Music blogs moved on from being self-obsessed, online vanity projects some years ago. Sure there’s still a sense of them being personal, independent and amateur, but upon these sites are voices and opinions that are commonly regarded as ‘tastemakers’ within the music industry. The blogging sphere is a zone in which influence can now be dispensed, giving useful, ever-growing spotlights to the music we cover. Blogs have created a place where you can genuinely discover something new, a home which is now anchored at the new cutting edges of emerging music. They’ve not so much replaced the traditional music media, more they’ve added a new exciting layer to the underground of music.
However, if these voices are to be heard, which in most of the established music blog’s cases is with a growing readership, with opinions that can truly count, then there really is no reason why they cannot be delivered with the same quality of writing than that found in other media. Sadly though, for the most part, this untrained delivery service has established itself with no formal training on how to write reviews or prose. As Henry Copeland recently remarked for his ten year blog review, “the amount of quality content has rocketed, the amount of non-quality content has grown even faster“. Our voices are experiencing an ever-increasing volume, yet so many of us continue to speak with a muddled language.
Well today we are attempting to tighten things up. We love our blogging peers, as was witnessed with our recent Blog Up meeting, or with consultative work on the soon-to-launch Music Robot project, but on too many occasions we find ourselves reading blog posts with appalling editorial. The music they select may be regularly exceptional, but the pieces that frame the music are so often not. There’s no need for this, as a few basic rules can provide a giant lift in how their opinions and descriptions are delivered. We’re not suggesting that The Recommender is perfect, we’re certainly not doing this to preach to others, as we’ve never been formally trained either, but we feel that our passion for music discovery could and should be packaged in the best wrapping possible.
A style guide is something every other traditional publishing house has developed, where they outline the basic house rules for all writing. Below is our Blogger’s Style Guide, handing out some helpful tips that should work universally. If you write and edit a blog then please try and adopt these guidelines to at least some extent, perhaps passing them on to any new writers that you take on board, so that we can carry on gaining professional respect and grow our audience even further. There’s no harm in improvements, especially if there’s no cost to the excellent work you already provide with your (usually unpaid) delivery service. Enjoy your new packaging.
Titles of things mentioned in any text are italicised, with no quote marks. For example, Bob Dylan’s album, Blonde On Blonde. It’s helpful if you can do this because some titles are kind of oblique and readers might not realise what the title is and what is your own pithy comment.
Cliches are careless. They ruin your posts and are always spotted, so please leave them for the lazy writers. You wouldn’t talk in cliches so do not write in them. This includes: “shimmering synths“, or “dreamscapes“, or “rumbling bass“, or “angular guitars“. Deep down you know how to spot them, so be honest with yourself.
We prefer not to refer to ourselves as I or me. All references to ourselves and our fascinating opinions are credited to we and us. If you, a singular person, like something, then perhaps you should still say “we liked this.”
If being critical, try and maintain a respect for both yourself and your subjects. Some people believe in being tender, however some of the best critics let their subjects have it with both barrels. At the very least be constructive and well-informed, and humour often helps if delivered with imagination. Remember that we are pointing at butterflies, not catching them.
Grammar and prose on music blogs can perhaps be treated with less caution than other traditional media publications, but some phrases really are just wrong. This style guide is not an English lesson, so please make your own comprehensive list of phrases you absolutely must avoid.
Decade references are almost always just the decade and an ‘s’. 80s is a good example of this. As is 60s. The last decade was the noughties or the 00s. We don’t know what this new one is officially called yet, but we’ll keep you informed. Individual years are written with an apostrophe though, for example ’79, ‘07.
Numbers look ugly in text. So it’s a three-piece band, not a 3-piece. See? Ugh. If the number is seventy-nine thousand, four hundred and fifty-seven, that just looks stupid, so please use numerals for numbers greater than nine.
All genres are in lower case and tend not to have hyphens in them. For example: hip hop, drum’n’bass, r’n’b, rock’n’roll, indie rock. Where you have an apostrophe, as in r’n’b, you don’t need spaces as well. DJ is always in capitals.
Every word in a title or a name begins with a capital letter. Look at the Of in Kings Of Leon. Some people don’t think this is right, but you should ignore those people.
If you use an exclamation mark, please stop, look, think, check and then in all probability remove it. You should be able to express excitement without them.
Ampersands (&) should never be used in the body of text, unless its in a band’s name or a title of something.
Hyphenation is a tricky one. Generally speaking, people hyphenate a bit too much. Line-up and set-list are always hyphenated, other than that you only really need it if there’s any ambiguity about what your words might mean without one
If you think that the reader may not be sure of what you reference, make sure you explain it. Dropping in other band names, record labels etc is often useful, but say it in a way so that readers get the context. (i.e. “…the record label, Bella Union, signed them last year,…”)
“Who, what, where, when” should frame the story you are trying tell. The “Why” may well provide the arc of the story but the first four criteria must never be ignored.
Never write for other bloggers to read. We write for our readers, so avoid trying too hard, quit the name-dropping and strange Russian art-house references.
Sentences can be short. Having to break up very long sentences can lead to extensive rewriting. Sentences and words should be separated by a single spacebar hit.
Be wary when classifying bands and artists with the genre of chillwave; you know that it was invented as a derogatory joke by Hipster Runoff, right? Perhaps the genre of glo-fi is better deployed in this instance, or simply avoid pigeon holes altogether.
Gratuitous language is usually strictly avoided in traditional media, but we believe blogs can often sidestep this as they are personal and independent from other music journalism, however perhaps re-read profanities and think again as to whether it is absolutely essential to the piece.
Try not to allow people’s claims and opinions to come across as statements of fact. Attribute your sources and contextualise where ever possible.
Commas can impede the flow of a sentence, but forgetting them could change its meaning, so please tread carefully.
Concision is one of the greatest virtues of expression and, therefore, of journalism.
Never underestimate the reader’s understanding of a subject, so try and avoid patronising remarks, such as “…the singer Madonna“.
If your post is attacked in the public comments section, or on social networks, perhaps just get over it. Your opinions are not wrong, so do not let anyone suggest otherwise, but respect other’s opinions too. If you must respond then remember this is your blog, so either take a deep breath and reply with a considered response, or, if all else fails, tell them to go fuck themselves, because ultimately you are in control.
So there it is. Hope it helped? Please remember, this is not a rule book, it is a guide. Hopefully it can assist in some small way, so either take it all on board, or take just some of it, or indeed leave it altogether, its up to you. As music bloggers we are neither broad sheet, nor tabloid. Blogs are free from almost all traditional restrictions, but we do share one commonality, an audience, and they deserve to be rewarded with tidy editorial. If they are not, then you risk frustrating, mis-informing, or even worse, losing them altogether.
Of course this guide won’t apply to absolutely everyone, although we’ve tried to lay it out as a broad look at best-practice. Do not fear these points, or your readers. Neither of them will make you a good writer, or good at spelling. Also, please note that this guide will not improve your humour, or your research, or change your opinions, or improve your choices, it is only to help frame your writing in a more structured form.
Do not forget that one of the key ingredients involved in blogging, and one that ultimately differentiates us from traditional media, is that we can be an independent voice, a personality, so never lose sight of your character when applying the points listed above.
Good journalism is about good judgement, so where there are grey areas, try and remain logical, well-researched and avoid patronising the reader. On the one hand you can presume the reader has been on a desert island, but on the other you should avoid spoon-feeding facts and information. Continue to write from your heart, write with passion and use your imagination. And remember, opinions can be disagreed with, but they can never be wrong. (MB)