Wild Nothing, Washed Out, Toro Y Moi, Yeasayer… The year is 2013 and the artists I’ve just mentioned colored my world with their music as my teens approached their final years. And how did I find these artists? Well, through a range of music blogs as that was considered the norm for any music fan back then. But now, the role of ‘curator’ and tastemaker in the music industry has been swiftly seized by streaming services and this promptly begs the question; should artists even give a f*** about music blogs?
There was a time where these entities would not only hold the power to potentially propel the career of an artist, but they also had the capacity to establish new genres (Chillwave is a great example). Even though their monopoly over the industry has severely diminished, the answer to the question above isn’t entirely black and white and that’s what makes it quite tricky. In this article, I’ll be taking you through in which ways blogs are still relevant to you as an artist, and what you actually shouldn’t give a river or ‘damn’ about concerning the blogosphere. But first, let’s take a look at how we got to where are today. You’re welcome to skip to the end if you’d like to know if you should or shouldn’t send your music to blogs.
What Happened to Music Blogs?
The Death of MP3 Blogs
The notion that streaming services have been a major influence on the downfall of blogs isn’t entirely the full story. Articles such as “Are Music Blogs Dying” by Breaking More Waves questioned the longevity of their impact – keep in mind that this was published is in 2012 and that wasn’t the only popular article circulating around the net during that period. The budding phase of ‘The Blog Era’ wasn’t entirely welcomed with open arms by the music industry. If music had entered its wild, Wild West post-Napster, the bloggers were definitely the new sheriffs. As 'The Blog Era' was on the rise it was common to find music blogs sharing MP3s they didn’t have permission for and a handful of blogs were notorious for regularly leaking music.
What did this lead to? For one, the recording industry stepped up its efforts in the battle against online piracy. In the late 2000s, copyright laws started getting enforced on the internet more strictly, and the MP3 download links stopped flowing so freely. Even Google swooped in and began shutting down a variety of popular music blogs without warning because – according to Google - they violated copyright law with their MP3 posts. Critics called it Musicblogocide 2010 and this particular event had writers quivering at the site of their peer’s demise.
Slowly but surely MP3 blogs began to dwindle especially since Google tightened their grip on copyright laws, however, this was only a particular breed of music blogs and in the early 2010s blogs in general were still regarded as important tastemakers. But then… Soundcloud enters the chat, and so does social media.
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Soundcloud and Social Media
These two forces decentralized the process of not only music discovery, but also made it easier for artists to engage with their fans and create more meaningful connections without a middleman. I can’t neglect to mention that the juggernaut MySpace had also withered out and the hysteria of emerging social media platforms had captured the zeitgeist. Artists from anywhere in the world were in a position to curate their own narrative (in real-time too). So, what would’ve been the point of getting the ‘inside scoop’ from a blog when you could get it directly from the artist?
In the intro I mentioned that I found a majority of my favorite artists on music blogs (specifically Last. Fm, Indie Shuffle, Earmilk), but ALL MY FRIENDS and the younglings discovered acts through Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and social media. You have no idea how cool I felt saying “yeah I found this on Indie Shuffle, you probably don’t know about it yet”. To this day, if you f*** with Indie Shuffle, it says a lot of good things about your taste in music – that’s just my opinion though.
The Rise of Streaming Services
Next, we were under the ‘reign’ of Soundcloud as they were in vogue and were breaking soon-to-be superstars through their platform. But this didn’t mean blogs were a sheer memory during the mid to late 2010’s. There were those that were able to exponentially escalate their popularity - such as the one you’re reading right now ;) – through providing a different experience for their audience. This meant that there were a handful of newcomers and ‘newly blossomed’ that had the potential to act as a launching pad for artists, but not with the kind of impact to fully dissolve the question “Are Music Blogs Dead?”…
As the ‘Streaming Service Era’ gradually ushered in during the turn of the decade, unfortunately Soundcloud drastically dwindled when it came to user count and as a business, the platform experienced its fair share of heart-wrenching woes which made it difficult for them to maintain their influence. That’s a story for another time though. If you’re one of the millions of people paying monthly for a streaming service, it would only make sense if that’s your primary source for discovery especially if that service presents you with music based on your taste.
We’re in a period where the new gatekeepers and tastemakers are driven by data and algorithms. Streaming services essentially came as the final blow to ‘The Blog Era’ and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Evolution is vital to help foster innovation in any industry. Platforms such as Spotify, Apple, and YouTube have bestowed upon us the gift of convenience at a time where attention is harder to retain and at a time where mobile apps have become a staple in our day-to-day lives.
Why You Should Give a F*** About Music Blogs...
A Deeper Connection
I stumbled upon an interview last month on XLR8R that passionately moved me, to the point where I began excitedly recommending the music from the interviewed artist WITHOUT HAVING HEARD ANY MUSIC from him. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? But hear me out… The artist’s name was Iglooghost (I highly advise you to check him out!) and this interview is among the most memorable interviews I’ve ever read. The way Iglooghost uses humor and his absurd personality to present his story as an artist is so relatable to people like me. By the end of the article the thought that was circulating around my head is “WHO – IS – THIS - GUY?!” I literally became fascinated by his artistry without even hearing how it sounds like or seeing any visuals.
This leads me to my next question; as an artist how can you lure the attention of the masses without the use of visuals or your music? Well, that’s through your story as an artist and what you stand for. And who is able to help effectively communicate that: the music blogs.
What appears to be lacking in the current music discovery process is deeper engagement, a human touch that escapes the AI. There are billions of people out there who don’t just care about listening to good music, but want to connect deeper and know more about their favorite artists and frankly speaking, music blogs facilitate that and even caters to audiences with thrilling stories that frequently aren’t present on social media. Sending music to blogs in 2021 with the intention of skyrocketing your streams or views is wishful thinking, there is honestly a trickling amount of outlets that yield that kind of influence just off a blog post alone. Start looking at them from a different lens… They are one of the few bridges that have the potential to get people to really care about your work, especially if the particular outlet is made up of highly esteemed writers who have music fans hanging onto their every word.
Relationships In the Music Industry
We had a release in the month of April on Stereofox Records that was included in a prominent playlist. “It happened by chance”, I thought to myself. But little did I know, my colleague was acquainted with someone who could make it happen because that person – here it comes – used to be a writer at a publication he engaged with regularly. I’m pretty sure you get where I’m going with this.
Building relationships with music lovers (regardless of what they do in the industry) will benefit your journey as an artist and is certainly worth the time especially during the come-up. EVERY artist has heard of the importance of networking in the music industry yet a large portion decides to continuously avoid making genuine connections with people. You never know what that blog, or particularly writer might turn out to be in the next couple of years. Connecting with writers is a great way to start learning how to network in an industry that rewards the ‘well-connected’, whether it be online or in real life. Let’s actually pause real quick – think about all the people in your life you’ve met through music. I bet at least 80% of them are cool motherfuckers that you’re grateful to be acquainted with. So why wouldn’t you want to make more connections like that in your life?
Spotify Playlists (Specifically Fresh Finds)
"It's an especially unique brand because it focuses on new-ish music—all the music that we feature in the playlist has been released at least a week prior. While New Music Friday and other playlists focus on music that's come out that week, Fresh Finds is combing blogs for patterns and paying attention to trendsetting users' listening behaviors."
The above is a quote from the Spotify website about their coveted Fresh Finds playlist and how they select tracks to feature on there. “Fresh Finds is combining blogs for patterns” – those are the words that stuck out ever so prominently in the quote as it heavily relates to this piece. This pretty much points out how a culmination of blog posts has the ability to influence your Spotify streams. Playlists such as Fresh Finds spotlight emerging artists (98% of artists featured have less than 50,000 monthly listeners) and have proven to be a formidable force in regard to launching careers.
According to a 2016 article by Quartz, “For the last few years, Spotify has been gathering data from music blogs and review sites, and culling out the most talked-about new artists.”
Don’t get me wrong though, just because you are killing it on Hype Machine (essentially a platform that collects the most recently posted songs from a selection of music blogs with the most popular landing on their main page) doesn’t mean you’re bound to end up on Fresh Finds.
Personally, I do think it is the quality of blogs and publications you’re landing on as an artist that makes all the difference. The fact that Spotify takes that into consideration hopefully helps you see the relevance of music blogs in 2021 along with the other points I’ve mentioned in the article.