Recently I spoke to Jason, who is the Founder and Editor of The Pop Cop, a Glasgow based music blog, which focuses on the Scottish music scene, with daily updated news, reviews, features, and interviews.
He also founded and runs the Music Alliance Pact, which sees around 35 music blogs from around the world (one per country) join forces on the 15th of every month to share their favorite songs with our collective readership - The Guardian Music Blog are England representatives. In this interview, Jason and I talk about how hyperlocal blogs impact music and the modern record industry.
Hypebot: How do hyperlocal blogs help to create a sustainable music culture?
Jason: The Pop Cop is very much centered towards what's going on in Scotland, so that means any news updates or posts I write are related to artists who are from this country or cover issues and events that are happening in Scotland. This means that if readers of the blog who live in Scotland like an artist I am writing about then there's a good chance they will be able to buy tickets to see them play live and connect with them that way. Similarly, artists also benefit from the exposure, since their presence on an independent and reasonably popular music blog gives their music a certain amount of credibility and opens them up to new audiences and potential fans.
Hypebot: What were your motivations for starting The Pop Cop?
Jason: I started The Pop Cop in June 2007. I had written for various printed music magazines in the past but I realized that setting up my own blog was the only way I would be able to set my own agenda. At the time, there was very little Scottish presence among music blogs. Most of the ones I was reading were American so I felt there was definitely a gap for a music blog that focused on turning people on to things that were happening in Scotland. I also like to think I can spot a good tune when I hear it.
Hypebot: Are there traits that separate fans that support an artist from those that don't?
Jason: In my opinion, I don't think you can generalize about the type of fans who do this versus the ones who merely listen to an artist without supporting them financially. I know plenty of people who love music but don't go to gigs because it's not really their thing. I also know plenty of people who still buy CDs - but I don't think either group has a specific 'characteristic' that determines such choices.
Hypebot: Do you see the future of music on the web as fans becoming more disconnected from artists and passive in their consumption? Or, conversely, do you see fans as becoming more active?
Jason: I definitely see the relationship between fan and artist becoming increasingly more connected. In many ways, Twitter has helped drive that, especially with those artists who take responsibility for their own tweets (it's easy to spot the difference). Even if they are not responding to questions/messages from Twitter followers/fans, it is at least bridging the distance that existed when artists would just have an official website that contained information about little more than tour dates, merchandise, and an out-of-date biog.
Hypebot: Does attending local concerts give fans a far more direct experience of the diversity of music available where they live, as well as, the consequence of supporting the real people that create it?
Jason: Absolutely. Another positive aspect about live shows is that even the larger touring bands will often have local support, so there's always an opportunity to check out talented musicians from your own area. A large number of the local bands who I would call myself a fan of were discovered by pure chance, not because I knew about them before I saw them play live.
Hypebot: How does access to a local scene influence a fan's orientation towards culture?
Jason: Where someone is from and their social background affects all aspects of their life, not just culture. You tend to find, though, that young people migrate towards the bigger towns and cities when they reach late teen hood, be it for further education or work. And that's at the age where people usually start to get involved with any local music scene, especially when you take into account live music venues and alcohol laws. But I guess if that opportunity were not available to a music fan then, yes, they would be missing out in a cultural sense.
Hypebot: What's your opinion of the modern record industry?
Jason: In my view, record labels are still incredibly important and much more relevant than some people would like to think.
Take any major music festival in Europe or North America, go through the list of artists on the bill and check how many of them are not signed to any record label, not funded by some sort of corporation, not supported by the 'industry' - be that booking agents, management companies, publishing houses, etc. You'll find very few, if any. The local scene is incredibly vital in ensuring these artists are heard in the first place, hone their craft, learn what works and what doesn't, but if an artist has genuine talent and ambition then they will always need a much wider network of support.
Hypebot: Are the steps that need to be taken in order to ensure a thriving record industry different from those that must be taken to create a healthy and sustainable music culture?
Jason: Music culture will always exist, even if the record industry as we know it just now may not. I think most people realize this, which is why the public are far more interested in any efforts to support artists as opposed to efforts to support record companies who support artists. As I said before, artists who have designs on establishing a career from making music and playing live will never be able to do so without a support network. So even if the major labels collapse, a new model for "the record industry" will replace them.
Hypebot: What role do hyperlocal blogs play in fostering communities that support creativity?
Jason: There are several key roles that hyperlocal blogs play:
1. Identifying talented artists.
2. Offering a convincing argument as to why the readers should check them out - letting them hear mp3s and/or instant music streams are often more important than award-winning prose!
3. Giving the reader information to take the next step themselves, e.g. a list of the artist's upcoming gigs, where to buy tickets, a link to the artist's homepage.
Hypebot: What about the challenges?
Jason: In terms of challenges, I find that earning the readers' trust is probably the most important thing. Because I focus on the Scottish music scene, I am very careful not to hype up local artists unless they truly deserve it. It's far too easy to fall into the trap of trying to please everyone but the readers would soon see through that and the blog's opinion would lose all credibility.
Hypebot: Is trust something the major labels have lost?
Jason: I don't think "trust" is something that fans have ever associated with major labels in the first place, so I wouldn't say that it has been "lost". For most people, major labels are faceless and shadowy figures, pulling strings and wielding influence to gain exposure for artists whose talent rarely matches up to their profile. Slowly but surely, though, the music industry is waking up to the fact that the collective strength of blogs far outweighs that of the traditional music media in terms of reach, credibility and genuine passion. Traditional music media gives you good names; blogs give you good music.
Hypebot: What opportunities have emerged from your blogging efforts?
Jason: A key part of what I do is running the Music Alliance Pact - this is a team of 35 blogs from around the world, including The Pop Cop, who simultaneously post tracks chosen by each blog on the 15th of every month. I founded the project in 2008 and it has become an incredibly effective tool in extending the reach of the chosen artists to truly global dimensions. I pick one Scottish artist each month and the kind of exposure they get definitely comes into the 'money can't buy' category.
Hypebot: Tell me more about the Music Alliance Pact.
Jason: I was looking for a way to extend the reach of talented, up-and-coming Scottish artists that I was writing about, and I realized music blogs in other countries were possibly thinking the same thing. There is a lot of exceptional talent out there who deserve much greater exposure, artists who I am discovering and writing about, so I wanted to find a new way of persuading music fans to give them the attention they might not otherwise get.
Once I came up with the concept of the Music Alliance Pact, it was just a matter of inviting other blogs to get involved. I'd go so far as to say there is nothing out there that's more effective than MAP when it comes to taking local music to a global audience. There are 35 countries involved in it, with blogs from every continent on the planet except Antarctica.
Each of us are picking one song from our native lands and sharing it with our collective readerships every month as a free download (with permission from the chosen artist). Most recently, I chose a fantastic singer-songwriter called Rachel Sermanni who comes from a town in Scotland called Carrbridge, which has a population of 700. Because of MAP, her music has now been downloaded thousands of times by people all around the world, from South Africa to the United States to Estonia to China.
Hypebot: Are we reaching the limits of delocalized culture? It seems fans are less willing to support artists that they feel no connection to. In areas where there's no local culture, is piracy more prevalent?
Jason: I don't think music piracy is about the fans feeling no connection. It's about simple economics. The fan hears a band they like on the radio and they have two options - download their album for £5 or £10 or whatever, or download it for free. The choice between the two is nothing more than the click of a mouse button.
The fan doesn't equate that to 'stealing' because they don't see anyone getting hurt, there isn't a shopkeeper, or a security camera, or any sort of comeback. Plenty of these same fans will still buy tickets for the band's gigs, still buy T-shirts, and still talk about the band with their friends or on message boards. So I don't agree that, all of a sudden, fans no longer feel any connection simply because piracy is such an easy temptation. For that reason, I wouldn't imagine that piracy is any more prevalent in areas where there's no local culture.
Hypebot: Does piracy affect local artists in a negative way?
Jason: The dilemma that fledgling local artists face is that they don't know how best to market themselves - some readily make all their music available for free download in the hope that more people will listen to them; some use the 'pay what you want' model on Bandcamp to try to generate income; some take every step possible to guard the distribution of their music to ensure it still has a 'value' when it comes to selling it at a later stage.
I don't see piracy as a major problem for bands at a 'local' level because these people probably aren't yet popular enough to generate the sort of income that would affect their livelihoods. Where it does begin to become a problem is on the next rung of the ladder, when the artist has signed to a label and, say, just released their debut album. The income they generate at this stage will determine how long the label will continue to support the artist, so if sales are low as a result of piracy then so is the artist's career prospects. Obscurity is certainly more of an enemy to unsigned artists than piracy.