Jan. 29, 2006
music: The M’s-Plan of the Man
Got my assignment for the March issue of The Big Green today, tentatively titled “Adventures in Blogosphere”.[hand] I’ve been mulling this idea over in my head for a while, and it was good to get all my ideas out and receive input from the rest of the section. One suggestion was to format the article as a series of blog entries. We’ll see how that works out…
The focus has been narrowed to music and mp3 blogs, which is great, because
a) I have one (http://fathertoasisterofthought.blogger.com)
b) I spend most of my Internet time perusing other music blogs.
I’m going to e-mail some of the tastemakers of the music blog scene: You Ain’t No Picasso (http://youaintnopicasso.blogspot.com/), Gorilla Vs. Bear (http://www.gorillavsbear.net) and Stereogum (http://www.stereogum.com), just to name a few. I’ve got a good feeling about this. I also have the feeling I’m going to be writing the word “blog” a lot. Gross.
Feb. 15, 2006
mood: What, me worried?
music: Sufjan Stevens-The Upper Peninsula
Deadline day. How am I going to write this thing? I got some great responses to my e-mail requests—Matthew Jordan of You Ain’t No Picasso, Craig “Dodge” Lile of My Old Kentucky Blog (http://myoldkyhome.blogspot.com), Sean Michaels and Daniel Beirne of Said the Gramophone (http://www.saidthegramophone.com) and David Gutowski (http://blog.largeheartedboy.com) all got back to me.
But where do I even start? How is this thing going to stand out from the endless stream of blog-related articles? New York Magazine just did a blogging cover story, which has been met with much sarcastic praise from the bloggers not profiled in the article.
And who came up with this vernacular? Blog? Blogger? Blogosphere? We all sound like idiots!
But I digress. Let’s start at the beginning, a place which a singing nun once suggested is a very good place to start.
[top]1999 was a watershed year for the weblogging community, as it saw the launch of two prominent hosting services—Blogger (which hosts My Old Kentucky Blog and You Ain’t No Picasso, in addition to my blog) and the more networking-intensive LiveJournal. Gutowski said this was the year he became aware of blogging, though it wouldn’t be until 2001 that music-related blogs caught his attention.
Two years later, Gutowski registered the Largehearted Boy domain, though not with blogging in mind.
“I had registered the domain name to house my [indie-rockers] Guided By Voices radio stream, GBV Radio, and decided to start blogging as a lark,” he said. “The focus of the blog soon became music, and has shifted to music and literature.”
Largehearted Boy’s just-for-kicks origin isn’t typical of all blogs. Michaels founded Said the Gramophone as “an outlet for music writing that fell outside of the usual print categories of longform album reviews and artist promo features”, while Jordan began You Ain’t No Picasso as a more convenient way of recommending bands to his friends. Lile saw My Old Kentucky Blog as his chance to counteract the broadcast powers that be.
“I think there is such a lack of good new music being played on the radio, especially in small markets, and so many music fans are frustrated by some of the junk being forced into their ears. I discovered this whole new media that provided unlimited alternatives for fans like me, and I just knew I had to be a part of it.”
Nov. 1, 2005
music: Fiona Apple-O’ Sailor
Note to self: Self-promoting your blog is not kosher. I posted a \”Father to a Sister of Thought\” plug on the message boards for indie-rocker-approved webcomic Questionable Content, which prompted another user to comment that such plugging was comparable to pedophiliac abuse.
I had no idea the damage I was doing. I’d be a little angrier if it wasn’t such a stupid figure of speech.
Buzz is such a precious commodity in this sector of the blogosphere (Knights of Columbus, I hate that word). Not just for the musicians profiled therein, but for the bloggers themselves. How does one get noticed in a sea of like-minded music geeks with decent typing skills?
It’s apparently an effortless process, one which none of the bloggers I contacted claim to engage in. There certainly are differences, but they’re unconscious; Michaels and Beirne would probably make their Said the Gramophone posts as literate as possible if they were read by two or two million people.
There appears to be a similar disregard towards musical buzz, and that I really admire. Everybody mentioned a degree of passion for the music they write about. When asked what it takes for a song to grab his attention and warrant posting, Michaels put it best.
“If the song makes your heart go boom!”
And when a band gets talked up a lot, it might just be because they deserve it.
“I think in a lot of cases it happens because the bands are really good,” Michaels said. “NPR has said that we were instrumental in breaking Clap Your Hands Say Yeah; the Canadian press talked about our contribution to the Arcade Fire’s break-out. But I think stuff such WHAT?? is total nonsense: these bands succeed because people fall in love, once they hear them.”
Gutowski noted that bloggers aren’t alone in rallying around artists.
“…the blogging community is like any other, there is often a ‘herd effect’ when it comes to a band,” he said.
It’s when this herd effect grows to overwhelming proportions that the content it creates starts to suffer.
“I do think a lot of mp3blogs (sic) feel the need to keep up with their peers, to celebrate the stuff other people are excited about,” Michaels said. “This kind of groupthink is exceedingly boring to read.”
Jan. 4, 2006
music: Animal Collective-The Purple Bottle
Posted my Top 9 Albums of 2005, with Sufjan Stevens’ “Illinois”, the White Stripes’ “Get Behind Me Satan” and the Decemberists’ “Picaresque” taking the top three slots. List-making season is coming to a close, and when I compare my list to other blogs, it makes me wonder: how do they find all this music? As much as I fancy myself a pop connoisseur, I’ve never heard a good majority of the bands on these list (Though “Illinois” pretty much dominates every list). Are their inboxes constantly overflowing with new music? Are the labels spoon-feeding them? Are the artists themselves contacting the bloggers?
“Labels are like the buildings on the skyline,” Beirne said. They don’t do a lot, but really powerful people live in them.”
Record labels and recording artists are waking up to the impact of blogging, which is interesting, if not a little bit confusing, given the brouhaha these collective entities raised when file-sharing brought free downloadable music to the masses.
“I remember for a while all the younger bloggers like myself were deathly afraid of being sued for posting any songs not already available for download,” Jordan said. “But now a lot of us are routinely sent albums and encouraged to post whatever songs we like.”
But is there a point where label involvement metamorphoses from seemingly-innocent buzz building to straight-up advertising? A January post on the blog Marathon Packs (http://www.marathonpacks.com) hypothesized that major labels Capitol and Virgin were doing just that to promote the bands Morningwood and We Are Scientists.
“While I’d never allow myself to get caught up in a tired, banal indie vs. mainstream dialectic, both bands’ appearance on countless blogs over the past few months is the result of Virgin and Capitol holding open the internet and pouring promo down its throat,” he wrote.
The labels aren’t alone in seeking the affection of the blogging community. An increasing number of recording artists contact the bloggers themselves, forming a relationship which while beneficial, eschews Lester Bangs’ (by way of Cameron Crowe and Philip Seymour Hoffman) number-one music journalism no-no: don’t make friends with the bands.
“I’m in contact with lots of [artists],” Lile said. I’ve developed friendships with a couple even. I go to their shows, we talk, we drink together—it’s great. They love it—it’s free exposure.”
Lile did acknowledge a major drawback to being chummy with the band.
“Of course if I give something a bad review or don’t post something that is sent to me they want to know what’s up.”
Nov. 28, 2005
music: Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins-Rise Up With Fists!
OH EM GEE! The Jenny Lewis solo album has leaked, and it is, in a word, awesome. Exceeds expectations on every count. Do I feel bad for hearing it two months before it’ll be in stores? A little bit. But right now, I just want to hear it and let everyone else in the world hear it!
“I think [blogging has] helped to \’democratise\’ indie rock a little more, if nothing else; tiny regional bands now have the chance to blow up much faster,” Michaels said. “The impact on the mainstream is much slower to happen.”
I hear tell of a time, long long ago (like a whole ten years ago!) when listeners had to actually leave their place of residence to find the latest, greatest, most-cutting-edge music. Widespread Internet availability made an anachronism of this process, reshaping not just how people got their music, but how they learned about and discussed said music.
Blogging is just another filtering offshoot of this process.
“Musically, I knew I liked certain songs or music, but I couldn’t always tell you why,” Lile said of the days before he set up his Old Kentucky Blog. “Through and because of MOKB I’ve worked hard to really learn about music, learn about all the styles, genres, sub-genres, etc…I am a much more knowledgeable reviewer than I was when I started. I can pull much deeper from the history of music and bands in order to describe a song, album or artist.
[side]I listen to so much now, I have a wide base to compare and contrast from. I see so many more live shows, and talk to so many more artists than I used to as well and that really helps me understand an artist and his/her music more than I ever did before MOKB.”
Thus is the boon and the bane of the blogger. To be useful and successful in the eyes of their readership, a blogger must be on a never-ending quest for newness.
“I kind of listen to music with an ear for postable songs,” Beirne said. “And I constantly HAVE to listen to new music, which can be great, but also draining sometimes. Sometimes I just want to listen to the Islands album all day, you know?”
It could be said that bloggers have displaced DJs, record store clerks, critics and other assorted snobs (including myself) as the most influential force in musical discourse. The capabilities of the internet certainly make them more versatile than any other form of pop music writing.
“Well you can get the word out much faster and you can include audio,” Lile said. “The reader can hear, see and read about a band instantaneously.”
Not to mention that it gives anyone with an internet the connection the opportunity to spout off about music and broadcast that spouting-off across the globe.
“The barrier to entry is so low—anyone can start writing about the music they love,” Michaels said. “Of course this means that most of what’s published online is utter crap. But it’s so much fun, digging through the online junkyard, huntin’ (and hopefully findin’) a few treasures.”
Jan. 29, 2006