Sunday, 19 August 2012

Are Music Blogs Dying ?

The unedited and rambling thoughts of a music blogger, written whilst taking some time out from constant new music blogging on summer holiday.

In 2008 when Breaking More Waves first started new music blogs were cropping up left right and centre. It seemed that every week another bunch of time rich kids in college or an unemployed man in his bedsit would be unleashing themselves onto the internet having decided that their taste in music or writing or both was exemplary. At the time music blogs were still seen as a threat by the certain parts of the music industry with many blogs posting MP3’s for download that they had no approval to share. At this time Breaking More Waves took a more cautious route and only posted You Tube videos or links to places where music could be heard officially – we’ve always believed in artist control and if an artist doesn’t want a track to be online then we respect that.  As a result we never received any DMCA takedown notices on the blog. 4 years on with the development of Soundcloud we do stream tracks, but only from official sources and have only received 1 takedown notice which was issued in error where a PR company gave us a track to stream exclusively without the knowledge of the American arm of the artists record label knowing.

Now many blogs act in a more responsible way and we believe are viewed by the industry in a favourable light. We’re working with artists not against them, often with no personal gain for ourselves as blog writers except the enjoyment of the music and the network of friends, bloggers, artists and industry types that we develop. Mp3 bloggers are by and large positive in their outlook – they’re not critics as such, but fans of the music they post.

But as music blogs have gained more credibility within the industry, by acting more responsibly, the question we’re asking is are music blogs dying ? There’s evidence to suggest that certainly the traditional MP3 blog is.

Here’s the evidence (for evidence in some cases read ‘not that well thought out theories’)

1.The lack of new start-ups

Many music blogs tend to be temporary. Once those time rich authors find less time available (usually ‘real life’ of work / relationships /children getting in the way) their blogs often come to a close. Yet in the past there has always been some hip new gunslinger of a blog to take over. However we’ve noticed in the last year there have been fewer and fewer new start-ups making a big impression. However maybe this is just us taking our eye off the ball. Having asked for some newly started music blog recommendations on twitter the likes of Alphabet Bands, LostLost Lost, Brapscallions and Beat Pyramid were amongst the relatively young contenders that got thrown up, although arguably none of these have really come to the forefront of the new music blogging scene yet (although they’re certainly in there battling it out).

2.The prevalence of free music elsewhere

Let’s face it, in the past many people hit up blogs for (often unauthorised) free MP3 downloads. With less downloads being made available and streaming services such as Spotify reducing the need for anyone to ever own music, blogs are not such an attractive proposition for many people. The landscape is changing.

3. There are so many ways to discover new music

A recent report by Nielsen of 3,000 online consumer surveys in the US found that 48% of those questioned discovered most new music through radio stations, 10% from friends and 7% from You Tube. The study also found that positive recommendations by a friend also had the biggest influence on what to buy with 54% of those questioned saying that they are more likely to buy music if a friend recommended it compared with 25% going by what is said on chat rooms or blogs. However 25% is still a decent statistic.

Blogs generally cater for a niche audience, so they’re never going to have the same appeal as say daytime Radio 1 in the UK, but it does seem to our eyes that blog influence on the public at large is pretty negligible, although having spoken to a number of record label and media representatives we do believe that blogs still act partly as step 1 influencers on the likes of radio and more traditional media as well as a filter for A&R types in industry. When a band gets a great reaction on the blogs you can guarantee that within a few weeks / months they’ll be picking up interest from others. Blogs are still a cog in the machine, albeit a small one.

4. Decreased traffic / hits

Over the last four years Breaking More Waves has seen a constant increase in visitors. Yet the last 6 months have seen this plateau and fall a little for the first time in our history. Some of this can be attributed to the likes of reduced one off visits from Hype Machine – last year we received a stupidly large amount of traffic from some of our posts on more commercial acts such as Lana Del Rey and Rizzle Kicks, both of whom we were lucky enough to be the first to post high profile MP3 streams of particular tracks from (Video Games and Down With The Trumpets) and this year we haven’t posted anything anywhere near as commercially successful. However we’ve noticed a few other bloggers also remarking that their traffic statistics have dropped (although other established blogs report increases), so it might just be that less people are reading.

We did a bit of digging and punched in some web sites to a few relatively unreliable site analytics tools and we found that many of the so called ‘big blogs’ are also having drops in traffic – and some of them actually aren’t getting anywhere near the number of hits we thought they would be getting. Whilst we’re talking statistics it’s also interesting to note that although the number of hits has dropped, the time spent and average number of pages that visitors look at on Breaking More Waves continues to marginally increase, suggesting that those who do visit enjoy what they get.

5. Buzz blogging

Buzz blogs are killing great blogging. That’s our view. Blogs that repost videos or MP3’s as soon as they are released (often without even listening to the music themselves first) mean that the more traditional blog that likes to give some sort of commentary to what it is posting is often seen as irrelevant and out of date – such is the way the speed of the internet works. We’ve got to a point now where phrases such as ‘sorry I’m so slow to post this’ about a new track that has been online less than 24 hours is being written on blogs. Really ? 24 hours? Too slow? Is that all the attention span music fans have now? Maybe this is part (but not all) of the root cause of why music blogs are dying. There’s no real sense of love, no sense of fandom from buzz blogs authors, it's just here's a song, play it. Blogs shouldn’t have to apologise for being ‘late’ in posting something, especially if they’ve got something interesting to say, possibly even moving the conversation about the song or artist forward.  But, why should anyone care about what someone else has to say about music if blogs are just seen as things that have nothing to say at all?

6. Blogs just aren’t sexy anymore

But then we were never really sexy in the first place. Or were we? Go on, tell us that you still find us desirable. Tell us that we still fulfil your fantasies. Tell us that we still turn you on. Maybe if we dress up in different underwear you'll like us again ? OK, we’ll stop there before we actually give up and write a sex blog instead. Actually that might be quite fun…. Fifty shades of Breaking More Waves perhaps?

So what is the future for music blogging ?

We’ve been asked this question a number of times by various people and our answer is always the same. We have no idea - and anyone who pretends they do is usually found lacking in vision a few years on. But taking a wild stab in the dark we’d say that traditional MP3 blogs are slowly dying. They’re not going to disappear yet and probably won’t vanish fully, but in the same way that old fashioned paper based fanzines have largely disappeared we can imagine a time when as MP3 blogs call it a day and new ones won’t replace them – it seems to be happening a little already. For whatever reason there seems less enthusiasm for music blogging.

However we do believe that blogs that do something different, or that have something interesting to say will win out. If blogs, as a channel of new music discovery die, we believe people will still want to be entertained with opinions, knowledge, personality and humour. We also believe that there are music fans out there who will want to write about their passion in some form, irrespective of the number of people reading and that there are similar minded music fans who will want to read about it. It just might not be in the form it is now. Breaking More Waves started out as a paper fanzine (called Breaking Waves of course) and when the time was right it became a blog. We’re pretty sure that at some point we’ll evolve again, but we’ll still want to talk about our passion. Anyone who has ever been down the pub for a drink with us will know that at some point the conversation will turn to music and this blog is just an extension of that conversation. Seriously if only one person read Breaking More Waves (hi reader) we’d still write it.

The statistics from our own blog give weight to this opinion; some of our most viewed posts are our more discursive articles rather than our standard ‘here’s a song, it’s quite amazing’ type post. It suggests that there’s an audience / community for debate, discussion and conversation about music and that debate will last longer than blogs that promote themselves solely as tastemakers in new music discovery.

The internet is a strange beast. No one knows where things are going 100%. But we’re pretty sure that music blogs in their traditional form are slowly dying. We’d welcome your comments on this via twitter or below.

Updated 23rd August 2012 - The Recommender blog posted a counter view to our own which helps show the other side of the debate. It's worth checking out and then reading our response in the comments section below. Have a look by clicking this link here.


Christopher McBride said...

Amongst the myriad of reasons for starting my blog last year (including of course, a love of music), was that there wasn't many music bloggers from Belfast/NI. From what I can tell, there are only 2 Belfast based music blogs listed on the Hype Machine (myself included), so I saw the need for more people from my neck of the woods to get into the blogging game. From the feedback I've got since then, it seems that it's been a worthwhile endeavor.

Originally I tended to fall into the 'post it first or not at all' category, which was due to my worry about other music blogs feeling like I'd 'stolen' music off them. Thankfully I've matured since then.

As long as there's fans of music, then there will still be a need for music bloggers.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I think the immediate future of new music blogging will be the instant repost scenario - twitter, tumblr etc but these blogs will eventually die out because their authors won't be able to sustain the level of speed that is required to keep their blogs up to date.

In the longer term I think blogs will diversify further into 2 types - fully grown music websites like the 405 has or more personal blogs that specialise in one genre that have a core fanbase

Anonymous Music Blogger said...

Unless one has dreams of being the biggest and best music blog on the web, bloggers have to go back to basics and post music they love, not what they think everyone wants to hear/what will bring in the most hits. If we bloggers go at it McDonald's style, we're destined for redundancy and eventual failure.

Ghost FM said...

You usually write insightful posts. I've been following BMW for almost three years now. Our tastes are quite different but maybe that's why I've been following you.

I can't agree more on this pointless phenomenon of buzz blogs. Some of their most important ones on Tumblr (think you already know their names) have kept me wondering. They have the public blogosphere appeal and I’ve even seen Pitchfork referring to them. So I delved a bit deeper on their posts and the way they handle the updates. At the end of the day I could conclude that: Okay if I love to follow, let’s say, 120 artists on the internet and stay updated with whatever they do, I can perfectly do it by following them all on my Twitter or Facebook. In fact that’s what I’m doing.

So if I take some time on my social network site (it may take less than an hour) to just click “like” on my favorite musicians, I’m already the first to know. I got notified about the new DOOM album yesterday before a buzz blog tells me about it. Couple months ago The Hives played a secret free show in Stockholm, they posted about it only few hours before the performance. Next thing I know, I was there without the help of a “this is dope” blog telling me to go. So what’s the point of a sociopath sitting behind his/her laptop and telling me what to listen to? In case of traditional music blogs though it’s a different story.

I have been following most recognized traditional music blog for years now. I’m a big fan of 20 Jazz Funk Greats (irreplaceable and so alien). I also love Said the Gramophone’s philosophy. I’m also in contact with some tumblogs with special taste on a daily basis on my twitter. But the reason I follow them is not because they only post music. It’s also how they motivate their posts and personalize them. If I like Mark Richardson, I’m interested to know how he feels about Silver Jews’ American Water. And so goes all other terrific writers. Sometimes they are really convincing. I couldn’t find anything appealing about Pavement until I actually sat down and read their reviews here and there.

But the reason I’m writing you this comment is my own state of mind on music blogging. I’ve been doing this since 2007. In 2010 I changed my blog completely and switched to tumblr with a different name because I had lost the incentive to go on. I haven’t been that intermittent in posting but looking at the new era in music sharing and listening (Spotify, listening rooms such as, Soundcloud and recently and how music has become easily accessible to everyone, mostly at a very low affordable monthly price, I honestly don’t know what I’m doing. Afloat swimming, I receive submissions every day. I share the ones I like and write about them as much as I can despite being very busy with my studies, job applications and thesis work. But when I give it a deeper thought I lose the reason behind all this. Eventually, my blog is mostly a reflection of my ideas about people who are nice enough to send music to me.

I have spoken to a few friends. And believe me when I say there are only a few of them. Most of my real-life friends have no idea what I’m writing about. But I’d like to know if there is any next step which I’m willing to take. I have been talking about a minimal music-related service to some software / web developers but we end up in denial if we could add any competitive advantage to what Spotify and GrooveShark are doing. (The latest good idea has been This Is My Jam!) So for know I’m just an observer. I know I’m not helping much with my own music blog, but at least I let my own audience hear what I think is cool. But I’m also curious to see how it turns out for music sharing. I’m a Spotify fan myself and have nothing against that. And then despite being completely against the idea of buzz-blogging, deep inside I feel music has to be personal and “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” which is contradictory to what I’m doing. But thanks for bringing this up.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks for the comments guys, very insightful (there's also been a lot of feedback on twitter)

In summary what seems to be coming across loud and clear is

1. Bloggers have to post music that they love - unless they are chasing some bigger dream of being the biggest blog on the planet (and frankly that's unlikely to happen now, they've missed the boat).

2. Buzz blogs and tumblr driven sights with reposting etc are probably the way of the future for now, but most bloggers (who have made comments on twitter and the few comments here) don't actually think that much of them and as Ghost FM said, it's pretty easy to set up all the info you need from a few social networking sites then you don't even need to rely on those sort of blogs.

3. The vast majority of people (or at least bloggers) do think that blogs are on a slightly downward trend both in terms of content and visitors - but this also applies to traditional paper media as well.

Tim said...

Interesting article as ever Robin.

I don;t think music blogs themselves are in decline, but there are certainly less new blogs starting up these days. I think that may have something to do with market saturation though than anything else - most niches and locations are covered pretty well, so you would need a different more personal reason to start a music blog.

It's also just not that easy to get your new blog known these days. There's a lot more hoops to jump through, and a lot of noise that it is tough to climb through.

The rise of tumblr and twitter are another reason. Many bloggers started writing to discuss music with people wider than their local friendship group - and blogging was one of the few ways to do that a few years ago. Now there is tumblr and twitter, where many such discussions take place. I've noticed manny music forums dying as well as the discussions have moved to these platforms.

I think blogs are here to stay, but they aren't the complete antithesis to the industry they once were. The industry has changed to embrace digital and social better, and the blogs have changed to help artists more. And the two are meeting somewhere in the middle, which makes it a little less exciting I suppose.

xtf said...

While I'm interested in some of the music you write about, our tastes differ a lot. Or, more accurately, I choose to spend the majority of my time listening to other types of music (I'm mostly into hardcore punk, post-rock, screamo, etc.), so a can't afford to pay attention to all your articles.

However, both of us love music and love thinking, talking, and writing about music and the music scene. So, naturally, your "more discoursive" articles that are not tied to some specific artist or genre attract my attention.

Perhaps that's the reason why these posts of yours are the most popula.. Thanks to the internet those of us who love music form our own tastes and stay informed about what's going on with the artists we enjoy. However, we still have the need to share our love for music.

I'd even argue that the internet may have made it harder for us. In the past we were more limited had less options to develop a truly unique taste, so it was easier to find common topics of discussion with our offline friends. But now that we can indulge ourselves endlessly, it becomes more difficult to meet someone with the same interests, and blogs like this one are the only option.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks for the comments (again)

Tim - yes agree - tumblr and twitter have changed the landscape and new blogs struggle to gain a voice (maybe because the 'market' is already saturated)

It'll be fascinating to see in the next 5 years how the blog landscape changes - inevitably some well known blogs will fold (most likely because of the dreaded 'I haven't enough time' excuse) and I suspect there will be less new start ups. Who knows what other developments will be round the corner as well, but as I said in the post (and a lot of people have commented on twitter) even if the golden age of blogs as real 'influencers' on the likes of record labels is over, there will always be people (I suspect I'm one of them) who will want to write / communicate about the music that they love in some form or other.

XTF thank you - it's a real honour to know that people who have different taste in music still pop by and read my blog now and then, particularly the discursive articles. They always get a reaction and (having just checked the stats) this particular post has got the most amount of reads of anything I've posted in the last month or so - with no Hype Machine mp3 embed etc, so I'm glad that people have engaged with it.

Todd said...

It's a very clustered market now, I started in November 2010 and traffic grew up until 2 months ago and now I've seen quite the decline. I still grind everyday because music is my passion, but I've seen ton of blogs give up in the almost two years I've existed. Great read, thought you hit some valid points. I think blogs will be around, but its finding a way to truly be different from everyone. I've been lucky to have some cool opportunities with my blog so far.

Tara said...

Really great post! I started my first music blog in 2007, and that was for two reasons - 1, that I like to write and wanted to improve my writing, and 2, that none of my friends liked the music I did and it was nice to have a forum to share my enthusiasm for whatever I happened to be listening to/discovering.
It wasn't as though I had all that many readers, and I guess that it was more for me. Then during this past year, my first year of uni, my sporadic essay-style posts grew even less frequent than normal, and I decided at the beginning of this summer to start over on a new blog.

I still don't have a huge following or anything like that, I just like to write about what I'm listening to if I like it. It started as just music I happened to like, but I certainly write about stuff I get in my inbox too if I actually enjoy it. As for buzz blogging, I entirely agree that mediums like Twitter and Facebook are better suited to it, but you might as well get the latest news from the artists themselves. On my blog's Facebook and Twitter I'll often share links/videos of new tracks etc, but if I'm writing about something on the actual blog it's never "the latest track" or whatever so much as "this is what I'm listening to and why I like it".

As many others have said, while I have no idea what the future of music blogging is, I suppose the ones that will hopefully remain are the ones that write to share their enthusiasm for the subject. They're always the ones that are more interesting to read and you'll keep going back to, anyway.

Scott said...

I know that no one likes to discuss this but money is a big part of the equation here (ad revenue). The name-worthy music blogs that came up in the second wave of music blogging (2004-2005) are either making decent to great ad revenue, have been bought-out, or they're in the same place they were seven years ago (or longer for some). So you're not going to see a lot of great original content from new bloggers because it's already been taken care of elsewhere. Sites like Stereogum, Hipster Runoff, Brooklyn Vegan, etc. can discuss music for a living. They were in the right place at the right time. That sounds like an awesome way of life, but those slots are all taken. The ad value of 99% of music blogs is next to nothing.

I like that music blogging has hit a plateau because it pulls the veil away from the notion that blogs are a necessity to artists, record labels and PR companies, but in reality they just aren't -- they're for fans. If you have an inkling of curiosity about Jessie Ware's background or the next Peaking Lights video you certainly don't need a music zine or blog to discover that info or find that content. As music bloggers, we've mainly cluttered the internet with spam and digital trash. Music that is personal to us, but to others...probably a complete waste. Sorry to be a pill about this, but the less music blogs the better.

Now's the time to really think about what defines our music blogs, why we think people care, and why we do it in the first place. What value do you place on it? There have been many times where I've been tempted to shut it down for good.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...


Some great points there - particularly about blogs being for fans not artists.

In response here's my thoughts

1. This blog (like many others) is essentially a fan blog - but a fan blog that believes that the music I love others may also love. And I enjoy leaving 'digital trash' over the internet that others may enjoy from time to time - yeah sure a lot of it will be a waste / spam but hopefully every now and then someone will find a gem or at least entertain them with something I've written.

2. Although essentially this post was suggesting that in the long run traditional MP3 blogs will become a dying breed at this point in time I do still believe (unlike yourself) that they do hold some value to PR companies and artists. I've been directly involved with a couple of emerging artists who I have got to know personally through initially writing about them and they have absolutely valued the increased exposure and plays that the blogging community has given their music. In fact in at least one case it has inspired them to create more music knowing there is an outlet where it can be heard, and that artist is now getting gig bookings and label interest partly through getting their music out through blogs. That's not to say that it's all down to blogs - there's other factors at play as well, but certainly blogs have helped be a cog in the machine.

However I do still believe that in 5 years time the new music blog landscape will be different and that you're right - bloggers need to consider why they're doing it in the first place. If it's for money, those chances are long gone, if it's to get a job in the music industry, it's a possibility but really is working in the music industry at this point in time a great idea when its having to slim down so much ? Or is it because you want to boost your ego with being seen as a 'tastemaker' well that's fine I guess if your ego needs boosting - mine doesn't.

But my reason (and it seems from the majority of comments here and on twitter today / yesterday, others reason as well) is simply to write about the things that we love - be it old music, new music (my speciality and obsession) and such like. It's why on this blog you'll find me posting quite regularly about particular artists that I'm a fan of as well as music festivals (my other obsession). I also like a good conversation / debate about music and it's why I post this type of article - it usually gets people talking. None of this is particularly unique but I do write it with my own voice (the above post for example was written in one stream of consciousness rush with no edits) and I love it when I meet people 'in real life' who have read my blog who say that I talk and am just like my blog - (occasionally humourous, sometimes strong minded but always with balance in my arguments, plenty of dodgy sexual puns and reasonably thoughtful). So that's kind of what definesd my blog - it's just an extension of me and that's good enough to place value on !

Tara - yes I fully agree that the most interesting blogs are the ones that share their enthusiasm - and like you they are the ones I go back to.

ExBlogger / Deleted said...

As a recently retired music blogger I noticed a drop in my traffic in the last year or so. Some of this was because I wasn't posting as often but also because as you say people weren't hitting me up for the free MP3's possibly without consent that I used to give away a few years back.

Very valid point about those with plenty of spare time writing music blogs. One of the reasons I slowed and eventually stopped posting was first 1 then 2 young chidren in my household. Suddenly blogging took a back seat when I became a family man.

Anonymous said...

Music blogs have been dead for the last 3 years.

The likes of Stereogum, Gorilla vs Bear etc have the monopoly everyone else is just fighting for a tiny bit of space.

Scryst said...

Great piece - seen you getting a bit a flack on twitter for writing this - but I really enjoyed reading it.

Not sure that every 'buzz blog' as you call it posts things without listening to it first though - think that's a bit harsh.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Scryst - thanks - you're right I probably have been a bit harsh here though - I'm sure most 'buzz blogs' do listen before posting.

Anonymous said...

Only just found this piece.

Lot's of interesting discussion - what I'd like to know is are you personally worried that your traffic stats have dropped - are you worried about music blogs not being relevant any more?

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Worried ? No. I have much bigger things to worry about – real life stuff – keeping my job, looking after my family and friends etc etc.
However I’d be a liar if I said I’d be a bit disappointed if no one was reading the blog – however traffic would have to drop a hugely before that happens. As long as someone is reading I’m happy – this isn’t a business so I don’t have any pressure to keep stats up, and I don’t have to inflate my ego by being ‘one of the biggest / coolest blogs out there’. The blog reaches whatever natural audience it finds and that’s great.
As for ‘relevancy’ I ‘ve seen this word banded around a lot recently. (I think Hipster Run-Off have started some sort of debate on it??) Not sure what it means or if I care for it in the terms of blogging. I just write about the music I like irrespective of its relevant or not – it’s all relevant to me and that’s the important thing. It’s a cliché but if someone else likes it that’s a bonus.

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