On Critique and Unity

by M. Lewis Barker

If I liked every local band, I would not have this site. Hell, if I liked every local band, I would have bad taste in music. And yet lately I find that it’s a huge waste of time to actively hate a group because it doesn’t fit my criteria for “good music”. Yes, it can be incredibly grating to see everyone fawning over some very average group with good marketing while more enjoyable artists go unnoticed. But why waste my time and energy coveting the success of another? It will only leave me angry and depressed.

A big changing point for this site (and for me) was when I read Chance Clift’s article for Rhombus called “In Defense of the Provo Scene“. Chance is a friend of mine and has been an active participant in Provo’s music scene for “nearly a decade”. He was responding to an article in The Daily Universe, “Networking key to Provo music scene“, in which Velour was made to look fairly exclusive, catering only to Indie Folk. Chance argued that the scene was much more open than that, and all it takes is to be good, regardless of genre. It wasn’t the subject matter that changed my outlook, but his resoundingly positive tone. It was about breaking down walls and coming together as a community.


For the past couple months I have been making a sincere effort to become more inclusive of every aspect of Provo’s music scene (whether or not I have been successful is up to you). It took the occasional angry blog post to alert me to the harm I could be causing the scene by my negativity. Instead of boldly dismissing local bands, I try to find the good in them and constructively critique what I don’t like. Local musician Emily Brown said, “I think it’s important to appreciate the minutia of any work, rather than passing blanket judgments on things you like for sure and things you don’t.” Those are wise words from someone who has gained a large fan base by playing music for the sheer joy of it.

Though I fear I have become too afraid of hate from readers as I try to cover my tracks when I don’t like whatever I’m reviewing. Take, for instance, my review of The Brocks’ EP. Not only is the post very poorly written, I do nothing to indicate the fact that I did not really enjoy the EP at all. (Note: I should clarify that I think the Brocks are a very talented band, but they just don’t play the kind of music I personally find interesting.) There’s a fine line between asshole and honest reviewer, which I fear to tread. My question to you is: do you find yourself unjustly hating a band? Or maybe you are too intimidated by confrontation that you feign positivity and become patronizing? This is the dilemma I face whenever I review something. As Chance told me the other day, it’s one thing to write reviews of famous acts and another to analyze the people you see every weekend.

We can all learn a thing or two from Art Student Owl.

We can all learn a thing or two from Art Student Owl.

I am currently enrolled in BYU’s Studio Arts program, and every single work we submit is critiqued not only by the teacher but also by our classmates. Spending hours on a piece then hearing how it fails can be taxing, but it is ultimately for our own benefit. There is no need to be afraid of discussion in the music community. Critique is good for art. It helps us hone our skills, see our work through another’s eyes, and (best of all!) discover ideas we never would have thought of on our own. We’ll get defensive and upset at first, but we can learn to accept what helps and ignore what doesn’t. Criticism isn’t about changing your work so that others will like it; it’s about listening to others and gaining a new perspective.


Provo is not really a single music scene, but several. And I don’t mean “Muse” and “Velour”. (Hint: Those are the same scene.) This was not readily apparent to me until SLFM’s Jessica Davis told me about the Compound last summer. Imagine, an entire venue I had never even heard of! When I finally got a chance to go, I saw a few familiar faces but many who were new. Here was an entire group of musicians and fans that had little to do with Muse and Velour, playing drunk garage rock. And when the Deathstar opened its doors a few months ago, I learned that Provo had a dedicated hardcore fan base that had been ignored. Now they have a place to go and see the music they like.

But whether you look at local music as a whole or as different scenes, there is a lot of contention within. Different musicians have different philosophies, and (as history has demonstrated time and again) people do not take kindly to those who think differently. Many musicians think that music can only be a certain way and anything else is beneath them. Others argue about the validity of self-promotion, how to spend money earned from a show, and whether the ultimate goal of a band is fame and fortune. Some view “real” Rock and Roll as lack of musicality and playing music for the primal joy of it while others would say Rock is guitar virtuosity, pentatonic scales, and blues progressions. These different opinions lead to bickering, complaining, and maybe even the Dark Side of the Force.

There’s more than one reason to make music, and there’s more than one way to write a good song. Personally, I make music because I just enjoy the creative process, performing live, and playing with friends. It’s both an art form and entertainment for friends and strangers alike. I just really love music! I know I’m a sloppy guitarist and even worse singer, and those are things I’m constantly struggling to improve, but my weaknesses won’t stop me from going out and playing the most energetic, enjoyable show I can. But if you don’t like my music (and I would think/hope that the majority of people wouldn’t), don’t go around insulting those who do or saying I should stop. Don’t belittle the music that I enjoy, and I promise not to do the same.

Still, over the past year, I’ve met so many local musicians, artists, and participants in the scene. From teenagers playing their first show to bands on the brink of fame to those who have played in obscurity for years and would never change a thing, everyone is different. But I talk to one friend who speaks ill of the way another friend of mine plays music and it’s just infuriating. And then the other one does the same.

Who the hell cares! Quit being bitter jackasses and just enjoy yourselves! Enjoy your friends! And learn to open up your brain and your ears to sounds you’re prejudices want so bad to ignore. Yes, you’re not going to like a lot of it, I don’t like the majority of local music I hear. Not by a long shot, but I’m learning to not let jealousy turn me into another douchebag. I’m going to keep making the music that I enjoy, and I’m going to keep writing about music and letting everyone know that Provo has one of the country’s best music scenes.

The only thing keeping me reviewing every single show is that I do not have the money to attend them all.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s