I'd like to preface by saying this isn't a longform subtweet; it's neither criticising nor endorsing score homogeneity or early reviews and isn't really precipitated by any recent event or controversy except the anecdotes cited, it's just a series of loose observations because I'm easily distracted.

In British political journalism, there exists a phenomenon known to lobby hacks – those fortunate few entitled to access parliament and its MPs for immediate reporting – called The Line. This is normally divided between left-leaning organisations (The Guardian, The New Statesman) and right-leaning ones (The Telegraph, The Daily Mail) and it's – ostensibly – the angle, the tone, the overarching hot take, on every piece of news which escapes parliament. The first publication of the left and right to report on the news – whether it's a scandal or tedious Brexit non-update – produces The Line, and the other left and right publications more often than not have to grit their teeth and go along with it, even if it's dubious reportage; because it's already normalised and validated by virtue of being the pioneer. First past the post dictates the discourse.

You can see where I'm going with this.

Although this pattern isn't limited to politics and music, we are a primarily a music site so I'll restrict myself here. There's been a trend over the past few years of publishing album reviews earlier and earlier, of seizing the coverage initiative.

This is of course completely understandable for numerous reasons; firstly, it's good to dictate the discourse. Even smaller sites and indie blogs establishing a critical perspective influences the final discussion if they chime in early enough. It promotes the site's brand and is narcissistically satisfying. Secondly, the clicks, likes and retweets produced from being the first voices on a subject do matter. With ad revenue for websites so drastically declined, small margins such as hits and shares ultimately factor into income, so there's a peripheral financial incentive at play too. Lastly, posting first permits you to set the benchmark with your review score; and while scores are often dismissed as arbitrary annexes to the review itself, they're realistically its most essential feature, and early scores are the locus on which others generally converge.

I'm not regurgitating the circuitous Where Have All The Negative Reviews Gone debate because it's extraneous here, and will inevitably come back into fashion sometime next year. My concern is with the homogeneity of final scores rather than the content of writing. Music writing swings from being preposterously self-important to neurotically self-deprecating – and the genuine impact and merit of stylish writing and convincing arguments in criticism will linger incontrovertibly contentious - but scores, concrete and digestible, are credibly significant in determining whether people pay attention to an album. Unless a busy reader is a particular fan of the artist/album/writer/site then they'll often skim the piece and extrapolate the score before moving on; it might be their sole takeaway from the review, despite our clever turns of phrase or thorough insight.

More imperatively, scores are aggregated by review sites such as Album Of The Year and Metacritic, and as the hysteria around Rotten Tomatoes' increasing influence in cinema box office receipts demonstrates, review aggregate sites are now commercially trustworthy. These sites principally support and promote the records with the highest mean scores, and ostracise those with the lowest. That they're aggregating reviews also designates that the score of each subsequent site, regardless of their size or influence, contributes equitably towards the mean score. In this framework a blog with 8000 Twitter followers wields as much power as Pitchfork's Best New Music goldstar. People might never read a word of the review but they will read the score, and that score could – especially for smaller, less covered albums – distinguish between a fair-looking-I'll-check-it-out 71 and a meh-not-bothered 68.

After the first batch of reviews go live and are aggregated, that aggregate score can, though to a limited extent and not always, filter into the succeeding review scores. It could be something as explicit as revising your score because the early aggregate is overtly lower, or something as unconscious as refining the language of the review. Who controls The Line can tacitly determine the success or failure of an album in an understated chain reaction.

This phenomenon affects even our biggest bands. Consider the nascent rumours, which turned out factually accurate, surrounding Arcade Fire's Everything Now being terrible. Then as reviews trickled in vindicating this sentiment, it became the accepted wisdom that the record was at best a let-down if not outright bad, before the album was even released. I know someone who considers Arcade Fire's Funeral to be one of his favourite albums but has yet to listen to Everything Now because it was so rigorously panned.

What's equally fascinating is when the circumstances to seize The Line are curtailed. Last week's influx of reviews for Taylor Swift's Reputation startled me by their uniformity; every one I read, and I'm wary that this is again anecdotal and partisan evidence, conferred to the idea that it was quite good; not great, not terrible. The theatrical marketing campaign and polarising singles cycle suggested that Reputation would prove one of the most divisive albums of 2017. Yet there breathes no hatchet jobs, no effusive adulation, just a collective shrug of fineness. On Album Of The Year, out of 16 reviews (at the time of writing) only three don't conform to the score spread between 60 and 80. Now, obviously, it could be that Reputation is just rigidly, dogmatically okay, but - with the album's strict embargo and no major leak - it's not too conspiracy-truther to think maybe the conservative scores were at least partially influenced by the absence of an atom of critical precedent, and by the lack of opportunity to pre-emptively grasp The Line themselves. A consensus was reached anyway, which might imply the safety of orthodoxy, or might invalidate my entire argument. Ach well.

There will always be exceptions to the import of early scores – Taylor Swift being one, regardless of homogeneous scores her record was always going to be successful – but it's my opinion that these exceptions are decreasing, as the response to Everything Now illustrates. Early scores, increasingly, prescribe aggregate scores.

Music writing and music generally is now so saturated, and consumers and fans now have so little free time, that the growing finality of scores, and especially aggregate scores, which in turn largely revolve around early scores, has expedited a systemic shift – however small – in how we cover, and listen to, music.

Again, I reiterate, I'm neither disapproving or admiring, but I do think reflecting on seemingly trivial industrial changes such as this one is instructive, as even the seemingly trivial changes denote the increasing precariousness and competitiveness of music journalism, and consequently, the increasing precariousness and competitiveness of artists trying to make it.