Music Critic, Emeritus

I've written a great deal about music over the last ten years -- a vocation (or as my account puts it, "an avocation") that is peculiarly depend on the largesse of industry publicists. This file was formerly titled "Send Me Music to Review": it was the file that I would point to then I wanted a publicist to send me a record, or better still put me on their mailing lists and send me lots of records. I've been moderately successful at this, but the paying market for writing music reviews has steadily declined over the past decade -- technology often gets the blame here, but one should not overlook the increasing small-mindedness of the business class, a phenomenon which has transformed the boom-and-bust cycle into bust-and-retrench.

As of January 1, 2014, I'm withdrawing my request that you send me records. I'm suspending publication of my Jazz Prospecting column -- almost all of the CDs I have been receiving were aimed at review in that column -- and I am not actively soliciting freelance jobs for writing music reviews. (See my initial blog announcement here). I expect that since I won't be reviewing your records in that column, it will no longer be cost-effective (if indeed it ever was) for you to send me CDs. (However, I will qualify this slightly near the bottom of this file.)

But first, a brief history of my music writing, virtually all available somewhere on this website:

  • In the mid-1970s I decided that rock criticism could be a serious as well as amusing way to look at American culture and politics, so I started dabbling. Robert Christgau read some of my stuff and invited me to write for the Village Voice, which I did occasionally 1975-79. During this time I also co-founded a short-lived 'zine, Terminal Zone. Those pieces, plus a couple from the mid-1990s and "A Rock & Roll Critic Is Something to Be" -- my contribution to Christgau's 2001 Festschrift, are archived here.

  • From 1980 to 2000 I worked as a software engineer. I made good money and bought a lot of records, but wrote very little about them. In the early 1990s I started making a systematic effort to fill in the various holes in my knowledge of popular music history: blues, country, r&b, world, and especially jazz. I became generally expert in all those areas, and started writing a bit (e.g., the 1995 "Jazz for Dummies" piece, in the archive above).

  • In 2001, I lost my software job. I explored several interests for a while, the most fateful being the website I build for Robert Christgau. Among other things, it led me into contact with numerous fans of Christgau's work. One of them, Michael Tatum, edited a Chicago-based webzine at the time, Static Multimedia. He offered me carte blanche to write a column, so I came up with Recycled Goods, a consumer guide to reissues (later expanded to include new as well as old world music). This started in February 2003 and "ended" -- 51 columns and 2207 records later -- after January 2008. Here "ended" means at Static Multimedia. I continued posting Recycled Goods columns on my website up to December 2013 (115 columns, 4088 records total), although in later columns I was more likely to review old records than recent reissues. I also wrote some additional pieces for Static -- most notably an extended "consumer guide" to William Parker and Matthew Shipp -- archived here.

  • Starting in 2003, I wrote several pieces for the Village Voice, mostly on jazz (Jimmy Lyons, Miroslav Vitous, Ken Vandermark, David S. Ware, Billy Bang, David Murray, Anthony Braxton, but also John Prine). These are archived here. In 2005, after Gary Giddins left the Voice, Robert Christgau asked me to write a Jazz Consumer Guide column, which I did approximately every three months until 2012. By that time Christgau had been cut loose and replacement music editor Rob Harvilla had left. Subsequent Voice editors were incommunicative and evidently uninterested in jazz -- thus ended my main paying outlet for my writing. The Jazz Consumer Guides are archived here, along with prospecting notes.

  • Along the way, I had a few more gigs. In 2004, I wrote a reissues column, Rearview Mirror, for Michaelangelo Matos at Seattle Weekly. I wrote a package of 25 entries for Rolling Stone's [New] Rolling Stone Album Guide in 2004. I also wrote a weekly column for F5 in 2006.

  • After six Jazz Consumer Guides, I decided that I was getting many more records than I would ever be able to squeeze into my limited column space, so I started posting Jazz Prospecting notes every week: the main point being to make the entire process more transparent, but also to keep a more extensive record of as much new jazz as I was able to get my hands on. After Jazz CG expired, I kept on posting Jazz Prospecting every week, up through December 30, 2013. I then collected these posts into monthly chunks from February 2012 through December 2013, archived here.

  • In 2007 I did some work for Rhapsody: Christgau had worked out a deal where they paid him to be able to use his Consumer Guide reviews, and I did much of the technical work to make that possible. I got a free Rhapsody subscription as part of the deal, and started to keep notes on records I heard using it. I later wound up paying for my subscription, and eventually settled into a pattern of posting my notes monthly. Over time I expanded this to include other download sources, as well as the few non-jazz CDs I got (or bought). As of December 31, 2013, the archive contains notes on 4172 records.

As of January 1, 2014, the archive area of the website adds up to about 2.5 million words. The website also contains a database with ratings of 22,655 records (and discographical information on another 25,000 records, selected as noteworthy from any of dozens of guides). There is a list of 1,000 highly recommended albums. There are lists of rated albums from 2003 forward, which show increasing coverage from 2003 (646 records) to 2012 (1190). (I stop adding records to these files the end of the following year. The 2013 file has 1118 records as of December 31, 2013, and will continue to grow in 2014. I've also kept increasingly sophisticated metacritic data files from 2007 through 2013 -- the latter tracking over 8000 new releases (including the separate compilations file). For more links, see here.

Actually, from January 1, 2014 into the indefinite future, I do plan on continuing to write the following on my website:

  • I will (normally) write a weekly "Music Week" post, which will start (as it has for the last year or two) with a "rated count" metric, and will end with two (probably short) lists: one is a list of the week's newly rated albums (but no reviews or notes), the second an unpacking list. If anyone does send me a record, I will at least list it in the unpacking list. I won't guarantee that I'll rate it, but if I do eventually it will show up in the rated list, as well as in the database and the year-end file. This gives people who follow my blog for music advice some reason to continue to do so, while greatly reducing my workload. The weekly posts may include additional thoughts about music as strike me as appropriate. I'm not going to stop listening to music (although I imagine I'll be spending more time listening to old music I still own rather than trying to keep track of new music I won't get).

  • I will post at least one Rhapsody Streamnotes file per month, probably toward the end of the month. Entries will be graded, and may (or may not) include a note or review. Most will come from Rhapsody or other streaming services, but any actual CDs will be merged in, as well any download links I follow up on. (Another way of looking at this is that I'll be merging the discontinued Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods columns into RS -- although I expect a reduction in my workload from doing so.)

  • I expect that I will also continue to be invited to vote in polls, at least for a while, and these will result in music-oriented blog posts.

I expect to spend most of my time working on non-music-related writing projects, but I do expect to put some work into several music-related ventures:

  • I will write a spec for a community-oriented music info website, and do some technical work to build such a website, but the day-to-day operation of such a website will depend on other people taking charge. If this does happen, I may contribute some writing to the website, and that may lead to a revision of this file. I am also willing to seed such a website with my writing-and-data-to-date. I have a domain name I've been planning on using for this -- -- although someone else could take over implementation of the spec.

  • I want to write (or collaborate on) a piece of free software to manage and coordinate a ratings and rankings database for music records. This could be used by the above website, but as free software can also be used to create other websites, or indeed to manage personal inventories such as my own ratings database.

  • I want to implement an in-house jukebox system, and publish some sort of document on how others can do the same. Presumably most of the software is already available, and maybe even the know how -- I just haven't figured it out yet.

  • I will continue to support the website needs of Robert Christgau and Francis Davis, and would consider doing so for other notable critics.

I have many reasons for wanting to cut back on the amount of time that I have been spending reviewing records: to work on other writing projects, to simplify my own lifestyle. Another is that I've taken some satisfaction in regarding myself as a "professional" writer, and it's hard to do that when you're not making any money: in 2013 my writing income finally dropped to $0, despite working harder than ever. I've left open the possibility that I might again write music reviews if offered paying gigs. If that does (miraculously) happen I may need to revise this file. I've never shown any aptness whatsoever for pitching my writing -- to date, all my writing jobs (paying ones, anyway) have dropped into my lap. So I'll leave myself that out, but don't expect anything to come of it.

If, despite my disclaimer, you still with to send me CDs, use the following address:

Tom Hull
747 N. Faulkner
Wichita, KS 67203

You can send me email.