Music Blogger Symposium
7. Do you think music blogs have any serious impact on record sales, or on how music is covered in newsstand publications?
Yeah, I think it's obvious that "blog buzz" has interacted with things like "the Pitchfork effect" etc. in putting a lot of indie rock, psych-folk etc etc on the map. Mentioning blog reaction is a routine part of how one pitches a professional story now. It's not always a salutary impact but it's an impact. Oddly the result has been partly to "Britannize" North American music culture, which now follows the rapid rise-and-fall cycles that people long mocked the NME etc for causing. But that's internet music culture as a whole, of which blogs are only a part.
I don't think blog style has had much impact on mainstream journalism, however--partly because it's difficult to translate to print (they're different media) and partly because any style that was evolving as a signature of the blog scene got lost in the breakdown of dialogue I noted above. Blogs now are maybe snappier and more sarcastic than mainline newsstand writing but that's hardly in contradiction to the snarky-soundbite trend that's long been evident in mainstream entertainment writing. The intellectualism and experimentalism didn't last long enough to become influential.
Naw, they just help streamline piracy. I'm kidding--kind of. I don't know the answer to this, but I'm sure if the answer is yes, it's tangled in the minutae of the long tail and who has the patience to parse it out of that? I can say that personally, I'm not really interested in telling people, "Buy this" or "Skip this," because reviews rarely have such an effect on me. I think that every piece of pop culture is worth experiencing, even if you end up hating it. Criticism can steer you in new and different directions, but its main function in these access-heavy times is, I think, as a conduit for discourse. I said above that a lot of people would think it ridiculous to call criticism art, but I'm not one of those people. This probably sounds like it makes for lofty and maybe alienating posts, but I don't think that has to be the case, as long as your voice is as clear and tangible as possible.
I see SoundScan numbers every week, and while you could argue that some bands' promotional pushes might be helped by their being
mentioned on music blogs, the music blog world does not at all have the impact that Pitchfork has at this point. There's also the chicken/egg idea: The concept of the "promo MP3"--the MP3 that is sent to MP3 bloggers and is legal to post for "hey this record is coming out" purposes--serves to focus bloggers' energies/bring the blog world more in line with other marketing efforts. This has resulted in the charts on elbo.ws and the Hype Machine top 10 being generally populated by a crowd of usual suspects--right now it's Iron & Wine and Animal Collective, for example. There hasn't been a band that's been "broken" by blogs in a long while, and I'd argue that the efforts by labels and promotional companies to work with bloggers/make sure that they aren't distributing entire albums over the Internet piecemeal is a big reason for that. While I understand the labels' reasoning behind that, I do think it dampens enthusiasm/makes it a lot more difficult for bands to spontaneously erupt from the underground.
I doubt it, sales wise. I think bloggers certainly helped to get grime and dubstep noticed, in terms of mainstream coverage, and they helped to spread knowledge of the scene across the world. The strain of poptimist writing probably encouraged a more respectful attitude towards pop music and to genres that rock critics have generally not given much attention to. But then again, that kind of generalist, non-partisan approach to pop writing was catching on at a professional level: there were particular critics doing it prominently at various magazines and newspapers. So you might say the poptimist bloggers were influenced by those writers as much as the other way around. It was more like a Zeitgeist thing within criticism on all levels, in response to changes in music.
To the extent that a blog is an arm of a PR group, it doesn't interest me very much, even if I don't deny these blogs' importance in the scheme of everyday music advocacy. I go to the Internet to talk about music, and I see increasing record sales etc. as a kind of outgrowth of the need to talk, not vice versa. Fluxblog has long been a pretty good example of the interdependency of these ideas, advocacy and chat, but I wouldn't go there if I didn't want to read what Matthew Perpetua was actually writing first. I understand the need for blogs to keep up with what's going on, but I don't understand why so often this seems to be completely incompatible with writing anything that's actually worth reading.
The "professionalization" of the blogosphere toward what amounts to a big network of cable news tickers is disheartening. And frankly I don't think print publications have learned a thing from blogs (blogs probably learned much more from print music journalism and fanzines). I'm not sure if BLOGS have learned a thing from blogs; mostly I just read what my LiveJournal friends are posting and call it a day. The number of times I've learned anything or even particularly enjoyed myself in front of a printed piece of music journalism in the past few years is very low. Not unheard of by any means, but it suggests to me that no blog or site that I actively respond to regularly online is having much of an impact in print, except the (very) occasional crossover of a select few authors.
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