Judith Katz is a freelance music journalist who has contributed to Nu, FaceCulture & the critical culture blog frnkfrt, and is currently writing a thesis about the future of the Dutch music journalism landscape. M3 asked Judith about the future of the record store, the death of the album and different listening mediums…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Judith Katz – I’m currently graduating from journalism grad school (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, master) – I’m writing – together with a friend – my thesis on the Dutch music journalism landscape and what the possibilities are for the future, now the music industry and the news industry are in such rough waters. We’ve interviewed a number of music journalists, ranging from all kinds of media (print, online, profit, nonprofit, etc) and performed two case studies. We are almost finished (hooray!). Furthermore, I’m a freelance (video) music journalist for Nu.nl and FaceCulture.nl, and do some writing here and there; I recently wrote a piece on authenticity and music for frnkfrt.net, a new pop / media / culture blog founded by Theo Ploeg, among others. Last, but not least, I work as a journalism teacher at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and I teach an introductory course in journalism & media to undergraduate students.
What inspired you to write about music? What is your own musical background?
I have always been interested in popular culture, be it film, literature, TV series, music or video games. But of these, I’m currently mostly attracted to music. I like to see what influence popular culture has on us, and likewise, what influence we have on popular culture and I strongly believe pop culture can change and shape us, just like we shape pop culture. I’m interested in writing about music in two ways: just clean-cut music journalism – I prefer doing interviews – but mostly, researching music and its cultural implications; for example, I wrote my BA thesis on Vampire Weekend and post-ethnicity, inspired by a paper by Melvin Wevers. And I also like to reflect on music journalism, and dive deep into taken-for-granted paradigms.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I’m an ’88 kid. I grew up witnessing a lot of changes from an early age on. As an 8/9 years old kid, I bought Green Day’s Dookie on cassette and played it over and over again in the back of my parents’ car. Sometimes I put my stereo in front of the TV to record a song from TMF – not really excellent sound quality as you can imagine. Later on, I put CDs on cassettes to play them on my Sony Walkmen. I got a discman soon after and was able to play CDs. But already when I was 12, Napster was ‘invented’ and I started downloading MP3s. Got a discman that played MP3 CDs – you could put over a 100 MP3s on a CD! A few years later, I got the iPod mini. And so on. That later changed into streaming with Spotify a year of two ago. Right now, my preferred medium is streaming – if you can call that a medium. But I will always have this nostalgic feeling for cassettes, because that was my first way of enjoying music.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
Interesting question. I would say that from Napster onwards, when users got the means of downloading individual songs, the whole game changed. To quote Steve Knopper, author of ‘Appetite for Self-Destruction’: “The big attraction for consumers was the single track that could be downloaded, initially (and illegally) for free and subsequently very cheaply; the fact that MP3 computer files lacked the sound quality of the compact disc was a small reservation in the face of such huge savings.” It definitely changed the way record companies think; releasing an album with two or three good tracks does not cut it anymore, the “no killers, only fillers” way. When the music industry finally tapped in by stepping into iTunes, people that didn’t want to download music illegally were also given the chance to download individual songs. The industry made a big mistake when they cancelled out the single because they could earn gold with CDs. In sum: yes, the digital age changed the idea of an album. Interesting, because artists, when asked about it, still say that they think about an arc on their album, the opener, the closer, and the songs in between. And music journalists STILL review albums, not songs – while examples show that people are much more interested in individual songs and the stories behind them. Thus, I think this age provides artists with the task to make their album worthwhile; for example, with the means of storytellng, making concept albums. And of course making all the songs on the album worth it, meaning no fillers. I would like to emphasize that it doesn’t matter whether it’s an physical album or not; downloading an entire album instead of individual songs would still support the case that albums are still an important piece of art and not just individual songs.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
For nostalgic feelings I would say, yes, it’s a loss. I grew up in Arnhem, and I loved spending hours in Dollhouse, a really small record store where they sold a lot of metal and punk rock (which I loved) albums. They’re closing down. But other than that, does it matter that stores are closing down when people have other ways to discover music? Other than that, some cities have very successful record stores, mostly due to excellent marketing. Amoeba in San Francisco is still a landmark. Groningen has Plato, which is next to a very popular coffee place and they often combine activities. Rough Trade is opening a store in hipster-Williamsburg in New York. I would say, the old record store disappeared, but has made place and is still making place for places that combine music with lifestyle, nostalgia, and good marketing.
Do you think the digital age has rendered traditional concepts of copyright obsolete, or do you think they are still relevant?
Define traditional concepts. I would say it is easier for artists to make a collaboration with other musicians from over the world. Wild Beasts got a call from Lady Gaga’s management, asking them to remix one of her songs – wouldn’t happen in pre-digital world. I would rephrase the question and ask: how does the digital age change authorship?
In a few decades time, what genre or sound do you think will come to define the 2000’s?
I would say that in the 2000’s, the internet made the mainstream non-existent. There are only niches, some popular, some less.
What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
Tapping into robots for music and pleasure. I would say digital media formats, but on the other hand: nostalgia and retro are increasingly popular and vinyl is said to make a comeback. To say the least: I’m very curious.
Finally, what does the future hold for Judith Katz?
That’s what I ask myself every day. I hope to graduate in June. I teach till July. From June onwards, I’ll be working some more at FaceCulture at different projects. But I’m always available for more writing, editing or video/audio work.
For more information about Judith Katz, you can find her on Twitter.