This is a quick look into the world of music blogging. It is in no way definitive but merely an attempt to shine a light on a relatively new phenomenon.
What are Music Blogs?
Cooped up in our online world we often forget that the vast majority of people have no idea what a music blog is. Most who frequent the web will have heard of Napster but the burgeoning world of the concise review with mp3 attached is just an alien concept. With one or two exceptions music blogging is a 21st century phenomenon. It came into existence as a direct result of the onward march of technology. In simple terms music blogs are what fanzines used to be all about i.e. blathering about the music that stirs the soul. What sets them apart is their potential to reach a much wider audience and the relatively cheap running costs involved.
Music bloggers often tread a well worn path; they hear a song they like and they publish their thoughts to the web. The song is more often than not included in the piece as a downloadable mp3. Some go beyond this simplistic approach and include music news, competitions, gig listings. Music blogs are often updated several times a week which given the vast array online leads to an extravagant amount of free music to be devoured. Bloggers have a tendency to extenuate the positives; it is quite rare to find one with an inclination for discussing the stuff they don’t like (a niche market yet to be exploited perhaps). Some of the bigger operations have somewhat switched the focus away from the music element to take up a social commentator role (remember how MTV stopped playing music videos).
Who Do Music Blogs Serve?
Music bloggers write about the music that inspires them. This act fuels their motivation to discover new bands so the blogger ends up with a much richer palette to work from. This ultimately shines a light on artists who without the bloggers attention may have remained unheard of outside of their own circle. The internet being how it is (not restricted by geographical location) can result in a little known group from, say, Dublin being enjoyed by a blog reader in Christchurch (like this band, The Ugli Voilas – I Gave The World To You). Without the economic means to tour or release records outside of their own patch the group is thus reaching an audience that up to now would have been impervious to their talents. This activity can also benefit the smaller record labels who can harness the promotional power of the blogging community to help market their artists. A carefully orchestrated email shot that includes some promo mp3’s has the potential to set the blogosphere alight and push interest and ultimately sales on an upward curve. The final recipients of the bloggers sweat are its own readers. Blogs can be an invaluable resource for music fans so the trick is to identify which ones most closely match your own tastes.
What Do You Need To Become A Music Blogger?
New music blogs sprout up every day but many are fleeting. The prospect of free CD’s, getting on concert guest lists and the potential to make wads of dosh (not really) is hard to resist but fame and fortune doesn’t happen overnight. A passion for music is essential for without this there is little chance a blog will last beyond the first plea for reader comments. Think of it as a diary of your music discoveries, something that you can proudly look back on in 15 years. Having a successful music blog takes a lot of time and effort. Keep in mind that the blog post is the end of the journey; it might take you a gigabyte of deleted rubbish to get to that point. Daily updates are not a necessity but the increased visibility of a regular post is vital especially in the early stages. What you have to balance up is whether it is worth the effort involved, it may take several months before you build up any sort of readership and even then it could be a silent (but appreciative) audience.
How Do You Set Up A Music Blog?
It is relatively easy to have a music blog up and running within a few minutes. There are a raft of blogging platforms such as Blogger and WordPress that offer free hosting of your pages and publishing tools that are easy to master. Getting a host for your mp3’s can be a little trickier if you decide to go beyond the free (and limited) hosting solutions like Rapidshare or Yousendit. Dedicated hosting is inexpensive these days and many 1st year hosting plans are heavily discounted. Dreamhost is one of the better services around. Using a dedicated host does require a limited amount of technical knowledge but there are plenty of useful help forums to get you through the challenges. Another component of any blog is the use of a stats program which is invaluable for gleaning information about the people who are reading your blog. Statcounter is a very popular free option.
Once you have your blog up and running you’ll probably have a good deal of music in your own library to keep you going for a while. Of course this is a finite resource so at some stage you’ll need to look further afield. There is a raft of places worth investigating; some being more useful than others. The first stop-off should be other music blogs. You’ll spot which ones most closely match your own tastes fairly quickly. After a couple of weeks in operation you may notice emails appearing from record labels, bands and promo companies. In the main these can be a bit hit and miss so add to your spam folder as your tastes dictate. The crumbling colossus that is myspace is an invaluable resource and any zig-zag journey through its bowels can yield worthwhile results. Some record label websites are also useful; the better ones are laden with downloadable tracks. Official band websites are also pretty good, especially for the newer outfits who are trying to create a buzz.
Music blogs are eternally grateful for the services provided by the aggregators such as the Hype machine and Elbows. These sites keep tabs on a large set of music blogs, aggregating their content as soon as it is published to the web. The aggregators have a huge audience because they have become the one-stop shop for checking out what is hot on the blogosphere at any moment in time. Getting your music blog accepted for inclusion by these aggregators can lead to significant increase in traffic.
So what makes an otherwise sane individual spend an inordinate amount of time sit at a computer screen while flicking through more songs in a single night that most people would listen to in a month? I mean unless you are one of the elite it is never going to result in anything more than a paltry monetary return so why bother? The reasons are varied and many but the core motivation tends to be a love for discovering exciting new music and sharing it with the world. In many ways an engaging or positive comment from a reader can do wonders for your motivation. You may only have 4 regulars but at least you are impacting on what those people are listening to. Blogging has in many ways replaced the diary and can be a good way to let off some steam after the trauma of the 9 to 5. Making some alternative income is another attractive carrot but don’t hold your breath. For the vast majority recouping hosting fees should be seen as a genuine triumph.
There is still a fine line between promoting an artist and using their creative output for personal gain. In most cases music bloggers are genuine music fans and the industry is slowing starting to realise this. There will always be copyright infringements but there is a growing feeling that once a blogger doesn’t abuse their position they should avoid the dreaded cease-and-desist notice (a takedown an mp3 or else request). Recurring notices can result in the termination of your hosting service but in most cases this is as bad as it gets. Of course there are outright abusers out there who consistently post full albums often with little or no information about the artist in question. On the opposite end of the spectrum there are blogs that only post music that have been officially sanctioned. With the growing acceptance of the mp3 as a promotional tool it is quite easy for a blog to thrive under such restrictions. In truth, however, most music blogs inhabit the fuzzy middle ground where one or maybe two (often unsanctioned) mp3’s are included to colour the textual end of the post. Limiting the amount of time these mp3’s are available for download is a help.
As a general rule of thumb most worthy blogs desist from posting tracks from pre-release’s due to respect to the artist (or if we’re honest, due to the hugely inflated chance of being nabbed by the web sheriff). So why would a music blogger deviate from the vast array of legally available music on offer? The simple answer is that the rudimentary nature of music blogs is to articulate personal opinion and in many cases the promo track does not square up with what the blogger regards as their favourite track.
There is no doubt that there will always be room for print media but what is inescapable is the fact that music blogging has immediacy on its side. As the internet becomes more mobile and its conduits less bulky internet based media will see their audience expand exponentially. The challenge for music bloggers will be to take advantage of this by providing a consistently good product. The pooling of resources away from the cottage industry type nature of blogs in existence today could well be the way forward. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that an aggregator in the form of a well produced and fully edited online magazine could be produced from a bank of consenting music blogs. In time the top music blogs could well become full time operations as advertisers/sponsors climb on board.
At the moment there is a concentration of music bloggers writing about the indie/alternative music scene. This could be put down to the age group involved and their rapid acceptance of new technology. This is likely to change, however, as the demographics who adopt the internet broaden and as the current wave of surfers gets older. In a few years there may well be burgeoning music blogging communities focused on Jazz, Classical or Country and Western. What’s certain is that music blogging is here to stay. KD