difficult or too thankless. They don't choose the genre of music that radiates from their soul any more than a person chooses his or her sexual orientation. They are following their compass. They make joyful noise for the world. It is their calling. It is mine. If you clearly do not intend to aid in this calling, at least do your best not to hinder it. We are all part of Washington's music community. Should we not be able to look to our local media outlets as a resource?
I hope you will consider my comments as a fellow member of the local music community and someone who has always had great respect for the long-standing Washington City Paper. I hope its fine tradition endures. I go on record thus.
Here's what I told Garber:
My personal tastes aside, I'm honestly not opposed to City Paper covering, critically, any genre that's made locally. (Certainly, as a reporter and not a critic, I try to write a lot about the economics of every kind of local art.) But because my reviewers are generally pretty specialized, there are sounds that we favor and sounds that we end up ignoring (indeed, consciously). If a critic with the right chops and the right voice wanted to write about singer-songwriters for City Paper, I'd be open to it; it hasn't happened in the two years I've had the job. So, in all likelihood, "yeah, that's not going to change in 2012."
So there you have it.