Thank you for your thoughtful message to which I’m replying on behalf of the editorial team.
We have operated our Recording of the Month (ROTM) system for some years now. Under that system our reviewers were able to recommend that appellation when they submitted their review. The recording industry issues a constant stream of excellent recordings, of course, and over time the number of ROTM nominations has increased. Though not every recommendations was accepted, we reached the stage where we regularly designated between 10 and 15 releases as ROTMs each month. We became concerned that this was too many: there was a danger of “devaluing the currency”. Consequently, last autumn we undertook a thorough evaluation of the system and examined a wide range of options ranging all the way from making no change to abandoning the ROTM system completely. Several of the points you raise were considered during our debate.
After careful consideration we decided to retain the ROTM label but to modify our system so that the label is awarded only to a handful of releases each month – we would expect this to be between 3 and 5 – that appear truly to stand out from all the other releases we appraise. Our reviewers are now invited to suggest that a recording is “Recommended” and from those suggestions the editorial team will select the ROTMs at the end of every month. It follows, we hope, that in suggesting “Recommended” status our reviewers will continue to apply the same judgements as before in the knowledge that the release they recommend is a potential ROTM.
You asked whether we consulted the record labels. The answer is that we did not consult them in advance: this had to be MusicWeb’s own decision, independently reached. However, we did explain the new system to the labels and distributors in advance of launching it and it did not surprise us that there was virtually no response. However, two labels said it was a good idea.
As you rightly suggest, evaluation of what makes a recording special enough to be singled out from an already excellent crop is a subjective matter. But, then, that was also the case under our old system. Indeed, you’ll know that we very often carry more than one review of the same release and these can often reach very different conclusions. We think that’s a strength of MusicWeb. You’re right; readers can make up their own minds about a release but we hope that our reviewers’ comments, whether or not there’s unanimity of view about a particular release, will help them in that process.
Because our system relies on subjective judgement there can’t be hard and fast criteria for judging which releases are exceptional. In all likelihood a “Recommended” label is likely to encompass at the very least quality of performance and recorded sound. Repertoire will often be a factor but we will be just as willing to classify a recording of standard repertoire as a ROTM as we would be if the repertoire was neglected or previously unrecorded. We would not expect, in your example, that excellence of recorded sound alone would be a sufficient criterion, because MusicWeb is not an audiophile site; however, a stellar performance – whether brand new or historic- might win through despite less than perfect sound.
As I indicated earlier, our new process is inevitably subjective, just as the old one was. We will, of course, keep the system under careful review and will tweak it if necessary but we feel we should allow it sufficient time to bed in.
Thank you for taking part in the MusicWeb International Forum.
Len Mullenger - Founder of MusicWeb