Mp3 blogs (or audio blogs or music blogs) are the newest frontier in online music-sharing—a groundswell has appeared in the last year of people posting mp3 files of songs they love, free of charge on personal websites (but only available for a short period of time), and usually annotated with biographical and contextual notes about the artist and the music. The phenomenon has been noticed but only barely, and the recording industry, if wise to the trend, isn’t protesting. We gathered six of our favorite mp3 bloggers to chat about the scene.
- MB publishes The Mystical Beast from Flatbush in Brooklyn, N.Y. where he lives with his wife and cats.
- David Gutowski publishes Largehearted Boy from deep in the American South. An indie evangelist in his spare time, his interests include music, literature, and cheese.
- Sean Michaels recently graduated from Montreal’s McGill University, where he lived by a great green hill. He writes stories. Said the Gramophone has been playing since the spring of 2003.
- When Andrew Nosnitsky ain’t bustin’ in bed with your mama or sellin’ crack to the kids at the school-without-walls-school, he’s writing for Cocaine Blunts & Hip Hop Tapes and co-hosting the weekly radio show of the same name every friday night on WRGW.
- John Seroff is the voice behind the Tofu Hut. He’s in NYC if you’d like to give him a ring.
- Oliver Wang is a music writer based in Oakland, Calif. He runs the audio blog Soul Sides and maintains a general blog on pop and politics, Pop Life.
TMN: If all music goes digital—digital format, bought, sold, and spread online—what will you miss most about going to the record store?
MB: The great American pastime: flirting with the cute record-store girl! Also running into famous people and musicians and finding out what they’re buying and selling and whatnot. Years ago I was in [unnamed record store] in New York City and got to watch a clerk being an absolute sneering bastard to a nondescript middle-aged woman (who he seemed to think couldn’t possibly be cool enough to deserve to shop in his store) until his friend politely informed him that he might want to be a little more friendly to Patti Smith. You don’t get that kind of experience online!
David: I find indie record store clerks to be great resources for new music. My wife often gets antsy if she’s with me, and I spend too much time talking music and local music scene gossip with the clerks.
John: I hear you about the old “girl-behind-the-counter mythos.” That’s a comic-book-store thing for me; currently crushing on, oh, the whole female staff at St. Mark’s Comics and Jim Hanley’s Universe.
I’m not sure I’d miss much of anything about record stores. I’ve never been particularly interested in either the soulless void of the megalopolis chain joints or the jaded hipster opinions of the hole-in-the-wall minimart. I look at record stores in the same way as comic book stores: With a very few exceptions, they tend to be necessary evils.
David: For me, the necessary evil is the bargain and used bins, where I can score a Yoko Ono box set for six bucks, and come out with 20 discs for under a hundred bucks.
John: It’s not that I dislike rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi, it’s that these stores tend to be massive jumbles of poorly organized product, supervised by often surly minimum-wage slaves with little interest in their surroundings, what’s playing on the overhead speakers, when the new Devin album drops, or you. I’d like to add that I thought High Fidelity was a greatly overrated movie.
Oliver: Blasphemy! I appreciate where John is coming from. Record stores are not very much known for their quality of consumer service, but I never go to a record store in hopes of clicking with the staff. It’s all about the hunt, especially at used record stores, to see what bits of esoterica you can stir up. That just doesn’t work with digital media—there’s much randomness to be sure, but you don’t have much to go on besides a file name.
Much as I love the convenience of digital media, the tangibility of a physical product—be it a CD, DVD, LP, etc.—still matters and I don’t see this disappearing completely.
But, forced to imagine such a nightmare scenario…what I’d miss most is what I just said, the tangibility of the packaging, from cover art to liner notes. One thing about used LPs, too, is that you find these personal messages at times—signed copies of band LPs, dedications on records sent as gifts. Digital media will never (well, never say never) have those qualities.
Andrew: Honestly, I don’t ever see it happening. It’s a possibility that the industry will go that route with new music, but there’s so much music already put to physical media; to assume that this would render record stores nonexistent is just foolish. Records, compact discs, cassettes, etc. will always be trading hands in some form or another, so there will always be stores that sell them. Previously recorded music media isn’t just going to disappear because mp3s are the chosen format. I find that readers of my site are into discovering more obscure music, much of which they would not be able to purchase on any format (or would be forced to pay exorbitant used prices on eBay or from specialty dealers). The mp3s compliment their record-buying habits, they don’t replace them.
John: I agree that we’ll never lose the ol’school format (there’s still cops on horseback, after all); I think the question is more gauged toward digital media’s overtaking plastic media in popularity, which is seeming to slowly happen.
I feel the need to point out that I’ve recently bought a handful of discs from the admirable Future Legend, New York, and was much impressed by their service, selection and price. I’ll be going back soon.
I started my blog to reclaim some of the personal freedom I experienced early in my writing career when no one cared who I was or what I had to say and therefore, I could get away with talking about anything. Sean: At its best, going out for records can be like hunting for treasure. You clack through the rows of CDs, sideways-eyeing what the people next to you are pulling out. There’s nothing online that can rival the ohmygod! grab for a long-sought CD that you suddenly discover on the rack. At the same time, however, my record store experiences are a far cry from the halcyon images in High Fidelity. Even at Montreal’s Cheap Thrills, my favorite shop, it’s rare that I might fall into a conversation. I scour for those hidden treasures, clutch them to my chest, trade money for the goods, and then hungrily slide the CD into my Walkman. We don’t exactly hobnob. Contrary to expectation, when online music really clicks—when people get to listen to the same songs, and jubilantly discuss them—I find it a more potent social event than the average discussion at a local record store: “Yeah, that’s a great album. Uh. $18.99, please.”
John: I agree with you completely, except for the “ohmygod” effect being not as intense online. I get “ohmygod” almost daily on my hunts for new tunes; most recently with Scissorkick’s Ratatat remix album post. That made me happy for the whole week.
TMN: One great aspect of mp3 blogs is the exposure of forgotten, ignored, or generally unheard-by-the-masses music. Have you got any artists in your bag you’re dying to blow up? Where have you turned in the past to find new musicians for yourself?
David: I usually post about 10 links a day, so I keep very little in reserve. The links I serve are a combination of music I like and music for friends, all of which deserve a wider audience. My friend Frank Yang jokes that I am an indie evangelist, but I try not to limit my choices to one genre, just to good music.
I am always plugging John Darnielle and the Mountain Goats; I feel he is the greatest living American songwriter. I realize that I am preaching to the indie choir, but hope that I can expand the audience of this gifted individual and share his gift with the world.
I see a couple of live shows a week, no mean feat for a guy in north Alabama. Getting to the show early enough to see the openers has exposed me to some new music. Many of my friends are into music, so I pick their brains for something new and interesting. A couple of mailing lists and several music blogs also help me discover new music. Lately, I’ve been streaming online radio during the day at work. SomaFM and No Love For Ned have introduced me to many interesting artists.
MB: It probably depends on a lot of things (where you live, quality of club’s booker, etc.) but in my experience in the New York area, watching the opening acts, as David says, is one of the single best ways to find good new bands that you never would have heard of. It’s been especially great for discovering small bands from other countries who are touring the U.S. on the cheap, without enough of a name to headline. Often it’s the only way you get to see them. I’d say that for more than half the shows I’ve gone to, it was mainly to see an opening band. Bonus: If you leave before the headliner, you get home in time to get your beauty sleep so you don’t show up at work looking like a zombie (more and more important as you get older).
Regarding music, writers don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re completely unaware of this, and nothing will convince them otherwise. Consider the Believer’s and McSweeney’s music issues to be the price we pay for the thrill of enjoying such scintillating company. Oliver: Right now, I’m spending a lot of time putting up hip-hop remixes—a once great tradition from the early ‘90s that has since been falling by the wayside (though the recent hype around Jay-Z’s Black Album remixes have brought some of that back). I like looking at eras in musical production and drawing on what made them so significant (or at the very least, pleasurable).
For music from the past, I rely mostly on word of mouth. As a music journalist, I get a lot of stuff over my doorstep, but I rely on my peers to help whittle that stack down to something more manageable.
Andrew: The great thing about working with a genre like hip-hop is that there is just so much of it out there. It doesn’t require a ton of professional equipment to make a professional hip-hop record, and as a result a lot of them get made and unfortunately many of them only reach a small portion of the listening public. There’s such a wide variety of regional styles and eras that I cover on our site that (hopefully) this exposes the audience to music they might never have heard. For example, a lot of southern hip-hop rarely finds its way north of the Mason-Dixon line. I hope what I’m doing is taking a small step toward changing that trend.
MB: One of the main reasons I started my blog was to help shine a light on the Dustdevils (a staggeringly overlooked noise-guitar band from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s). Along the way, I was happy to be the first person to post any significant details about the Wayfarers (a great New York group that was around about 10 years too early for the cocktail music revival of the mid-‘90 s). But my focus is more on making sure that other people can find out about certain overlooked bands without going to all the trouble that I had to! I don’t think I’m going to single-handedly start any revivals, but my page turns up fairly high on Google, so the info is out there if people are looking. Every little bit helps.
Tips for finding new artists: I have a bunch of rules of thumb, but really there’s a lot of luck involved. Probably the best single thing you can do is make friends with someone who works in a good record store, especially if it’s owner operated (a certain store on Bleeker Street in New York is the inevitable exception to that rule). Failing that, find someone who 1) likes some of your favorite bands, and 2) likes a lot of bands that you’ve never heard of. Then follow up on all of their suggestions. And keep an open mind. I initially hated a lot of my favorite albums. I have two other tips:
- The American press is really bad about covering foreign music that’s not from England. Make a friend in Australia, Belgium, etc.
- Just because artists aren’t getting written about anymore doesn’t mean they’ve stopped putting out great albums. The press is fickle and completely incompetent when it comes to follow-up. Go find out what your old favorite band’s members are up to. You might be pleasantly surprised.
I do have one tip for avoiding bad bands. For some reason, people who frequent literary circles tend to have particularly pedestrian tastes in music and a need to invest their latest boring discoveries with massive cultural significance. If you’re throwing a cocktail party, by all means invite the literati: They’re witty, they’re fun, and they sleep around, all of which are traits that music critics lack. But regarding music, writers don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re completely unaware of this, and nothing will convince them otherwise. Consider the Believer’s and McSweeney’s music issues to be the price we pay for the thrill of enjoying such scintillating company.
Sean: I’ve got to be honest—I’m not sure whether to laugh, rage, or cry, reading that. You’re serious? Your “tip for avoiding bad bands” is to avoid anyone with a penchant for writing fiction? As someone who loves music and frequents literary circles (albeit Z-list Canadian ones), please excuse me while I fly off the handle.
This is total, unmitigated nonsense. I’m not about to defend the critical record of McSweeney’s or Nick Hornby, and I concede that I’m taking your comment personally, but, uh, are you out of your head? From Michael Ondaatje on Astral Weeks to Douglas Coupland on the Smiths to Paul Ford on Neutral Milk Hotel to Neil Gaiman’s collaboration(s) with Stephin Merritt…This stuff is good. There’s nothing to say that most literati make skillful musical guides, but the same can be said of musicians—or construction workers, or directors, or critics. I get what you’re saying—that of all the bands in the world, Salman Rushdie asked U2 to record a song from his lyrics—but at the same time, [Rushdie’s] The Ground Beneath Her Feet has got some fucking wise things to say about music, and it’s totally insane to blacklist an entire artistic community instead of saying, “We sometimes disagree.”
On the other hand, you’re totally correct about the fickleness of the music press: They’ll jump on what makes a good story, not who’s making good music. Which is why sites like the Mystical Beast are so terrific.
If by “financial responsibility” you mean, do I feel guilt about distributing a track for free…no. Not any more so than your average DJ. And Dick Clark sleeps pretty well, right? He must, just look at him. There are, indeed, acts that I’ve been blustering about for ages. First of all, there’s Okkervil River and the Arcade Fire, two fantastic bands who tear conventional folk music to shreds and then quilt something brave and flashing and awesome. Okkervil River’s sad stories and blooming suns are beginning to receive some deserved attention, and the Arcade Fire—which plays dangerous crashing pop music, somewhere between Neil Young, the Flaming Lips, and New Order—just signed to Merge.
I must also sing the praises of Bishop Allen, a feisty Brooklyn band that invests its guitar pop with a golden-age sensibility; Buddy Holly and Modest Mouse loosing a plucky tune.
There’s also Wolf Parade, a quartet of messy Montreal post-punkers that warbles through shaky synth-lines before rumbling into a bristling electric climax. Jim Bryson and Greg Macpherson are Canadian songwriters whose live acts blaze with passion, wise words streaming out between spikes of noise. And Les Mouches, on Toronto’s Blocksblocksblocks label, do winsome smashfolk that mesmerizes and confuses. (I haven’t heard their new LP, though.) [Blocksblocksblocks will remind you that it is a recording club or collective, not a label.—ed.]
TMN: Future of mp3 blogs: Are the record companies hounding your doors? Have musicians approached you to get their songs heard? Feel any responsibility, financially, to the artist if you’re giving their songs away for free?
David: I get at least one email a day from an artist who wants me to link to their tunes. I am always thrilled when my weblog can be a conduit between artist and potential fan. Of course, this is why I started my site, and I benefit by discovering great music as well. I’ve heard from several small labels, and am glad to link to their artists (if I enjoy their music). Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any payola sent my way, but most artists are kind enough to offer their CDs, buttons, stickers, and/or band paraphernalia. My favorite thank you was a box of Tastykakes from a band in Philly, my hometown.
Oliver: I think that’s really remarkable and a testament to the reach of your blog. That said, I don’t envy your position at all. Right now, I’m immensely happy that 99.9 percent of what I post up is on my own accord and that I’m not being asked by others to post up their material. It’s enough of a headache when you’re a music critic—I started my blog to reclaim some of the personal freedom I experienced early in my writing career when no one cared who I was or what I had to say and therefore, I could get away with talking about anything.
Just as a follow-up, as it turned out, Lyrics Born, whose new remix I had posted up on request by his label, felt like his song was “getting out there too much” and requested that I take the song down. I did, of course, with no argument, but I do think it’s funny that artists still have this ambivalent attitude toward music online. I think most of them feel like they have to partake on some level, but they do it begrudgingly and if they feel like it’s compromising their own priorities, they’ll pull back. I respect their decisions, but I’m not sure if they’re being pragmatic or paranoid.
David: I try to link to legal downloads offered by the artists, or live shows that are public domain. In that regard, I don’t feel any financial responsibility toward the artists or labels. In linking to a band’s music, the worst thing that has happened to me concerned the Pills. I linked to their free downloads and they were inundated with hits, almost using up their monthly bandwidth in a day. This was not a good thing when the band was about to start a U.K. tour, and I quickly removed the link and apologized profusely.
With regard to other mp3 blogs, I see their digital offerings as free advertising. I have purchased many CDs after downloading a track from an mp3 blog, and the hype that can build from an mp3 blog mention is incredible. Mp3 blogs are the ultimate used bin, in that there is something for everyone if you are willing to dig in, download, and listen. Classics, rarities, the hip and the tragic can all be discovered, and the diversity of mp3 blogs is their sheer beauty.
Oliver: I’ve been a music journalist for 10 years and a DJ for 11, so I’ve had music companies hounding me long before I kicked off my audioblog. Recently, Quannum Projects, a label who I have long, long supported, approached me about debuting their new 12-inch on my audio blog, and in that case, I was more than happy to do it because I love their material and this single, in particular, was fantastic. But it comes down to a case-by-case example in terms of how receptive I’d be. I hated writing about music I wasn’t passionate about on some basic level—I can’t see audio-blogging about music like that, either.
In the past two months I’ve spent over $100 on music that I wouldn’t have bought without it being first exposed by a music blog. As for the financial responsibility, not to repeat this oft-mentioned point, but the vast majority of artists don’t make their money off of album sales: They do it off of touring. Therefore, exposure is more important than royalties in most cases. That said, if artists had objections to my posting their work, out of cordiality, I would remove the songs in question. Hasn’t happened yet, and frankly, I’d be really surprised if it did. Like the mix-tape phenom that has only grown in recent years, more and more artists realize that it’s more important to have their name out there than to nickel and dime every cent of copyright money owed to them.
Sean: You’re right that the majority of artists earn their money through touring, but it is important to also recognize that some do not. There are many acts who cannot, do not, or unsuccessfully tour—from laptop artists to the Beatles to tiny indie acts who don’t sell enough tickets to pay for breakfast. Exposure is one of the biggest things we can offer the musicians we promote, but let’s not make excuses for the people who pirate all their music, insisting, “It’s irrelevant—artists make their money from live shows.” The important thing is that, as you say, name recognition is worth much more than five song sales at the iTunes Music Store—but we still have to respect that for some, that missing $5 could mean one less lunch en route to your town. I don’t want to deny responsibility for the (albeit negligible) negative impact I can have.
The purpose of Said the Gramophone is to expose good songs to willing ears. If people like a song, I hope that they will buy the record or attend the show. Many, many do. I think musicians (and even labels) are beginning to understand that sampling precedes purchase, that it’s a way to learn about and fall in love with music. Most mp3 blogs aren’t trying to sabotage artists and record companies—to “give away songs for free”—but rather to support them, to applaud them, to make grassroots connections between good songs and the people who will enjoy (and then buy) them.
There are human beings out there who will download and enjoy music without ever buying it. Some of these people cannot afford to buy all the CDs they want. Some can. When it comes to the latter, mp3 blogs aren’t much help: We don’t post more than a couple songs from a record, and we don’t keep those songs online for Googlers to hunt down. As for the former, however—the ones who choose to pay the rent rather than purchase the Miles Davis discography—I like to hope that most musicians would rather their songs be heard (and cherished) than not.
We’re going to see the development of the audio-blog equivalent to VH1’s Best Week Ever, which is either a blog masquerading as a TV show or a TV show masquerading as a blog. John: Nobody’s beating down my doors. I’ve gotten a couple of promos and a few nice mix CDs from likeminded listeners, but I think I’m still much too small of a fish to bother with. This is changing quite a bit lately though, and I’m starting to see a steady daily flow of incoming “blog me” and “would you be interested in” emails.
Only a few days ago, another music blog I contribute to, Music for Robots, was contacted by Warner Brothers to hype a cut from the band The Secret Machines. This is the first time I’ve been aware of one of us being used as a conduit by the big boys and this new wrinkle adds lots of intrigue to the soup; we now know that at least one of the major players in the industry knows that we’re here and they think it’s possible we may be a positive influence. Bodes well for the future, both ours and theirs.
Most musicians I speak with are generally very enthusiastic about me posting them, though no one has explicitly asked for exposure. Strange thing: Many “friends” of musicians throw a hissyfit when I say I might put up some music. “Oh, you shouldn’t do that; that’s stealing music!” The recent RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] lawsuits have definitely left a “drugs are bad” commonsense bitter aftertaste on the average Joe. We’re going to eventually have to deprogram this attitude.
I definitely feel a responsibility to the musicians, hence my self-imposed dictum that I won’t post anything that’s commercially available without a link to a place where you can buy it. More often than not (both for time constraints and ease of purchase) that place is Amazon; in a perfect world, I’d link to an artist’s personal site so that I could help them boost personal profits and keep on touring and writing and playing.
If, however, by “financial responsibility” you mean do I feel guilt about distributing a track for free…no. Not any more so than your average DJ. And Dick Clark sleeps pretty well, right? He must, just look at him.
Andrew: I honestly feel no responsibility or obligation to artists. I’m already exposing their music to a new audience, what more could they want from me? Most of the music I post on the site is either long out of print, never to be released, or as yet unreleased. So it’s not like I’m putting up tracks that readers would otherwise be buying in stores. If anything, the mp3s I post spark interest in the artist’s current catalog and forthcoming releases. If they don’t like it, they can hit me with an email and ask me to remove it. End of story. I don’t make one cent off of my site. (I lose money on it, and I’m sure most of the other mp3 bloggers are in the same boat.) I do it for the love.
No artists have yet approached me to get their songs heard. I suppose it’d always be a possibility, but I also wouldn’t want to turn the site into an amateur music forum, that’s what sites like Soundclick are for. Also haven’t heard from record labels and the RIAA, but that seems like it would be fun.
TMN: To stay on the topic of the business for a second, how would you like to see mp3 blogs evolve? What role would artists/recording companies have? What role will the sites play in the world of music scholarship?
Oliver: I’m not going to take the long view and simply reply selfishly…I want to see more audio blogs that open my eyes to music I’ll like or didn’t know about before. For example, Cocaine Blunts did a whole week devoted to music from the 1990s on Rap-A-Lot, a label that I’ve never followed that closely, and what Andrew had up was fantastic. I love that there are blogs out there that can school me like that.
You asked how would I like to see them evolve but in response to how I think they will evolve: I’m almost positive we’re going to see the development of the audio-blog equivalent to VH1’s Best Week Ever, which is either a blog masquerading as a TV show or a TV show masquerading as a blog. Either way, it represents the assimilation of the blog format into mainstream media. Sooner or later, a record label or maybe a publicity company is going to get really bright and create an audio blog that corresponds to the artists in their employ. In fact, I’m surprised no one’s done this already. If a label like Def Jam or publicity outfit like Girlie Action, for example, created an audio blog that mixed older and upcoming material, I think they’d attract quite a following given the size of their catalog/roster. You read it here first! Hire me to run that shit for you!
As to the third part of the question, the problem with using audio blogs as music scholarship is that sound files rarely stay up long enough for them to function as an archive. Most audio blogs may be a repository for musical knowledge but rarely for the music itself. And until we see a sea-change in property rights that makes RIAA less eager to prosecute people who make copyrighted material (especially music that’s out of print) available to the general public, I don’t see this changing any time soon. As I noted prior, I’m not worried that RIAA is going to sue me right now…but, if I kept every song I’ve offered up indefinitely, and eventually built a database that ranked in the thousands, I wouldn’t be surprised if they took issue with me.
David: For many, mp3 blogs will remain a personal pulpit to share the blogger’s love of music. Commercially, recording artists and labels will not be able to ignore them. Many artists and labels already offer music downloads; having the artist annotate them is not a huge step. Music journals could possibly replace their included mix CD with a daily music download.
Mp3 blogs have exposed new and interesting music to the world. In that way alone, they have affected music and deserve the study of music scholars.
MB: So much depends on legal developments that I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess about mp3 blogs down the road. I do notice that radio stations are getting closer to mp3 blogs, in a way. For example, WFMU now archives its broadcasts and playlists, allows you to search the playlists for a specific song, and often allows you to start streaming the archive from any song you like. Really it’s like a huge mp3 blog, except the media is streaming and the information is spoken instead of written.
Of course, we remain without fact-checkers (barring the omniscience of Google) and editors, so our likelihood of spreading misinformation grows exponentially as we grow in number. Still, that’s the internet in a nutshell, innit? I have noticed lately that the record labels/artists who I contact for permission to post mp3s have been more and more willing to consent. I do think that mp3 blogs are getting recognized as a legitimate promotional tool, and I’d expect that a handful (no more) will end up becoming “official” institutions. I’d be surprised if Fluxblog (or something like it) wasn’t a fully commercial site in a year.
John: I think that Fluxblog had some actual influence on the popularity and force of marketing behind the recent Scissor Sisters CD. [Fluxblog] has been hyping that disc for months now and other music blogs took the nod and started posting tracks too. By the time the album had an official U.S. release, I’d already heard enough that I knew I needed to go buy a copy and I doubt I was alone in that.
MB: As for scholarship, the current music system does a really terrible job of preserving the past, especially now that there’s a vinyl/CD divide (most people don’t have record players any more, so albums that never made it to CD are basically inaccessible to the general public). It would be nice if every artist/record label made it a priority to preserve their recorded legacy, but many aren’t interested for various reasons (usually, finances would be the main reason). The two most likely replacements are bootleggers and mp3 bloggers, and my sympathies are with the latter since we don’t charge, we distribute worldwide, and our products don’t wind up supporting eBay’s bottom line. I do understand copyright law, but there comes a point where my desire to defend, for example, Hilly Michaels’s (or his record company’s) right to keep his product off the market loses out to the fact that a fantastic album has missed an entire music-buying generation. I find it hard to see that as a positive.
John: Optimally, I hope that the music industry recognizes that word of mouth is a far more powerful, much cheaper and longer-lasting force than short-term saturation when it comes to selling records. I will buy a disc based on a positive recommendation from a friend five times out of 10, eight if I hear a track I like. Ads on TV, radio, magazines, billboards do little more than raise a Q rating; they sure don’t motivate me to buy. However, in the past two months I’ve spent over $100 on music that I wouldn’t have bought without it being first exposed by a music blog.
So let’s say they see us as I believe we are: a positive financial force. Here’s a few suggestions as to what I think major labels should start doing to properly utilize, pacify and encourage us as music bloggers and the music-buying public in general:
- Public statements to the effect that prosecution of file-sharers was hasty and ill-conceived. Tacit acknowledgement of the issue is not enough; recognition that you have alienated your base is necessary. Open apology for previous prosecution is warranted.
- Embrace the technology. Release early drafts of new artists’ work on the web openly by using music blogs as conduits. The public will buy the final, cleaned-up copy as a separate entity if they find the material interesting and will likely buy the next four or five albums, as well. Quit being scared of leaks; start embracing them. The Fiona Apple flap of the moment has breathed considerable life into an album that was clearly meant to be shelved; perhaps there’s something to be learned here?
- Treat us with respect; we’ll return the favor. Eighteen-dollar CDs are just not going to cut it anymore. Establish a $12 recommended retail price for new releases, $10 for catalog, and $7 for new artists you’re looking to hype. The public will return in droves. As for the music bloggers, treat us like you would any other big media: Comp us some music, stay in communication…heck; you want savvy, young, knowledgable kids that can speak to the record buying youth of today, right? Put us in the goddamn boardrooms! Rawkus did pretty well, yeah?
Note that I said “major labels.” Minor labels have taken pretty much all these suggestions to heart already.
In terms of scholarship, I imagine we’ll provide a service in unearthing asterisks, musical once-wases and never-weres that may have new lives after we’ve dug em up. Of course, we remain without fact-checkers (barring the omniscience of Google) and editors, so our likelihood of spreading misinformation grows exponentially as we grow in number. Still, that’s the internet in a nutshell, innit?
Andrew: It’s not a business for me, and it never will be. Although I know the mp3 blog concept is catching some buzz in the industry, I don’t see that having anything to do with me posting Menace Clan mp3s and hope it stays that way. My blog exists because labels don’t keep lots of great music in print. (With some exceptions.) It’s not a vehicle for promoting new releases. I am actually surprised that no marketing team (Fader magazine/Cornerstone Promotions, I’m looking in your direction) has engineered its own mp3 blog to promote its own artists under the guise of some passionate music fan posting mp3s illegally. Although I would gladly take a paycheck from Scion to put its logo on my site.
TMN: Lastly, why do it? Why take the risk with the record companies, why stay up at night writing the posts, why worry about the songs? What’s the return for you? How much longer can you keep it up?
MB: I just recently had to take a month off because the mp3 blogging was taking too much time from other priorities, and on returning I’m not posting every day. As a two-to-three-times-a-week poster, I think I can keep up indefinitely. It is surprising how long it takes to do this: Just the listening alone to decide on the best material can take hours and hours. I bring my iPod to the gym and sort through songs while running, but it does occasionally start to feel like a job.
Since I mostly concentrate on obscure and/or out-of-print music, I’m not too terribly worried about lawsuits, so I’ll skip that question. It could happen, but I don’t think it’s very likely
Mostly, I do it for the chicks. Chicks love mp3 blogs. I have a couple reasons for doing this. One is my unhappiness with the Allmusic Guide. It’s become the de facto resource for information about music, yet it’s riddled with errors and omissions (without even considering the actual reviews), and I wanted to help fill in some of the blanks to make life easier for other people, and I wanted to inspire other people to do the same. Two, it’s nice to have an excuse to contact some of my favorite musicians. “Hi, could I ask some questions for an article I’m writing,” is a great introduction, much better than “I really like your band and I’ve always wondered…” Three, the more popular the music I like is, the more likely it is that people will keep forming bands to make that kind of music. I’d love it, for example, if Annette Peacock could become an inspiration to current musicians, instead of an obscure artistic dead end. I’d love to see more groups inspired by the Dustdevils. I’d like to see Thou or Joy Zipper actually getting their albums released in the U.S.
My little blog can’t change the world, but it’s better than doing nothing and just whining about the state of the music industry.
Sean: Said the Gramophone will exist because it is a joy. I listen to the most beautiful music in the world, I think about it, I write about it, and I get to share all of that with friends around the globe. It’s introduced me to wonderful artists, to good people, and helped me to push my own listening habits. Said the Gramophone prompts me to write, every single day. And if writing is to be my life’s work, I couldn’t pick a better hobby.
Of course, it clearly doesn’t take much to knock me offline—one little canoe accident and Said the Gramophone is dead in the water for a week. And I’ll be passing blogging duties to a friend while I go traveling this fall…But so long as all my main batteries stay charged, as long as there’s still room for a needle in the groove, as long as there are new and lovely sounds, I’ll try to whistle along and hope that people don’t mind.
David: My reason for writing Largehearted Boy is twofold. First, I enjoy sharing the music I love with the world. Like a typical music geek, I live to foist the bands I love on the public (be it a reader, a co-worker, or my next-door neighbor).
Secondly, posting music is hopefully a way to expose talented artists to a world mired in the top 40. There are so many gifted musicians that have filled my world with magnificent music; my blog is a way to thank them and offer some free advertising.
The return for me is simple: I enjoy what I do. Other than this simplistic answer, there are other positive consequences. Occasionally an artist I admire will drop me a note thanking me for posting some tracks or a live show. Readers will write that they became a fan of a band I featured. Often through comments or email, readers will direct me to a new band, and my musical boundaries are expanded. Bands will often send CDs or paraphernalia, which is always welcome but never solicited.
I see Largehearted Boy continuing as long as I continue to love music and have the time to research and write the posts. Writing the blog has actually become easier as readers are suggesting more and more posts.
Andrew: First and foremost, like David, I do it for the love. There are tons of heads out there just as hungry about discovering new music as I am. I know I would kill for a resource like my site (of course, cocaineblunts.com only posts mp3s I already have) and the response has been so positive, I feel like I’m almost obligated to keep it going. It’s also great in terms of networking, not necessarily on a professional level, but it’s always fun when a journalist whose work I’ve been reading since high school emails me just to say they feel what I’ve been doing. Plus, it’s good publicity for my radio show (but then again, I do that for no reason but the love, sooo…). But mostly, I do it for the chicks. Chicks love mp3 blogs.
John: I get a lot out of running my site. I like the praise and social aspects, but I’m especially excited when I get a note from someone who has clearly never heard a track I’ve posted and it clears their sinuses. That’s very fulfilling. I’ve always been a bit of a noodge about forcing music on my friends, often much more music than it would be reasonable to ask anybody to assimilate. With the blog, I’m able to be a poor righteous teacher under cover of anonymity. Ego is served, but not to the point of stroking, the music gets a little push and the collective curiosity is indulged.
Also: excellent creative outlet, encourages me to polish my writing and composition skills, keeps me from jumping out of a tall building. The basics.
Not entirely unrelated, I’m also hoping that this will provide me with a jump-off point for my entry into the field of media promotion or journalism. In some ways, I look at my music blog as a means of writing a 125,000-word portfolio that also shows proof that I can maintain a tight deadline and that I know a little something about music. You hear me industry types? Like O-Dub said, “Hire me to run that shit for you!”
How long can I keep this up? How long have you got?