There’s been a handful of recent articles cropping up online regarding ‘the death of the music blog’. We believe that commentaries such as these are not just dangerous, but plain wrong, and if enough influential voices continue with these bold statements then they’ll make a self-fulfilling prophecy out of them. It may be somewhat self-serving and subjective in the extreme, but before they knock the wind entirely from a music blogger’s sails, we’d like to provide something of a clarifying argument. With all the changes that have been going on and with all the new online music services that have recently cropped up, we believe that we’re not in fact witnessing a protracted death, far from it, this is an evolution, and just like all of the others we are a part of it. May the fittest survive.
It’s obviously going to be tough arguing our case without sounding like we’re blowing our own blog’s trumpet, but therein lies a good starting point for the defence. You can see well-written commentary on this exact subject if you check out all the recent pieces, with one point of view being delivered by Drowned In Sound‘s Sean Adams, who in turn was referencing another article by Casey Newton on his site, Crumbler. You can also see that this topic has been around a while with an older post by Matt Simmonds that resides on his Sounds Good To Me blog, whilst Breaking More Waves‘ Robin Seamer provided the piece that stirred us into action earlier this week. All of these articles revolved around the themed title, ‘The Slow Death Of The Music Blog‘. Where we might be polishing our own trumpet, these guys are debating the death knell. With each article there is a sense of beating the bullies to the punch. By making a bold statement about the death of music blogging, upon your own music blog, you are disarming any external critics from pointing it out for you. Although each of these writers would certainly deny this, and to be fair their pieces are all researched and well-considered, the paradox sounds like the opposite of self-serving, on a scale not seen since Gerald Ratner.
We’re also not suggesting that our piece will somehow halt that Ratner effect, but following Robin Seamer’s thoughtful post on the matter yesterday a swell of debate began, particularly on Twitter. Robin has since informed us that his post has ironically been one of the busiest posts he’s put up in recent weeks, suggesting the opposite of a death, and who knows how many re-tweets his article eventually received, (and the poor blighter was on his holidays as this all raged around online!). Indeed, we sincerely hope that it remains just a healthy, analytical debate and that the prophecy remains unfulfilled. On the whole, music blogging is an altruistic, unpaid yet rewarding activity (for us and the artists that we cover), so long may it continue, leading us to our next point; anyone can start a music blog. After all it is free to begin, it’s simple and if you do a good job the rewards of free music and free concerts will pour in. This attraction took music blogging from it’s humble beginnings, as the pioneering sites, such as Drowned In Sound, Fluxblog, Stereogum and others, broke new ground in the world of music discovery from the turn of the millenium. This led to an explosion of sites such as The Recommender, The Line Of Best Fit, The405, The Blue Walrus and countless others who spread the format out just after the middle of the last decade. However, in the last two or three years the freebie-hunters jumped in, swelling the blogoshpere to an unhealthy and perhaps unsustainable level.
We’re not suggesting that every music blog that’s appeared since 2010 is a glory-hunter, (perhaps now they could be better described by the naysayers as ‘ambulance-chasers’?). There are plenty of awesome music blogs that have arrived in recent times, but there seems to have been an important change over the last few years, as the blogosphere fattened up. We’re pretty sure Fluxblog would say the same thing about The Recommender, dismissing us as a secondary, less-influential wave on the blog highways, but the truth is that we had never heard of Fluxblog, or pretty much any blog until we launched ours and opened the world up from the inside. Our intentions were therefore of a pure nature – we simply wanted to share and discuss all the awesome music that was out there, with absolutely no idea of any supposed benefits, and music blogs were this new format that allowed us to do it. The free CDs, gig tickets and access to the music industry came as a bi-product of our work, not a driver. But if you start a music blog in 2012, it would be pretty hard for you to state the same innocent intentions. Music blogs are now an established part of the music discovery scene, so if you start a music blog today you almost certainly know the rewards that are on offer. This knowledge changed everything.
The resulting splatter of music blogs that’s now smudged upon the landscape is dizzying, causing this Sean Adams interviewer to state that, “What only we used to do has become what everybody does“. Indeed in such an over-saturated market where does a new visitor to the blogosphere start out? If everyone talks to you at once you won’t hear anyone, so the innocent readers got lost in a homogenized menu. The blog highways found their first traffic jam and we all sat there depressingly assuming it would just get worse. Whilst this was happening the Internet was raising the speed limits of information, leading to new social networks – in particular Twitter and the quick-fire Tumblr – which worked like motorbikes zipping through the crowded roads. If information was to be delivered this fast, then these new buzz blogs could avoid flabby things, such as rich content, or fully-formed opinions when posting about music. This new breed of bloggers entered a race they couldn’t finish, as they spat out every news story, every video, every mp3 and every haircut that the trendiest artists released, whilst tortoises like us ambled onwards in the queue. The likes of Hype Machine rewarded blogs by delivering more visiotrs back to those bloggers that managed to get there first. Churnalism was born. People were posting and re-posting everything everywhere. It wasn’t long before people removed the written words entirely, “who wants to actually read anything in 2012?“, seemed to be the rallying cry – as people lobbed up post after post, sometimes several times a day.
Bloggers earned the bestowed ‘tastemaker’ status by being early to artists, launching their debut music to a massive audience. PR firms and record labels clambered for blog coverage, not stopping to care if any opinions or commentary came with it, so long as it was on that blog and reaching that many people. Readers were stopping by these sites, grabbing the recommendation, even downloading the free mp3 if available, and disappearing as soon as they’d arrived. Rapid buzz blogging seemed to meet the visitor’s short attention spans and the engaging party that we’d all previously experienced was over. Death was around the corner to the rest of us. We found ourselves on the blog highways but we were no longer sitting in traffic, instead this was a car park. Buzz blogs had treated music in the same way that a brawl of piranhas treated their lunch, without any thoughts for the future. And articles about the death of the music blog arrived in a wave of relevance. This happened in tandem with the arrival of streaming, using services such as Soundcloud, Official.fm and Bandcamp players, which no longer meant that we gave the music away as a download, also putting our blogs in direct competition with any site that could stream music (such as Spotify or Youtube), however, it remains to be said that we personally never saw our visitors drop off after we stopped offering downloads. The people simply kept on coming. It suggested they came for more than the music and the hints of life were still there.
If you add in the fact that some pretty large sites were now getting in on the music discovery act, with the likes of Youtube, Pandora, Rdio, Spotify, Facebook and numerous others now allowing access to music on a mammoth scale to a much broader public. Music blogs were surely doomed at some point. We couldn’t market ourselves like these giants. We couldn’t offer the scale of music that they did. We didn’t even operate in the same arenas, let alone play the same game. We didn’t have useful things like funding and staffing. We were just amateurs pretending to be part of the music industry. We were the small independents, bluffing our way into your attention. We were the tiny operations, set up to hypnotize the audience, always hoping that you wouldn’t wake up and walk off. Death seemed the only possible outcome. We had no chance.
Or did we?…
The problem is these death-promoters forgot vital aspects that make music blogs like The Recommender what they are. Sites like ours, plus a minority of other similar music bloggers actually do something completely different to the likes of Youtube or Rdio, or the churnalistic, fattened hit-hunters who sit around buzz-blogging. They don’t actually threaten our existence. We have nothing to fear. They may well believe they’re slicker, or better connected with their audience, or fitted into a sleeker format, but they’re assuming The Recommender only exists on this one space. We don’t. Sure we have our blog, with all it’s comments, links, pretty pictures, music and the like, but we’re also nattering away all day on Twitter, (where we just hit 6000 followers!), Facebook, Flickr, Google+ and the rest. We exist on radio shows, we write for magazines, we put on gigs, we’re friends with artists, we mingle in the office of record labels and drink with the industry. We’re more pervasive than we seem on the surface of this one site. If this supposed competition (and we’re not attacking these alternative music services, as we use them too), is going to try and replace us, then we suggest we’re in fact harder to replace than we might seem at first glance. Whether you’re some new, exciting music site with Google looking to buy you out, or if you’re at the other end of the scale and you churn out voice-less blog content, then go ahead, but what ever you do you’re not getting in our way. You’re not getting in the way of our readers either, as they don’t have to choose one service exclusively over another. The Internet’s a big place, infinite in fact, and the way we move and shake, the way we deliver our unique content, there’s room for us, no matter how fast or shiny other site’s might seem.
Blogs like The Recommender, (and you can see a handful of other similar bloggers upon things like Music Robot and in certain online communities), are established for a reason. Lets take on the big boys first. Spotify and Pandora, and other similar music discovery services, don’t threaten blogs like ours because we operate in the world of emerging music that’s so new, so debut, so unknown, that it’s mostly entirely un-published, so it can’t be discovered anywhere other than on a blog. As an example of how we operate, during yesterday’s Twitter debate on this subject, we took five minutes out to engage in a Gchat that had popped up on our Gmail with a new band from Los Angeles, called Oddience (you can see our post on them here if you’re wondering who they are). Their main protagonist was getting in touch with us – not anybody else – because our early coverage of the band had earned them a flight to New York to meet with a major record label just weeks earlier. They wanted us to personally stream a private Soundcloud link to simply gage our opinion. Suffice to say the music was awesome and we’d highly recommend them. The point is Spotify don’t provide content on the back of that kind of experience. Neither do any of the other big boys. We have the personal touch. The personal viewpoints. The personal access. This is why people come to The Recommender and our peers. Spotify and the others can’t take that away. They don’t even have Oddience on their site yet! Probably won’t for months. And when they eventually do, they won’t deliver it with opinions, which brings us to our next point.
Let’s take a look at the churnalistic speed freaks, the buzz blog motorbikes whipping around in their pretend race. They too are distinctly different to The Recommender and our ilk. They may well be first to some music, although we too are often first and certainly always early. However, they place no opinions, views, or commentary with their posts, creating some weird stream of content minus any context – it’s like trying to play a game where you have to pick out the meal as the projectile vomit flies past your eyes – oh look there’s some carrot! Did you all see that!? Mark down carrot. Of course only one of them can actually be first, leading to a slightly depressing selection of others churning out the same thing, again with no actual views alongside it, seeming like something of a faded version of the débutantes post. Where are the actual viewpoints? We can’t see any opinions! This is blogging with absolutely no voice, when a voice is one of the special things that makes a blog interesting to people. Even if it’s not an opinion, please just give us some contextual information. Anything. These blogs are really no different to someone listing a new video link on Twitter and we believe people are getting wise to it.
In truth they’ll never collide with us. We have personality, opinions, context, plus all the music, links and videos. We won’t die because these blogs exist. We’re about quality not quantity, which we believe will make us last well beyond the days when their motorbike’s run out of fuel. The big boys won’t kill us either, as we operate in niche circles, with a personal touch, in the real underground of emerging music, so we’ll still be here to deliver music far before Spotify streams it, (whilst it charges you for the privilege). If anyone is under threat from these big new shiny services it will be traditional media, such as state-funded radio or music magazines. In the mean time blogs like ours have shifted from our early threat to the industry and instead we are found working with them and their artists. Ours is a healthy, respected position, where everyone from the blogger, to the reader, to the artist, wins.
This brings us on to our final point. In the last few weeks we’ve had news arrive that the likes of NME and Q Magazine are continuing to see falling readerships. Their monthly – or at best weekly – updates seem slow and cumbersome. Their content ever-more behind the conversation. This month we noticed large articles about bands such as The Darkness and Calvin Harris appear in a manner that seems designed to sell their product, rather than discuss what is awesome, not forgetting that a little bit of major label pandering may also be going on. In an electronic, computerised world even printing on paper seems continually old-fashioned and we’d go so far as to suggest it’s also not particularly ecological. That’s not to say that NME.com and the other online versions won’t succeed. The likes of BBC Radio One and other large radio stations should also be wary of this new breed of competition. Sadly traditional methods and large, age-old business models always seem slow to adapt. Juggernauts simply don’t turn around very quickly. If anything is dying it’s the traditional music industry. If we are all in a mess, with magazines losing readers, radio being threatened, music blogs that are dying, record labels which are seeing falling revenues, then it suggests the entire industry is fucked beyond repair. However, we suggest that people are in fact confusing death with evolution and music blogs like us are in a solid position to survive any trimming from it’s overweight sphere.
On the subject of statistics and readerships, we should also bring the context of this recent debate into view. It is August. Bloggers are feeling the pinch this time of year. Visitor numbers traditionally drop off slightly, as the holiday mode kicks in, but most importantly we notice that there’s not much activity in the emerging world of music. Artists are often waiting for the students to return before launching their new music upon us. However, over here at Recommender Towers we’re still getting plenty of email approaches, Gchats and quite frankly there’s always way too much new awesome music around to actually keep up, so we personally find August a good month in which we can plough through the backlog. This supposed lull in visitors and content seems to bring on the darkest of blogger’s moods, as maintaining a music blog is a lot of effort and if the visitors are diminishing it can seem a losing battle, but for most these heart-warming visitors will be back in September and October, and as we lead up to the end-of-year lists we will all be enjoying the busiest time of year for visitor numbers once again (this blog gets almost a 50% increase in readers during December!). Even when you take the ebbs and flows of a year into account, The Recommender’s visitors are up on last years. When Robin referenced ‘stat sites’ in his post, (they’re meant to inform you how many visitors any url gets over a period of time), as part of his research, he thought he’d noticed a pattern of decline. This is all fair enough, but when we typed in our own site’s url into them we saw that we’d only had 29 visitors in July. Um, what!? Perhaps we would be declaring death if that were the case. However, they’d clearly missed off a few zeros, showing these sites up to be entirely unreliable at best. We tried several more of them and with such a wide variety of results it would take a Chaos-theory mathematician to unravel it all. They’re completely useless in a discussion about facts.
So long as music blogs write quality content, giving context whilst delivering awesome artists to their readers there will be no death. So long as music blogs try to voice their passions and be considered and original, then they’ll outlive the churnalists. So long as music blogs continue to operate as music industry insiders, attend gigs, speak and meet with the artists, interact in real life as much as online, then they’ll prove too nimble to be squashed by the big boys. So long as all this is met with humility, as music blogs come to terms with the fact that their readerships will never reach millions in a day, then their tempered aims will continue to satisfy. If music blogs see the summertime lull for what it is then the light of December will soon be upon them. If music blogs continue to be a useful resource for their readers, a useful outlet for the labels and an influential route to the marketplace for the artists, then we will survive.
In the future we should see quality outwit speed, as the established and more beautiful voices rise above the noise. The established blogs should find their reputations forging stronger bonds with the industry and their communities. A good blogger will always be interesting to its readers on other spaces, be it Ex.fm, This Is My Jam, Spotify playlists, Twitter, Plug.dj and all the others, so we won’t be damaged by these alternative music discovery services if we get involved, quite the opposite, we’ll be broadening our reach. Curated content from blogs on new sites such as Music Robot will bring a renewed focus to the established names in quality blogging, actually combining their strengths, whilst they deflect any natural inclination to compete with one another and instead decide to find empowerment by teaming up.
Music blogging isn’t dead, it’s not even close to dying. It’s barely a decade old and in that short space of time we’ve already created an entirely new layer for underground music, operating in our own dimension, below that of the magazines and radio stations. The Recommender still gets wined and dined by the record labels, we still get a new email approach every eleven minutes, we still get hand-written letters from artists thanking us for giving them the spotlight they needed. However, all of these things come as a by-product of our passion, our voice, our taste and our hard work. It’s not about being relevant, or first, or conforming, it’s about being different, it’s about being awesome and it’s about being independent. Nobody can kill that. What we’re seeing is an evolution, so sound the trumpets, not a funeral march. (MB)