I first started following The Needle Drop, the YouTube channel of self-referred music nerd Anthony Fantano, around two years ago now. In fact I specifically remember my first encounter with the channel – a review of The Maccabees’ third full length, Given to the Wild, an album released in the first half of 2012. Whilst I wasn’t a particular fan of that album itself – and neither was the channel, mind you – I was fascinated by Fantano and his commitment to the role of objective tastemaker. He seemed, to me, genuine, and although our points of view have not always aligned since, his arguments tend to uphold a validity that one can at least find understandable. Furthermore the sheer volume and diversity of music Anthony tackles is extremely admirable for just one person. From Jazz and Hip-Hop, all the way through the canon to the blackest of Black Metal, his effort and will to cover the majority of genres is testament that the purest recommendations should, and will, always come from those motivated by their passion alone.
Whether it’s out of respect or envy, I’m not sure, but I’ve rarely missed an upload since that first point of contact and continue to use The Needle Drop’s recommendations over most as a foot-in to discovering further great albums and artists.
For those who haven’t already skipped to open a new tab on their browsers bound for the channel, basically it’s a video blog set up to showcase Anthony’s ventures into – and opinions of – contemporary music. Started back in 2007, The Needle Drop was initially conceived as a written blog only, but from early 2009 made the move to start operating simultaneously in video format. And now, in its fifth year as a heavily consistent YouTube channel, Anthony has made and uploaded something near 1,500 video entries, more than 1,000 of which can still be viewed online today. That may sound like tough going, but Anthony’s efforts don’t go unnoticed. He continues to receive unanimous encouragement and inspiration on a daily basis from his devoted followers, a subscribed number now closing in on a staggering 300,000.
For the most part Anthony’s uploads consist of album reviews where he’ll pick apart and provide his comments on a new release directly to camera. Both his structure and criteria tend to mimic a traditional written review, and equally the audience are invited to play their role: Instalments close with a number rating and the posited question of “What did you think of this record?” before Anthony encourages all those with opinions-a-bursting to lay it out in the comments section beneath. And these opinions don’t necessarily have to be aimed at the defending review, but can be channelled into suggestions for future videos or even to insist upon an appearance from Anthony’s dumbfounded alter ego and house favourite Cal Chuchesta. After all if you desire to operate with a democratic drive it’s probably too dangerous not to save room for playful rhetoric.
Anthony is also more than well aware that to keep a channel interesting one must do more than solely remain up-to-date with current releases, and so by the weekend he trades in his headphones to make way for alternative features. These started as the occasional monthly summation of favourite albums (a measure of course that depends entirely on the quality of the past months’ harvest), end-of-year lists, and the annual classic’s week – a picking of 5 records that, in Anthony’s opinion, carry an impenetrable titanic status and personal fondness. However as the channel has surged in viewers and subscribers, Fantano has seen to it to adapt accordingly, building on these alternatives with, well… more alternatives. Drop in on the weekend now and you can catch Anthony discussing anything from the newest additions to his growing vinyl collection to the most appropriate and affordable gear for today’s audiophiles, and so on. He’s also making a habit of travelling out to Austin, TX every March to attend the areas popular SXSW festival, whereby you can see him reporting his experience and even filming interviews with bands on site, all for the benefit of the channel.
So why should you follow him, you might ask? Well for a start Anthony isn’t exactly a novice in the task of understanding and protracting his critique. Prior to The Needle Drop going on camera Anthony made a majority of his pay working on and presenting shows at NPR radio in his home state of Connecticut. Second to that he was already running a written blog from home. And since forming the channel he has gone on to earn a number of achievements (notably MTV’s ‘Beyond the Blog’ award), as well as spoken at Universities, interviewed a tonne of artists, been the subject of interviews by the likes of Nardwuar and CPBN, and received countless nods from a variety of musicians and music industry pros.
Admittedly Anthony has benefitted from even his own critical analysis of himself, understanding first and foremost that he was a much better speaker than writer in the first place, and second that his memorable and somewhat eccentric appearance perhaps had the appeal to stick with returning viewers. On camera he is an exciting presence to behold: passionate, funny, insightful, expressive, and speaks without condescension – all formidable characteristics that have triumphed in handing him the edge over the majority of bloggers reluctant to come out from behind their keyboards. What Anthony has realised is that words can be more thoroughly and appropriately communicated when paired with the right actions; points-of-view become easier to accept or at least comprehend when dramatised vocally; and as a result the viewers, as well as getting a more engaging and impactful experience of music reviews, are now able to get to know their critic. Heck, some even learn to trust and respect the guy.
This is the new journalism, folks. So why not let Anthony Fantano be your shepherd.