what follows is a 2000-word tirade based on another tirade. I don’t expect everyone to read it, but if you do let me know what you think. I’d love the feedback.
So last night, I went on something of a twitter tirade about music, the “industry” and my own self. Borne out of rants from @WeListenForYou and @callmechelsss against Pitchfork and music blogs respectively, it was probably a fairly nonsensical, confusing tirade on my part. WeListenForYou has always been a great source for material and, more importantly, discussion on the industry. His rant focused on Pitchfork’s rampant inconsistency in album reviews as well as its lack of really challenging opinions. And that got me thinking.
Pitchfork’s always held a weird, central position in the indie music scene and it’s always been something that’s confused me. It isn’t so much that they’re controversial or even that they’re not, it’s more their lack of quality content. See, I’ve never been a huge Pitchfork person. Indeed, of the 12 albums they’ve given their coveted “Best New Music” to, I’ve only actually really liked two. None of my favorites are on there. There’s no Typhoon, no Deloreans, no Spirit Spine, no ELK, no Lunchbox Riot, no CunninLynguists. The albums that they’ve covered that I do like have had boring, middle of the road scores: Noah and the Whale, SMM: Context, Cave Singers, The Dodos, Radiohead etc. So, from a pure taste point of view, I don’t really understand Pitchfork’s position as a centerpoint in the scene.
Furthermore, their actual content isn’t that great. It’s simply nothing I can’t find any where else. Their reviews aren’t particularly well-written, their ‘scores’ always seems to end up in a murky “6-7” area without any real explanation, their videos aren’t particularly ground-breaking, their features are up-and-down wildly. Pitchfork’s best use for me is purely as a music news outlet and that’s only because every already focuses on Pitchfork anyway.
Some might disagree with me and that’s fine, but it still doesn’t really explain to me why anyone cares so much. The best I can see, it’s because everyone else cares so much. Their opinions can make or break a band, but to me they’re just another site that I sometimes browse for information. In truth, I don’t even try to go their for content–my favorite finds have been from Song of the Day Podcasts, AllSongsConsidered, select blogs like WeListenForYou, Malleus&Incus, MusicSavage, and the like. I put up a post about Julianna Barwick’s The Magic Place about how you could stream the album for free from NPR. I experienced a spike after the BNM and I had no idea why because I hadn’t looked at Pitchfork in a week. In fact, that was one of the posts I expected to fall in to the ether of “I like it, but I’m pretty sure no one else does.”
But Pitchfork liked it, so everyone else does? Or is it just the attention of a big-name? But then, I still don’t even know why Pitchfork is a big name. Their videos are still trumped by Take Away Shows and Yours Truly. Their reviews still trumped by pretty much every blog in existence. Their role as an aggregator of taste still trumped by hypem, lastfm, and similar services–and they usurp themselves with hypocritical “taksies backsies.”
Maybe this all stems from not really understanding the existence of music criticism. It’s an incredibly subjective subject and for any one to say “This music is objectively good” is at best idiotic. Everyone likes different things and music has such multifarious roles in our lives there isn’t even a good way to start to look at it objectively. The criticism that the rise of music blogs has lead to a decline in music criticism might be valid, but it also bears the question of what music criticism is. In truth, it’s little more than opinions. Every music blog posts things they like and occasionally offers up discussion points of the “scene.” Music Journalism might be dying, but what was that? Interviews? News? Updates? These are all easy enough to get now without the need for a centralized point. You want to know if a band’s on tour? Google it. Want to know if an album is worth a purchase? Visit bandcamp and stream it.
Many of the criticisms of music blogs have confused me. I’ve always felt that they simply didn’t apply here. We post what we love and we stand behind everything we post. But then, is this the way every music blogger feels about their site? Certainly we don’t “try” for hits. With only around 200 a day, I hardly even think that we’d get them if we tried. Does this make us a “good” blog? Or an “authentic” blog?
Honestly, I don’t know. There’s such a wealth of content and knowledge that most of the time I feel like a huge noob. When I started this blog I didn’t know about hypem, elbo.ws, hipsterrunoff, the existence of “buzz bands,” “hits,” stereogum, ad money, etc. I assumed that every other blog was doing it for the same reason I was: because they liked music and wanted to share it and talk about it with like-minded people. I still feel like a noob when it comes to all this. I don’t know if there’s a number of hits I’m supposed to get before I’m a “good” blog or even what puts us “on the map.”
None of these were concerns or thoughts a year ago when I kicked off this project. I just wanted to talk to people, but blogs aren’t even good for talking to people. They’re just posts of content in the hopes of hits. The most discussion I’ve ever actually had on the subject of music was the result of last night’s twitter tirade and while that gave me a slightly better picture of where I was, it hardly cleared things up. There’s a huge lack of feedback as to the actual quality of what I’m posting. I don’t know if my writing is good or comes off redundant or trying too hard or anything. I don’t know if the content we actually post is liked (though I care much less about that). I don’t know if our site design is intuitive. And while the whole “fuck everyone else, do your thing” is great and all, feedback is important to growth. How do music blogs grow?
What I’d like to see most and the thought that stuck out to me most was a lack of “community” in the music blog world. I’d love to see a panel of the “big-timers” like WeListenForYou, I Guess I’m Floating, Gorillavsbear, You Ain’t No Picasso, etc. sit down and talk. It seems like a perfect thing for SXSW. Shit, even a podcast. Maybe include small-timers and such for good measure and another perspective. These kind of things just don’t seem to happen. Or maybe they do and I’m noobing out and everyone’s snickering at how I missed the whole community. Still, most blogs I don’t know anything about aside from the “About” page that’s always a little vague.
Bloggers don’t make the music, yes, I know. It seems kind of silly to focus on them. But in truth, they’re the new curators of the music world. I don’t know what the landscape will be like in 10 years, but I imagine traditional media will only decline further–what we have to start to take its place is the vague, amateurish “blogosphere.” They might grow to become important. Maybe they’ll die out. I can’t really say. But their role is so unformed and malleable at this point, it seems like something worth focusing on.
True, it’s inevitable that some blogs focus more on hits than quality content. I’m not sure which ones these are because I don’t like to make that judgement and I probably don’t read them anyway. I try to avoid that as much as I can, but it’s tempting to include a popular mp3 on here to get it on hypem so more people will read it. That’s a very dangerous thought, I know that.
I could start posting a wealth of content, shooting for hits and take out an ad contract and make money and maybe make a job out of it. I could do the same to generate hits to get more attention to become “relevant” and maybe draw the attention of someone who’d want me to work on something of theirs for pay. I’d love to make money off this, I would. I’m still a college kid who has no idea what to do with life and this blog has offered a small spark of passion absent everywhere else in my life.
Truth is though, I don’t want to kill that passion by making my blog anything less than the labor of love it’s become. I’ve actually lost money paying for storage space. So, I’m operating at a loss, a fact I’m perfectly okay with. If Typhoon blows up, maybe I’ll be able to smugly say “Yeah, I knew about them before yadda yadda” and honestly I’d probably get some primal satisfaction from that. I could at least be proud of the fact. That’ll be enough payment. I earnestly want success for every small-time band that I find and love and I wish I had the capability to offer them more than a few hits.
In my rant, I was briefly talking to WeListenForYou (I assume Zach That?) and he dropped that he read my blog, among 200 others, daily. I want to say that that fact blew me away. Firstly that anyone I consider “big” read us at all was quite the surprise–I look up to WeListenForYou in a lot of ways–and second that anyone reads that much content in a day. I mean, I don’t even know how one would. My bookmarks are already separated by folders. I’m still probably just a noob on that front.
This probably carries on with my “why would anyone care” philosophy. I expect no one to care about my opinion because I don’t really care about anyone else’s. Pitchfork thought the new Toro Y Moi was better than Radiohead. I don’t care what they write, I think they’re wrong. It’s not a big deal though, as long as I get to enjoy the music and talk about it. Hell, I still don’t really know what they’ve got against Noah and the Whale.
In a reflection of my tirade, I’ve lost myself and my argument. A rambling, self-depreciating mess. Basically it comes down to this: I still don’t understand most of the “music scene.” I don’t understand where hipsters come from or why anyone cares about them. I still feel like a huge noob though because when I don’t like what everyone else does, it feels more like I’ve missed something than I’ve got an opinion. I don’t know why that is. Am I supposed to love the new Kurt Vile? It’s not bad, but I don’t love it. Am I not supposed to like Noah and the Whale? Why does everyone hate “5 Year’s Time” so much?
There’s a ton of these questions and there’s no real outlet. I’m afraid that having a blog has placed me in a position of authority–as if my taste is greater than the “normal folks'” because I can play with wordpress and have nothing better than to write a 2000 word tirade to Dido on repeat.
Or, wait, am I not supposed to like Dido?