April 5, 2012

I Heard Mp3 Blogging is Dying

I’m . . . concerned that there are sites and services getting millions invested into them, which also don’t help artists build a long-term career. These sites basically rely on other people’s creativity to populate their services. It’s like a new slave trade, in which they’re selling their users to investors for huge sums of money. 
Thus wrote Sean Adams, founder of foundational early mp3 blog Drowned In Sound, in a recent interview.  His description refers to today's hyper-commercialized class of high-tech middlemen, finding new ways of subverting ostensibly recreational activities and tools to economic purpose; designing new and exploiting old interactions from which marketing data or advertising revenue can be extracted. The implications of those services for music bloggers have been varied. Lacking any kind of coherent, long term sense of the importance of editorial standards and policies, administering a blog - or being a "content developer", as the common parlance calls it in order to better stitch the activity into a more marketable,professional vocabulary - has become very much about transmitting sensation.
As we transition to services which turn individuals into ‘channels,’ the need for a blogger to post pithy things and then a track has shifted toward being an organizer and time-saver for those slightly less in the know. . . I do think you need to have listened to a certain amount of music to be able to state that something is the best thing around right now. And to be able to say so in an historical context is somewhat important too.
Over the course of several years, a relatively tech-literate community of bloggers kept themselves somewhat separate, partly helping to originate the notion of music-swigging hipsters as an aloof cadre of elitist tastemakers; of course people's natural egoism helped finish the job, but it's hard not to imagine this community seeming isolated, whatever joint of the social spectrum you might care to place them in. Instead of supplying primarily historical context, mp3 blogging has tended to emphasize its output as social. "This makes me feel this way" so someone says "Oh, me too!", followed by sensations of shared experience and, perhaps, some feelings of celebrity. The separation of this "blog community" was perhaps best emphasized when the "mainstream" appeared to attempt an integration, with music blogs being more widely cited by more conventional press venues.

The process of bonding that sometimes occurs between blogs and their readership and the attempted integration of blogs - through strategic partnerships, primarily promotional, often event-based - that occurred shortly afterwards all contributed to the sense that blogging could be a serious endeavor for people. Now, a slew of apps and services are being designed to exploit elements of what made mp3 blogs so appealing, diluting the experience's distinctiveness and arresting the blogopshere's indomitable momentum, manipulating people away from blogs toward more conventional middle-men - better established concerns, media companies, and start-ups trying to carve out a market share. 

What I find most interesting about music blogs is that of all specific iterations of the "arts and sciences blog", music and mp3 reviewers seem the least aware of themselves in a broader universe of blogs. That is to say, science and art bloggers are highly compatible people, but music bloggers - their critics and supporters alike - seem almost universally convinced that how they talk about music is detached from the experience of talking about nearly anything else, even though most bloggers of any kind will tend to chug away on the same web publishing platforms. Certainly no one I know would ever argue that this detachment was a good or deliberate quality of music blogs, but it seems endemic. 

Pitchfork's short-lived underground mp3 blog Altered Zones - that Decoder, in its previous incarnation as Get Off the Coast, contributed to for the extent of its existence - has frequently been a nexus for discussion, though it was rarely well-framed. Altered Zones was often styled as a "blog collective" and touted for the novelty of gathering exclusive content from a stable of contributing blogs that each had its own independent identity and existence. Of course, outside of music blogging, this sort of "tandem writing" style is fairly common, which is why so few music blogs can meaningfully claim anything innovative about their format. Altered Zones, just like the majority of respected music blogs, made its name through high editorial standards and ostensibly by creating timely, interesting content. If it was more or less successful, it was because its content came from an ensemble cast of writers, well selected and mostly well managed. However, emerging in Brooklyn amidst established enterprises with funding from another established entity makes Altered Zones a complex and difficult scenario to evaluate, but conceptually the only thing that sets it apart from older editorial models is the extent and definition of its constituent personalities; but even that has analogues. A "collective" made up of independent blogs is a lot like many standard press outlets with their menagerie of semi-autonomous columns and columnists.

Though the interview that motivated my little outpouring was titled "Legendary Music Blogger Sean Adams on ‘Slow Death of MP3 Blogging’", I can only imagine who exactly said mp3 blogs were 'slowly dying' - so far as I can tell, Adams never said it in the inerview - because the suggestion is tantamount to saying that all blogs are slowly dying. Why would mp3 blogging, which is for most intents and purposes all music blogging, be dying? Really, all music blogging is mp3 blogging. The use of mp3s or streaming music players has proven to be the completion of a general standard for blogging about music, so to talk about mp3 blogging as a separate wing of "music blogging" would be ludicrous, regardless of whether or not music blogs always use them. 

So, just because Scion isn't going to give your blog a million dollars for SXSW events every year for the rest of time or your chances of getting liquor endorsements has gone down because they have become more competitive, doesn't mean music/mp3 blogging is dying or becoming irrelevant. Kids are just getting older and figuring out new shit, older people are figuring out new shit too, and the perceived negotiation between money and passion - the old who know how to make money without seeming to feel evil and the kids who were first inspired by their passion (probably taking great care to document how little they were paid for it, at least initially) - is unnerving to all parties. What people call a "death" is really just the sound of a building, collective question being mostly ignored - "Why should I keep coming back; why this blog and not the other?". That's why our feeling is that ultimately music blogs will continue to thrive through a combination of good editorial practice and sustaining truly positive relationships with the bands and labels that they feature. The question is context and I tend to think that all blogs succeed or fail, to a certain extent, by how and how well they contextualize themselves. But most of all, by enshrining self-awareness and a better nuanced view of the value of objectivity at the core of our practice. 

3 comments:

  1. Great post/food for thought, thanks Dwight.

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  2. Great post.thanks for sharing this wonderful article. All the best to you.
    mp3 acuaticos

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