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Longform Critics Offer Shortform Responses to @SPINReviews

With yesterday’s launch of @SPINReviews, a Twitter account for short, sharp sound opinions, the magazine reduces its longform crit to 20 reviews a month. SPIN’s senior editor explains the move, while we sought the Twitter reviews of other music critics on SPIN’s Twitter reviews.

Music industry ears pricked up this week when SPIN magazine announced it’ll constrain most of its music criticism to 140-character bursts. Instead of stuffing the magazine with longer reviews, SPIN will limit itself to 20 in-depth reviews a month, with the Twitter feed @SPINReviews taking over on 1500 album reviews this year.

It’s a disruptive change, to say the least. So we asked other longform critics to sound off on the idea—in 140 characters or less.

Some chose to do so via email, not on Twitter (telling!). Former SPIN editor in chief Alan Light, who currently hosts Live From The Artists Den, offered a quote: "The most elementary obligation of criticism is to increase the accessibility of aesthetic presentation—Albert Murray. Tough job in 140 characters, but let’s see…"

We looked for other Twitter-based criticism of the move from other industry voices. Here’s what they said.

Austin Louis Ray, EMusic, Paste

Austin Louis Ray, EMusic, Paste

Scott Plagenhoef, Pitchfork Media

Steven Hyden, The Onion AV Club

JT Ramsay, Comcast

James McMahon, Kerrang!

Rob Mitchum, Pitchfork

Aidin Vaziri, The San Francisco Chronicle

While popular opinion seems to be trending toward the snarky side, perhaps critics can still be convinced about SPIN’s intentions. This, uh, spinoff into @SPINreviews is the brainchild of senior editor, Chris Weingarten. According to him, the main problem with music reviews these days is that nobody reads them. "It’s something we all do less and less because Spotify and Mediafire are making our decisions for us. Why do I need to read 2,000 words on a record I’ve already heard?"

After Weingarten started working at SPIN last fall, all he could think about was how to bring the review section into 2012. "It was almost a little obsession of mine for a couple of weeks," he says. The idea was to get people energized about reading record reviews again, using the rapid fire wordplay Twitter traffics in, but also with more in-depth coverage on certain albums.

"By reducing our review count and making each one a little more thinkpiece-y, we’re sort of treating every longform record review like an event. I’m hoping that’s going to translate to more than just dumping cool info on Twitter," Weingarten says.

Although some bands might gripe about not being selected for the royal longform treatment, @SPINReviews actually opens the door for many, many more bands to be reviewed than could possibly fit in the typical 70-80 records per month the magazine usually boasts. In that sense, the new initiative is going to offer bands exposure for a lot of music aficionados who might never have heard of them.

"I want people to read reviews about records they aren’t familiar with, rather than just skim through to what they already know," Weingarten says. "That’s the hardest thing to do on the internet: getting people to pay attention to something that isn’t preaching to their particular choir."

SPIN has approximately 12 freelancers and eight in-house editors assigned to tweet duty, putting out a constant stream of catchy, quick-hit reviews. As for longform, these reviews will fall into three different categories. First, there are the new Spin Essentials, which will focus on the kinds of albums that the entire staff jams out to in the office all month (The first of these is up already—an epic review of the reunited Guided by Voices by editor in chief, Steve Kandell). Then there are the reviews for newsworthy albums that simply must be addressed. Finally, there are good old fashioned spirited takedowns of regrettable albums like the Gucci Mane and V-Nasty collaboration, BAYTL—the kind of records people love to hate.

While it remains unclear how bands, critics, and fans will react to SPIN’s overhaul in the long run, by Weingarten’s standards the project is already a success: "All we want is to be part of a bigger conversation. There’s an ongoing conversation in music, and increasingly record reviews are being left out of it entirely. I just hope this is a way for us to be a part of conversations that are already happening."

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6 Comments

  • philip sherburne

    With all due respect, your introduction is misleading. You write, "Instead of stuffing the magazine with 1,000-plus-word reviews, SPIN will limit itself to 20 in-depth reviews a month." But the magazine has never been "stuffed" with 1,000-plus-word reviews; IIRC, there's been one long-form review, a few at 225 or so words, and the rest clocking 80-100.

  • akay1

    I remember the days when Spin had interesting articles, but the last time I picked up an issue, it seemed like half the magazine was devoted to showing cool kids wearing neon jeans at parties in New York. This review system seems like the next appropriate step in the dumbing-down of the magazine.

  • Oregonian

    That GBV is "epic"? Surely you don't mean that.

    I hope that review is not an example of what Chris means when he says "we’re sort of treating every longform record review like an event."

    700 words is nice, but it is not longform.