“I want to start a blog.” We were barely through one beer and this catch-up lunch date with a friend had already turned into a “how-to-start-a-blog” seminar.
I had known her for only a few years, but we shared common attributes: both college educated and driven, but still with strong ties to the middle-class Bay Area suburbs we grew up in. Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I listened and nodded as she outlined her ideas to me. I sneaked in snippets of advice when she paused to take bites of her food; continued nodding when she started rattling off potential domain names.
I admired my friend’s tenacity and her eagerness to build a brand. Her knowledge base was on point: She knew whom she wanted to emulate, but still carried an impassioned vision on ways to be different. She was ready to hit the ground running with a DIY attitude with no limitations or ceilings, one of the last of a dying breed.
“Today, traditional blogging as we know it is fading, and in the realm of music blogs, the uncertainty of where to go from here is looking bleak.”
Back when the Internet was still a dubious space, entrepreneurs took the “high risk, high reward” plunge. They dominated the web by breaking news first (even without proper verification), writing fire think pieces and pumping out 20-plus posts a day. But as major publications started to catch on, the lack of a budget and dedicated staff stifled blog growth. Eventually, many independent websites had to shut down or sell out. Today, traditional blogging as we know it is fading, and in the realm of music blogs, the uncertainty of where to go from here is looking bleak.
In 2015, Jacob Moore (better known as Confusion), the founder of music blog Pigeons & Planes, wrote “The End of Music Blogs As We Know It”. Moore outlines the beginnings of P&P to the culmination of its sale to urban media giant Complex magazine in 2011. His tale is one of few blogger-success stories finishing with an actual paycheck:
“When I sold our homegrown blog, I got called a sell-out—no shit; we literally sold out,” he writes. “But the truth is, we would have faded away like so many other music blogs had we not been given some form of backing.”
P&P and similar blogs — 2DopeBoyz, Nah Right, Dancing Astronaut, Consequence of Sound, HipHopDX, among others — were the go-to source for the newest and hottest jams and musicians. Bloggers took on the role of DJs in the digital space; tastemakers and curators rolled into one.
P&P ran as independent blog for three years before it sold to Complex, and within that time period Moore garnered a decade’s worth of experience, connections and clout. This past November, Complex featured a dedicated P&P stage at the first ever Complex Con, with performances from Lil Yachty, Metro Boomin’, Jazz Cartier and more. But his story also exemplifies the harsh reality of not only music blogs, but of technology and start-up culture in general: Eventually, the big dogs catch up.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began to stifle blog existence when they started cracking down on online piracy in 2011. Labels and industry executives mainly targeted sites posting music without their permission, but also held cases against individuals, including a Minnesota woman who was fined $220,000 for 24 illegally downloaded songs.
“Brand name publications and record industry lawsuits came barging in through blogs’ front doors to upend hours and hours of labor-of-love work.”
Start-up blogs’ resources were razor thin as it were, and with the piracy lockdown, dozens of these sites began to collapse. The initial argument was that blogs were monetizing through ads without paying dues to the label. While that is true, even the most high-traffic volume blog makes minute amounts in comparison to any record label.
For these small league entities, the competition was major. Brand name publications and record industry lawsuits came barging in through blogs’ front doors to upend hours and hours of labor-of-love work. It’s like a distant relative coming over to your house, saying they helped your mom pay for the fridge and eating all the food in it with no leftovers to pick through.
To add more obstacles, music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora began to offer users a convenience that blogs simply couldn’t match. Streaming apps were taking pages out of each other’s book in attempts to level the playing field: Taylor Swift pulled her catalog from Spotify to host exclusively on Tidal while Apple Music held the rights to launch Frank Ocean and Chance the Rapper’s latest albums. These vast catalogs and algorithm-curated playlists left the blogger-middle-man behind in its wake.
As of March 2016, Spotify subscribers can access over 30 million songs with an additional 20,000 new songs the service supposedly adds each day. Yet despite the growing number of subscribers these streaming companies garner, the music industry still suffers a revenue blow.
In 2006 (during the iTunes era), CD sales alone raked in $9.4 billion. Today, total music revenue hovers around $7 billion, mainly driven by digital sales, according to the New York Times. Though still a steady figure, the industry today is more so “fighting over pennies while waving goodbye to dollars.”
When you take a step back and objectively look at how the music industry operates on a purely mechanical form, it makes you appreciate the music blogger’s journey a lot more. The blogger will likely always come from a place of pure appreciation with an I-just-want-to-write-about-music spirit paired with a modern mentality to hustle (or thumb-thug, whichever you prefer).
However, even when totally appreciating the bloggers’ quest, it can still be eye-roll inducing, self-serving and sensationalist. I mean, anyone with access to the internet and a laptop can claim blogger-dom, and without a grasp on craft journalism — “the art of researching facts, interviewing and assessing music by experienced writers and critics for publications with a focused voice” — writing as a public service goes out the window.
While I may groan, sigh and condescendingly nod at every young buck with a Tumblr handle, I’d still be amiss to say that I’m not at the very least envious of every bloggers passion to write and represent a world that they love free of journalistic constraints.
“What used to be a DIY approach has now been acquired, adopted and adapted by corporate behemoths in the dog-eat-dog world of the Internet.”
Being a blogger allows a sense of freedom that traditional journalism often curtails. Professional journalists are viewed as representatives of their respective newsrooms. They are taught to write objectively, removing biases, opinions, and oftentimes their own voice. Bloggers, on the other hand, are singularly voiced and bias from the start.
Journalism is a science: It’s the art and practice of proper sourcing and attributing, removing yourself so not to obscure your subject and the story. If bloggers want to cover themselves under the greater writing umbrella, there’s value in honoring those practices. In order to move forward, there must be a call for balance. Each approach carries its own brand of ego, but the term “blogger” doesn’t have to separate itself from the “journalist” label and vice versa.
So what does this mean for music blogging? As of now, who knows. What used to be a DIY approach has now been acquired, adopted and adapted by corporate behemoths in the dog-eat-dog world of the Internet. But a paradigm shift does not mean a demise.
Jacob Moore of Pigeons & Planes wraps up his story by telling his readers to start a blog anyways, despite all the arrows in his story pointing not to. His faith lies in the like-minded, passionate and savvy young writers who are sure to break through the surface and throw big corporations on their heads. “It wouldn’t be the first time,” he says, ever so succinctly.
Even if music bloggers are a dying breed in the traditional approach, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. To the girl with a web-based dream and the next wave of entrepreneurs, I say run with your ideas! Learn from those that did it right and then rewrite the guidebook on how to do it all over to come out on top. Old heads like me will continue to roll our eyes, sigh and nod while we listen to you rattle about your next crazy idea but then we’ll likely finish up the edits on your very first draft.