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Who’d be a critic? You’re paid peanuts and get cancelled all the time

The senior critic Edward Seckerson, who quit the Independent newspaper after being falsely accused of a conflict of interest, would like to assure all wellwishers that he will suffer no financial loss by ceasing to review in a daily newspaper.

Read what Ed has to say in this exclusive message to Slipped Disc readers:

I have been overwhelmed with messages of goodwill since the announcement of my departure from the Independent a week ago. Many have expressed concern that this has been a significant financial loss for me. Let me put the record straight.
When I was brought on to the paper over 20 years ago by the then Arts Editor Thomas Sutcliffe (and his was one of the most touching messages received this week) I was offered a “preferential” rate of £150 per review to become Opera critic – no contract, no retainer, just the preferential rate. On my departure I was 40% down from that rate to £90 per review which is now what all the arts reviewers on the Independent receive.
I was promised two reviews a week (or eight a month) but in congested weeks that could drop to one or none without compensation for late cancellation. Expenses were grudgingly honoured in only certain circumstances and sustenance at somewhere like Glyndebourne was not covered at all. Imagine how that was eating into the £90 fee. I should add that the 40% reduction in my rate was delivered without prior warning by email. In the absence of a contract it was a case of take it or leave it.
Small wonder that those in the know are now wondering why I remained loyal for so long.
The artists, musicians, actors, singers remain the prime focus of my interest and with growing importance now attached to new media I shall continue to expand in that direction. The feedback I continually get from punters to my audio and video work is that it is good to hear these talented people talk as well as merely reading about them.
I’ve always believed in spreading my activities to embrace the widest possible range – including broadcasting and personal appearance work with my current string of dates with Patricia Routledge (chronicling her little known musical theatre career) continuing all over the country. Others will follow. See
UPDATE: Another music critic bites the bullet. Read here.
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  1. Wilhelm Peterson-Berger was the highest paid staff member at the Dagens Nyheter for at least part of his time as Music Critic at that paper. Times have changed! (although I must say that given the relative lack of support in Sweden at that time for local composers there is something ironic in paying the critic well. Maybe it was a way for his friends at the paper to subsidize Peterson-Berger’s second rate efforts as a composer)

  2. As a longstanding music critic, albeit a more specialized one, I can empathize fully with Edward Seckerson. But I also fear for the future of genuine criticism, since the incentives for such experienced and knowledgeable writers as Seckerson wishing to ply this pitifully rewarded trade are becoming fewer by the day. Internet sites that do not pay reviewers are at least partly responsible for the evermore amateurish efforts that are passing for valid criticism.

    • Simon Thomas says:

      We live in an age where expert opinion is valued less than peer opinion. Even if that’s only partially true, the fact that absolutely everyone can now publish their views inevitably erodes anything that doesn’t have an immediately identifiable return on investment. For better or worse, that’s democracy. It’s possible that both public and expert opinion can co-exist and maybe in time a business model will emerge that can accommodate that.

    • Harvey Schwartz says:

      Ed Seckerson is one of the best, but there are plenty of other good reviewers out there, many of them online. We need to get away from the quaint notion that simply writing for a print publication means that a writer has some special qualification. The possession of a degree in Music, for example, does not automatically mean that a person is able to express themselves gracefully or even informatively. Nor does the mere fact that someone writes online automatically mean that their reviews are ‘amateurish.’

  3. 90 quid? There are babies over in Africa drinking mud to stay alive and most of them don’t make it.

    I find moaning and self pity embarrassing.

  4. I don’t think he’s being self-pitying. I think he is addressing people who think that losing this gig will be a financial hardship, and he’s saying it won’t make much difference, as he is clearly not doing it for the money. It is to try to give us some perspective on what music critics actually make.

  5. I presume the remarkably judgmental Alan above would like Mr. Seckerson to move to Africa because he’ll be able to afford the food there easily knowing children eat mud there for free. Try living in 21st century London as a Music Critic of any kind. Good luck!

  6. I also sympathise with Edward Seckerson, whose reviews and whose Blog I have always found interesting even when I haven’t agreed with the views necessarily. But at issue here is also the general loss of Arts & Music criticism in the UK press.

    Living in Germany as I do, I am always astounded and encouraged by the amount of space given to the Arts in the German press. Not only in the big broadsheets like the Sueddeutscher, the Frankfurt Allgemeiner and Die Welt, but in many of the local papers and the tabloids. When a critic writes a review of a concert or opera, or even a new CD or DVD, he is actually given the print space (in the bigger papers as much as half a page sometimes) to present a proper critique and assessment of the performance. That sort of space now seems to be limited to the specialist magazines (eg. Opera magazine, etc), and some of the more interesting online sites (Opera Today, The Arts Desk, etc).

    Gone are the days when the various (and yes, there used to many) Arts critics would get two or three columns in the Times or the Guardian, etc. Gone are the days when the daily Arts pages would sometimes number three or four twice a week, not including the Sundays (who now seem to devote less and less to Music and theatre and more and more to commercial pop and (though no bad thing) books.

    Do the UK newspaper bosses really think that the Arts is no longer interesting to their readers? Or is it that they are just not interested in the Arts themselves? So I really do sympathise with Edward Seckerson, Tom Sutcliffe, Norman Lebrecht, Michael White, Hugh Canning, Richard Morrison, Rupert Christiansen et al. Felix Aprahamian and Rodney Milnes must be turning in their graves to see what modern newspapers have reduced Arts coverage to!

  7. Harriet Cunningham says:

    Wow, and I thought I was badly paid. I am thrilled that I will still be able to read Ed’s work. No-one is in music criticism for the money, and most critics would do it for nothing. The real problem is how you afford the time to be a music critic and keep the day job. Alison Croggon is struggling to maintain her independent Theatre Notes blog, for which she won the Pascall Prize, because she has to earn money.

    By the way, in Sydney the arts editor has just taken redundancy, as has her deputy. The future of the arts page is not clear. The Science page is also under threat. We music critics come under the ‘Entertainment’ section. At least it’s not ‘Lifestyle’.

    I do, however, remain optimistic, because I am convinced there is still a demand for good writing and good reporting about important things: news, culture, science. I mean, who actually reads articles on excessive nose hair, property in Lower Budleigh and the love lives of third generation celebrities?

  8. Hugh Canning says:

    Um, Rodney Milnes won’t be turning in his grave for some time to come (fingers crossed) – he’s alive and well, and as critically sharp as ever, as anyone who reads his brilliant reviews in Opera knows. He also still manages to upset people with his provocative remarks in essays such as the one he wrote about Ravel – “greater composer than Debussy and Stravinsky” – in the 2012 Glyndebourne programme.

    • Sorry guys, my mistake!! Glad to hear RM is still around. My fault for moving to Germany that I get a little confused. I was thinking of Alan Blyth who passed away in 2007. I do remember having the privilege of sitting down for a drink in the first interval of the world premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s “Mask of Orpheus” in the Royal Retiring Room at the ENO London Coliseum many years ago with Rodney, Michael Tippett, Merion Bowen and a few other distinguished music people. Rodney turned to Tippett and broke what had seemed an interminable silence with a mischievous grin and said, “So Michael, I believe it was you who championed Birtwistle all those years ago, wasn’t it? How’s it going?” Michael looked down at his feet and smiled equally mischievously and asked, “What do you think of my new pink sneakers?” Wonderful men! Loved it!

    • Rodney has written a dazzler for the Glyndebourne mag… I’d been meaning to have some more fun with it.

    • Cicely Woodruff says:

      While this punter reads music critics’ pieces for their insights into and personal comments on performances they have witnessed. I expect them to get attendant facts right . Canning’s Sunday Times review of Boulez’ `Dialogue de l’ombre double’ at the Proms on 21 July ascribed the solo piece (despite the hefty aural and visual clues, an annotation in the Proms Guide and the concert programme booklet) to a flute rather than a clarinet; and Hilary Finch made Benjamin Grosvenor’s 14 August concert his Proms’ debut even though page 4 of the programme had noted the fact that he had appeared at the opening concert last year! This may seem picking at nits, but slips like this undermine these reviewers’ scholarship just as misplaced quavers or alarming vibrato do to the performers they review.

      • Hugh Canning says:

        Cicely – I was at the concert and I think I know the difference between a clarinet and a flute, but when I wrote my piece I typed flute – twice – when I meant clarinet and only noticed the mistake when I opened my copy of the Culture on Sunday. Usually, the subs notice this kind of howler and check with me, but on this occasion they didn’t. It happens sometimes. I had it changed on the website first thing on Monday. I’ve never claimed to be a scholar, but it’s not a lack of scholarship that made me make a mistake. It was simply a passing lapse of concentration. I don’t think many critics make a big deal about misplaced quavers, although one might about an alarming vibrato, depending on the music.

  9. Norman – is there anywhere one can read Rodney Milne’s Glyndebourne mag article online? I’ve always been a huge fan of his writing ever since I first encountered him while working on what was then called “Record Review” on R3…

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