January 27, 2016

SOSNICK | Dead Music Blogs and Living Music Bloggers

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In an October piece entitled “The End of Music Blogs as We Know Them,” Pigeons & Planes founder Jacob Moore deemed the medium dead. He explains on his site, once a humble, independent blog itself: “This was before social media was the lifeblood of any online publication. Back then [in 2008], a spot on a blogroll (remember those?) was more important than a social media presence. Back then, there was an actual community of music blogs.”

He chalks up the slow demise of blogs to a government crackdown on illegal MP3 sharing —  which had already reduced many of the blogs to download link compilations with little emphasis on writing craft — and the proliferation of social media platforms. Carter Maness summed up the shift in a piece for The Awl: “Why deal with downloading and managing files when you can just click a link to play nearly any song in existence? Why bother wading through wordy recommendations from a dude who secretly just wants to listen to Pavement all day when your real friends constantly share music you actually like on Spotify and Soundcloud?”

“But the music blog isn’t dead! I get all my music news on the internet,” you protest. Therein lies the gap created by the death of the independent blog: The vast majority of the websites we frequent aren’t simple blogs. Pigeons & Planes is owned by Complex, and the site would have folded like countless other blogs if Moore hadn’t sold it. As media giants continue to land exclusive premieres, develop expensive original content and promote themselves through wide social media reach, Pigeons & Planes would have fizzled.

P&P isn’t an exception. Stereogum, also originally an MP3 blog, is now owned by SpinMedia. Pitchfork was bought by Condé Nast in October, around the same time Jacob Moore published his article. That same month, The Village Voice, an alternative newspaper with a blog mentality long before the concept of a blog was ever hatched, was sold to a fantastically wealthy investor.

It would be easy to spin this as a “fuck the sell-outs, money is ruining art” argument, but that’s only half the problem. As easy as it is for aspiring music writers to share 140 characters worth of their thoughts on Twitter, there’s a dearth of outlets where they can share a long-form piece with a chance of anyone actually reading it. It’s an intimidating catch-22: Without previously published clips, there’s only a slim chance their work will get published in an outlet that regularly hosts long-form pieces. And if they can’t do that, they’re back to square one without having anything published. It’s as if we’ve moved back to the pre-internet age; today’s major outlets aren’t far off from most print magazines in their selectivity, and they dominate the music news market. And if you want to self-publish (on Tumblr, for example), your lack of a dedicated social media taskforce makes competing with the big fish an absurd dream.

As fewer sites dominate a growing portion of our music curation, an almost antithetical problem has arisen simultaneously. The long-form pop culture piece itself has fallen by the wayside as even the most powerful media organizations trade features for easily retweeted blurbs. Online-only publications that started with a mission dedicated to long-form pieces are folding, the most notable of which being Grantland’s closure last year. Despite institutional support from media giant ESPN, Grantland suffered its demise in — you guessed it — October. The site’s death wasn’t due to lack of love; the announcement of Grantland’s closure led to a massive outpouring of sadness from readers and writers alike. This intense fandom wasn’t enough to save the award-winning publication, though. Naturally, it all comes back to money, and the sad fact is that a few enthusiastic readers of multi-thousand-word thinkpieces can’t compete with the revenue listicles, clickbait and a militant Twitter presence can bring.

It’s in this hellish environment that I saw a high school classmate of mine post on Facebook about her new music blog. Upon reading its first few posts, my friends and I immediately began teasing her shoddy writing and uninspired taste (among ourselves, of course). Her first playlist included multiple popular Avicii tracks, she writes off entire musical genres (e.g. screamo) and includes the same adjective three times in a single sentence. Her blog was an easy target, so we quickly fell into the trap of criticizing her for creating publicly available content, something most of us are too shy and ashamed to do.

But she doesn’t lack self awareness. In the “About Me” section of her blog, she urges readers to “get past her middle school writing skills and amateur blogging execution.” While her blog won’t be the next Pitchfork, she’s using a viable platform to share her musical ideas at length. For this alone, she deserves respect (even though her writing may not). And judging by the blog’s reception among her Facebook friends, her peers do respect her. In an age where the music blog is a relic, her friends see making one as novel and cool, much like vinyl albums were perceived almost a decade ago.

Does this mean music blogs are going to make the full vinyl loop — ubiquity to obsolescence to chic to Urban Outfitters? It’s unlikely. Streaming music is too dominant, and illegal MP3 download links are too easy to catch (let alone that people don’t download MP3s anymore). The current major-outlet-dominated, anti-long-form landscape is bound to change soon as technology, media and the music industry tend to do.

So if you want to start a music blog, you should. As long as there’s music, there will be pretentious dickheads writing about it and people reading what they’ve written. We may not know what form this will take in ten years — or how it will be monetized — but that’s a stupid reason not to try your hand at it. If you’re semi-talented now, you’ll likely be on the forefront of whatever the next frontier happens to be.

It doesn’t matter if people tell you your opinions are wrong. What you have to say about music is probably irrelevant anyway. But if you shouldn’t share your pointless opinions in 1000-word columns, God knows I missed that lesson.

Mike Sosnick is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]40 Percent Papier-Mâché appears alternate Thursdays this semester.