A music critic on an Australian tour? Must be something strange and new going on here...
We were puzzled when we were sent a press release heralding the imminent arrival in Australia of an American music critic. We’ve got those too, we thought, flicking some lint off our Half a Cow T-shirt. But, you see, Anthony Fantano represents a new era of music critics – none of that archaic writing stuff. Since he started posting video reviews on YouTube a few years ago and launched his site/brand, The Needle Drop, he’s mixed things up to stay one step ahead: adding skits, lists, answering questions. His ad-libbed videos have the feel of going into a record store and asking that guy behind the counter his opinion. But hardly any of us go into record stores any more, do we? (And back when we did, that guy usually just grunted at us.)
Anthony, how would your day look as a pie chart – which tasks get the biggest slices?
The pie chart would consist mostly of listening, writing, and editing specific to the reviews I'm pumping out. There'd also be a considerable amount of time allotted to researching and venturing out to search for new stuff that piques my interest. You can also section off a tiny slice for answering these questions.
You started in radio, rather than a print or digital journalism background. Did you have any favourite music critics from any kind of platform that inspired you?
I followed the word of John Peel really closely. I thought he was a legend in that he did so much to put so many great, underground artists on. He had bold, pioneering taste that I think contributed greatly to the world of music today.
Do bands try and bribe you for a mention?
Yes, but not that often. When they do, I don't think it's because they think they're bribing me either. Some people just come up to me assuming I get paid directly to review every artist I talk about, which couldn't be further from the truth. If that were the case, it would certainly make doing negative reviews hard.
Starting out as a YouTube vlogger, was yours quite a new art form?
In regards to music reviewing, yes. Part of the reason I started this YouTube channel is because I was yet to observe a music writer hop on camera on a regular basis to review new albums for an internet-based audience. I figured I'd give it a try and see if it set me apart from the rest of the music-reviewing world.
You mix things up with different segments: skits, lists, questions. Are you constantly making sure there are points of difference between you and other critics?
Yes and no. Every so often, I like to make sure I'm trying to cover some things that aren't being exposed that well via other publications, but that's the most important differentiation to me. If I happen to have the same opinion as someone else on a record, I don't sweat it. How I feel is how I feel. If there are others I happen to agree with, that's great.
Do people tune in to see if you hate the things they love, as much as people tune in to see if something’s worth buying?
Most definitely. People ask me to review albums they've already heard or are planning to listen to all the time. Music is a culture, and you can't have a culture without community. Furthermore, you can't have a community without communication. People love to talk about their favourite music, get second opinions, and be introduced to even more music. I'm just a contributor to that cycle.
You accept donations. Any luck?
I'm far from living off the donations people have sent my way, and THANK YOU TO ANYBODY WHO EVER SENT ONE! Maybe it could be a primary source of funding in the future, but it's not really something I'm pushing to any great degree right now. It's just something I allow my viewers to do if they love the show and want to show their support in the most concrete way possible.
You do a lot of in-person events, like the ones coming up in Australia. Do people try and catch you out with very niche things about obscure genres that you might not know?
Every once in a while, someone will try to drop an obscurity on me, which is fine; I don't profess to know everything, so I don't feel any pressure to know whatever is being thrown into my lap. I look at it as a learning experience and an opportunity to hear something new, that's all. Sharing music isn't a competition or a contest to me. I'm doing well for myself with it, but I'm not trying to beat anybody or show off. I'm trying to get you into something I think is worthwhile.
Lastly, are you brushing up on your Australian music homework?
Truthfully, no. I'm not gearing up to come down there and pretend like I know everything, ha! This visit is the homework! I'm hoping to come in and learn about some of your best bands, how your scene works, and what the music world is like in your country. There's no better way to learn about any of that stuff than to just drop myself into the middle of all of it, and ask y'all questions face-to-face. It certainly beats browsing the internet.
Anthony Fantano also appears at Northcote Town Hall during the day.