"Any good critic should hope for nothing more than to be as true as possible to his or her own opinion. When I write, I only try to be less wrong than I was the last time I wrote."
That's a quote I read in Paste magazine about a year ago. The critic was actually writing about video games, not music, but it has stuck with me.
I thought about the quote last week because of a post on HearNebraska.org's Facebook page. HearNebraska.org is a nonprofit website dedicated to promoting Nebraska's vibrant music scene.
The online debate boiled as some spouted that harsh criticism has no place there. Others thought that the site is too positive and could use a little more of a critic's touch.
It seemed to revolve around criticism: Do we need it or don't we?
These days, a lot of people wonder, "Why should I listen to a music critic when I can listen on Spotify/XM/YouTube/Pandora and decide for myself?"
Obviously, there's good music and not-so-good music. The reason I read music critics is the same reason I go into a record store. Sure, iTunes can recommend songs via some algorithm, but I'd rather go to a record store and listen to real people.
Here's a perfect example: Last week I went to Homer's, where the kind staff recommended Australian singer-songwriter Gotye. His music has flecks of Sting, Miike Snow and even The Samples (all stuff I like), but I probably wouldn't have heard of him without them pointing him out.
A music critic can help turn you on to something you've never heard before. Or they can tell you when to avoid something you don't like.
Critics also keep artists honest, especially since regular folks are spending money (sometimes lots of it) on their art.
Often that boils down to a recommendation of "buy this album" or "don't buy this album." Sometimes it's about how a band, venue or festival isn't delivering. In many instances, it's how great a band, song or concert is.
A lot of the debate on HearNebraska.org revolved around criticism of local music. Is there a place for it? What is that place?
Local criticism can be tough. Obviously, the local people we talk about are in our backyard. I can (and have) heard from people after writing something negative. Artists work hard to create the right sound, and their work is very dear to them. They don't want to hear something bad about their baby.
But I feel that criticism — even of local bands — is necessary. The intention is not to tear anyone's hard work to pieces, but to offer constructive thoughts as well as to advise music consumers where to spend their time and money.
Of course, there's a line that's not easily defined on what does and does not deserve criticism (positive or negative). Some bands are out there playing for the first time while others are hardened rock warriors who want to be taken seriously and definitely want to know what people think.
Here's the bottom line: There's value in art and artists aren't the only ones able to see it. Or to judge it.
For my part, I promise that when it's time to write reviews and columns, I'm going to tell you what I think and why, for better or for worse.