|Moral implications of charging for reviews
A journalist writing for an on-line magazine promoting industrial music brought up this question while I was tweeting to journalists and bands why music reviews - a hard promotional work should be paid.
First, let me put it this way:
Would you go to your boss to tell him/her - "I do apologize, I have moral objections to receive payments for making my ass off this week/month so I'll work for you for free. You can keep building the company good reputation based on my work, no worries about me."
There's nothing like moral objections when you provide positive professional and serious work for somebody's exposure! I've never heard of any professional dealing with morals in terms of being paid for his/her own original work. It is your own hard work.
The 80s and 90s are over as well as having a label or a manager behind who would pay a magazine to have an album featured. Also magazines don't often hire (so don't pay) reviewers while a number of printed magazines has decreased compared to the 90s. There are bloggers and freelance music journalists instead, running millions of useful, popular music blogs and magazines. They have skills of writing, good ears for music but receive no money for their help as well as hard work. Still, they are not rich people but ordinary folks wanting to help out but having their bills to pay.
Having a band means dealing with all sorts expenses which are predictable but for some reason these artists request to get free reviews and keep looking for such offers like if a review was something what a robot does. Like I said, the music industry has changed not only for bands but also for music journalists.
These days small and mid-size on-line or print magazines help much more than well known publishers because they are willing to feature all kinds of indie artists while big magazines prefer to write about the same famous names over and over again.
Many of these small/mid-size magazines come and go because they can't find writers. They can't find them because they don't offer money for this hard work but CDs. If a band is little known a reviewer won't be able to sell such a CD on eBay or Discogs to cover his time and work spent on a review. Magazines can't offer money because they don't make any due to bands which refuse to pay but still want to get covered. Journalists need content for magazines so they become desperate and agree for some charity work. Hey, charity organisations receive donations. Do you? Can you see this chain reaction?
Journalist's work is not depended on an artist's own income and it's not an argument brought by bands that 'reviewers get my free CD so I don't need to pay'. Your music is what they should get to be able to review it, regardless it's a CD or a digital album.
Music review means an analysis. It takes hours to do (if detailed), also may need an additional proofreading for some as well as translation. Every original review is copyrighted and there's an issue with permissions, license and commercial use but it's a topic for another article.
However, if a reviewer is not experienced, becomes cynical in a review, uses a lot of 'me', 'I', 'my' etc. (so that misses a neutral point of view necessary for a professional review), has nothing interesting to say the way his/her writing has little or no value, then charging for this kind of writing is questionable. A band will not have a use of such a writing and they will not show off with a negative opinions either because the band and their music need to star in the review but not a reviewer.
A reviewer is an opinion builder and a person who has to provide a reliable judgment. A reader came to read about a song or album to know if it's interesting, worth of his/her money/time or not. They are not really interested in reading about your personal issues. Lying to a band won't do either because the reviewer will lose his/her credibility.
It should be noted, no single reviewer is omnipotent enough to be fluent in reviewing thousands of music genres. If music sucks or you're not skilled in this genre, refuse to review instead of wasting your time and bands money. Don't require a CD either - a band covers shipping costs! Request an online preview before making any decisions. If you have a good ear for music, you'll tell if a song is original and valuable or not from just a noisy demo because it's about arrangements, composition, moods etc.
I don't charge and review music I dislike and this is fair to bands as well as myself. I'd rather spend 3 hours on reviewing one good song instead of wasting 5 hours on reviewing an album which becomes a torture. I also come across reviewers who refuse to review from streams or digital files. Quality and mastering are the last things to judge on my list as well as an artwork or other add-ons. They are important but a lot of indie artists can't afford an expensive pro mastering so music on their CD won't be different to a digital album. I review from files as well as HQ streams but no CDs. I don't need them or bands paying for an overseas shipping when we have XXI century with the Internet connection.
Freelance reviewers should value their work, knowledge and a good ear for music. Many of you don't want to 'offend' their idols or they find themselves die hard fans of music. Well, bands offend you more by requesting job done and not paying for your hard work when you offer affordable pricing yet you have bills to pay and things to buy to move on in life. Bands feel no moral implications turning back on you or making bad mouth about you when you start charging. These bands buy gadgets to play with while they refuse to pay for your hard work provided specifically to give them exposure.
Respect yourself since they want you to pay everywhere around, from buying food, clothing, through paying phone bills, car insurance, Internet and power to renting a house, buying stuff for kids or getting married/divorced etc. Yes, unfortunately this world is all about money. The number of bands wanting an exposure will decrease right away but no, it's not scam when you come up with an affordable fees in advance for your own original writing.
If they go, say bye and focus on these people who have understood your values as well as needs.
To sum up, you don't need any additional work to be able to provide HQ reviews or run a magazine if you're good in writing about music. Most probably you won't make a living out of it but it will compensate your efforts, skills and help. A review is the final product though so there's no need to try hard to make money on ad space since it's not possible for a small or mid-size magazine, the same about donations. You already do your work which you should be paid for. And if there's no magazine to hire you, do it on your own or use platforms offering opportunities for music journalists such as Music Xray.
Let's leave moral issues to churches, theraphists or other institutions established to solve them.
Watch a notable speech by Harlan Ellison (American writer & critic) who's explaining why skilled writers should never be requested or offer free writing:
(© Katarzyna 'NINa' Górnisiewicz, Fabryka Magazine, July 17th, 2012)
Check out my article: Methods of reviewing music here.
PS. This article hasn't been proofread by my US editor so if you find some language related issues, sorry but English it's not my native language. Paid reviews are additionally proofread though ;)