Why Hyperlocal Music Blogs Matter [INTERVIEW]

image from sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net Recently, I spoke with Jordan Stepp, Editor in Chief of Athens Music Junkie. Stepp started writing about the music scene in Athens, GA in 2008. Since she has interviewed and reviewed bands and artists from all ends of the spectrum, from local greats R.E.M. and Widespread Panic to little indie startup groups like Misfortune 500 to legendary underground artists like Pylon. In this interview, Step talks about hyperlocal blogging and music culture.

Hypebot: Hyperlocal music blogs are important because they encourage fans to become active participants in their cultural lives; document the happenings in local ecologies of music culture; foster communities that support creativity; and raise awareness for regional artists among like-minded fans with similar tastes in music. In what ways do hyperlocal blogs encourage fans to become active participants in their cultural lives? How does blogging benefit regional artists and help to create a healthy and sustainable ecosystem of local music culture?

Jordan Stepp: Hyperlocal blogs usually stem from the writer's enthusiasm or straight up nerd love of their area. That kind of energy and knowledge is infectious for particular people. Soon, you've got a group together of people with similar interests who connect to more and more people.

Word gets out about this band or that video or how that particularly awesome old music venue burned down now we have to do something about it. Blogs give readers a rallying point, somewhere to find and share information about the things they love. For artists, that means more listeners and possibly, more fans. 

Hypebot: What was your motive for starting AthensMusicJunkie? 

Jordan Stepp: I was pretty involved in an R.E.M. fan community online (Murmurs.com) when I noticed that a lot of R.E.M. fans had questions about what Athens was like, with and without the band. They wanted to know what other music was going on and how the atmosphere of the town was like.

Many of them had gotten their ideas of Athens from non-local sources and saw me as a window into that world.

I had started AthensMusicJunkie as a sort of place to keep track of the insanely awesome things that happened to me here; I seem to have a habit of being in the right place at the right time. But over the years it has morphed into this more communal space where readers can share their opinions or discover new things.

They inform me just as much as AMJ informs them.

I'm not just telling my stories anymore, we're telling the stories of all the bands and music and fans that make Athens such a unique place.

Hypebot: In theory, the fans that support the creativity of an artist tend to be intermeshed in local ecologies of culture. They have an education background in music, which heightens their cultural awareness and appreciation for the arts.

As well, they're the type of fans that take an active orientation toward artists and their creative works, seeking to understand and spread their music to others. 

What characteristics separate the fans that actively support the creativity of artists from those that don't? Are we creating a society that understands the importance of supporting creativity or are moving further away from it?

Jordan Stepp: I think that most would like to support artists but don't see how they can without having to pay money that they don't have. While I worry that the sheer availability of music may move us away from that important support, I would like to believe that there will always be advocates for artists.

Hypebot: At a time when music culture growing further delocalized and divorced from physical reality, hyperlocal blogs place significant emphasis on covering music that exists in places where fans actually live and connect them to regional artists and live shows. They help reconnect fans to their local realities and the events occurring in their communities. Hyperlocal blogs serve as intermediaries between real fans and artists, organizing in real places.

Does attending local concerts and interacting with regional artists give fans a far more direct experience of the diversity of music available where they live and the consequence of supporting the real people that create it?

Jordan Stepp: It depends on where they live.

The diversity and atmosphere of a local scene can vary. Attending concerts and getting to know artists make things far more real for anyone. When you see that the band whose album you pirated last night can't even get enough cash together to make it to the next gig, you're going to feel like utter crap. By the same token, when you see an artist that you love, they become "yours." You can brag to your friends about them, blog about them, adopt them in a way that may not help them directly as far as finances go, but will at least get the word out.

Hypebot: Does being able to participate in a local scene influence a fan's orientation towards culture?

Jordan Stepp: Where you're from affects everything you do, whether you like it or not. I, for example, grew up far away from even mainstream radio.

When I arrived at UGA and subsequently Athens, I suddenly had this huge amount of music thrust my way that I never even dreamed existed. There's more to the world than 80s hair bands and oldies! Imagine that! I was instantly more curious and a lot more naïve about indie music culture than anyone who had grown up in Athens. As for culture in general, I was raised in a town that encouraged teamwork and Athens has a lot of that same collaboration.

So I could see where someone like myself and someone native to Athens might get along in that way whereas someone from another scene might be used to getting treated differently. Athens isn't all sunshine and rainbows but there's a certain amount of honor and decorum that someone involved in the music scene is expected to carry. You carry the name and reputation of Athens with you, we expect you to live up to it.

HypebotWhen we talk about the death of the record industry, have we forgotten that the labels are the nonliving part of the social ecology in which they operate? 

Jordan Stepp: If you want an ecosystem to study, look no further than Athens, GA. Sure, the big hitters like R.E.M. and Widespread Panic contribute far more to the city of Athens than anyone realizes but it's also important to recognize the not-so famous people too. In order for Athens to work, it takes those indie record stores and the random sound guys and the hipsters who throw wild parties in an old airplane hangar and the professionals who work with the big wigs.

It's incredibly diverse but incredibly important that all these parts move together.

If the AthensClarkeCounty government suddenly decided to take action against house parties, some may cheer the demise of the Frat get together but the local scene would be hurt as well. Major labels have their place for some bands as the final step to fame but for most, they get that hurting your fellow bands in town will not help you get further along.

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  1. As an online publication editorially dedicated to covering the hip hop music scene in the New York metropolitan area, we couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly.
    For our publication, the genre and location hold deeper meaning, but overall, we have seen many examples of fans taking part in the underground/indie movement, artists banding together to support each other (despite New York’s reputation for crab-in-a-barrel-mentality in hip hop). We explore the multiple cliques and hyper-local areas within the NYC area as a whole where artists can vary greatly in style and content, and also make sure to cover the larger, more mainstream artists with a base in the region.
    With a journalistic integrity approach to all of this, we have grown extensively in the past year, and our personnel are now often asked to judge local showcases, and continue to gain a reputation for fair, but firm, review and coverage of local artists and events.
    In a world where the amount of music “coverage” has both expanded and become less professional, we are finding great success providing a media outlet that is both hyper-local and genre-specific, for many of the reasons Ms. Stepp mentions, and quite honestly, feel that local/hyper-local music journalism is the future of music journalism as a whole.

  2. As Colorado’s music scene has gotten bigger, more nationally recognized, and more diverse, we’ve also seen a substantial increase in local music blogs.
    A significant change was a realization on the part of the music writers that a band/artist didn’t have to be signed to a major label, a national indie, or even tour frequently to be worth paying attention to.
    For the longest time we had successful touring bands based here and a few almost-breakthrough acts, but it took The Fray to finally prove to the industry that a Colorado band could have major commercial success. Once that door opened, other Colorado bands have been signed to major labels. And now we have an ever expanding group of national industry players here (producers, management agencies, etc.).
    But what has come since then is an appreciation on the part of local bloggers that we have a deep reservoir of talented bands unlikely to do music full-time. They will play local gigs, have fans, get critical praise, and yet continue to have day jobs. They will be appreciated here and don’t have to become famous outside the area to be validated with the local media. That’s huge.
    So we have a music scene that has it all: international players, buzz bands, and local music collectives.

  3. Nice post. In Madison, WI, I’m only one advocate voicing the importance of local music for the benefit of our own scene, but also as the springboard to other larger opportunities that we can put our local stamp on.
    In fact my recently published book, The Local Music Journey, covers this idea. The majority of the book contains interviews with local musicians about their local music journey. http://www.localmusicjourney.com
    Others in the Madison music community doing their part are the online local Madison music magazine, Local Sounds (http://magazine.localsounds.org/).
    In addition, the Madison Area Music Association is doing their part as a non-profit. The MAMAs is a fundraiser to get instruments in the hands of kids while putting on an awards show, like the Grammys, for local musicians (http://themamas.org/).
    Also, Broadjam (http://www.broadjam.com) is headquartered in Madison, WI, and Broadjam founder/CEO, Roy Elkins, does quite a bit in the local Madison music scene and beyond.

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