A funny old world: great reviews don't necessarily go hand-in-hand with great sales

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The Independent Culture

Who would be a critic? It is a sad fact that when knowledgeable newspaper and magazine critics give well-informed and passionate opinions on new record releases, something rather amazing can sometimes happen – absolutely nothing.

This was pointedly demonstrated some years ago at an annual awards ceremony, where the director of Universal Classics graciously accepted the top gong for a well-deserved Record of the Year with the acid-drop remark that if the number of people voting for the record had actually bought it, he would surely be a happy man. Readers of the magazine had voted on this category, with the number of votes cast about four times more than the sales achieved for this record.

There is often little correlation between great reviews and great sales. Reading reviews can be a hobby, providing us with just enough information so that we can keep up with this or that artist without the need to actually buy the record. Reviews provide us with knowledge by proxy.

For artists, it can be the hardest lesson of all. Recognition can come in many ways, but a good review, and one which goes to the heart of a record goes straight to the heart of the artist. But rave reviews can sometimes accompany criminally low sales figures.

It could be that the other problem with printed reviews is that you can’t hear the record, and no matter how brilliant the reviewer, you can’t imagine music, really understand it and know if you will part with hard cash for it until you can hear it.

So we have come up with a monthly radio review show ( www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/ music-magazine) where you can listen to manyof the new releases featured in the magazine. Last month Jamie Hince from The Kills, Kathryn Williams and others were guest reviewers on the show, providing money-can’t-buy commentaries on their own music and brutally honest commentary on others.

When it comes to music, when people talk about it, we get to learn so much more than ever we could from the straightjacket of a 200 word review. With a few centuries of catalogue to play with, and a new age of prolific music producing now upon us, we now have more choice than any generation in human history. Once you’ve done it once, listening to new music with the critics becomes a no-brainer.

Alison Wenham is Chairman and Chief Executive, AIM (The Association of Independent Music) www.musicindie.com