Feb 24, 2015 · 4 minutes

Last month I wrote an article about how Rap Genius and explainer sites are killing journalism. The basic argument was that, by turning music into something to be explained and intellectualized, it made experiencing music on a emotional level a tertiary action.

The post elicited a fair amount of criticism from Rap Genius' devoted band of acolytes -- which I expected and largely cast aside. But it also inspired a number of negative comments from the music criticism community. Indeed, I admit that I overstated my case by announcing a terminal prognosis on the art of music journalism -- there were many many great pieces of music journalism in 2014, and I expect to see many more in 2015. But few disagreed with the premise that the field was quickly migrating from the realm of rock zines and blogs to well-capitalized technology-focused platforms.

Now there's even more evidence of this migration as Apple has posted a job listing for an Editorial Producer "with experience across pop culture and a specific expertise in music journalism." Spotted by Music Ally, the posting lists duties that include "writing, editing, [and] managing a sea of freelancers."

By further taking music writing away from the sacred halls of journalism and placing it in the hands of the cold capitalists that run tech firms, one might assume this is yet another nail in the coffin of the field. On the contrary, Apple, by marrying music distribution and music criticism, could potentially bring this work to its biggest audience since the glory days of Rolling Stone.

There are a couple big ways Apple may use staffers that possess expertise in music and lyrics, as opposed to zeroes to ones. The first is related to curation. With Google purchasing Songza for its Google Play Music and YouTube Music Key services and Rdio buying up TastemakerX, the art of human, expert-driven curation and recommendation has become as important a play for music tech platforms as complex Pandora-style algorithms. As impressive as Pandora's algorithm is, it lacks of human nuance to know that, say, just because a listener loves one artist, that doesn't mean she will like another artist that's heavily influenced by the first. A Radiohead fan does not necessarily dig Coldplay. Furthermore, an algorithm may struggle to identity a great brand new artist whose music hasn't been around long enough for much listener data to exist surrounding it.

But human beings -- quite literally "tastemakers" -- can better anticipate the next big artist that this Radiohead fan will adore. Tech platforms like Rdio have already been utilizing that expertise to create carefully-curated playlists for any occasion.

The second way music critics can help Apple is by adopting a more traditional journalistic role -- reviewing new albums or writing longform features on musicians. These could exist on a splash page within Apple's upcoming subscription streaming service, but more importantly, relevant features could be served up to users when they turn on an song or album. Like in the days when music came with a physical product, these editorial pieces could serve the purpose "liner notes" once did, adding context and other points of interest that users can read while listening to the music. As many music magazines continue to hemorrhage money and readers, Apple and other music platforms own powerful distribution engines that reach massive numbers of audiences. For a hotshot music writer, the opportunity to reach millions of users a day is an extremely attractive proposition.

There is one line of the job listing that may raise the eyebrows of journalistic purists, however. The position requires "working collaboratively with business and content heads to shape and define editorially driven merchandising promotions." For many journalism outlets, this would appear to violate the so-called "separation between church and state." Writers write, advertisers sell ads. But judging by the job listing, it appears that writers will be intensely aware of the demands of advertisers. So if Taco Bell pays for a review of the new Arcade Fire record, the writer could be required to explain how Arcade Fire songs are, like, super-fun to listen to while eating the new Baja Cheeto Woe Burrito. And while Apple is indeed a tech company and not under any expectation to follow the rules of journalism, to many digitally-native readers content is content -- they make no distinction whether it comes from the New York Times or Spotify.

But to be completely frank, even traditional journalistic outlets in their hunt for ad dollars have been blurring this line. So while the trend of music critics quitting magazines and news sites to join tech platforms can pose a danger to the art of music criticism -- for the reasons outline in my earlier post -- Apple's journalistic hiring spree could be a great thing for the field.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]