Robin at the wonderful Breaking More Waves blog is something of a veteran of the blogging game, switching his opinions from local to global as he took his fanzine online. Music blogging often opens up opportunities for it’s editor as the site grows in influence, yet Robin, who’s undoubtedly experienced this growth, has always held on to his integrity and his original ethos. Breaking More Waves is respected, influential and highly regarded throughout the blogging world as well as the wider UK music industry, but above all it’s his maintained humility – always downplaying his position within the world of music discovery – that’s meant his blog has huge amounts of integrity, which in turn qualifies him as an authoritative, taste-making commentator.
Like all the best blogs he’s very much an independent voice, but one that’s enjoyed a greater impact as the years have rolled by. He’s deliberately shunned any obvious temptations to add writers or accept guest list passes for shows, defending the independence he’s earned. He doesn’t particularly care for the bells and whistles, or the chase to be first to an artist, but his natural home is right at the front of the cutting edge. His ability to cut through the obvious hype allows him the respect and admiration he deserves in our network. He’s one of the rare examples of a blogger that got into it for the right reasons and maintained true to his word as it’s evolved. It’s for this reason that he often gets selected to appear on radio, is towards the top of a lot of PR lists and genuinely gives a boost to the fledgling artists he covers. This is ‘citizen journalism’ at it’s brilliant best.
THE RECOMMENDER: When did you first become aware of the existence of music blogs?
BREAKING MORE WAVES: Excuse my memory (as one of the more elderly bloggers in town, I’m allowed a few lapses in memory aren’t I?) but I have no idea. I think they just crept up on me and I started reading more as I started creating Breaking More Waves. I remember some of the earliest ones I looked at were the Neon Gold Records blog, Nothing But Green Lights (now R.I.P), Discodust (also appears to be R.I.P) and The Daily Growl. In fact I remember the first time I read the Daily Growl because I was looking up Kate Nash (before she got a record deal and before I was writing a blog) and found that the author, Tim, had been writing about her. The Daily Growl doesn’t post as often as it used to these days (Tim like me has work and fatherhood to contend with) but it’s still a blog I return to often.
TR: When did you start your own music blog?
BMW: My first post was in June 2008, but it was just one post with nothing else immediately after. I started blogging regularly in winter 2008 and have slowly increased my output ever since. I always saw it as a ‘slow build’ project – I didn’t want the blog to be like schoolboy sex – all enthusiastic at the beginning, but running out of energy before I’d even got properly started, which is a common failure of many blogs.
TR: What were your initial aims as a music blogger? What do you think makes for an excellent music blog?
BMW:My initial aims are exactly the same as they are now; simply to communicate to the world the new music that I adore through my rudimentary attempts at putting words together. It’s only natural to find something you love and then wanting for everyone else to love it as well. That’s what the blog is about. I still get a massive kick out of seeing a band that I’ve written about in their early days going on to have commercial or critical success and I like to think that in a very small way my initial support helped.
As for what makes an excellent music blog – well I’d rather rephrase the question to ‘what type of blogs do you enjoy reading?’. Because many music blogs, including some of those often quoted as being the best are little more than MP3 hosting sites with a bunch of pretty pictures. Sure, these blogs serve their purpose for those who just want to grab the latest free download, but they’re not the blogs that I personally return to. I want a blog that entertains me with more than just the music. I like to sit and press play and as I’m listening read what the author says. I love a blog that shows it really cares about music, shows the personality of its author, is entertaining and informative to read, but most importantly the ones that really stand out for me are those that are adding something extra in terms of providing a voice, or moving the conversation about music forwards. These are the blogs that I return to read and what I would aspire to, although I have a long way to go. I’m still learning.
TR: Describe your music blog in three words?
BMW: Just a blog.
TR: Geographically, where is your blog based?
BMW: Worldwide (it’s the Internet isn’t it?) but I live by the sea in Portsmouth, the UK’s most densely populated city (outside of certain parts of London).
TR: Which genre(s) does your music blog focus on?
BMW: I’ve always liked the idea that I’m reasonably eclectic in my tastes and will focus on anything if I like it, but the reality is I’ve never featured heavy metal and hip-hop represents less than 1% of the blog output. Hype Machine suggests that my main genres are indie, electronic, British, female vocalists, alternative, folk, pop, singer-songwriter, indie pop, and experimental . I wouldn’t disagree with 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?
BMW: Yes Breaking More Waves is very much a solo project. This comes back to what I was saying earlier about blogs having a voice and personality. If the blog included others opinions and tastes it wouldn’t represent me, it would be a diluted version. I hope that regular readers get a feel for my likes / dislikes, personality and views on things and that this is what engages them.
TR: Approximately, how many visitors does your blog get each month?
BMW: Last month I had 31,000 page views and this is slowly creeping up month by month as I post more. Compared to the bigger more widely known music blogs this is small-fry, but as long as someone is reading I’m happy. I’d still write it even if only my mum read it (she doesn’t – she hates most of the music I like).
Some bloggers get very uptight about hit count, but in my mind big hits doesn’t necessarily equate to a good blog. If I wanted I could just go onto Hype Machine, look up the 20 most popular songs and post them all on my own blog and drive loads of traffic there. That’s not what I want to do or am about though.
TR: What perks have you experienced since becoming a music blogger?
BMW: As much alcohol as I can drink, wild passionate sex with the most hot-blooded girls you can imagine and a permanently reserved suite at the Dorchester Hotel. Not bad for simply typing out a few words of text and uploading some music, eh? No seriously, probably like any other blogger, I get lots of free music, free entry to a fair few gigs and festivals, the chance to meet artists whilst being taken a little more seriously than just your typical fan and opportunities to be involved in things such as the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition as a judge, the BBC Sound Of poll, and a number of radio shows. However the best perk is when I write about a new artist and see their pleasure at my little bit of help – there’s nothing like a smile or a thank you to make it all worthwhile.
TR: Are you employed? (If so, where and what is your job title?)
BMW: Yes, I work in Local Government heading up a team of Surveyors in the Building Control Department. We’re the guys who check that buildings are designed and constructed in accordance with all the correct health, safety, welfare, energy conservation and access standards. My work is as far away from new music blogging as you can imagine, but I like that balance.
TR: An important part of a music blog is the network it has at its disposal, so which other forums do you network on mostly?
BMW: To be honest, I’m not a big ‘networker’- for two main reasons – time and real life. I have a family (who take up the majority of my non day job time), a bunch of great friends and a busy life outside of music blogging, so once I’ve posted my blogs I’m pretty much done. I try and post on Twitter a few times a day as well because this only takes a few seconds. The whole concept of networking is a bit weird to me – I like things to happen in a more organic, natural way - networking feels forced and a little desperate, but I realise I’m probably in the massive minority here. I can understand networking for business purposes, but the blog isn’t a business – ultimately it’s just a hobby that seems to have developed into a respected online publication (albeit with a small, but sometimes influential number of readers). Having said all that, I have a bit of a reputation on the Bestival and Camp Bestival festival Internet forums as their ‘forum poster boy’. I’ve been a regular attendee of both festivals since their inception and you’ll find me regularly joining in with the gossip there under the name ‘rseamer’.
TR: Who are your favourite three music blogs?
BMW: This question is a bit like asking me what are your three favourite albums of all time, or your three favourite foods, or the best three times you’ve had sex in your life. My answer is always the same – I don’t really know – it changes all the time. Have a look at the bloglist on my blog. I like all of them. I prefer UK music blogs to US ones generally though – they seem more relevant to me.
One day maybe I’ll write a sex blog as well. It would be amazing.
TR: What is more important to you, quality or quantity?
BMW: In terms of blogging? Quality, and by that I mean that the author writes with knowledge and passion. Although I like the idea of blogs being regular (that’s quantity right?) as well. You can usually see when a music blog is about to call it quits, as their posts begin to slow down as they lose enthusiasm. I try to post something virtually every day except weekends (even if the reality is that many of the posts are written on the same day – usually 7am on a Saturday morning) and then scheduled to post during the week.
TR: What was your most popular post in terms of visitors?
BMW: In terms of hits? Bizarrely it’s the review I wrote of the Hurts album (I no longer do album reviews on the blog). I have no idea why. In terms of comments? Pretty much any of the more discursive posts I’ve written get quite a few comments. For example I’ve written pieces about talking at gigs, fashion and pop music, why not being amazing is OK, and if there is too much new music. These always seem to go down well as there’s something for people to interactive with.
TR: What do you think is the most effective way to earn comments on your blog?
BMW: By writing something new that moves the conversation about music forward.This gives readers the chance to engage with you. Just posting a track and then writing a few words about what the song sounds like isn’t engaging for most people. People like to comment on discussions or questions but less so when a blog just goes ”hey here’s a great track” – because there’s not a lot to say other than “Yeah, great track,” or “No, it isn’t.”
TR: How often do you read music blogs?
BMW: I try to read a few almost every day, usually in my lunch break at work but that’s not always possible.
TR: How do you think music blogs from the UK differ from those in the US?
BMW: This is an interesting question. I think there are a couple of fundamental differences. In the UK we are lucky to have state funded radio which can have a wider remit in terms of the music it plays, rather than just playlisting music for commercial reasons. Hence the UK is well served for media coverage of lesser known, alternative and new artists. You can turn on to Radio 1 and listen to the likes of Huw Stephens or Rob Da Bank or delve into much of the output from BBC 6 Music and hear lots of music that simply wouldn’t get the initial support that it does from the BBC on commercial stations. The US doesn’t have this, radio is more segregated and needs to operate to satisfy commercial needs. This means US music fans rely more on blogs for underground and new music than UK fans do.
Secondly, geographically the US is so huge it means that it can be pretty hard to go and check out the latest new US band when they play live – whereas in the UK it’s relatively easy – if you really want to see a new touring band in the UK you probably won’t have to travel more than a couple of hours max. Again this means that UK fans are probably less reliant on music blogs as they have more of a chance of checking out a band themselves by seeing them live.
For these two reasons I think that, to a certain extent, the UK music audience is much more well-informed and less ghettoised than the US audience and UK blogs tend to reflect this.
TR: Which aspect do you care for most in a music blog, a good design, or well-crafted content?
BMW: I don’t care that much for how ‘cool’ or ‘exciting’ a blog looks – you only have to take a look at mine with its old school Blogspot template to see that. As long as the design is simple to use then I’m more interested in content. That’s why (besides my lack of technical ability) I’ve never bothered with trying to make my blog look great. It’s all about the music.
TR: Approximately, how many emails do you get in your inbox each day?
BMW: I average between 60-100.
TR: What advice can you give any aspiring bands, record labels, PR, agents, or managers, to help their emails get noticed?
BMW: I actually wrote a blog about this. See here http://breakingmorewaves.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-to-get-your-music-featured-on-blogs.html
TR: How do you prefer to listen to music online, (ie Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Myspace, iTunes, Spotify, Hype Machine, or any others)?
BMW: I prefer Soundcloud for the blog, because it’s really easy to embed on the blog, is good quality and looks neat. However I listen to music in many different ways and yes, I still buy good old fashioned CDs, usually at least 1 a week, often more. I drive quite a bit for my work and so hence use the car CD player and radio a lot. I only have a basic Spotify account because I tend to use that just to check out albums I’m thinking of buying and then if I like them I will buy them on CD as I want to know that in 20 years time I’ll still own the recording.
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)?
BMW: There’s no set way – many of the ways I discover music isn’t online – it’s more fluid and organic than sitting at a computer and working my way through the likes of Hype Machine, Bandcamp or Soundcloud. Have a look at the blog post I linked to (above) and that explains more about this.
TR: What does the future hold for music blogging? Do you see their importance growing or shrinking in years to come?
BMW: I have absolutely no idea. If you look back over the last decade and the changes in the way music is made and distributed now and how the so called ‘experts’ were predicting it would change its pretty clear that no one had any clue. The one thing that I’m sure will happen though is that there will be change, and the blogs that are flexible enough to deal with change will survive.
TR: Can you name a band you expect to break through in 2011?
BMW: I don’t know about expecting them to break through, but a band I really like and have been supporting on the blog since last year are The Milk. Great songs, great voice, full of soul. Can I mention a few other favourites? OK, Lana Del Rey, Let’s Buy Happiness and a very new singer songwriter called Alice Jemima.
TR: Please let us know any useful links to find you elsewhere online (ie, Twitter, Hype Machine, Facebook etc)?