Friday, 31 January 2014

24 Hour Blogathon : Breaking More Waves Interviews Alphabet Bands

So here we are just 3 hours into our 24 hour charity blogathon for Cancer Research and right now we're taking a short break for lunch and a stretch of the legs. (Don’t forget you can sponsor us here). Whilst we do so we’re publishing something that we haven’t done for around the last 5 years – an interview.

If you read our earlier introduction post to what we’re doing today you may recall that we’re not doing this blogathon alone. For over in the east of England our blog brother and all round good chap Adam from Alphabet Bands blog is doing exactly the same. A team effort seems somehow far easier than flying solo in this case and at least when we get to 4.30am we know there will be someone else we can chat to to keep the spirits up.

And talking of chat, here’s that interview and who better for a lunch time chin-wag with than the other member of this blogathon. Here we talk to Adam about music, blogging and if he’s ever seen a popstar naked in real life. And if you nip over to Adam's blog, with a bit of luck at the same time this post goes up there will be an interview with Breaking More Waves over there!

Hi Adam

First of all, can you tell me a bit about Alphabet Bands. How did it come into being and why you decided on the name? Also how often do you post?

Back in the day I used to write short fiction, just for myself but people I shared it with seemed to like it. I never did anything with it (though a little of it is viewable here) and I was quite lazy with it as well. As a writing exercise, to get me into the habit of writing regularly, I started a blog. I’d seen a few people online talking about finding a new band they’d never heard of for each letter of the Alphabet and, and with nothing else to write about, thought that would be a good subject for the blog.

So the site was originally called The Alphabet Bands Challenge. This was back in early 2010. From there I quite quickly got a job writing about music for an American pop culture site, 411 Mania and ABC died a quick but painless death.

After the birth of my second child in late 2011 I decided to give 411 a rest but still wanted to write. So I repurposed ABC as Alphabet Bands and decided to focus on new music rather than just bands I’d not heard of and here we are two and bit years later, posting usually once or twice a day Mon-Fri with the occasional weekly round-up or bonus article at the weekend.

From the music you post on Alphabet Bands you share at least a reasonable degree of similarity in taste to Breaking More Waves. Bloggers are deluged with new music and never have enough time to listen to everything, so how do you go about deciding what to post and what not to post? I’m interested if your processes are similar to mine as sometimes we both end up posting the same things.

It might sound quite flippant but I don’t have a process as such. Like you I get sent an inordinate amount of music each day and it can be pot luck as to which ones I get to or not. Recently I have tried to look more at mails from bands rather than PRs, though there are still some who I know will always send quality stuff so it’ll be worth listening to, and do try to give as much as possible at least one listen.

I don’t spend as much time as I would like to going though SoundCloud or Bandcamp looking for new acts, but I do find the ‘related tracks’ on SoundCloud to be a great source of new stuff. I also go by recommendations, be it from yourself or others whose opinion I trust and whose tastes are close to mine. 

Artists who I have formed a good relationship with will occasionally tell me to check people out, be it someone they know, work with or just think are great, for example. In fact, I need to get round to writing about a guy from the States who was recommended to me by A Weekend At The Feelies soon as well.

We’ve had conversations in the past about blog ‘size’ / traffic / hits etc. Most bloggers will say that if you’re doing it for traffic you’re doing it for the wrong reason. But there’s also an argument that says the ‘bigger’ your blog the more help you are to the bands that you write about which could be the right reason. Where do you sit on the ‘blog traffic argument?’

This is actually a difficult question to answer because I am quite schizophrenic when it comes to hits etc.

I do think that if you are doing it purely for hits then you are in it for the wrong reasons, and have said as much in the past. However, I do recognise that the more widely read you are the greater impact you can potentially have for a new artist. Also, it is nice to know that, when you have put a lot of effort into something, people are actually reading it.

Alphabet Bands is quite a small site, would I like it to be bigger? Of course I would but that doesn’t mean I am losing sleep over traffic or ways to generate more interest. It’s nice to know that people are reading it but it’s more important to me that I keep enjoying it (I do) and that it can help a new artist in some way.

I’d much rather get an email from a band saying thank you and telling me how much of a difference it has made. The other week a band I’d written about told me that not only had they got an increase in sales because of my post (people actually told them they’d discovered them on Alphabet Bands) but that they were also going to be working with another band they had found on my site themselves. That to me is worth so much more than thousands of page views.

Blogging can be a lot of fun and very rewarding, but like me you have a career and a young family, so (I guess) like me you’re time restricted. How do you keep it going?

Caffeine and the constant exposure of new tunes to my kids throughout the day.

I tend to write in the late evening but will be listening to stuff during the day to help prepare what I want to say in my mind. Work is quite good about people putting headphones in so I can listen to a reasonable amount on my phone and I will have music on a lot at the weekend.

The kids don’t always like what I play mind you but thanks to my love of Public Service Broadcasting, my daughter knows more about Everest than any four year old really should.

As I said it can also be very rewarding. Looking back over the last few years, what have been the most rewarding things you’ve gained from writing Alphabet Bands?

There’s been so much, it’s hard to know where to start.

Thanks to Alphabet Bands I have met and got to know some incredible people, band, artists, bloggers, promoters and others connected within the industry in some way. I’ve spent time with some of my favourite acts in the world, put on a gig and curated a stage at an international music festival. I’ve been asked to go on the radio a few times and talk about tunes and been asked to judge talent competitions.

All of that is amazing but honestly, the most rewarding thing is when a band tells you you’ve made a difference to them. Just last week I had an email from an artist telling me he was about to play his first show and that he felt it wouldn’t have happened without me posting about his music a few months before. That and knowing that people are discovering and buying music because I have written about it is an incredible feeling and that’s what I am proudest of.

I’m always jealous of your writing on the blog. It’s very eloquent. A lot of blogs seem to just post a couple of lines (or even less than that) and then a tune, whilst you’re more wordy. What are your thoughts on content on blogs – how or what to write?

That’s very kind of you to say, thank you. I do appreciate comments like that because I do like to take some time when I am writing.

I’m of the opinion that good music makes you not only feel something, but see something too, and that is what I try to convey; emotions, sensations and imagery. When writing I just want to do the music justice and I’m sorry, but you can’t do that simply by embedding a track and saying ‘it’s great’ or in some instances, saying nothing at all. If you just embed a tune you’re not a blog, you’re just a third rate SoundCloud. It took a lot of effort to make the song, pay the artist some respect and at least say something about it.

I’m going to get a little bit ranty now and I apologise for that, but I do get pissed off by sites that post with next no commentary. Not because it is easy to do or because they get more traffic than Alphabet Bands does, but because these blogs have somehow convinced bands that not only is this approach acceptable, but it is a good thing.

It is not a good thing. Bands should not be posting links to two lines of text that say ‘here’s a new track by [band]. We really like it’ and talking about what kind/good/sweet/amazing review it is. But they do, time and time again and I think that is pretty awful really. That bands have been conditioned to not only be grateful for shitty no-content ‘reviews’ but be actually excited about getting them. That’s just sad. They deserve more and they should demand it.

There’s been a lot of talk about the death of the printed press over the last few years. Quite a few publications have folded and even once-giants like the NME are losing readers hand over fist. It can be argued that blogs are partly responsible for the death of the printed press. What do you think about this?

It would be churlish to suggest that music blogs have not had an effect on the printed press or music journalism as a whole. The best example I can think of to illustrate this changed world is when Radiohead released King Of Limbs and so many publications live reviewed as they listened for the first time because they knew they couldn’t afford to give it time and form a proper opinion. The reviews were poorly written and largely offered an opinion that would be changed a few listens after, but blogs were posting left right and centre and if the likes of The Guardian, NME and everyone else waited and did it properly, they’d get a small proportion of the web traffic they no doubt got.

That said, I think the NME in particular has to accept responsibility for its own downfall. It seems to believe in its legacy more than its relevance. They saw off the likes of Melody Maker and Select to be the last new music publication standing, but they act like they still are. No, there are hundreds of outlets now and they are constantly evolving and unearthing new music, while NME is sticking dead icons on the cover week after week and being forced into publishing ‘New Music - special editions’. Surely every issue should be a new music special because that is what they are supposed to be all about.

You can see that social media and online content is massive for NME, but they have embraced crowdsourcing to fill their articles, not to find and share music. Frankly, the NME is the last place I would look right now to find a new band and that is a pretty damming indictment really.

Do you read other music blogs? If so can you tell me some of your favourites?

Well, there’s yours obviously Robin. But there I quite few others I really like and will read when I can. An obvious passion for music is a must for me when reading blogs, which is why I go to people like We Listen For You, Von Pip, Gold Flake Paint, Poule D’or, Drunken Wearwolf, Some Of It Is True, Disco Naiveté, Just Music I like, I Found Music and A New Band A Day

There are others of course.

Do you have any plans to do anything more with the blog? Quite a few bloggers start record labels, gig nights and venture into other areas of music. Any plans for you to do so?

There are no plans for a label, enticing as it is, but there will be more Alphabet Bands Presents... gig nights, if only because Norwich still gets missed off tour schedules quite often and it is a way of getting to see bands I adore play live in my City. I’m talking to a couple of bands and hopefully there will be a couple of gigs in the coming months.

OK, enough talk of blogging let’s talk about music a little bit more. Something I’ve noticed is that for some people music is hugely important in their formative years (late tweens, early twenties) but as they get older it stops being so. Whereas certainly for me it’s as important, maybe even more important now than it ever has been. As you write a blog, I guess the same applies for you. So why do you think music is so important and why does it stop being important for others?

I don’t think it ever stops being important, I just think people don’t always have the time to devour it like they used to. In my teens I was all about music, reading magazines, going to gigs, sharing tunes with friends, listening to Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq on Radio1 etc etc. When I got older and got out to work, music started to play less of a role in my life but it was purely circumstantial. I never stopped loving it or wanting to hear new stuff, I just stopped having the time. In all honesty, I had a long fallow period which only properly ended when I started writing about music a few years ago.

Why is music important? Music has the power to affect you in a way that no other medium can. It can change or enhance your mood, bring tears to your eyes or joy to your heart. It can spark a memory and emotion, it can infuriate or excite, fill you with confidence, make you want to dance, to run or just to sit, relax and take it all in. Music can send a shiver down your spine and bring two people closer together. It can make a group of strangers have the best night of their lives and is a universal language that you will never forget.

I love it and a world without music isn’t worth living in.

Desert Island Discs Time – 10 songs you’d take with you please.

Don’t make me choose! No, seriously.

There are just so many that I love and couldn’t do without that it is too difficult to narrow it down to just ten. I could write you out a list and by the time you’ve finished reading it I will have changed my mind. What I can say though is that there are two songs that will always appear on my top 10; Sometimes It Snows In April by Prince and David Bowie’s Life On Mars.

You’re based in Norwich – what’s the music scene like there? (Admission – I’ve only ever been to Norwich once but I did go to the Waterfront to see Mega City Four play there!)

It’s vibrant, bustling, thriving and other clichéd adjectives of course. In all honesty though, it is. Norwich may be a small city but there is always a lot going on and we have some cracking venues like the Arts Centre, Open (with its club room and massive main hall for bigger shows), The Waterfront (go Mega City Four!), The UEA, The Bicycle Shop (which is great for folk tunes), The Birdcage, Olives and the Brickmakers and Hog In Armour for your more rock based stuff. There are many more pubs and bars that have the occasional gig night as well and even our independent cinema, Cinema City, has fortnightly acoustic shows.

Mind you, we have a fantastic amount of great bands and artists to play all these venues and the scene in Norwich is quite diverse. Acts like Olympians, Port Isla, Milly Hirst, The Wooden Arms, Mega Emotion, Raevennan Husbandes, Lisa Redford, Box of Light, Psalms and others are all getting national and international attention, recognition and airplay for example. And that is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

There are a number of small labels and promoters operating out of the city, and a couple of online music magazines too. Then of course there is our community radio station, Future Radio, which plays a lot of new and alternative music so all in all, we are quite spoilt really.

In fact, it is probably more difficult to find a night when you can’t go and see some fantastic music in one of our many venues.

How do you listen to music (I don’t mean with your ears!). More in what forms do you play music? Are you a vinyl junkie, or a laptop and MP3 freak?

MP3’s mostly, just because it’s easier to listen to them during the day be it on my phone at work (with a reasonable pair of headphones), or on the iPod dock at home. I can then copy them onto CD as well to play in the car when driving to and from work but when I have more time (and when the record player isn’t broken) I do like to sit back and listen to vinyl. I like having a physical thing to enjoy, sleeve notes to read and artwork to enjoy alongside the music itself.

And finally....

Do you like sardines?


What is the most interesting word you know?


Have you ever wondered what it’s like to sleep in a coffin?

No, have you?  (Er, no, not until I asked this question)

Have you ever seen a popstar naked?

Not in person, no.

And finally, as we’re doing this blogathon, and are likely to be pretty shattered, what are your top tips for staying awake later today / tonight?

Caffeine, regular mini breaks from the screen to prevent tired eyes, stretching, regular food intake and, hopefully, so much great music that the excitement and adrenaline keeps me up easily.

Thanks Adam for the chat, good luck with your Blogathon, see you on the other side!

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