All the Blogs Killed the Video And the Radio Stars

Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod

The music industry heavily relies on media outlets in order to introduce new albums and artists to a larger audience. One form of press that greatly affects contemporary musicians is the blogosphere. Music blogs are useful because they allow us to internationally dispense vast amounts of information on a daily basis, making it possible for any music lover with a computer to follow his or her favorite musicians and discover new music as well. But beware! Blogs have made music enthusiasts lazy, as readers and writers.

Regarding readership, when blogs offer loads of trendy songs in the form of quick, whim-like updates, the websites cause readers to become less active about finding new music. Journalistically, blog writers don’t have to try as hard when the expectations from readers aren’t high enough to begin with. When people just want to be fed hourly updates and small tidbits of trends, writers will settle with such standards, as long as their websites are still getting hits.

Another journalistic issue is that because blogging is a skill people of all persuasions boast on their resumés, the journalistic standards are lowered (yes, people do actually study journalism still!). If you take note of the trend, blogging was at first a more-involved process between the writer and the keyboard. It was an opportunity that allowed writers to post novel information that people could not read in large-scale publications. Blogging was like the citizen’s letter to the editor, except it was “letters” to the world, on a daily or weekly basis. Now, blog posts have become much shorter and trite, existing of merely a photo post on Tumblr or a one-sentence Rihanna remark on Twitter.

The old-fashioned part of me who learned from Bob Zelnick says, “C’mon, guys, what are you doing here?”

The young part of me says, “Get with it, Jen! Tumblr’s where it’s at!”

To blog or not to blog, here’s what I think: There are good blogs and there are bad blogs, and I do not hate blogging in general. I just want people to think about how the system works.

A few websites posting frequent, small, trendy updates is not too painful, but when such posting becomes the norm, one must ask one’s self what’s going on–especially when the beauty of blogging is that various opinions can be displayed and read internationally. But if everyone is posting the same content and the content offered is nothing too exciting or new, then what’s the point?

How Things Work

There are big musicians and small musicians. Small musicians email blogs and send their music directly, and big musicians hire promoters to tell blogs they are worth a listen (promoters are essentially middlemen for artists and records labels). Either way, many blog writers do not look for music on their own, and they are usually re-writing press releases or high-trafficked pieces from other blogs or larger music outlets. This creates a cycle of “who will post the hype the fastest.” HypeMachine was basically created on this idea of recycling hot trends and seeing what sticks.

I now work for an international media company in Germany that literally tells blogs, “Hey, we’re doing this awesome-possum partnership with Adidas and you should write about it!!!!” And literally, within 24 hours, all of these bloggers get back to us and say, “Hey, sure!” without really giving it any critical thought. Is it because our company has a cool name? Will your blog get more clout if you post about our company?

This structure of news dissemination has always been in place; perhaps this article is more specially about how we interpret news in general.

There are also press agents who serve as middlemen for newspapers, magazines, and radio stations, but I argue that those outlets are forced to rationalize decisions a little more seriously–particularly the older printed publications whose journalistic choices are not just a deletable hyperlink out in cyberspace. The blog culture is about post post post! You don’t even have to post 500 words, but you just need to post! And don’t forget about Bon Iver’s new workout!

Of course, we also follow such news stories with mainstream news outlets. We watch how media companies quickly jump to dissect the deaths of famous musicians like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston; we follow news stories about Kanye saying he’s the shit. In the history of music, it was always bigger artists who were targeted for such fast-pitched stories, but because the industry has changed and the indie scene is no longer intangible, indie artists are now becoming media sensations.

The line between indie and mainstream is thinner, and the expectations of journalism are lower.

Consequences

What does this mean for musicians? Well, it makes it tough. Artists have to choose if they want to be a part of the system or not. It can be a pretty depressing system. They have to think about all the trends and the things that sell, and consider whether they want to be a part of the hype, and if they want to invest in a social media/blog campaign. These are things successful musicians have always had to consider, but on a much different scale.

The latest trends devouring indie musicians every few weeks have really brought on a new tidal wave of disposable blog (and music) culture. Indie artists already make next to no money; the disposable culture makes it difficult to really get ahead and be heard.

A guy I know who runs a small label in Dresden is very much against minute-lasting trends and hype, and he only invests in artists who he thinks have a sincere and lasting sound. That means he might miss out on some of the temporary joys hype bands and labels experience, but it also means that he is incredibly respected as an ethical guy in the business who loves music.

What constitutes as a “hype” post and what happens with such posts? A “hype” post is when authors only write positive, exaggerated comments about musicians and their releases, claiming far-fetched things like, “there’s nothing else out there like this.” The post also comes at a time when it is “cool” to write about the featured artist. Take for example the band Best Coast–a group that never released anything that laudable, yet because of a favorable Pitchfork write-up followed by a slew of blog love reciting recycled lines, the young band saw pretty immediate success.

Numerous bands follow the path of getting positively Pitchforked and then receiving lots of surprising praise from bloggers. It’s like Pitchfork is the only dependable source and because of that, blog writers take the publication’s articles to heart, without thinking twice. Praise Pitchfork!

Future Possibilities

I’ve pondered consequences and future movements of this culture for a while now. I eagerly await a solution that correctly addresses these issues. If we hype every musician out there, then every musician will get the same amount of attention and they will all be splitting an incredibly low sum of profit.

Perhaps some Internet platform will eventually emerge where industry heavyweights weekly showcase their favorite bands in some kind of exclusive new-media presentation, somehow resulting in donations for the bands. Or perhaps a new musical web portal similar to Kickstarter will emerge, where fans can literally invest in their favorite musician’s life and work, receiving exclusive musical rewards when the musician makes money. Or maybe artists will have to accept that a day job is necessary in order to pursue a path in music.

Or perhaps some Banksy-type musician will come around mysteriously, severely hating on all blogs, overthrowing the system, and becoming outrageously successful at the same time, outsmarting us all.

My hope is that blog culture will morph into a better version of itself or something new entirely. My guess is it will become more advanced, probably around the time when Facebook becomes just as lame as Myspace. Too bad there isn’t some kind of trash-collecting blog organization that rates blogs and removes the subpar or repetitive ones.

One recent effort I read about that demonstrates enthusiastic change is the new Ad Hoc project from the former editors of Pitchfork’s sister website, Altered Zones. The project is vowing to be an incredibly reliable news outlet “without hype-writing,” or “traffic-baiting, tabloid-esque news posts,” but instead, the writers will attempt to showcase music they “truly think is ACTUALLY quality.” Sounds like a promising platform.

Chicago’s BLVD Records’ website has a hopeful message as well: “BLVD Records is not about: hipster posturing, making a buck, or reinventing independent record business models.” And in print news, Magnet Magazine is now publishing printed issues again after the blog craze kind of put them out of business. It’s nice to see people taking serious approaches to move things in a positive direction.

In the end, I believe the best and most consistent musicians will see the most steady success, with or without the help of blogs. Indeed, blog culture does not even affects some musicians, such as older musicians who don’t need to earn hype (Bruce Springsteen), or musicians who release extremely high-quality, generation-defying sound (Radiohead).

Other musicians, such as Lana-inflatable lips-Del Rey, will use the industry trends to their best abilities and will either succeed or fail. Del Rey is an extreme example of a short-term highly successful PR campaign. People bought into the hype, and the hype was unbelievably contagious.

I return to the underlying theme: It is most important that we as readers choose and interpret information to the best of our abilities. Blogs certainly do not help critical interpretation unless the writer is approaching the trends thoughtfully. It is the reader’s job to insist on quality writing and choose publications that set the standard.

Trackbacks

  1. […] WE EXPLAIN HOW PRESS AND MUSIC COEXIST Blogs today can be really annoying. PR people can be really annoying. The combination of the two, however, can be the most annoying. We talk about this and other things in this piece that looks into the relationship between PR companies, press people, and musicians. […]