Thursday, 28 October 2010

Why Not Being Amazing Is OK

A few days ago Rawkblog, in anticipation of the deluge of end of year lists that will start late November and continue all through December (and yes, it will include our now customary annual Ones To Watch 2011 and Albums of 2010) published a somewhat controversial list of bands that it suggested were 2010 Bands You Can Ignore. The list included some that we have loved this year (Active Child, Zola Jesus, Glasser) and some that we’re so-so with (Yeasayer, Broken Bells) as well as a some that do nothing for us yet (Free Energy, Dom)

David Greenwald the author then produced a follow up post to explain that “These are bands I don’t like. I’m not going to write about them,” and continued “you don’t need to listen to everything. Most of these bands don’t have much to offer. Even the best of them….sound like pale imitations of better bands.”

The reaction to his post was considerable, with comments ranging between variants of ‘you’re right,’ to angrier ‘you’re wrongs.’ The internet is a place of free expression and everybody, both author and respondents were engaging in that right of dialogue. This was good stuff – debate is essential to help move things along and shape the future.

The paragraph that interested us most in David’s post was his final one. “I think this points to a larger cultural issue in 2010, which is: bloggers are always looking for content. If you post a song every day, or five songs every day, some of those are going to be better than others and inevitably, some of them are just not going to be very good. There is almost no negative writing on blogs, because it’s generally not very productive — I’d rather spend my time writing about why I think a band is great and worthy of your time than doing the opposite, which seems pointless, and why I chose to do a list like this rather than write something on every single one of these bands — so its very existence, almost regardless of what bands I chose, inspires backlash. Why? I guess it’s seen as a threat — to taste, to other blogs, to something.”

Here David seems to be suggesting that every band posted on his blog is great, (they’re not - but some are, but hey that’s just opinion for you and at least he is being true to himself and his tastes) and that there is no room for something that he considers is just average. Yet if this is the case, and every blog follows this model, it also creates a possible long term issue – that of digital media constructing an unsustainable culture of over expectation, part of which is being fuelled by bloggers, with their constant over-excited turnover of fabulous new artists.

Some of the greatest and largest bands in the world didn’t start out being brilliant. Radiohead’s first album, with a couple of songs excepted, was in most people’s opinion merely average. REM was pretty piss poor for a number of records. Although U2’s early records Boy and October had their moments of charm, The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby were far superior and touched the masses. These bands gradually grew and evolved before becoming brilliant. Early support from the likes of fanzines (the pre-internet version of blogs) and the non-mainstream press helped give developing bands the chance of an initial audience.

Whilst Rawkblog’s list is just one persons opinion and has, as the author suggests, partly been concocted to “piss people off and get mad hits,” it does concern us that if music blogs are only looking for bands that are absolutely brilliant already, that the Radiohead’s and REM’s of this world may never exist again. Great blogs have a vital role in not only posting about acts who are already incredible, but ones that they consider to have the potential to flower. It helps the band gather support and build a base to grow from.

If you’re a regular reader you will know that this is partly our philosophy – sure, we post artists and songs that we instantly fall in love with, artists that are or become buzz bands - but we won’t necessarily pass something over if it’s not fully there yet but we can sniff potential. Recent examples of artists we have featured that display that potential include Sophie Rose, Kyla La Grange, Dems and Alpines all of whom you won’t find cluttering up Hype Machine with huge numbers of posts yet. Maybe some of these artists we will never post on again – lost to the ether of the internet – that’s sometimes how life works. However, maybe one or more of them will develop into something brilliant.

Here’s another new act – we’ve posted about them before, but they’re not a buzz band as such, although a remix they did for The Naked and Famous went a bit supernova on Hype Machine. Irrespective of if you think they sound brilliantly amazing, average or useless we can hear some potential – fans of The Killers and catchy synth pop hooks (which we are) will possibly enjoy this – this is Remember Me by DEKADE. Maybe one day they’ll fly high.

Remember Me - Dekade by litendark


Dave said...

Great piece. The rawkblog guy sounds like an unbelievable hipster.

Another great blog in Ireland has said pretty much the same thing as you.


A band doesn't have to be "great" for me (not necessarily for my other contributors) to post them but a song of theirs does. Obviously, there's a spectrum of how great a track is but I value that over "potential", which I see as ridiculously undefined.

I have a mental list of bands and artists I will not be featuring until they produce at least one great song. For example, I'm still yet to be convinced by Lykke Li or Panda Bear - I find their music meandering (in different ways) and consequently dull and uninspiring. That's not to say I'll never post about them. It took 'Summertime Clothes' for me to click with Animal Collective in a meaningful way.

I disagree with the way Rawkblog portrayed his ideas, using an inflammatory list but I generally agree with the stance - I see it as more of an aspiration for bands to create brilliantly inspired material to the best of their ability. And consequently, if they do get a feature on the blog, it means a lot more.

- saamFG

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Interesting point Saam. Yes potential is difficult to define, but then what is great and what isn't great is just as persons great is another persons terrible. For example I think Lykke Li is absolutely great, but like you Panda Bear does nothing for me (yet)

In terms of defining potential, I think it's a bit like girlfriends (or boyfriends!)Some you may go out with for a couple nice of dates because you quite like them and then that's it. Others you find yourself lusting passionately about for some time and then it fizzles out leaving you thinking 'what did I see in the first place.' But there are some who you quite like at the start, but as the dates develop they get better and better and two years on you wonder why at the start you only thought they were ok rather than amazing.It's because those girls (or boys) are the ones that had potential, and therefore deserve to be given a chance.

Anyway, one thing I have recently come to the conclusion of is that many different bloggers will have different ideas about what they will and won't post and the criteria they set for posting. It's inevitable really we're all different, but I believe for the reasons outlined in my post above that its important for some blogs to support artists who are still developing - this to a certain extent is what the late great John Peel did - for example he played Pulp years before anyone else would touch them and they achieved greatness, and Jarvis Cocker has said that Peels support in 'the dark days' was invaluable.

Readers will ultimately decide what they want out of a blog and if it suits their needs, but there's room (albeit in a very crowded space) for us all.

Anonymous said...


I think your philosophy is sound here. New bands need the support of new music blogs to get their name about. There are too many blogs demanding brilliance. As you suggest many acts that have the greatest longevity develop and learn their craft over a number of years.

Although I love music blogs for their passion, sometimes (sorry)I wonder if their demand for everything being stunningly great is actually killing that potential longevity, with the hype effect. Or maybe its just a sign of the accelerated culture we live in and consume these days ?

The Recommender said...

Dekade are astonishingly my opinion. Who wants to aspire to be Killers...and then end up being The Bravery. Yuck. lol.

However, that's my opinion and although I'm more than proud of it, (as you well know), I fully understand that each and every one of us differ - which is a major point that you make.

Just as it is in other walks of life - what other people think is actually irrelevant and pretty damaging, (which is where I should stop my point, but I obviously won't...).

If you're always considering what others think about your opinion, whether it's what you are wearing, who you are sleeping with, how you behave, what music you like etc then you will generally pale into insignificance and fail at being original. Those people that act with fearlessness tend to produce the most interesting lives and in turn the most interesting blogs.

Write what comes from your heart and to paraphrase Hype Machine's Anthony, if it doesn't come bursting out of you then blogging isn't quite for you.

Some of it will be average, some will be dull, some will be outstanding, but those bloggers with a genuine voice will eventually be heard.

Also, it's worth noting that writing up stuff simply because our blogs are a service, there to help bands break through, or encourage them to overcome their averageness is a little boring. If the next U2 write a terrible first LP, then it's not my responsibility to help them get to their second LP.

John Peel was fearless and followed his heart, not other peoples opinions. That's one of his biggest lessons to us all.

Having integrity and a genuine voice are perhaps the most important things to focus on - if you write up average stuff then that's fine, perhaps you just don't share a taste with others. If your main aim as a blogger is to be popular and act on other peoples opinions then ask yourself if that's gonna work in the long run.

Those that stand out will last in the end.

In all honesty, your blog is one of the most agreeable with my tastes and thoughts anyway, as you hopefully know, so stick to your guns. Thanks once again for a great talking point. (I love Dave / Rawkblog too btw)

Hope to see u soon...

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks Mike for (as usual) a great and passionate comment.

As you say some of the most interesting blogs are the ones that are fearless - that's why I put these more discursive posts on the blog - getting my opinions out there and hopefully encouraging a debate. There are too many blogs who seem scared to do anything but sucker up and play nice all the time. However as much as I have my opinions, I’m interested to see what others think – I don’t think that others thoughts are irrelevant – I value my readers thoughts and those of the people I deal with – I might not agree with them all but sometimes someone can say something that can throw new light on something that I hadn’t thought about before and I think that’s important. To get philosophical for a moment, in life we’re all still learning, and if we close doors on others opinions we’ll stop learning.

When we talk about writing about average bands, I think I need to clarify – I would never recommend an average band if they were just that – but if I could see potential for them to grow beyond the average I would – this is because in my own small way I’m (hopefully) giving that band the chance to be heard and then readers can make their own judgements. Some readers may think they’re better than average – some may not (to use our well worn phrase, we’re all different) and those that like them may go and see them play live / buy their recordings etc. This then gives the band the chance to continue and hopefully develop into the potential that (if my hunches were right) they had. If no one’s been given the opportunity to listen or watch them then they probably won’t get that chance. Although it’s not my responsibility to help get the next U2 to their second album, as you stated, if I see something in a band that makes me think they have a chance to become great I want to support them in my own small humble way.

Ref your comments on bloggers who just aim to be popular - I agree that's never going to work in the long run. I’m certainly not aiming to be popular and in terms of music very much have my own opinions – I just write what I write and hopefully sometimes inform or entertain, but if I don't, too bad. This blog has never attempted to be well liked (although if everyone hated us that would make us sad) – it is what is, the blog of a music fan who in one form or another has been writing about music since the 80’s and doesn’t intend to stop now – it’s just a hobby that hopefully puts a little back into the art form / industry that it loves.

Yes you are right, having integrity as a blogger is important. I’m happy to say that every post I have ever written on Breaking More Waves has been underpinned by my belief system and principles – regular readers will know that there are certain core arguments and theories that I return to in a number of my posts – hopefully this displays that integrity.

Anonymous said...

Hi long term lurker & never posted before. I really enjoy your blog. For me the best part of discovering a new band is finding out about them and then watching them soar to greater things. However I do wonder if there are so many blogs, posting so much stuff if we are getting to a point where blogs are losing influence individually. Maybe in this respect Rawkblogs post was actually quite useful to music lovers like me, basically saying don't waste your time on these.


Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks for coming out of the shadows Nat.:) Yes the world of new music blogging is a crowded space. I can see what you are saying, but rather than just a list of 'don't bother with these' wouldn't you rather have a bit more critique or explanation of why not to listen to them so that you could make informed judgements ?


Looking back on my earlier comment, I think perhaps I was a bit too harsh about "potential" - it's something we've all banded about at one point.

I think we're actually all in agreement in some weird sense. I'm finding it difficult to explain it exactly because it isn't exact but I think there's a general notion on blogs to support bands that you like, regardless of what other people think, where they are in their careers etc. We're in it for the music, after all.

- saamFG

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Do you know Saam, I was thinking exactly the same - this is something that surely every blogger can agree on. It's all about the music - whatever way or how we post about it. There may be differences in approach but ultimately we're all trying to support the thing we love.

Anonymous said...

Hi again to answer your question yes a bit more of an explanation would have been useful.

As I said before, really enjoy the blog. Going to lurk again now.


The Recommender said...

Thanks for your response. I just want to clarify that it's not that I don't enjoy other peoples opinions, rather that my opinion is very much my own. Listening to others is fine and healthy, but simply doing what you consider to be right in other peoples eyes, rather than what you believe in, is wrong and lacks integrity.

You are a blogger with bags of both opinion and integrity, so my points were simply for the debate, rather than being all pointy and sharp. Hope you understand.

Love a good debate and BMWaves is home to many of them.
Thank again.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Cheers Mike. Clearly understood and agreed. Debate is always good and the fact that you are prepared to enter that debate and state your views will always get a big Paul McCartney at Glasto style thumbs up from me :)

Dave Rawkblog said...

It's the bands' job to be great. Blogs, and all music publications, are like sharks smelling blood -- as soon as a band decides to make itself semi-public, it will be blogged about, hyped, backlash'd and hyped again, all on the basis of one song. Whether or not the song is worth all the fuss is barely a consideration.

The problem with much of the blogosphere is that so much attention is devoted to bands with "promise" instead of bands who are already really good, right now, and deserve attention, that the good stuff gets lost in favor of the flashy stuff or the flavor of the moment. Which is not to say that good bands don't get attention, but there are plenty who don't -- which is why I'll keep blogging about them.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks for the comment Dave - great to have the original author who inspired this debate on board ! Whatever your views on what you will and won't post on - as has already been stated above, ultimately we're all doing this for the same thing - the love of music and that's the most important. As Mike from The Recommender also suggested, the good blogs will win out.

2 points

1. What is good and what isn't is just opinion, so ultimately as Mike from The Recommender also suggests good bloggers will stick to what they believe in and not get sucked into hype (although ironically if enough bloggers independently think something is good, whatever they think is good will actually become hype if they all post on it)

2.Because of point 1. above I will still continue to post bands that I believe have potential / promise (as well as the good stuff right now) because of the reasons outlined above - I want to see some bands getting support to grow and develop. Many times I won't get it right - but occasionally I do and it always gives me pleasure to see a band that I supported at the start go on to bigger and better things - for me that's one of the rewards of blogging.

Dave said...

Mr Rawkblog is up his backside. He seems incapable of seeing that what he thinks is good is not a statement of fact but just his view. That's my opinion anyway.