On Invisible Oranges in the relatively recent article “Community, come together”, website owner and head editor Cosmo Lee announced he would be leaving later in the year and encouraged others to help take over the reigns and keep maintaining the website at a high level after he’s gone. For a while now I’ve had reservations about the notion of metal listeners giving their spare time to the music they love, and some of Cosmo’s comments really jumped out at me:
I’ve done Invisible Oranges for four and a half years, putting in 30- to 40-hour weeks on it, seven days a week. (I can count on two hands the number of days I’ve taken off from the website.) This is my 1400th post for Invisible Oranges. Given that each post typically takes over three hours of work (a typical album review requires weeks (if not months) of listening, an hour to write, and an hour to edit and lay out), and an interview typically takes over five hours to transcribe, edit, and lay out, I’ve put in well over 5000 unpaid hours on this site. (Our advertising this year might have us breaking even in terms of server and other costs.) I’ve sunk thousands of dollars into this site, and I wouldn’t take a single one back. But eventually it will be time for me to move on.
For four and a half years, I’ve come home from the various jobs that I’ve had and basically worked on the site until exhaustion. I’ve been exhausted for years. What you see on the site is the tip of the iceberg work-wise. I am perpetually hundreds of emails behind, dealing with writers, readers, bands, labels, and publicists. I currently have over 1,290 potential spam comments to moderate.My desktop currently has over 35GB of unheard demos and promos. At conservatively 10 demos and promos per GB, my new releases listening queue is over 350 releases long. I can’t even download releases as fast as they come into my inbox, never mind listen to them.
The result is that I’ve had no personal life for years. That was my choice. But now I’m choosing to have a personal life. . . .
This type of commitment is almost always praised among metal listeners, as exemplified by the stream of positive comments posted beneath the article by readers, but I have a big problem with it. For example, Cosmo could have devoted all that time and effort to charity, 5000 hours worth, but he didn’t, instead he devoted it to music.
When I take a look at how much time he says he spends to write a single album review, I have to ask my self if it’s worth it even just forgetting about charity and keeping the focus on metal—in the same amount of time, how many less-sophisticated reviews could he have submitted to a database like Encyclopaedia Metallum? Or, moreover, to what extent can his reviews reasonably be expected to be in synch with a significant amount of his readers’ respective musical preferences? Would a less sophisticated review have failed to persuade so many of his readers to check out the music? And most of all there’s something terribly pointless about music reviews because they’re just opinions, and if we put them on pedestals all we get are people shaping their opinions around the opinions of others.
In my view the logical scenario is that fancy words and well-constructed sentences don’t necessarily make for particularly persuasive music reviews, rather finding a reviewer you like is a matter of finding a person who shares your musical tastes in the first place and then per this general relationship, this commonality, you make a point of checking out everything they recommend even if they only recommend it in a single sentence, because you know from induction there’s a statistically high probability that if they like it then you’ll like it too. The reviewer can paint a slightly more specific picture than a single sentence, but the subtle ins and outs of a song is something you find out for yourself, you don’t take somebody’s word for it, because art is ultimately subjective and general relationships between two people’s musical preferences are just that—general.
Cosmo said well that it was his choice to put in the time and effort he did, and that now it’s his choice to pursue other things, and this leads me to believe he enjoyed to some significant extent working on the website, which is an important point to remember (although he does say in one place that most of what he does for the site is “grunt work” and only 10% is actual writing). It’s about personal enjoyability too, not just objective efficiency. Still, every day we train our brains with our thoughts and our actions, and in my view it’s rather silly to ‘choose’ to take pleasure in maintaining an ultimately inconsequential website; it’s an extremely minor sin compared to all the BS that goes on in this world but it’s still a waste of time and effort, and the metal community has bought into it lock, stock and barrel. Everyone including myself agrees Cosmo’s spirit is admirable, but I take issue with the direction in which he applied it.
Furthermore, I was shocked to read that he’s put thousands of dollars of his own money into Invisible Oranges, and that the website’s ad revenue has only been enough, and maybe not even enough, to cover server costs and other expenses. My first question is, how hard did Cosmo try to monetize the website, and how much was he willing to sacrifice in terms of the website’s aesthetics? My second question is, if the website produces such great material, why wouldn’t it be able to generate significant or at least decent revenue in one manner or another? I mean generally speaking, good products sell, and bad ones don’t. In its message to potential advertisers Invisible Oranges calls itself “the premier blog for metal’s underground”, and although “premier” might be pushing it a tad (or I’d want to more clearly define what exactly is meant by “underground”), from what I can gather it is indeed a very well-liked and well-respected metal blog that doesn’t churn out the same old superficialities as much as other metal websites usually do.
In my view, at the end of the day Invisible Oranges doesn’t really contribute to serious metal research and discourse at all and this is a problem for a website that bills itself as alternative and intelligent. That its writing isn’t obnoxious and actually contains proper grammar and orthography shouldn’t be a testament that the website is revolutionary, rather the fact that the website stands out from the crowd so much is a testament to the low quality of its competition. On one hand Invisible Oranges tries to give its subject matter profound treatment, but on the other hand the website’s scope remains within the bounds of the prototypical metal website—news, reviews, interviews and brief editorials and columns. The posts are written with a sense of self-awareness, open-mindedness and worldliness, but they’re opinion pieces, not essays or papers, and at a certain point seriousness itself needs to be treated seriously, it needs to be cultivated in a framework where it can grow, or else it appeals only to a very small minority of metal fans—those who want to engage metal profoundly but only to an armchair extent. While people interested in profound metal discourse are more interested not in reviews but in texts that delve beyond the music itself, mainstream metal websites appeal to mostly everyone else, leaving Invisible Oranges awkwardly wedged between both worlds.