Bring Back the Music Blogosphere

If you were young and wanted to be a music writer in the 2000s / 2010s, you had to have a space online where you could prove that you were at least as good as an algorithm. Ear to the modem, you had to be able to say who someone sounded like, doing the work of the laziest A&R bots around.

And yet, amongst the clones, there were flashes of greatness within the music blogospheres of that era. Blogs and forums were symbiotically in tune with one another and it seemed like a few clicks was all it took to find the strangest new volleys from city scenes around the world. Blog house became an early meme but I mostly remember it as an era of “neo-psychedelia”.

(I’ve been revisiting quite a bit of this stuff recently and finding myself surprised by how much I still like it — Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House, for instance, or remembering just how incredible Liars’ Drum’s Not Dead was or, woah, we didn’t deserve witch house.)

It was an exciting moment. I had a music blog back then too — obviously — and started around 2006 when the likes of 20jazzfunkgreats and GvB were fast becoming major influencers on the big press machines. I remember Pitchfork, for instance, used to regularly cite those blogs in its bylines as the origins of stories or tracks or ones-to-watch. 20jfg was blogging about Oneohtrix Point Never, for instance, long before the hype and GvB was where I first discovered Grouper. And what’s more, these people were approachable. I’m fairly certain that, as a kid in my bedroom, I was having conversations online with these blogs that, when I turned my back, suddenly exploded into big ventures. (I’ve never been able to confirm this or eradicate the suspicion tha my memory is off, but Eat Your Own Ears — the promoters — started off that way I’m sure?) We were the blogspot crew and then, suddenly, the landscape shifted and we seamlessly entered the age of big corporate websites.

Before anyone seemed to know what was happening, these blogs just became irrelevant overnight. Maybe it was just because our collective tastes changed and they couldn’t keep up, falling off the wave of influence, but I always suspected there was some corporate wangling going on behind the scenes. The clampdown on file sharing undoubtedly hurt the MP3 bloggers a lot but then it was also competing with the cut-and-run journalism of these other websites, copying just enough of the working model from celebrity gossip magazines to rake in the ad revenue whilst still appearing cool.

Pitchfork was the US’s main outlet in this regard, unavoidable for its constant news dripfeed but also infamous for its terrible writing and reviews. (That didn’t stop it.) FACTmag emerged as a major British counterpoint to this, still pushing a daily feed of news out into the world, but at least it was over the heads of a core staff of young and exciting reviewers.

Thankfully, other interesting writers also managed to work their way into these places and influence their output. The Quietus must be recognised for influencing a wider scene in this way, helping lots of writers make their mark, but even they could not escape the necessity of a rolling news feed to keep the ad revenue coming in.

Now it seems the landscape is about the change again as not even news is enough to keep yourself afloat these days.

Written content is getting the axe.

Like a number of other outlets who announced similar cutbacks earlier this year, it is being reported that FACT will no longer be commissioning written content, putting more time and effort into videos. I’m sorry to say, from here, it’s not surprising in the slightest. (I’ll explain why in a moment.)

Amazingly, however, the response to this has been beautifully counter-intuitive.

Gabriel Szatan — a writer I’ve been actively following for some time who has written some brilliant pieces for various places over the years — recently tweeted the following:

And of course my eyes widened. Of course a grin spread across my face. I’m the biggest advocate for blogging I know and have ridden the various waves of popularity and unpopularity, through various different monikers, since the first blogger’s haçienda came together in the 2000s. As soon as someone says, “up the blogs!”, my heart swells and I fall in love with the world again.

But it is nonetheless a counterintuitive move to make because the rise of video content has been unstoppable for some time. It’s already hit this part of the internet — that is, weird theory internet — and hard. In fact, we’re already in the midst of the backlash. Countless people are now cynical about Breadtubers, for instance, where accessible content related to philosophy and politics has turned into an Adam Curtis echo chamber and an arms race of production values and eye-watering Patreon hustling, all whilst overall content quality has gone way, way down.

Dare I mention the hellscape that is the Zero Books YouTube channel? Now there is the perfect example of a shift to quick-buck video content resulting in a mind-blowing fall in written substance.

Because that is where the money is. You want to make quick money from online content? A monetised YouTube channel will bring you more viewers and revenue than any WordPress blog ever could.

“Why don’t you do it, Xenogoth, instead of complaining?” I hear you cry… Because I vomit these posts out in a few hours for you people. I don’t have the neuroses necessary to spend months working on a single video. Gotta go fast!

That’s not to say that I don’t recognise the fact that people prefer watching and listening to stuff than reading about it. I’ve dappled with radio and video before for this very reason. Accessibility is good and the normalisation of streaming services (or “rent to listen”), more affordable equipment and better wireless connectivity have normalised the consumption of those mediums in our day-to-day lives and increased our desire for them above all else whilst we’re on the move or at home, and this has offered up a viable revenue stream for big companies to capitalise on.

But still… Give up on writing? Really? Call me a Luddite but I don’t care about supply and demand. Personally, I’d rather have a long read. Bend to my individual preferences please! I’m joking, of course. (And yet...)

In fact, what I really think is that this is a blessing in disguise.

I might be painfully biased but, if you ask me, the best music writing these days isn’t just concentrated to a few publications but to a few individuals, a few freelancers who — more often than not — seem to jump around whilst the companies they work for take them for granted, emulating the trends of the industry on which they want to report without any criticality. As a result, the industry will now no doubt fail to work with what it’s got, cowing to market trends at the expense of encouraging (but also nurturing) obvious talent.

Video content isn’t going to go away but here is an opportunity — an opportunity to disengage with the infernal machine and take a little time out of your day to publicly nurture your craft. This isn’t a euphemism for “work for free”. I genuinely believe that this sort of widespread grassroots self-exploration might reinvigorate an industry still just barely treading water after the failed revolution of the dawn of the digital era.

And this only sounds risky now because we should have seen this coming. The fact that these sites are dying whilst Zane Lowe continues to exist like a sycophantic cockroach turning the “music press” into its own streaming service with three-hour long colonoscopies of Kanye West shows that blogs have surrendered without putting up nearly enough of a fight. But, just because the age of the “MP3 Premiere” is over, doesn’t mean that good music writing doesn’t have its place. The problem of monetising this — that is, allowing people to do this work without struggle — will no doubt remain but a diversity of writing styles and topics is something worth fighting for regardless.

I think a widespread return to the blogosphere could do the trick in terms of diversifying talent and approaches to writing about sound that we have needed for some time. It could also make people fight harder for the bloggers’ principles that made music blogging so exciting in the 2000s before the music press followed the music industry itself up its own arse.

Ruth Saxelby said it best:

Update #1: Shout-out to @thejaymo for already penning this call-to-arms at the end of last year.

I don’t think I’m much of an example in all this — I’ll write about anything — but on the off chance you think I should put my money where my mouth is, here are a bunch of old posts about music what I gone wrote that I still like — stuff that would surely be unpublishable on most of the music websites still around — and a few that even take aim at them in their present state — but that’s sort of the point, right?

Aphex Acid [13/11/17]
Carl Stone and the Complexities of Real Life [12/07/18]
Dagga This, Dagga That [20/07/18]
Sad Fred Durst and His Limp Bizkit [15/08/18]
The Hardcore Continuum is a Difference Engine [06/09/18]
The Breakdown and the Breakthrough [10/09/18]
Highway 61 Reweirded [10/01/19]
The Arrogance of a Drunk Stiffened Corpse [23/02/19]
The Outsideness of George Michael [13/03/19]
Cascading Adolescence [17/06/19]
Apprentices of Chaos [24/06/19]
The Delirium of Negation [26/06/19]
Towards a Rebirth of Black Metal Mythologies [07/07/19]
Views from Earth [30/08/19]
Acid Monasticism [07/10/19]
The Haunted Hallucinations of Frank Ocean [19/10/19]
Thieves of Fire [01/11/19]

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