Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Question of Fan Entitlement and the Sanctity of Artistic Vision

There has been a lot of discussion and controversy about whether the ending of Mass Effect 3 should change or not and although I made my opinion of the ending quite clearly on my previous blog post, this post is not a discussion on the quality of the ending but a discussion on whether changing the ending violates the artistic vision of the creator and is a victory of fan entitlement.

Now I make a declaration that I consider myself an amateur artist who writes music for fun. Due to this perspective as an amateur artist, I’m actually very sympathetic to the idea that you create art as an expression of your own personal vision (or if the work is collaborative the collective vision of the artist involves). Although you hope that other people share your vision and would like your work, in the end you create art to express your personal vision and not the vision of other people expectation has on you. I honestly believe that an artist should have free reign to create whatever art they want and if it different to what other people want and you are willing to accept the responsibilities and consequences that is different to what people want (such as less people would buy your work of art or previous fans would be disillusion by the difference in artistic vision) then so be it. I guess from my personal taste, I always admired the whole story about Bob Dylan going electric whilst the crowds were booing him because he remained true to his artistic vision despite criticism from fans and audience.

The role of the audience is simply to accept or reject the vision of the creator and make a choice on whether to purchase or not purchase the artwork. I don’t believe the artist should be force to have the audience to become part of the creative process.

I recognised that sometimes commercial factor to impact on the artistic vision of the work because everyone must make a living. Nevertheless it is still up to the artist discretion to determine how much commercial and accessible their artwork is and how much artistic vision they want to sacrifice to achieve that (sometimes this means having your artistic vision being filtered by the people funding the development and distribution of your work such as the whole Bioware and EA partnership).

So in my opinion, if Bioware are really proud of the ending and read all the criticism of the ending and still maintain that the ending is still good and are willing to accept the consequences of fan discontent (such as potential lost in future sales and PR damage) and decided to keep the ending as it is then that is their prerogative and that is their right.  They do not have an obligation to change the ending simply because the fans are unhappy. Even though I personally dislike the ending, I would personally admire any artist who remains true to their artistic vision despite massive criticism (even if I question the ability of the artist to evaluate their own work in the process)

This is why I do not support one of the fans complaining to Federal Trade Commission because this is bordering on supporting artistic censorship. Even if there was false advertisement with the ending (which I’m not entirely convince of because the choice do change the ending, it just change the ending in a personally frustratingly small way), I personally believe that playing and messing with expectation of the audience is a legitimate artistic statement and that shouldn’t be censored. I mean I didn't expect Million Dollar Baby to suddenly switch and become a euthanasia movie or Dusk to dawn to turn into a vampire slasher movie out of nowhere and I'm quite sure there are plenty of examples of storytelling where the story suddenly change theme.

If the point of Mass Effect 3 was to bait players that choice matters and then pulling the rug at the end, then I believe that is a legitimate artistic statement even if I personally think it was done poorly. I believe it is the risk that audience take when purchasing any work of art that the work may not match your taste and your expected quality and the artistic work shouldn’t be censored or change because of that.

I also don’t believe that the interactive nature of video games means that the audience are now the creative partner of the game.  This is because each choice made in the game was designed by the artist and not designed by the audience. It’s essentially the artist creating a branched narrative and creating multiple plot point and this has been done before in choose your own adventures books.

However, does this mean that all the people who are unhappy with the ending and support a change in ending are guilty of fan entitlement and are trying to infringe on artistic freedom?

In my personal opinion the answer is no. Although the artists are entitled to release whatever work they want and no one should force them to change the ending. The audience doesn’t have to accept or like whatever work the artist is releasing. I personally believe that the audience of any form of art are entitled to criticise the work of art (as long as the criticism is respectful and constructive) and to reject the vision of the artist especially if they paid money for it.  Some people argued that suggesting the ending to be change to be taking the criticism too far but I disagree because the best kind of criticism isn’t just pointing out the problems of the work but to suggest solutions to the problem. Suggesting that the game would be improved if the ending is change is a legitimate constructive criticism of a work of art and not fan entitlement. Suggesting that if the ending won’t change, you would stop purchasing future products from Bioware shouldn’t be dismiss as whinging because the audience are allowed to vote with their wallets.

Most artist (although not all especially the more egocentric artist) recognise that they aren’t perfect and often during the creative process they will show their work to creative partners, other work colleagues, friends and family etc and ask their opinion on their work of art. They often receive constructive criticism and then the artist will then filter out the criticism that they don’t agree but often take in board criticism and suggestions that they recognise are valid and then make alterations to their work as a result of that.

In my mind, I don’t see this as different to Bioware out of their free will decided to change the ending as a result of reacting to constructive criticism from fans and taking on board suggestion and critique that they believe are valid after reflecting on the criticism. Sure the criticisms are from strangers that they have never met but in my opinion, a valid criticism from a stranger is just as valid as a criticism from a friend or family or work colleague or creative partner.

I believe that people make assumptions that if Bioware change the ending, they would be giving in to fan entitlement but this precludes the possibility that Bioware could sincerely change an ending because they believe the change would improve the game and story after reflecting in all the criticism they received. If you believe that the artist have free reign to do whatever they want with their work then surely it is within the artist right to change their work if they wanted to.

Some people may have a problem of changing the work after it has already been publicly released. After all, my scenario I mention before was about the artist changing their work after reflecting on criticism before the work was released and during the draft stage of production. However, in my mind this shouldn’t be an issue because this happens plenty of times without much criticism (sometimes the content of the change has been criticise and is controversial but not at the concept that the first public release should be the final release)

It’s not uncommon for works of art to be re-released with changes in content. Sometimes the changes is there to reflect the “true” artistic vision and reverse executive meddling changes such as releasing the director’s cut of the film that sometimes have a different ending (such as Blade runner) or for a musician to re-release the album with the correct tracklisting. It could be an art work is re-release to take advantage of modern production technique such as the controversial “special edition” of Star Wars (I know there are debates whether George Lucas has the right to make alteration to the original movie, in my opinion he has the right even if I disagree with all the changes he made) and numerous remastered and remixed and sometimes re-recorded release of earlier work (such as Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells).

Lastly it’s not unprecedented for artist to re-released work with alteration as a reaction to criticism from fans and critics. Highlander 2: The Quickening was re-released in 1995 where the director has changed and removed all reference to the immortals being aliens which was the most controversial aspect of the film. In music, King Crimson re-released In The Court Of Crimson King and cut out 2:30 minutes of the widely criticised song Moonchild and relegated the original version as a “bonus track”. In literature, Sherlock Holmes death was retcon and removed from canon after public complaint. Of course in video games, the ending of Fallout 3 was altered in a DLC. Therefore I don’t see any reason why the story of Mass Effect 3 is sacrosanct and can’t be changed when many other arts have change after public complaint.

In the end I agree with the premise that the artist shouldn’t be enslaved to the wants of the fans of the series and should have artistic freedom to do what they want with the series. However the fans have the right to not accept and like the vision of the artist and should be allowed to suggest a change in ending without being labelled “entitled” in the process.

Whatever choice Bioware makes whether it is to change the ending or keep the ending, it should be respected or at least accepted because it is there work and the final say should rest with them. I personally support the change in ending but if the ending isn’t change, I may well stopped buying Bioware product because their idea on what constitute as good storytelling contradicts with my idea of what is a good resolution to the series but I won’t begrudge them of their choice to stick with their own vision.

If they do choose to change the ending, then I hope they do it out of sincere desire to improve the ending (therefore maintain their artistic vision/integrity) after reflecting on all the criticism they received instead of sense of obligation to “give the fans what they want”. After all, you can pay someone to change the ending but you can't pay someone to care and put their heart and soul into making the ending right.

It has to be done by someone in the writing team who was personally and professionally dissatisfied with the ending made and take this task with the attitude of redeeming the ending. I feel that is the only way it would work.

If they are not willing to put their heart and soul into changing the ending then it may well be better off that the ending remains this way because in my mind the remade ending may well makes things even worst and this may well be the case of being careful of what you wish for because it may come true. After all, if a lot of people are unsatisfied with the current ending, what makes you think that the remade ending would be any better or improvement especially when the writers are remaking the ending not out of passionate pride to improve the ending but doing it only on a sense of obligation?  

If the same people who primarily worked on the original ending and was proud of it then were given the task to change the ending they were proud of (there have been comments from some writers who express that point of view), well the results could be absolutely disastrous because you having writers who clearly gritting their team writing an ending that they don’t care for and have no pride for and it’s going to reflect the quality of the ending the fans receive.  

For all those people who support a change in ending. I believe those people should pull out their charm points (used constructive criticism to appeal to their desire to release an artistically respected work) or your intimidate points (appeal to Bioware self interest about future loss of sales) to try and persuade Bioware to change the ending. However at the same time they should recognise that in the end its Bioware choice and not the fans to whether to change the ending.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My reaction to Mass Effect 3 Ending

Mass Effect 3 has a really controversial ending that has divided the fans with many people feeling outrage and angry by the conclusion. Although I don’t really believe in being outrage over any story no matter how bad it is, I do believe that the ending was pretty poor and I found the moment Shepard return to the citadel to be the moment the series jumped the shark. There seems to be two main interpretations of the ending, the literal interpretation and the “indoctrination” theory. I find both to be problematic for different reasons.

For the literal interpretation where I take what happen on the screen at face value and not try to read anything more to that.

My main problem with the ending

1.    Shepard behaves out of character

Mac Walters – The Lead Writer of the game
“Originally, with the Catalyst, the star child at the end of the game, I had written that much more in the guise of a investigative style conversation, where there is something he tells you, but then you get to ask a bunch of questions and you get your questions answered. But then me and Casey talked and decided, let’s keep the conversation ‘high level’. Give you the details that you need to know, but don’t get into the stuff that you don’t need to know. Like ‘How long have they been reaping?’ You don’t need to know the answers to the Mass Effect universe. So we intentionally left those out.”

The problem with this comment is this go completely goes against Shepard’s character as Shepard potentially (assuming you are the type of person who choose investigative dialogue all the time) is a pretty inquisitive character. It's one thing to want the catalyst to remain a mystery, it's another thing in changing Shepard's character to achieve that.

Let’s remember that Shepard is potentially a pretty opinionated and nosy character that could potentially get into a passionate argument and debates and involves themselves with personal affairs with every major character of the game (including our own allies) but when he/she finally face the villain who was responsible for Shepard fighting against the reapers, he/she could only offer limp criticism of the catalyst and was mostly compliant to the catalyst demands.

When Shepard meets up with the catalyst from the citadel it is revealed that the catalyst was the force that controlled the reapers and the cycle of destruction. Essentially the catalyst was the force that Shepard has been fighting against throughout the entire Mass Effect series and is the primary villain of the entire series.

So how did Shepard react when meeting the real reaper who was responsible for all his/her troubles and responsible for mass genocide?

Well Shepard didn’t show any real outrage with the reaper, took whatever the catalyst says at face value, did not challenge the underlying premise of the mass genocide

Instead of proactively creating a solution out of the situation, Shepard passively “chose” the solution created by the main villain of the entire game and never argued against the catalyst on their basic premise that it is inevitable that synthetics and organic lifeform will fight toward extinction and barely argued with the catalyst on the method to prevent the extinction.

The catalyst reveals itself to Shepard as the innocent boy who died at the beginning of the game as the way to reduce the hostility and pacify Shepard and put an innocent face over the mass genocide. The ending showed that this ruse work completely as Shepard is reduced to this compliant person who refused to even get in an argument with the catalyst.

This incredibly weakens the character of Shepard who regardless of their Paragon/Renegade status is portrayed as a proactive, intelligent, opinionated and strong willed individual. It’s almost as if an outside force is controlling Shepard :).

It got pretty ridiculous when the catalyst revealed that using the crucible would destroy the mass relays which Shepard knows from his/her experience in The Arrival (as well as a codex entry that revealed that most nations refuse to consider that an option in fighting the reapers) that this would wiped out solar systems around the surrounding mass relay. Shepard wasn’t alarm by this and just accepted the catalyst at their word that the crucible would destroy the mass relay without causing any problems.

2.    Restriction of choice

The game normally allows both sides of the argument a fair chance to argue their point of view and therefore allow Shepard to reflect the players personal stance on the issue but in this one occasion did not give the player the choice to argue with the catalyst and therefore suppress a legitimate point of view. It makes perfect sense for Shepard to challenge the idea that organics and synthetic lifeform would eventually fight each other to extinction especially if he/she just brokered the quarian and geth alliance. After all the biggest synthetic/organic conflict was between the quarian and geth but that was a smaller and more contained conflict compared to the rachni war or the krogan rebellion.

This would have given the players to reflect their personalities and their own belief on the issue as well as forced the catalyst to reveal more about their motivations and background story where the catalyst would explain more about their backstory on the creation of the reaper trying to defend its action and by revealing evidence on why they think the conflict is inevitable due to their experience in the lengthy history of the galaxy (therefore more than just Shepard’s lifespan) instead of just having Shepard take their word for it.

We ended up having three endings where none of them challenge the catalyst perspective that organic and synthetic lifeform can’t co-exist. The “destroy” ending wipes out all current synthetic lifeform and hence demonstrates the incompatibility of synthetic and organic beings.

The synthesis ending removes the difference between organic and synthetic lifeform and therefore demonstrate that the synthetic and organic can’t co-exist due to them respecting and tolerating differences between the two type of life-form but can only co-existing by making them be the same (and also achieving the reaper goal of creating organic/synthetic hybrid). This is kind of “solving” racial conflict by having people suddenly with a wave of a hand suddenly becoming one race instead of people learning to tolerate things that are different (in the end people would just find new “differences” to nitpick on). The idea that conflict is due to genetic differences instead of just difference in ideology, outlook and free will seems pretty racist.

The control ending seems to be the most likely ending to challenge the catalyst points of view (although it still involves Shepard enslaving the reapers and removing their free will even if it can be argued morally that the reapers don’t deserve free will due to their mass genocide) but it is still problematic because it involves trusting the Catalyst that Shepard can control the reapers whilst previously establishing that you can’t control the reapers without the reapers controlling you. The control ending just looks like a trap, if the reapers were happy for Shepard to control it and then to do whatever Shepard wants with it such as ordering the reapers ship to stop destroying organic life and probably sending all the ships to the sun to blow themselves up and the catalyst was happy with the conclusion. Why can't the catalyst do it themselves? Why do they need Shepard to sacrifice his/her life to do it?

Although the ending differs in the method used to prevent extinction of organic life, there was no choice challenging the basic premise of the catalyst which really goes against one of the potential theme (depending on whether players pursue this theme) prevailing throughout the game of tolerance and unity.

I’m not saying that everyone has to disagree with the premise of the catalyst, I’m just saying that people who do disagree with the premise of the catalyst felt restricted and frustrated by the ending because they couldn’t get their opinion express.

I think the best way for the game is to allow the players to be more inquisitive which would address the first problem of Shepard behaving out of character and have options for Shepard to refuse to accept the choices laid out by the catalyst. A really good alternative ending is described here where Shepard refused the option by the catalyst and has the fleet fight off against the reapers in conventional warfare. Victory is determined by how much war assets you have.  Therefore all the effort you make throughout the game gathering up resources do matter and play a part in the ending.

3.    Lack of consequences

The main appeal of the series was that the player makes a choice and then sees their consequences of their choices play out in the universe.

At the end, the game stated that Shepard became a legend for stopping the reapers. Unfortunately that was something that was stated and not showed. The idea of being a legend is that your action left a large impact on the universe beyond your own life. I think majority of fans wanted to find out the legacy that Shepard left on the universe. People wanted to see the consequences of all their choices they made throughout the 3 Mass Effect games.

In the end, we have 3 basically identical looking ending with only the difference between them is the colour of the explosion. All the choices you made throughout the game, all the war assets you build up has such a negligible impact to the ending you get. You don’t get to see the aftermath of the decision you made throughout the game.

At the bare minimum, people would have expected  the war assets you gathered throughout the game to play a larger part in the ending. Currently they were almost immaterial to what ending you see and the "refusal" option I mention before would have resolved that solution.

I think a lot of people expected a written epilogue similar to Dragon Age Origins that go through the consequences of the choice would have been great way of knowing the impact Shepard left on the galaxy. Although a few cutscenes showing the impact of Shepard life would have been better appreciation or a narrator summarises the consequences of Shepard’s choice during the credits of the game (ala Alpha Protocol) would have somewhat please the fan.

I believe it would have been great in the scenario where Earth was destroyed but Shepard successfully destroyed the Reapers. We should have a a shot of a future Citadel and a statue of Commander Shepard next to the statue of the Krogan to celebrate their effort in the rachni war and we see the alien community commerating the sacrifice of humanity who are now extinct to save the rest of the galaxy which shows that Shepard actually became a legend

It’s not just the political ramification of the action but the impact of your personal relationship with your fellow crewmembers that were missing as well. The strong point of the series were essentially the relationship and bond that Shepard forms with the crew that makes the player become invested in the character and the story. Most of the ending had Shepard died to save the galaxy. How did your crewmembers respond to losing their friend, leader and some case lovers? Well they walk out of the Normandy smiling (how did they get on the ship anyway?) and that’s about it.

Imagine an ending where Earth was saved we see a memorial on Earth and the surviving members of the Normandy or your love interest speaking out celebrating your life. That would have brought a personal connection to the ending of the story.

Here is an alternate fan ending that added the personal connection to the ending that would have made the ending more emotional.

The current ending felt so disconnected with the choices you make throughout the game and the relationships you develop with the characters.

4.    Nonsensical ending

I would like to say that plot holes aren’t just events where there are breaks in logic and there are no possible explanations to justify why the plot went in that direction. People with sufficient imagination can imagine a solution to every plotholes in existence.

My definition with plot holes is where there are missing information or a break in the continuity of a storyline and could only be explained by the viewers writing the script for the writers.

First we ended up with the mass relay being destroyed. It has been established in Arrival and in the codex entry that when this occurs, it is a major catastrophe and wipes out the remaining solar system. Did Shepard just wipe out millions of people at the end? Maybe the crucible could magically destroy the mass relay without wiping out the remaining solar system but that is the thing that should have been explained in the story. Shepard should have immediately been alarmed when the catalyst mention the destruction of Mass relay and Shepard should have scrutinised the catalyst over that plan.

Even if the relay magically didn’t destroy the solar system we ended up having all the fleet stranded in the Sol system and chances are they don’t have the supplies to make it back to survive and Earth is in no position to support the fleet especially when the Turians and Quarians can’t eat food outside their own system.

We also have a situation where the entirety of the main Normandy crew were on Earth fighting the reaper. Some of the crewmembers were part of Shepard’s push to reach the citadel. Suddenly they are magically aboard the Normandy. So what we got was Joker ended up abandoning the battle with the Reaper’s fleet to go and rescue all the crewmembers (did the Mass Effect universe suddenly invented transporters?) and then run away from the battle with the reapers and escaped the solar system and crash land on another planet. Do we expect Joker to be court martial for cowardice and abandoning the battle?

Even if there is a solution to these problems from people with sufficient imagination, it should have been showed on the screen instead of the viewers doing the job of the writers and making up an explanation for them.

We also have an ending where the adult admit to the kid that the details of the ending was missing and basically admitted that the ending doesn’t make sense. That there are plenty more story about Commander Shepard to be told to explain the gaps in the story as long as you buy the DLC.

5.    Indoctrination theory

Fans have created a theory where the ending was all in Shepard’s mind and was a representation of Shepard resisting indoctrination by the reapers.

Essentially the reapers projected themselves in the image of the boy representing Shepard’s guilt of not saving everyone and trying to convince Shepard that working with the reapers is the only hope of saving humanity.

So when Shepard chose control, shepard becomes indoctrinated by the reapers in the same way as the illusive man. The illusive Man wanted to control the reapers but couldn’t because the reapers controlled him, what makes Shepard so different that he/she was able to control the reapers but the illusive man can’t?

If Shepard chose synthesis, well isn’t that the plan of the reapers is to preserve organic race by harvesting them and converting them into reaper form which is a hybrid of organic and synthetic material. Essentially that would mean that Shepard would be harvest and become a reaper or a husk.

Only with destroy was Shepard able to resist the reaper indoctrination. The catalyst immediately dismissed that option and claim that they would be wiping out the geth and EDI and other synthetic life. Is that just a lie to try to persuade Shepard in not destroying them?

If you have a large enough war assets and chose the destroy ending you see the ending where Shepard actually lives whilst buried in the rubble. This represents that Shepard is still lying in the streets of London and broke the reaper’s attempt of indoctrination over Shepard.

The scary thing about this theory is that it actually fits rather well with the story and explained away most of the problems I have with the ending especially the idea of Shepard being compliant with the catalyst and the plot holes is explained that it was all in Shepard imagination.

It’s actually quite clever if Bioware intended this indoctrination theory to be true. So does this exonerate Bioware for the ending?

The answer is no because that just mean that they release a game that is incomplete and doesn’t have an ending. Shepard is lying in the streets of London dying whilst the reapers are destroying Earth and we don’t have a resolution to the story.

It would have been awesome if this was an indoctrination test as a precursor to the final showdown with the reapers and not the ending itself. So when Shepard chose the control, we see the rest of the squad mate entering the crucible (the whole force being wiped out was just a hallucination) and Shepard plays the role of the illusive man trying to convince the squad mate that control was necessary in preserving the human race and then ended up killing their squad mates. If Shepard chose synthesis then Shepard becomes a reaper or a husk and ended up attacking his/her allies. Only when Shepard chose destroy and pass the indoctrinated test, the game moves forward and we actually get a proper ending.

If Bioware did that, I would have admitted that they were genious but unfortunately what happen was that they release a game that is unfinished that would be resolve only by a DLC which I believe is sending greed in video game development to a next level by having the game real ending release after the game is already been shipped. It's like buying a book without the final chapter.

Separating the ending has no artistic purpose. It would have been a major plot twist and everyone would have thought, wow I got fooled, well played Bioware for tricking us, they are genious or wow, I worked out beforehand I was indoctrinated and chose destroy. Aren't I clever

Well, now the surprise and shock is gone and all sense of drama from that scene is gone because everyone knows the answer if the indoctrination theory becomes canon in future DLC.  The dramatic tension that would have been present in the original game will be gone and fixing it now wouldn't  take away the disapointment and the bad taste left in your mouth after finishing the oriignal game.

I would probably still purchase any future DLC regarding a finished ending but I won't be calling Bioware genius for it.

Final Thoughts

Casey Hudson – Developer of Mass Effect series
““I didn’t want the game to be forgettable,” he said, to which we say, mission accomplished. “[E]ven right down to the sort of polarizing reaction that the ends have had with people -– debating what the endings mean and what’s going to happen next, and what situation are the characters left in. That to me is part of what’s exciting about this story. There has always been a little bit of mystery there and a little bit of interpretation, and it’s a story that people can talk about after the fact.”

Hudson wanted to create an interpretive ending where people can debate what happen in the end. However that would only work if all the key interpretation makes sense. If the literal ending makes as equally sense as the indoctrination theory (similar to the Deckard is a replicant or a human debate) and if there was still closure in the story. In the end we have to choose between an illogical literal interpretation ending and a incomplete indoctrination ending.

This ending seems to me as someone saying it’s so cliché to have a traditional ending where the heroes sacrifice their lives to saves the day and we see everyone celebrating the legacy on the world. After all, this has already done in Dragon Age Origin and I understand the temptations of wanting to do something different because no artist wants to repeat themselves. However, I just felt they did something different without  thinking carefully whether the traditional ending would have suited the material of the game and the character of Shepard.

I believed that Bioware tried to do something creative, different, cerebral and original and had it backfiring in their face. Forgetting that traditional conventional ending exist because it is a tried and true method in getting a satisfying ending. That if you are going to break the convention you better be able to find alternatives and clever ways to provide closure and a personal connection to the ending whilst making the ending open ended and “interpretive” and I feel like Bioware failed at that task.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My declaration of my musical bias

“Is there such thing as an objective good or bad music?”

It is my belief that there are no objective good or bad music (or any other art). However everyone does have preference/paradigm/bias on what they are looking for in music. These preferences are often determined by intrinsic personality that are developed in childhood or when their musical taste are developing and for the most part is pretty difficult to change once it is set. Although certain preference are more common and some may argue is more universal (such as listenability), none of them are more objectively right.

“So if there are no objective good or bad music, what’s the point of discussing whether the song is good or not.”

There may be no such thing as objectively good or bad music but people have subjective taste/criteria or preference that can objectively applied to the music (to a point though, as most criteria have a subjective component to them and people aren’t always consistent with their preference all the time).

Someone may prefer music to be well-paced and display high technical skills and although you can't say that objectively music must have those properties to be good. You can say objectively that a specific song has those properties. Therefore based on objective properties in the song, you can make recommendations to people with certain taste.

An album with lush arrangement and dreamy vocals but perhaps is repetitive would suit someone who values atmosphere but may not suit someone who values the song to be well-paced as they may find the song to be boring. Therefore you can make recommendation of the album to people of certain taste and make discouragement of the same album to people with different taste based on the objective properties of the album.

What’s the point of a music review?

The core elements of a music review is to:

 Describe the objective properties of the album. A person should be able to read a review and get a decent idea on what the album sounds like and should be able to decide for themselves whether the album would suit them or not irrespective of the recommendation from the author. Stuff like the genre of the piece, the tempo of the song, the basic mood it creates, the instrumentation used, the technique they used playing the instruments or singing the song etc are objective properties. Sometimes people may debate strongly about the objective properties of the album but there is an objective answer out there even if it sometimes hard for people to know what the answer is.

Reveal your subjective perception of the album and make recommendations out of it. The point of a music review isn't to say whether one album is objectively better than another. However it is there for people with specific subjective taste in music to recommend album to other like minded people. If people who don't share the same taste in music, they can still benefit from the review to learn about why people have different opinions on the same album. I also believe that reading people perception of the album is entertaining itself irrespective of how similar their taste is to mine. Reading about the album filtered through the personality of another individual makes me believe that a good review is a self-expressive art-form itself. You realised that there isn’t one “Revolver” but many “Revolver” to each individual who listen to the same album and the ability to described the unique personal perception of “Revolver” to other people makes it entertaining because you are expressing your personality in an artistic way via your reviews.

Historical discussion of the album is important to know what role (if any) the album plays in the development of the genre of music which can help a person appreciate the album even more. Background information and trivia of the album can assist making the review more educational and entertaining for people who have already listen to the album and are big enough fans of the band to have heard the albums many time but not big enough fans to know all the trivia associated with the album.

Jokes and humour can make the review entertaining to read irrespective of the discussion of the musical content (think of Mark Prindle’s review).

So why is it important for people to declare their criteria/bias on music?

If we read a good review of an album but we don't know their taste or the criteria they used to judge that music. Then we don't know how applicable their recommendations are to you. However if we do know their criteria in judging music and they matches your own than we know that their recommendation would be useful to you.

Also a set criteria points out where the reviewer could be convince to change their mind about the album and can help focus discussion on an album. If a reviewer write that this album is repetitive and someone else points out that it isn't repetitive and points out to a part of the song that does change. The reviewer could change their opinion on a song if that point is accurate. However if someone writes who cares if the song is repetitive or that well constructed repetitive music is a good thing and improves the song as the repetitiveness helps the song to become hypnotic and more atmospheric. Then the chances are that the two people would just have to agree to disagree on that matter as they judge music by a different standard and they get pleasures or displeasure out of different things in music.

Aren't we overcomplicating things with stuff like criteria, paradigm or musical philosophy? Isn't good music just something you enjoy listening to without thinking too much about it?

That is right, music is just something people enjoy or not enjoy listening to. In fact, I don’t think many people sit there with a check list when listening to an album to see whether the music matches their taste. It is of my belief that with art, the person has the conclusion first before creating the premise which goes against basic logical principles that underpins other academic fields. You like or dislike the album instinctively and then create reasons justifying your emotions. Although it can happen the other way around where people discover elements in album which help them change their opinion of the album, I do believe that is far less common.

When I started listening to bulks of music and I started to sort out the music that I enjoyed listening to and the music that I didn’t enjoy listening to, eventually I discover that there are common trends in music that link together music that I enjoy and music that I didn't enjoy. The criteria are developed by looking at the common patterns that link together all of the albums that I like.

It’s not an absolute rule as there are albums out there that I don’t rate too highly despite it objectively fulfilling some of my criteria and vice versa as people aren’t always consistent. However, the criteria set a general rule that gives a good indication whether I would personally like the album or not.

Isn't having a set criteria put unnecessary limitations to art and limits creativity which goes against the foundation of art itself?

I don't believe in putting a set limit to art. People can do whatever they want when creating music or any other forms of art. I'll never say that a form or genre of art is illegitimate and I don’t believe in putting rules in people creating art. However, even if music itself is unlimited and boundless, my personal appreciation of music isn't limitless. I'm not going to pretend that I enjoy everything that goes outside my bias and stylistic preference and I can only judge works of art against my own bias and my own preference not anyone else (including the bias of the artist creating the work). If I rate an album badly, I'm not saying it is objectively bad, just that it's objectively doesn't suit my taste in music.

So what are your criteria in judging music?

The Primary or core criteria in judging music is Listenability, Emotional Resonance, Atmosphere, Arrangement and Pacing

My Secondary criteria are diversity, originality and lyrics

For a song to be considered to be good by me than they have to be competent in most of the primary criteria (it is possible for a song to fail one of the primary criteria but I still consider it a very good song if they excel in the other category). For a song to be considered great then they have to excel in all of the primary criteria. In my mind, none of the criteria are self sustaining by themselves. A song can't be reliant solely on melodies or solely on atmosphere or emotional resonance at the exclusion of anything else.

The secondary criteria are things I consider optional and although songs don’t need to fulfill these criteria for me to like or even love the song. Songs that do excel in these criteria can make me like the song even better

There are songwriting 'conventions' that are known to be pleasant to the ear and these things we naturally respond well to. It has been demonstrated that the pentatonic scale is something that the human race respond to and cross cultural boundaries (listen to 3:00 mark on this video

Other conventions are more specific to western culture such as having melody that is in the same key as the song, having chord progression with a focus on the primary triad etc. These ‘rules’ and convention developed because songwriters have discovered that people respond well to them and these convention generally bind together the majority of popular music.

There are two stance on this issues, good songs should follow traditional ‘conventions’ because those conventions exist because people respond well to them and some of them are universal and therefore these conventions should be preserved.  The other stance is that good music should break conventions because music that slavishly follows conventions leads to generic music and leads to stagnation in the culture of music. That convention is actually fluidic and constantly expanding and developing because musicians are out there willing to break conventions.

When you listen to music that follows these conventions, do you look at that song and say that is a really pleasant and catchy song? Or do you look at that as conventional boring garbage?

There's nothing objectively wrong with either viewpoints but I personally choose the former as that is my subjective bias. In my mind, if there are music conventions that binds together majority of the human race than those conventions should be preserve. There’s nothing wrong in preferring more experimental music but from my subjective taste, I’ll declare that the very best music that I personally enjoy has some degree of genericism in it.

To me, a song is listenable when the melodies are pleasant to listen to and the music is arranged in a cohesive and natural manner. Listenability is a category that is semi-objective. There’s an objective component on whether the song follows songwriting conventions and if there are dissonance in a song then I could objectively say that they break the listenability criteria of music. There’s definitely a subjective component because only subjectively can a person decides whether one song that follows songwriting conventions is more catchy than another  

It is not an objectively good or a bad thing when songwriters break conventions and there are people but I will make a value judgement by saying it makes that breaking convention regularly does make the song less “listenable”. I don’t believe music should be restricted to these conventions (see emotional resonance) but I don’t believe these conventions should be completely abandoned. My view is that songwriters should know these conventions so they know when to break them.

Emotional Resonance
Music and I guess art itself is basically meaningless without some basic level of emotional resonance. However since people look for different things in music for pleasure, this definition makes this criteria very subjective.

If I listen to a catchy song that makes me want to sing along to it or dance along to it. That is the basic pleasures of enjoying music which I generally get if the song fulfill all my other primary criteria  (Listenability, Arrangement, Atmosphere and Pacing) of what makes a good song.

The main question of whether someone enjoys “emotionally resonant” music or not is when you listen to John Lennon screaming at the end of Mother or PJ Harvey screaming in agony in the middle of Legs, Is your reaction is "wow that is emotional powerful" and do you buy into that emotion or not? If your response to those moments was that it was over the top and overbearing and that music shouldn't be personal or  autobiographical and that music should just give the basic emotion of  pleasure out of listening to it (Ron Mael from Sparks was quoted in saying  that autobiographical lyrics has no place in music and in the liner notes  of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album celebrated the fact that this was  insincere music and state it was a reaction against "personal" singer  songwriter that was popular at that time) then you look for different things in music than me.

The way I define emotional resonance is not just the basic pleasures of listening to well constructed music but music that is design to capture a deep emotional state. I define emotional resonance to have a subjective component which is whether I’m personally moved by the song or not and an objective component which is whether the song has an emotionally resonant arrangement and performance. However, whether the songs arrangement that reflects the mood established by the lyrics of the song can be objectively determine. Songs that reflects extremes in emotion and has emotional outburst can be objectively determine. Singers who belt out the song in emotionally passionate way can be objectively determine. Songs that are personal or at least personal to the character the songwriter created can be objectively determined. Songs that slowly builds up to an emotional climax can be objectively determine. All these things covers the “emotionally resonant” arrangement.

Every person wants to be emotionally moved by music but not every person is emotionally moved by “emotionally resonant” arranged music. I’m declaring a bias towards that type of music and I consider music with these properties to be superior (which is short hand way to say, suit my taste) to music without these properties.

The relations between listenability and emotional resonance
Listenability and emotional resonance can be both complementary to each other and contradictory to each other.

It can complement each other in a way that a catchy melody is pleasant to listen to and if the emotions of the song is supposed to be pleasant and fun to listen to then it certainly complements the song.

However listenability and emotional resonance often have contradictory effects to each other and advancing in one category often has a trade off in sacrificing quality in the other category and it’s up to songwriters to find the right balance between listenability and emotional resonance.

I do believe that above a certain point a song that is extremely listenable where every note has been designed to create a pleasant effect has an overly polished feel to it that is incompatible with natural emotions. People’s emotion aren’t précised and therefore songs with less professionalism and less cohesive and less catchy can be more emotionally moving as it more accurately reflects the emotions. Of course this can go too far and create song that is just unlistenable but songs should aim to get the right balance between the two.

Also certain emotions are incompatible with listenability. If the song is trying to capture the emotional state of a schizophrenic mind or the capture the state of anger and violence then it makes sense that there is some aggressive discordant and non-cohesive collection of notes being played.

This is every single note that is captured in a score of music. It is my basic philosophy that every single note in a song matters and every single performer of the song matters. Songwriting isn't just basic chords and melodies. Every instrumentalist in a band is a composer as they are creating their own instrumental part that adds to the enjoyment of the song. It is of my opinion that even if the core chords and melodies of the song is good, if the supporting instrumentalist add nothing to the song than that is a negative strike against the msuic.

Often in music I hear bands that are perfectly competent. They have good melody, the singer has a decent voice,  the band plays together in a cohesive manner, the guitarist banging out the chords of the song, the bass guitarist just plays the root notes of the chord and the drummer plays a basic rock beat. I listen to the song and think "that's pretty good" and I may listen to it a few times but then I forget about it and would never seek out to listen to that song ever again.

When I listen to music, I normally listen and concentrate fully on the music and I’ll try to notice the details of the music. I believe that every song has a shelf life and if we listen to the songs continuously, eventually you will reach the stage where you will get bored with it because you reach the stage where you know every detail about the song on the top of your head.

My view is that everyone has to contribute to the enjoyment of the song and if the song has a thick arrangement, high technical standards of the vocalist and instrumentalist, variation in song structure and dynamics, multiple melodic parts, then I believe it will increases the song shelf life because it takes more listens to notice everything in the song. Even basic arrangement such as adding fills and licks to a song adds a lot more to the music then just simple chords strumming. Often people points out that they notice something new about a song even after listening to a song continuously over many years and I believe this is due to good arrangement of the music. I strongly believe it is important for songwriters to ask the question “How much can we add, whether through arrangements or complexity or other features, without undermining the music itself?"

In my mind, I prefer music to be more complex. There are people out there who believes that less is more and although I do somewhat sympathises with that (see the comparison with emotional resonance), my personal bias is that when a complex song is superior to a simple song when they have equal emotional resonance and listenability.

This category is the one where people can make the most objective judgement towards. We can objectively determine whether one song is more complex than another song even if whether that is a good or bad thing is purely subjective.

Relations with Arrangement and Listenability and Emotional Resonance
Songs that are complex and have multiple sections of the song and great variation in tempo and dynamics can negatively impact listenability especially when done poorly. A really busy and complex arrangement can just sound messy and uncohesive. 

There is also a trade off with emotional resonance as complex arrangement is often inconsistent with the emotions of the song. A song with an emphasis in the raw emotions of the vocalist can be undermined by complex arrangement. Complex arrangement can distract the listeners from the raw emotions of the vocalist and this often leads to accusation that the song is “overproduced”.

Also flashy show off technical skills of the performers may not always be conducive to creating instrumental part that is listenable or emotional resonant or atmospheric. I believe that every instrumental part must have a context and must have a role and must either be pleasant and melodic to listen to or reflect a mood or an atmosphere. A superfluous flashy instrumental part can have a negative effect in the mood of the song when done inappropriately.

It is up to songwriters to find the right balance between conflicting goals and to find complexity within the limitation of the intended goal of the song.

The quality of the music isn’t just decided by the notes that are written on the page. The quality of the music is also determined by the sound of the instruments and the sounds of the voice and the balance between the instruments.  The same notes may sound incredible with one guitar tone and may sound bad with another guitar tone. The same melody may sound great with a certain singer but sound terrible with another vocalist.

The tonal qualities of music determine the atmosphere of the song and this often has works synergistically with the emotional resonance in creating the mood of the song.

When you listen to an “atmospheric” song, do you feel the song to be boring or do you find yourself flooded with imagery and carried away by the mood of the song? If you have been carried away by the atmosphere of the song at least some of the time, then atmosphere probably plays an important part in enjoying music.

Writing a song is like creating your own world or universe. Whilst the lyrics are there to tell a story, the music is there to create the background and setting of the story. In a sense the producer and the arranger of the song is the musical equivalent of the director. An atmospheric song should be able to elicit imagery to the listener where they feel they are in the place of the songwriter intent.  

This is the most subjective category of music. I can’t objectively say that this particular tone of the instruments sounds good and this tone of the instrument sounds bad or this voice sounds nice and this voice sounds bad (beyond the technical ability to be on the pitch of the song).  The only objective component is with the production on whether the instruments sounds clear and whether a person can clearly hear each individual instruments. There are people who prefer a more lo-fi atmosphere but from my perspective I generally (after taking in consideration emotional resonance) prefer a high fidelity in music

Relations of atmosphere and Emotional resonance
Atmosphere and emotional resonance are very much interconnected. To create a song that reflects an emotional state, the song has to create the right tones to reflects the emotional state. Although saying that there is more to atmosphere then emotions as it can reflect other various imageries. All emotional resonant songs are atmospheric but not all atmospheric songs are emotionally resonance.

One of things that frustrate me is when I hear a great riff or a good chord progression or a good melody and then they ended up repeating it again and again and again with no variation in the arrangement. When you end up repeating something for so long than no matter how good it is, it will become stale to my person ears.

Songwriters who commit this error can make a 3 minute pop song sound too long and songwriters who avoid this can create a song that goes for 20+ minutes and yet always be engaging throughout. If the song sounds too long then there is a problem with the pacing. I think pacing is crucial in making the song interesting and preventing the song to become boring. I will declare that I have a short attention span and this is influence by the fact that I generally concentrate on the music and I don’t really do other task whilst listening to music. I judge music that changes alot positively as it adjust for my short attention span.

I have a rule in songwriting. Do not repeat a section of the song more than once without changing the arrangement.

This means if you got a specific phrasing of the song (let say in the verse) and you want that verse to repeat the chord progression twice. Then on the 3rd chord progression, the songwriters should change something from the song. This could mean adding/subtracting vocals or adding/subtracting a guitar lick or riff or adding/subtracting instruments or changing the melody/tempo/dynamics of the song. Also songs with multiple verses, it is a good thing to make each verse sound a little bit different to each other. A bridge and an instrumental break in a song are also good at breaking up the song and keeping it interesting and preventing the song to become repetitive.  If a songwriter can’t achieve this then it is better for songwriters to go straight to the next section of the song and keep the song short and snappy. Advance songwriters can avoid this issue by creating songs with multiple sections and avoid repetition all together. 

I'll also add that pacing doesn't just apply to variation in arrangement. It also applies to variation in mood and atmosphere. Songs that vary the arrangement can still be monotonous if there are no variation in intensity or dynamics. Songs with changing moods and changes in intensity and atmosphere is something I'll prefer over song that maintain a constant atmosphere.

Relations with listenability and atmosphere
Songs with a lot of variation to achieve the well-paced status can have problems with cohesiveness.

There is a trade off between pacing and emotional resonance/atmosphere. This is because it takes time to set the atmosphere or mood of the song and it takes time for the mood to sink in. Having the song that is constantly changing can impede in letting the mood and atmosphere sinks in to the listeners. Often a repeating rift or groove or drum pattern can be described as hypnotic and avoiding repetition can impact on this. However, I will state that the best songwriters who write songs that are based on hypnotic grooves and repetitive rifts still vary the supporting instruments to prevent the song to become repetitive.

Secondary Criteria
I do consider albums that cover diverse range of style and moods to be a positive thing. An album that is not diverse, I have to be in a very specific mood and frame of mind to enjoy the album. A diverse album is likely to have something to enjoy irrespective of my personal mindset. Also a diverse album is likely to be less monotonous to listen to and generally has a longer shelf-life.

When I consider diversity, I factor in diversity in terms of style as well as mood. A group that covers multiple genres of music but mostly focus on the sad and depressing side of emotions would be less diverse then an artist who covers multiple genres as well as cover the whole gamut of human emotions.

Individual songs that are diverse and has multiple song sections and multiple moods if written well would resonate strongly with me as well.

The reason why this isn’t a core criterion because there are albums that aren’t diverse but I still personally enjoy them. 

From a historical perspective, people who develop a style of music or create an innovation in musical technique or used new instrument help develop various conventions in music should be given credit for that. Musicians who are original help me appreciate them from an intellectual perspective and I liked the idea that musician does something that nobody else has done before.

However, I will state the reason why it is not a primary criterion is because I don’t really get any emotional pleasures out of listening to original music. In the end I consider the quality of songwriting to be more important for emotional pleasure that original music.

I guess the idea of listening to the song and then systematically comparing that song across the history of rock and roll before deciding to like it seems to take the fun out of music to me. Sometimes it feels like an "original" song is a song that rips off a song that you never heard of before. I hate the idea of having to downgrade a song I previously like just because I heard another artist on a later date done the same idea before earlier. I also believe that from one perspective song is original, from another perspective the song is obsolete and I can sympathise with the latter thought of view even if I don't completely agree with it. This is because someone may develop a certain style but later artist may took that style and developed it further and combined it with better songwriting and may add different innovations over the top of that. The original innovator can sometimes seem obsolete or dated in comparison.

Also I don’t believe that originality is good for its own sake. Originality is only a good thing if you demonstrate how that originality improves songwriting in general. How do I decide whether the originality improve the song? Well check out my primary bias in music. When Robert Johnson decided to pioneered the entire idea of playing a bass line over the melody of the actual song, at the same time and on the same guitar as the actual song. The reason why this is impressive isn’t just because it was original, it’s because playing the bass line over the melody expands the tools of the songwriter. Having an bass line allows the creation of a bass melody and having a catchy bass melody to complement catchy vocal melody increases the listenability of the song. Having a bass line creates arrangement complexity and makes the song more interesting to listen to increasing the arrangement possibility of the song.

One of the landmark pioneers of the suspended chord was the opera Tristan Und Isolde by Wagner. It was considered great usage of the suspended chord because it’s usage helps create an atmosphere of sexual tension which was integral to the plot of the opera. The innovation of the suspended chord was important because it helps increase the emotional resonance of the song not just because no one else has done it before.  The innovation and breaking of conventions has to serve a purpose and not be there for the sake of it

Despite my scepticism of overtly judging music on originality, I do admit that a song that sounds generic is far less likely for me to notice it. Songs that sound unique are more likely to grab my attention and are more likely for me to give that song more listens and give it more of a chance.

That's why I generally used originality as a competency (minimum standard) rather than as a gradient (the more original the better). The only thing I expect from a band is that they don't plagiarize and there is certain uniqueness about the band. This is where if you rip off one artist you are derivative but if you rip off many different artist from different genres and create unique combinations out of the artist then you are original.

After you have a unique identity and pass the minimum standard of originality and demonstrated why that originality serves a purpose, I judge the music purely by songwriting and judge it on an even footing as someone who has invented a genre of music.

The reason why this isn’t a primary criterion is because I listen to music for the music. If the song has great lyrics but bad music then the lyrics might as well be poetry. There are great instrumentals out there that I enjoy and I see no reason why I should punish the song if the instrumental line is replaced by vocals with mediocre lyrics (although if it is bad lyrics and the lyrics have a large emphasis to the music then I may punish a song due to that).  I judge the vocals in the same way as a judge the lead instrument (such as a flute or a guitar or a violin) in an instrumental. Which is the quality of the sound of the vocalist (equivalent to the timbre of the instruments) and the strength of the melodies.

Nevertheless a great lyrics can elevate a song and increase the emotional connection to the song if the lyrics are personal, can make a person laugh or be insightful and intelligent and this can elevate the entertainment of the song.

I will also state that I have a bias towards more direct lyrics and I like the idea of the lyricist telling a logically consistent story. I’m not a fan of more extreme interpretive and surrealistic lyrics and I believe that the idea of a song having no meaning and is filled with vague imagery and it’s up to the listener to find their own meaning to be insulting as it is telling the listener to do the job of the lyricist. Now I’m all for interpreting lyrics (I’ve even written essays on this including some interpretation that is vastly different to the songwriter) but I don’t believe in the idea of having to draw a long bow to get the interpretation. The lyrics normally have to make logical sense for me to value it.

Ultrasubjective factor
Despite my declaration of my preference in music, there are always music that I like more than the criteria would suggest and music that I dislike more than the criteria suggest. When it does happen I’ll try to point out my own inconsistency and try to justify why the exception is the case but sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes I just like or dislike the sound of the voice for an inexplicable reason and these type of ultrasubjective things tend to overrule every other criteria.
I point out a few of ultra-subjective things that don’t always match my criteria I lay out but I inexplicably react negatively towards. I’ll generally avoid discussing groups that fit these categories (unless I like them despite my negative bias) because I can’t be objective about it at all. I do hope that one day these ultra-subjective bias are overcome as I tend to think these to be my personal problems rather than the music itself.

Negative bias
Electronic music /80’s synth tone – It just annoys me when I hear it. Popular 80’s music has a strike against it for this reason. Synths can be used well but I generally appreciate good usage of guitar or piano playing more than good usage of synthesiser and electronic instruments

The soft pop electric piano sound - When I hear that electric piano sound that is present in modern boy band music as well as in ABBA, I instinctively react negatively to it.

More heavy/Metal music – Although I’m growing appreciation to certain groups (Black Sabbath and Deep Purple comes to mind) I still react negatively to the genre and even if a metal group meets the objective component of my criteria. I’m far more likely to relate to music that sounds “beautiful” or “sad” then aggression even if I recognised that objectively all those emotions are equally artistically valid.

Country music – although I’m growing used to rock bands converging on that genre (thanks to The Rolling Stones, REM), I’m far less enamoured by a pure country act. The country sounding “melody” just irritates me even if the song meets a lot of the objective components of my criteria I set out.

My positive bias
Electric guitar – generally music based on electric guitar would rate higher than music based on other instruments such as the keyboard. I’m a guitarist after all

I have an inexplicable love for dynamics and although that is covered with the criteria arrangement, pacing and emotional resonance, I tend to emphasise the dynamics aspect of those components more than most people.

I tend to prefer vocals that come from British Isles or artist from other countries that sounds like they have been listening to a lot of British music. If the vocalist sounds like they come from the United States, I’m less likely to be enamoured by their singing (especially if they have the pop punk vocal style).  I know that is more of a problem with me rather than the problem with US singers but I can’t change how I react emotionally to music

What is not in my criteria?
I believe influence to be a trendy version of the logical fallacy “argument from authority”. It seems like praising a band for its influence is sort of like saying these famous musician rates this band highly and they know more about music then you do and therefore it's stupid for you to disagree with them as these entire famous musicians can't be wrong. I believe that the opinions of the musicians are no more valid then mind or anyone else and the opinion of other musicians doesn’t affect the way I enjoy music

George Starostin judge music by adequacy and he defined it as the ability  for the songwriters to have their skills to match their ambition. I don’t necessarily have a problem of punishing an artist for their inadequacy but the reason why I don’t have that as a specific criterion is because I believe it is a redundant category.  

If an artist tries to make a lengthy song but ended up achieving the long length by being repetitive, that is inadequate. It’s also has poor pacing. If the song has a multipart epic that was done in an uncohesive manner, that is inadequate but it has poor listenability. If the person attempt to have deep and meaningful lyrics but they ended up producing pseudo philosophical nonsense than that may well be inadequate but that also detracts from the lyrics category as well as emotional resonance. I don’t think adequacy is necessary when you can create more specific complaints of an album.

Judging the music according to the artist intent
There are groups of people who believe that music should be judge on how successfully they are in achieving their goal.

I don’t really accept that for the short reason that what the artist intent doesn’t always match what I like to hear in music.

Also, I just think that when artist release an album for other people to listen to, music should always be judge by the audience perception of the album rather than the artist because the album is release for the audience to listen to and for them to get entertainment from it. If the artist intent is the only one that matters than the artist might as well restrict the song for them to hear. 

Judging the music via genre convention
I have been criticised before of judging music via criteria that contradicts genre convention. That I expect technique and complexity in punk music, I expect melodies in a rap song, I expect dance music to be non-repetitive and I expect emotional sincerity in an electronic music etc. There are people who believe that you should only judge music according to the standards accepted of the genre.

I disagree for certain reasons, firstly this hinders originality as bands who progresses music are people who ignore convention and incorporate aspects of other genres of music. Judging according to genre conventions in the end produces bands who are generic to be rated much higher than bands that transcend the genre by incorporating aspects of music that other bands within the genre won’t do.

Secondly, I don’t like all genres of music equally. I have my own bias and preference and they are sometimes in direct contradiction to stylistic conventions of certain genre and that bias restricts my appreciation of certain genres of music. I don’t pretend to have the ultimate eclectic taste in music.

Real life personality/Public Image
I couldn’t care less whether the musicians are arrogant, misogynist, racist, Nazi sympathesiser, arseholes, paedophiles, serial killers etc. I rate albums based on the quality of the music and not the quality of the person writing the song.

Sometimes, the negative aspect of the personality of the songwriter may sometimes spread to the music and sometimes that may impact my enjoyment of the song (even then though if it is well written and gives an insight why someone has the negative personality I may not care) but I would only judge the personality if it impacts the music itself. If someone is an arrogant person in real life but their songs sound humble then their real life personality wouldn’t impact my enjoyment of the song.

There are people out there who like the song a lot more when the album has a political message that they agree with.

Although I won’t negatively downgrade a song because it is political, I will not positively rate the song higher due to the politics either. I do not believe that political lyrics are intrinsically superior to non-political lyrics and me agreeing with the message is not enough to elevate the song.

This is because if I really want to learn more about politics, I’ll read more about the issues, I would not be turning to music for political inspiration.