Next up in this meet-the-blogger series, where we focus our attention on the editors behind the world’s finest music blogs, is the charming Matthew Young, who is the editor for Song By Toad. Having been placed in the top five in last year’s peers-only poll on the best music blogs in the world, (Song By Toad ended up joint fourth with Gorilla vs Bear), he was a natural for a Q&A selection.
His tidy blog is well-established, even branching out as an excellent independent label, and is particularly great at one important essence of music blogging – to be a real voice. With a focus on witty, well-written editorial, with a fearless opinion, alongside selecting some great music, it’s a blog well worth your bookmarking time. We will let Matthew tell you the rest of his story…
THE RECOMMENDER: When did you first become aware of the existence of music blogs?
SONG BY TOAD: Probably sometime around the middle of 2006.
TR: When did you start your own music blog?
SBT: The middle of 2004 – I just didn’t realise it was a blog yet!
TR: What were your initial aims as a music blogger?
SBT: Initially it was to write down the kind of music I was listening to so that my brother, who lives in the States, could have a listen to what I was into more regularly than the sporadic mix CDs I used to send him. Then it slowly morphed into being more of a journal, I guess – somewhere I could record my inner monologue about music, because none of my friends were all that interested.
TR: What do you think makes for an excellent music blog?
SBT: Quality writing is key, for me. And it doesn’t have to be technically perfect, just thoughtful, and written in a nice tone that you can identify with, by someone whose voice you can almost hear speaking the words as you read them. The music is important too, but I don’t like to agree with all the choices – it has to push me into listening to stuff I might not otherwise.
TR: Describe your music blog in three words?
SBT: Gin and swearing
TR: Geographically, where is your blog based?
TR: Which genre(s) does your music blog focus on?
SBT: Just stuff I like, generally. This tends to be loosely termed as indie, alternative, folk, experimental, pop, lo-fi, and so on and so forth. The usual shit, if I can call it that.
TR: Do you work alone on the blog, or do you have contributors – if so, who are they and how did you initially get them on board?
SBT: I have people who help me out from time to time, particularly with the sessions, but although I would like a bit of help with the site itself, I tend to find that you can almost never rely on other people to be consistent and stick it out. And when you’re all doing it for the enjoyment it’s hard to be as demanding of someone as you need to be.
TR: Approximately, how many visitors does your blog get each month?
SBT: Eight and a half inches when erect, but apparently it’s what you do with it that counts.
TR: What perks have you experienced since becoming a music blogger?
SBT: Access to musicians is a big one, in terms of the opportunity to interview people I admire and ask about their work. With the label taking off as well, I’d actually say the best part is getting closer to the actual creative process, and the chance to make a contribution myself.
TR: Are you employed? (If so, where and what is your job title?)
SBT: I was a medical device design engineer for ten years, but gave that up last year to go full time with the blog and the label, which was exciting, but more than a little foolhardy!
TR: An important part of a music blog is the network it has at it’s disposal, so which other forums do you network on mostly?
SBT: Real life, honestly. I use Facebook and Twitter and the elbo.ws music blogger message board, but far and away the most important for me is the real world. For something as reputedly antisocial as blogging, I have met an amazing number of really interesting people since starting this up.
TR: Who are your favourite three music blogs?
TR: What is more important to you, quality or quantity?
SBT: Quality, by some distance, but even if your posting schedule is slow I think it needs to be reliable.
TR: What was your most popular post in terms of visitors?
SBT: Probably my post on how to self-release your own record, which I wrote earlier this year.
TR: What do you think is the most effective way to earn comments on your blog?
SBT: By responding and engaging with the people who do comment. If you want people to respond to you, you have to respond to them.
TR: How often do you read music blogs?
SBT: A few times a week. I’m actually more into podcasts at the moment as I can listen to them whilst doing the more mundane day to day tasks of running the label.
TR: How do you think music blogs from the UK differ from those in the US?
SBT: We have a lot less influence. In the US their radio and music press have been utterly decimated in recent years, meaning that many bands’ and labels’ only remaining route to their audience is through blogs, and hence their significance is extremely high. In the UK we still have a relatively healthy traditional music press, by comparison at least, so the need for and hence influence of blogs is a lot lower.
TR: Which aspect do you care for most in a music blog, a good design, or well-crafted content?
TR: Approximately, how many emails do you get in your inbox each day?
SBT: About a hundred or so. Anything with the word remix in it, or a z where there should be an s gets instantly deleted.
TR: What advice can you give any aspiring bands, record labels, PR, agents, or managers, to help their emails get noticed?
SBT: For me it’s pretty simple. I don’t care what you write; even if it’s obnoxious as hell, I’ll still listen. I just need a simple, one-click-equals-music link, whether it be YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, an externally hosted mp3 or whatever. I listen to everything, though, so ‘getting noticed’ doesn’t really apply. I just have to like the music.
TR: How do you prefer to listen to music online, (ie Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Myspace, iTunes, Spotify, Hype Machine, or any others)?
SBT: I don’t actually use any of those services to listen to music recreationally. If you’re talking about promo submissions, though, then I prefer Soundcloud or Bandcamp, but I don’t mind videos on YouTube or Vimeo or something like that.
TR: What is the most common way you discover new music online (ie through your network, tips from the industry, tips from friends, gigs, other blogs, emails etc)?
SBT: I got to the stage where I was becoming too dependent on my inbox, so now I make an effort to listen to more podcasts and read more blogs. If it’s local music I tend to discover it through friends’ recommendations and at gigs. And actually I find Twitter and Facebook remarkably useful, and they are basically just tips from friends too.
TR: What does the future hold for music blogging? Do you see their importance growing or shrinking in years to come?
SBT: Well I think traditional blogging will evolve, to the point where simply writing a website won’t really be enough anymore. Anyone who wants to actually be a cultural commentator of any sort is going to have to spread themselves across Twitter and Facebook and whatever new stuff comes along, and use all of them effectively and in a manner suited to their respective benefits. The site will be important, but your constant engagement with your audience across a wide variety of platforms will be the most important thing, whether you’re a blogger, a radio presenter, a journalist or whatever.
TR: Can you name a band you expect to break through in 2011?
SBT: Rob St. John. He’s on our label, so that may be wishful thinking, but I think his debut album stands a good chance of being very well-received indeed.
TR: Please let us know any useful links to find you elsewhere online (ie, Twitter, Hype Machine, Facebook etc)?