Music blogs are a huge part of how avid listeners discover music. Many of them check the same sites every day in hopes of finding new songs and artists. But how broad is the appeal of music blogs? Music blogs have certainly grown in readership, but have they surpassed a niche audience? If so, how? What cultural trends, heroic efforts, or music products have most helped music blogs reach a larger audience? In this interview panel on music blogs, four influential thinkers in the music and tech sector weigh in on whether they think music blogs have reached the mainstream market and what that might mean.
Good Music Blogs Do Not Surpass Niche Audience
Nicole Cifani | @cifanic | Executive producer, writer, and DJ. Interactive at Guggenheim Museum.
My personal opinion is that a good music blog does not surpass a niche audience. It stays within an area of specialized interest and remains utterly dedicated to its followers. These blogs know their audience, are typically members of said audience, and rally a respective community around them whether it be through snarky editorial, reviews of dance remixes or recommendations of what kind of music to cook to.
Blogs that have grown to become larger sites engage the opportunity early on to take on more writers, update often, engage live events, and convey as much relevant information as possible. These sites are also able to break out from a corner by establishing a blueprint for becoming a go-to resource rather than a place to pop in once or twice.
Pitchfork, Scene Star, and Rdio are sites with compelling content that engage a larger community and thus have the ability to retain repeat visitors. A downside to all of this is that after a blog reaches critical mass we sometimes see a trend of changing tonality — the authenticity that made the blog popular in the first place is no longer there.
Current cultural trends help drive a good niche site to success, but how we define success is up for debate. Sometimes a great site will emerge for a short period of time and I often wonder why it doesn’t get to the next level. What is the goal for these sites — to reach a certain number of visits? To be purchased by a larger entity? Or simply to tap into some cool music? A music fan would prefer the latter. Maybe that’s why we don’t see a strong network of music sites à la Gawker Media.
Excitement Around Music Blogs Transferred To Technology
If they did, they’ve slid backward. The actual blogs seem less important than the conversations and headlines they generate on Twitter. Certain sites are successful: Stereogum reaches millions, Gorilla Vs. Bear tens of thousands — even Rawkblog still has 1,500 people picking up its RSS feed (R.I.P. Google Reader), an audience sizable enough to sell out most smaller L.A. shows. But it’s telling that Hipster Runoff, a blog founded on making fun of blogs and Internet indie culture, has become more successful than most of its competition.
The novelty of music blogs is over, and in retrospect, the attention of 2005 and 2006 was generated more by the technological feats of self-publishing and fast, hosted MP3 downloads than any actual blogging. There are few conversations now about what blogs people read. That discussion and excitement has transferred over to music apps and software products — SoundCloud or Spotify or Turntable.fm or whatever the hot new thing is. Online music consumers have always taken the path of least resistance: reading a dozen blogs, collecting the MP3s in a download folder and sorting through them is infinitely more difficult than reading Pitchfork and clicking through YouTube. Larger, one-stop shops like Pitchfork and Stereogum and so on draw the biggest audiences for their convenience (and sure, quality). So Twitter has become an interesting space: bloggers and music writers interact and share opinions and new music in a single public forum, which is more well-read than most of our sites. I have 5,000 Twitter followers, over three times the number that allegedly follows my blog.
Calling Music Blogs Niche Definitely Seems Archaic
The average person probably doesn’t read Pitchfork or Stereogum on a daily basis, but calling music blogs niche definitely seems archaic. Pitchfork literally has it’s own international festival that attracts thousands of people every year. From what I can deduct most people turn to larger blogs as a reliable source for new music and news as opposed to SPIN or Rolling Stone.
There are an array of products and platforms that have helped legitimize and shine the spotlight on music blogs. There was Streampad which was the original music player designed for blogs by Exfm’s CEO, Dan Kantor when he was over at AOL years ago. And of course there’s Hype Machine which really the first platform to bring music blogs to the attention of thousands of people with a great interactive aggregation system.
Now we have newer companies like the one I work for Exfm. We source from music blogs, but also SoundCloud and Bandcamp pages. We’ve created a new Site Player that picks up MP3’s as well as SoundCloud and Bandcamp embeds and we also have a browser extension that actually works as the platforms aggregator. All of these products and platforms were created because of the vast number of blogs out there and with the needs of bloggers in mind with the ultimate goal of shining the spotlight back on bloggers by bringing the music they curate to the masses in an organized, manageable fashion.
I’d Like To Question The Question At Hand
I’ll contend that if “music blogs” = “all music blogs judged in the aggregate, or as a category,” then the over-arching assumption that the audience for this category is or was at some point limited to (and/or readily described as) “niche” becomes an unjustified implication here. Furthermore, since “niche” is a comparative qualifier, its own definition requires drawing on some basis for comparison/contrast with whatever’s the commonly-understood “mainstream” here.
If the audience we’re defining as mainstream = the grand total reach/readership/audience for all types of online blogs combined, and, we then want to characterize the audience for the subset/type — “music blogs” — vis-à-vis all the other comparable subsets/types… ]
I’d argue that the audience for our particular blog type has always been among the MOST reflective of “mainstream.”
Otherwise, if the question actually intends to limit the definition of “music blogs” more narrowly (say, professional bloggers, or some particular genre only) in any way that makes this grouping meaningfully distinct from the grander “music blog” subset/type, I’ll object on the grounds of loading the question.
Lastly, I think this line of reasoning always ought at least begin with a point of reference/comparison drawn from inside the one specific medium in question. Or, in other words: I think most lines of reasoning that’d begin with something like: “music blogs in the 90s” = niche, whereas “MTV in the 90s” = mainstream, are ones most at risk for arriving at spurious conclusions.