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Blabbin' the Night Away
The rockcritics.com Music Blogger Symposium

By Scott Woods

If this sounds like a confession, so be it, but the idea to bring a few music critics together--virtually speaking, that is--to answer some questions about blogging was borne less out of unbridled enthusiasm for the medium than it was out of a mild but growing disenchantment. If it seems a bit premature to declare music blogs dead-in-the-water, it has nonetheless felt in the last couple years like the initial flurry of excitement across the you-know-what-o-sphere has diminished somewhat. Not to suggest that interesting arguments and lively discussions don't still erupt every now and again. Or that the obsessive-esoteric pursuits of certain bloggers aren't sometimes fascinating in and of themselves. Or that there is a single newsstand music 'zine today even half as engaging as the most inane online chatter. But something, and I don't know what exactly, has shifted on the ground--and not, in my opinion, in the best possible direction. Hence this symposium.

Perhaps it was inevitable that music blogs, after the initial buzz and howl phase (look ma, no word count!) would settle into a deeper, less noisy groove, but too often the settling in has felt like a retreat into the corner. (From a guy who's abandoned more blogs than he has fingers, trust me, this is not an admonishment so much as a lament.) Like I said, good, interesting things still happen in those corners, even if it does kinda resemble a high school dance, with participants in the various corners of the room doing little more than nodding at (if not altogether avoiding) one another. Or as David Moore from Cure for Bedbugs puts it, "For some reason a kind of individualist mindset has really taken hold in music blogs, like we're just here to watch the madmen and women raving from a polite distance."

Well, it's not all doom 'n' gloom. The five bloggers who participated in this symposium have the stick-to-it-iveness required of the medium (no small feat, given how many others have bailed), and make for thoughtful, provocative, and occasionally infuriating reading besides. I figured they'd each have a compelling long-range perspective on how they use the medium and why they do it (though speaking of "long range," I did have a chuckle at Simon Reynolds's off-the-cuff reference herein to a "veteran blogger"). I naturally would like to have included many other music blabbers of equal worth, and to have reached out to various subsets of online chatterboxes--i.e., the oft-cited MP3 crowd--but in the end, managing five responses for this feature seemed like an honest night's work and a reasonable enough sample to boot, at least as a starting point. And on that note, I have reprinted all the questions below the list of contributors, and I invite any bloggers reading this to throw in their own two cents worth (if you're Canadian, be sure to do it soon, before the penny embarks on its inevitable tailspin). If you e-mail your answers directly to me, I'll post them as an addendum to the symposium. If you post answers on your own blog, let me know and we'll provide a link. Don't be shy.

Many thanks to Maura, Rich, David, Simon, and Carl for agreeing to do this, and for keeping the online chatter lively and engaging.


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Contributors

* Maura Johnston is the editor of Idolator and blogs regularly at maura dot com.

* Rich Juzwiak grew up in South Jersey... and it shows. He currently writes fourfour and co-writes the VH1 Blog.

* David Moore is a teenpop correspondent for Stylus magazine and lapsed Pitchfork contributor. [See Dave Moore's blog: Cure for Bedbugs]

* Simon Reynolds writes about music for a living.

* Carl Wilson is a writer and editor at The Globe and Mail in Toronto, and a freelance critic whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Blender, Pitchfork, Slate and many Canadian publications. His work has twice been selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing annual anthologies (including the upcoming 2007 edition, edited by Robert Christgau), and he's made three presentations at the EMP Pop Conference in Seattle. His book for the 33 1/3 series, Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, examines Celine Dion as a case study in the gap between critical and mass tastes. Carl's blog, Zoilus has been in more-or-less continuous operation since late 2003. He lives in downtown Toronto.


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Jump to the survey topic of your choice:

1. Talk about your blog and how it has evolved over time. Why did you start to blog? What sorts of things do you do on your blog?

2. Is your blogging voice or the material you cover in your blog different than the voice you use or the material you cover in your professional music writing? If so, how?

3. What are your thoughts on comments boxes in blogs? Do you or don't you allow them, and why?

4. Is your blog a forum to converse with or critique other writers? If so, please recount one (or some) of your more memorable blog dialogs or critiques.

5. Would you agree that the back and forth conversational aspect of the music blogosphere has died down somewhat in the last few years? Any theories as to why?

6. A lot of music bloggers tend to start out with a lot of energy, then drop out altogether. You have kept at this for a while--what keeps you going, and are you ever tempted to just throw in the towel?

7. Do you think music blogs have any serious impact on record sales, or on how music is covered in newsstand publications?s

8. What would you like to see more of in the world of music blogs?t

9. What blogs, music or otherwise, do you most highly recommend?

10. Anything else you care to add?