In Defence of Music Blogging

Earlier this year I bought a book in a charity shop for 25p called ‘The Happiness Project’, which is kind of a self help manual for privileged people with too much time on their hands. Despite the simple writing style I freely admit that THIS BOOK CHANGED MY LIFE. The writer Gretchen Rubin encourages people to start their own blogs, explaining how blogging gave her ‘a new identity, new skills, a new set of colleagues and a new way to connect with people.’ After reading this I felt inspired and started Highway Queens the next week. I had a simple purpose: write about the music I love. Gretchen’s book proves that not every piece of writing has to be high art in order to have value.

 

What, you may ask, has prompted this moment of self reflection? Well this week on Twitter amateur music bloggers were openly criticised by a musician (I won’t name names here) who said:

 

‘It is horrifying how much bland & fundamentally poor writing is out there. Not only do enthusiastic hobbyists set up as musicians but also as journalists & reviewers. In what other professional sphere does this exist?’

 

First things first: there’s a lot of genuinely ‘horrifying’ things in the world but ‘poor’ writing really isn’t one of them. I work with kids on their literacy every day and some of what others might call ‘bad writing’ is a true form of self expression, which in itself is a gift. I read some small music blogs before setting up my own and was so inspired by these writers who promoted music just for the love of it. If they could do it, then so could I.

 

So what if our writing is not up to standards of the traditionally published press? We don’t have editorial feedback or subs to support us. All we have is our enthusiasm. The Internet has levelled the playing field in a beautiful way – allowing anyone to express themselves and share it with the world. You never know what musician might be desperate for that review or what reader might need to hear about that song. The end target of all music journalism is the same: get people to listen to the goddamn songs. Readers aren’t stupid – they will consult different blogs or online publications for different things. One form of music writing does not negate the other.

 

Another thing I find troubling is the sight of professional music journalists attacking bloggers. Honestly I don’t think it’s necessary to point out the flaws in the writing style or content of any blogger if they are writing a positive review. In the end some people will always prefer to hear the opinion of their friend rather than the perfectly researched and argued views of the chief critic of the New York Times. Bloggers make things more personal and can develop a voice to appeal to certain people. That’s just the way it is. If you don’t like it then don’t read.

 

Targeting music bloggers and amateur musicians for not being pro standard is like going to a fun run and yelling at people for not being as fast as Mo Farah or like Mo himself criticising the runners at the back of the pack. Every year thousands of people take part in these races with no chance of winning or ever making a penny from this activity. In fact most people actually pay to enter these races. They do it because the race itself has value, whatever the outcome. Each time you run you challenge yourself to get better. Maybe people will turn up to cheer you on. Maybe you might win a medal, not the Olympic gold but something you can hang on your wall and admire. Maybe you will even inspire someone else to take part themselves.

 

Writing is no different. Anyone who wants to write about music should write about music. No one improves at anything in life if they don’t try. I for one would love to read more music blogs by women. I don’t care if they’re written in haste with a hundred spelling mistakes – tell me what you like and why you like it. So what if your grammar is poor or you aren’t using poetic language? You wouldn’t tell a kid to stop playing the piano because he wasn’t as good as Mozart.

 

Don’t get me wrong there are many brilliant amateur writers out there too but this can’t be an ‘us and them’ scenario. In the end we are all just out here doing our best to share the love of music. How can that ever be wrong?

23 thoughts on “In Defence of Music Blogging

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  1. Great article, bringing up some bery important points. It IS—or rather, SHOULD BE—always about the music first. My most treasured reviews of my own music are usually the so called “amateur” reviews, the writers who write because they love doing it so much. And, truth be told, quite a few of those are actually far superior writers than many of the so called “professional writers.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. First of all, speaking as a blogger I have lots of thoughts on this.

    Secondly, I know of the exchange you’re referring to. The only part I agree with from the other side is that without the artist, there is nothing for the critic to do.

    Back to the main point though. I think you make an excellent point in regards to poor writing. Your personal example is great, and speaking from experience, you don’t have to tell me twice my posts are littered with typos, and because of doubts I cast on myself, I rarely go back and re-read what I wrote. If I did it more often, I’d probably never publish anything since after all, we’re our harshest critics.

    Now, can “bad” writing be harmful to an artist’s career? I suppose you could argue that, but that seems really extreme. Regardless, it’s not our job to explain what the artist is conveying to the audience – it’s our job to convey our personal interpretation of it to our readers.

    As for the Saving Country Music bit, I know why writers aren’t fond of him, and the reasons extend beyond jealousy. Still, I personally don’t have a problem with him. I like and respect what Kyle does.

    But…here’s the only part I’m going to disagree with – we really can’t have a big ‘ol blogger kumbaya when you think about it. We often will disagree with one another. Heck, year end lists are coming up, and you know no two lists will look exactly alike. We might not say anything, but you know we’ll be thinking “how can you have that album and not this one?” Moreover, due to everyone’s different philosophies on how to run a blog, some styles will just not be our thing. Beyond that, look at blogs like Taste of Country or The Boot. Despite their respective sizes, they’re still blogs. However, the sellout transformation they’ve taken has been remarked on by many bloggers (and they’re not the only ones).

    With that said though, regardless of whether you hate everything I like or I like everything you hate, I would always support fully those who are doing this for the love of music first and foremost. Even with SCM, I disagreed vehemently regarding the Midland authenticity debacle, but I think disagreement doesn’t automatically mean refusing to like anything else someone writes.

    Overall, nobody can run a blog the right way when you think about it. Some of us focus on highlighting a certain gender (on that note, I also wish there were more bloggers writing about female artists. You and Queens of Country are the only ones I know of). Some blogs focus on highlighting only the music they like. Some like to be anti-mainstream, and some like to preach about how genre doesn’t matter. Who’s doing it the right way? Who knows? The point is – nobody can run a blog the wrong way.

    My current outlet is my 5th one, and God help me it’ll be my final one. I personally like to be balanced in my reviews – highlighting positive and negative aspects of everything I cover. The negative part often means I’m equated with being a “hater”, and I don’t think that’s fair. It’s just the style I’m accustomed to and enjoy. I also don’t deal with artists and publicists because well…I can’t. I have in the past, and honestly it puts too much pressure on me to write a wholly positive review for them even if it doesn’t reflect my actual (full) thoughts. I’ve never viewed myself as important, but I do know that I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for other blogs, nor would my music library be quite as eclectic as it is now. I appreciate what you’ve been doing at Highway Queens, and thanks for continuing to use your writing talents for good.

    – Zack

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes we can disagree but still respect each other which is important. You do an insanely good job. Is anyone else reviewing as many albums as you? I doubt it. And you’re always fair which means you’re definitely not a ‘hater’. We might not have the exact same taste but that’s why I like to read your reviews as you make me consider things differently. And yes stick with your blog this time! This is my second attempt but my first one only had two posts before I quit.

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  3. Hey, I have a music blog. I do it purely for the love of music. If one person reads my blog and gets turned on to an artist, I have done my “job”. It’s not my job, it’s my passion. I make $0.00 from my blog. I don’t do negative reviews. Hell I don’t even do reviews. I categorize what I like as “spotlights”. I’m not gonna waste my time listening to, much less writing about, what I don’t like.

    I don’t have an editor. I do the best I can. If people want to grammar police my blog, that’s petty. I’ve seen blogs associated with publications who have editors with mistakes.

    And just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not good. I can recognize quality while not writing about it. And it’s only my opinion, my tastes.

    And if you don’t want us hacks with blogs writing about your music, just quit. Really, if you can’t take some criticism, just quit.

    Sorry that this turned into a rant, but I agree with everything you said.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My philosophy is much the same as yours. I’ve nothing against “review” blogs, but I like to think that the rest of us have something worthwhile to offer, too. As for the main article, I’m not familiar enough with the musician or the context of the quote to render a fair opinion. In general, though, I agree with the spirit of this article that enthusiastic fans freely sharing their opinions should be applauded, not chastised.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To be fair the quote was just a tweet I saw. I don’t know anything about the artist either or her particular issues. I just wanted to use it as a starting point for my argument. The main purpose of this post is just to encourage others to keep going with their blogs. Thanks for reading xx

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent piece on this very thorny subject; and very articulate too. I appear to treat my own blog/website more professionally than several high profile websites which take advertising and have paid employees; although not necessarily the writers themselves who regularly cut and paste Press Releases which are passed off as reiews.
    10/10……love your reviews too

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes and hopefully if a blog is of a professional standard the more readers they will get. The press releases as review thing is coming up quite a bit so that might be a topic for another day. I don’t like the idea of advertising on small hobby blogs either. Seems to defeat the purpose of writing for the music.

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  5. I’ve had a music blog just shy of a decade now. It seemed a logical progression after doing a music fanzine in the 80’s and 90’s . With fanzines pretty much a dying breed I read a lot of music blogs and find loads of things I hadn’t heard before and unlike the music press I can skip a review of the latest Seasick Steve offering and don’t have to wade through articles on Top 40 crap because unlike “Mojo” bloggers aren’t run by publishing corporations. I don’t do a blog because I fancy myself a serious writer, I do one because its always been my mission to turn people on to stuff I enjoy and in the process I find like minded individuals with similar publications who can reciprocate. I don’t sell ad space, my grammar is dreadful and some times I post unintentionally inaccurate information but most of all I enjoy doing it and I hope that other’s continue to do the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I think blogs are similar to fanzines in the way that anyone who wants to can contribute to the discussion about music. It is interesting thinking about whether small blogs should cover mainstream big label artists. I find that part of me wants to write about them but then there’s so many small independent artists needing coverage as well who are more likely to support your blog anyway.

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  6. Well said. I pride myself on my lack of ‘professionalism’ because at last music was wrested from the hands of paid pros in the form of blogging and before that fanzines. There was a time, of course, when the likes of Lester Bangs could have the best of both worlds and get paid for writing like a crazy man. Some bloggers might actually want to share their opinion of the new Kanye West album, good luck to them, but I prefer to promote ‘fringe’ artists who inhabit the same ‘underground’ zone as most bloggers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The first thing that I’m going to say is that bloggers are in a very privileged position. If you want to write about self defined niche areas, you can. There’s nothing wrong with that, more power to your keyboard. But, to a large extent the ‘pros’ don’t have that luxury. They have to write about music that might not be to their taste, because that is their job, and they (ideally) have to give that music a good listen as well. I’ll just let you think about that for a bit.
    Because music touches our souls there will always be opinion, and where you have an opinion a heated debate is never far away.
    Back in the day that sort of debate used to sell a lot of magazines. Nowadays, nothing sells a lot of magazines, but interestingly, debate is still going strong.
    Once you put anything in the public domain it is open to criticism. That’s the nature of it. The wider the reach, the more chance there is of some feedback being negative. A guy in the media once told me that, in very simplistic terms, when you write, 50 percent of people will think you are great, 50 percent will think you are a chump. Over time, they may switch camps – but the actual percentages will never alter.
    Music ‘fandom’ in itself is strange. There are some people who really like bands or artists when they are not mainstream, and they feel betrayed in some way when they become popular. This goes right back to the days when Dylan was heckled with ‘Judas’ when he dared to go electric. If you want a more modern take on the phenomenon check out the lyrics to ‘Hooker with a penis’ by Tool.
    In some respects the actual writing about music is similar. The comment of ‘I used to prefer them when they…’ is an ever present shadow.
    I do believe that there is room for blogs, there’s also room for professional music journalism, but as I’ve tried to suggest, there are key differences too.
    Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course, professional music journalism is something I love and admire. I am sad to see so many writers out of work and magazines no longer holding the same standards of professionalism. What happened to the NME is a real tragedy for writing and new music. The need for clicks has replaced quality. My argument was that being an amateur shouldn’t stop you from contributing something. Although, I should confess I have previously worked as a paid journalist before but that was a long time ago.

      The 50/50 thing makes sense – thinking about almost everything in life it probably rings true especially in politics. Don’t think I will listen to that Tool song though sorry 😉 Sadly not many bands actually crack the mainstream anymore so that whole ‘I used to like them before they were big…’ argument no longer seems possible.

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  8. I completely agree with your article. It is a great tool for writing, for developing your writing, creating an outlet etc.. My biggest problem is that, particularly in the UK country music scene, so many people jumping on bandwagons, begging for free tickets, acting entitled. You can clearly spot the ones passionate about writing vs the ones that want the perks, and it’s a shame.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting. Free tickets would be nice but I’m not going to ask anyone for them because I’m too shy and scared lol. There are some blogs that just promote rather than really write reviews. Not sure what I think of them really as seems like a different concept entirely. Thank you for reading ❤️

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  9. Interesting piece Michelle.

    While agreeing with you on the right to free speech and the egalitarian component of everyone with a device having access to a platform to air their opinions, I cannot agree that all opinions are equal.

    That does not in any way mean I want to silence voices I regard as poorly informed or clumsily expressed – write about whatever moves you however you desire! – but I retain the right not to read ill-informed, confused or slap dash writing. Life’s too short.

    Having said that, I’ll do something I rarely do (time constraints again!) and do a return ‘Follow’ based on this single post. It was well written. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes I didn’t mean to imply that all opinions are the same or that there is no such thing as excellent writing, what I mean is that we should all be allowed to write and share our opinions without being criticised for not being ‘professional’. You don’t have to read it of course but it doesn’t harm anyone by existing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Quite right. Early on in the life of Vinyl Connection, I did provide a bit of editorial support to a couple of people but sadly this time-consuming service was not sustainable. Still, the old maxim applies: find writing you think is well done and learn from it!

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