Music blogs are an interesting sector, one that continues to evolve with the artists that they cover. I have several friends and colleagues who know a lot about where music blogs came from and where they might be going. So I asked them this question: How has the music blogging and curation landscape changed in recent years? Talk about some of these changes and then bring us into present day. What does that landscape look like right now?
Major Label Embrace of Online Music Gave Blogs Power
There have been too many changes to list, but I think we can point to a few things — the major labels’ embrace of the Internet and music sharing via SoundCloud and YouTube, which makes blogs both more powerful (in terms of what can be shared) and more indebted to labels and publicists, for one. Blogs have gone in a few interesting directions: growing their staff and building themselves into Pitchfork-style Voltrons with reviews, news, photography, features and so on, or taking to Tumblr and heading deeper into the wordless taste-making direction. Old-school one-person blogs centered on writing about a song a day, the de facto mode in the mid-2000s, seem to have vanished. Curation has become more of a team effort for less news-centric sites, with blogs banding together to form collective sites such as Portals and Ad Hoc, with a focus on digging up experimental or avant-garde music. I can’t say I love every band they uncover, but I’m glad they’re there, shovels in hand.
One problem for independent acts: it has become easier than ever to release and distribute independent material, but much more difficult to get anyone to pay attention to it without infrastructure beyond DIY. While it sometimes happens, you’ll rarely see a band without a publicist make its way into blog trendiness, much less a year-end list. There was a time when bloggers posted based on what leaked on OiNK that day, but now they (we) have successfully been integrated into the industry machine. Looking beyond your inbox, even to a Bandcamp genre tag, is hard work, and most don’t want to do it.
Better Definition Of Music Blogs Gives Stronger Answer
Let’s take a look at two key terms that are at the crux of this question: “blogging/blogger” and “curation/curator.” Taking the nature of how we choose to define these terms into consideration, with a specific focus on how those definitions alter the question being asked (which will then alter how we subsequently quantify “growth”), it probably follows that we:
1. Ask ourselves whether any of the mediums (or “media,” in the parlance of our times) in question here (new and old) are inextricably coupled with the delivery of any particular type of message. Or, in other words: if you take away a music blogger’s blog, can he/she still curate music?
2. Furthermore, we’d likely do well to also ask whether the act/practice of “curation” (whatever that is exactly) itself is inherently predicated on the author’s message being embodied within (or, recorded upon) any sort of medium at all.
I’d contend that the answer to both one and two is a resounding ‘fuck no.’
What’s a “music curator” then?
Any person who forms some kind of opinion that’s related-enough to “music,” then communicates that opinion to one or more other folk, with the tacit intention of having some desired impact on the relevant “music” opinions and/or behavior of those other folk.
What’s a “music blogger” then?
A music curator whenever he/she specifically uses a blog as a medium. Non-exclusive.
If we abide broadly by the above definitions, then I believe we build on top of this core assumption: recent changes to music blogging’s overall nature, component drivers and “growth” are broadly reflective of similar, long-standing trends governing the evolution of all broadcast media, starting from all the way back when Gutenberg first Xeroxed his medieval shit (maybe before?). Trends like: democratization of access to means of media production; the march of innovation toward broader and faster proliferation of new forms of media (and any message carried therein); even how newspaper stories all tend to become more “curated” for the aim of selling more newspapers (instead of telling the news) as markets get competitive; and so forth.
Music Curation: Highly Underestimated, Critical Force
By Nicole Cifani | @cifanic | Executive producer, writer, and DJ. Interactive at Guggenheim Museum.
The music blogging and curation landscape is no longer limited to just blogs and social media. We now have mix tapes, apps, and interactive features where anyone can broadcast or contribute to what they personally feel is interesting content. In the past a music fan needed to rely on a set of well-connected industry folks for guidance on new material, tour dates, and other valuable information coming around the corner. It didn’t matter whether we liked or even identified with the messenger. These were singular, well funded channels, put in place for information distribution by means of traditional media.
Today, if you or I or the person who uploads a mix to thefuture.fm finds something of interest it can be shared immediately with everyone within specific site ecosystems and beyond. Information spreads easily, and if you’re lucky it will go far and wide.
For artists, what this means is that part of their strategy needs to be keeping up with this velocity. Acts who do this well will reap the rewards. We see bands previewing albums on sites like NPR or Pitchfork, releasing albums earlier than planned (e.g. the super group Atoms for Peace adjusting to an album leak by releasing their album early), and we will soon see artists hooking into other digital mediums that further tie into the larger cultural landscape as a whole.
In general, curation is a force that is highly underestimated and critical to the evolution of digital music discovery. It is important to note that we don’t necessarily want to be guided but everyone wants to guide. For example, Google recently announced the close of their hugely popular Google Reader product. The result was a huge backlash online. Google Reader is a tool that makes it easy to skim blogs and digest choice bits of content. People want to curate. They have an incredibly strong appetite for options. Personally, I choose the fire hose.
Music Blogs Give Artists Platform To Be Seen And Heard
Blogging has come a long way in the past ten years. It seems like everyone is a blogger now. In the past, bloggers we able to turn their personal sites into legitimate media forms. Some have even created record labels or parlayed into other aspects of the music industry. Simple, stripped down, accessible platforms like Tumblr really gave a voice to people that may have been technologically challenged or had found Wordpress to be too much of a commitment. We’ve definitely seen an influx of music blogs since the arrival Tumblr. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is debatable.
On one hand you might say that the quality of blogs was better ten years ago because people we’re taking the time to create thoughtful content, which I think people are definitely still doing now. However, with all the noise, competition and the ability to recycle content through reblogging it’s clear that some people may have lost sight of what’s important. For instance we have the culture of “first” meaning that quality can go unchecked because the only concern is that the content was posted the quickly.
That said, I think the addition of multiple blogging platforms has given artists a platform to be heard and seen that was never available in the past. I’m also all for accessible, inclusive technology that gives as many people a voice as possible. It’s up to the content consumers to decide whose voice is relevant or not. It’s pretty amazing that there potential for a fourteen year old kid to start a music blog, possibly break the next huge artist and have their life changed forever. Personally, I believe that a crowded landscape is better than a sparse one. Especially when it comes to music.