No More Keeping Score (Changes For September)

Hello all,

This is usually the type of post I write at the beginning of the year to signal any changes made to the website for the new year, and indeed, I had wanted to hold off on making these changes until 2023. But I feel it best for the creative direction of this outlet if I implement them now heading into September.

First of all, for as much as I hate to do it, I will, much like last year, be reverting the weekly structure of my Boom-or-Bust Jukebox series back to an infrequent schedule. Unlike last year, the reasoning behind my decision isn’t fueled by burn out so much as … well, boredom. My goal with the series was to, ahem, bridge the musical divide between country music’s underground and mainstream worlds, and provide a fun link to the past with my throwback reviews. But with several features – such as my Favorite Hit Songs series, Fifteen Favorites, and more – already providing that nostalgic itch, the throwback reviews have started to feel more and more redundant. And, if I’m being honest, the structure, while much more manageable than last year, just has grown stale for me. I think reverting back to the older style will help me strike that balance better and allow for me to post when ready, so while I apologize to those who enjoyed the weekly format, I hope you will understand and respect my decision.

The second, and, in my opinion, more important matter is, starting this week, I will no use a scoring system in my album reviews and discussions. Yeah, it’s what everyone else is doing, so maybe part of it is a bandwagon mentality, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more it makes sense for this specific outlet. The systems are inherently flawed, especially in the modern age when anything below an 8/10 somehow makes it seems like the review subject is mediocre, which just isn’t true. I myself have always found it to be the most stressful and anxiety-inducing part of the entire process and have thought about it way more than I should have over the years.

Now, thankfully I’ve never encountered any problems with any controversial scores or anything like that. The worst I’ve encountered is maybe a subtle disagreement here or there (“this deserves at least an ‘8,’ especially when you gave this a ‘8’!” Little things like that), and I’m certainly thankful to be removed from the fiery hellscape that is Metacritic and the always-fun stan culture that comes attached with it. And ultimately, I think it’s because I constantly stress that my thoughts, opinions, and scores are simply tied to my subjective experience and enjoyment factor of a work and nothing more. I don’t even really stick to them that often (there’s always at least one 7/10 project that manages to grow on me and land on my favorite albums of the year list).

… But I also get that implementing a number gives it an objective measurement. It’s not fair for me, for instance, to score something low simply because it doesn’t quite click with my personal taste. But another inherent flaw that comes with the scoring system is what it actually achieves and what we get out of them. By establishing a top ranking like a 10 or an A+, the focus becomes on how close something gets to that level of perfection, when in reality, nothing is perfect. And expecting anything to be perfect isn’t fair to the work or the artist behind its creation.

Granted, it was never meant to be an exact science; it’s just an idea of where a reviewer falls on something – an encapsulation of the thoughts and opinions surrounding a work and nothing more. And that’s fine … until we hyper-focus on that score. And I think we’re all guilty of that. It’s so tempting to scroll down to the bottom of an article (or click near the end of a video) just to find a score and click off without reading the review; I’m definitely guilty of that.

And if it started and stopped at just offering that instant gratification, maybe that’d be somewhat better, if still inherently flawed. But here’s the thing – too many people out there take scores as more than just a specific measurement of one person’s enjoyment on something. Many see it as a credit – an award of quality given to something, and anything lower than what it “deserves” is a discredit that people take personally. Mind you, differing opinions are not attacks on other opinions, and it’s not like an album, song, or artist can objectively “deserve” a particular rating that determines the merits of the art at hand. So long as more critical or negative reviews can avoid personal critiques on the artist in question, there should be nothing wrong with a review itself regarding the actual thoughts and ideas expressed over the art; it doesn’t hurt anyone.

Ultimately, it’s the content and the opinion that matters. I should worry more about expressing my thoughts clearly rather than making sure my words back up a number at the end of a piece. With that said, I also get that removing scores may be dangerous for this outlet, given that I tend to write very wordy reviews that probably make me sound like your average pretentious blogger (and I don’t mean to come across that way!) and go off on random tangents from time to time to establish context for things. I also get that having the score isn’t the inherent problem so much as how people use and abuse their supposed power. So I will still track scores over on my Rate Your Music profile for those curious, but understand that I will be putting a lot less stock in them moving forward, and that I will not promote scores here any longer. And I should reiterate that this is the year where I started differentiating between reviews – now meant to be much shorter pieces on albums that get to the point much faster – and discussions – lengthier pieces on albums that either inspire and deserve the conversation or move me enough to write a lot regardless. In truth, the line between them has been blurred a little more than I’d prefer, so I’m likely going to draw a harder line between them moving forward.

And lastly, in place of scores here I will still offer a final separate paragraph at the end of my reviews meant to encapsulate my thoughts and opinions. Those who’ve read this blog for some time now likely could be able to tell a score I’d give to a project based on my wording anyhow. But I also think removing the number – the stressful and unneeded part – will actually be more beneficial to this outlet in the long run and base the conversation more around actual discussion, like I’ve always wanted anyway.

Again, I thank you for reading and (hopefully) understanding the reasoning behind these changes, and I hope to charge forward into the final quarter of the year with a healthier mindset toward this endeavor.

Until then,
Zack

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