As the year draws to a close I thought I would contemplate the state of music blogging in 2018, both as a result of my own personal experiences and from observing the blogosphere itself.
1. The Smaller The Better
I am lucky to be a part of a blogging community where sites are run by individuals with a passion, rather than for any kind of financial reward. These blogs mainly review albums and gigs of their own choosing, at their own pace with little financial outlay or risk.
The idea that an online blog could be run full time, for profit by a team of paid writers is a dream that is long dead, if it ever existed at all. I see bigger, more established music blogs like Drowned in Sound and The Quietus struggling to survive as they are tied into old models of business, reduced to asking for donations with the tone of understandable exasperation at the changing times in terms of diminishing ad revenue and poor social media algorithms. How such expensive sites can afford to continue I don’t know, as it feels like an impossible feat to get people to give money for what is already offered for free.
Blogging costs me less than £50 a year for my website and while it does consume a considerable amount of my time I fit things round my own schedule and try not to let it become a chore. If success means hundreds of thousands of followers and readers but being unable to afford to keep your own website afloat then count me out. You do feel like simpler, smaller, more individual volunteer operations are the future.
2.Why Are So Many Blogs Pivoting?
What I found fascinating this year was the indie music blog Gold Flake Paint’s decision to pivot to print. It felt like an admission of failure and also an acceptance that the digital age does not provide the rewards we hoped. Offering a constant stream of free content has become too much of a burden and you understand why some sites are trying to opt out of the daily grind. Now I have no idea if it is possible to make a profit from a printed magazine nowadays (all the evidence would suggest not) but good luck to those trying something different.
Pivoting to video may have been routinely mocked by most music fans I follow but there are definitely opportunities on YouTube. Video offers a lot of interesting new ways to talk about music and many people are making it work for them. In particular reaction videos have gained huge support and many channels have dedicated followers that far outstrip any bloggers. Similarly videos of album reviews and music commentary are doing well (sadly nearly all of these channels are run by men). There’s definitely space in the market for good video content where the personalities of the presenters engage a following.
Podcasting too is very popular, with many offering varied and interesting music related content – I’m certain if these were posted as blogs they would be ignored. While I much prefer to read than listen or watch I guess I am in the minority. If you want your voice to be heard beyond the limits of the blogosphere then podcasting is certainly a way to make that happen.
3.Does Paetron Have Potential for Music Bloggers?
Obviously one of the main concerns for bloggers is how to make your site financially viable or even profitable. Personally this isn’t relevant to me just now as I am a hobby blogger, but I have been following the fortunes of a few other sites with interest. I believe that a patronage system, such as Paetron itself, is probably the only way forward to make writing (or perhaps even all creative pursuits) sustainable in the future.
I followed Aquarium Drunkard’s Paetron launch with interest. Could a big blog like this gain a considerable sign up? They have been established for a long time, have over 50k followers on twitter etc. Surely they should be able to generate support? The results were middling at best. They have less than 300 hundred Paetrons, which would be fine for a smaller blog but it’s a tiny fraction of their readers.
The most successful people who use Paetron to gain funding do so as individuals, so people know exactly who they are supporting. Blogs are faceless and therefore seem to have much less success than podcasters and vloggers in generating funding. You do think that some bloggers would find success on this platforms – for example opinion bloggers who use their personality to get clicks by writing controversial material. That just isn’t the way of the old music blogs so they are at a disadvantage in the crowdfunding era.
I think writers with published books should use Paetron to fund new projects and I would love to be in that position one day. But as an option for funding music blogs I think it is only ever going to offer pocket change at best.
4.What is SubmitHub and is it worth it?
Earlier in the year I was intrigued by the possibility offered by a site called Submithub which is a system for artist to submit music to blogs, as well as paying money to bloggers for listening to the tracks. I am certainly interested in a better way for artists to submit their music as most of the time I just ignore my overwhelming email inbox. The possibility of being paid to listen to tracks sounded good too but I was put off by the fact you had to give feedback – something which is time consuming and inevitably negative if you are rejecting music.
In the end I didn’t go down this route as it would have taken time away from the blog, and seemed more of a hinderance than a help. I still think the best way for an unknown artist to get blog coverage is to make the songs as good as they can, find the appropriate sites which cover music in their field, follow them on social media, then send a polite email and hope for the best.
5.Do We Even Need PR Pitches Anymore?
Another issue with submitting to blogs is that we are inundated with press releases for all manner of irrelevant artists. This makes finding something in your inbox time consuming and frustrating – hence how I often just ignore emails completely. When I get requests from individual PR people I do my best to offer coverage because so many of these people are working with great artists but unfortunately I can’t listen to everything.
With most music fans now paying for streaming subscriptions anyone can listen to any album they want instantly. For me this has meant that I can review whatever I want, with no reliance on the PR or record label’s cooperation. For transparency sake I will admit that I reviewed over 70 albums and EPs last year, of which 17 were requested by the artist, PR or record label. Of the live reviews only two shows gave me guest list in return for a review. Unlike other types of blogging we don’t have to declare our posts to be PR supported as it’s not like we get paid or anything. Transparency is helpful for the reader, though.
Personally I think I like it best when I review independently as I want to write from the perspective of an ordinary music fan. In the end most artists will not engage with your content or retweet your reviews regardless of whether a PR person has pitched them to you. It’s lovely when they do but most bloggers are seen as small fish and we exist in our own shallow ponds, away from the music industry itself. Gaining readers and followers who want to hear what you have to say is more important than connecting with the artists themselves. I am still willing to take pitches but they will always be a minority of what I do on the blog.
6. Micro-Influencing is the Future of Blogging
It’s disappointing to me that major media sites sneer and snipe at the idea of online influencers, even imagining us to be the bringers of a doomsday apocalypse rather than ordinary individuals who want to do something useful with their lives. Music and book bloggers for example have very little to gain by promoting works of art they love – most of us just want to help others to find good stuff to read and listen to. Personally all I have ever wanted to do with my life is listen to music and write. Since no one gave me a job doing that I just decided to get on with it anyway. Promoting artists on social media has given my blog purpose. I have been lucky to connect with lots of great fans and become involved in conversations about music. That is what micro-influencing is – being someone who helps to spread the word to a few other like-minded people who then go on and do the same, ad infinitum. To me that’s a perfect pressure-free place for a blogger to be in 2018.
So yes I would encourage anyone to start their own music blog in 2019 – we want to hear more voices (especially women) sharing their passions and interests with the world. Sure you will make zero money and not many people will even read your posts sometimes but the joy of sharing your passion for music will be more than enough reason to keep writing.
Let me know if you have any thoughts on the state of music blogging – leave your comments below or on social media.
Great post. Personally, I’m well aware that blogs aren’t the “cool” way to go about things anymore, but I’d much rather read something than watch it on Youtube (or wherever). I say keep fighting the good fight!
I guess my main insecurity with blogging is the expectations that come with it. That’s why I don’t even have a contact page. I greatly respect what PR people do, but at the end of the day, I only have so much time, as do all bloggers. I’d rather write about what I think will inspire a conversation (good or bad). I don’t need someone demanding I review something within a certain amount of time.
Also, it feels like bloggers are being held to higher standards than before. I mean, of course good writing is essential, but I do understand the whole condescending attitude between journalists and bloggers. I personally feel that we exist in our own select spaces, and that’s perfectly fine. I trust journalists for features and interviews. Bloggers can’t do that. I trust them for reviews. It’s different, and that’s alright! I think we can happily co-exist.
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I think it is natural to have some insecurities about blogging. I think I’m just past caring really and have set little expectations for myself. And I have never had a PR tell me when they need a review by. I post them when I can and have never had any complaints. I don’t hold my writing to any standard except what I set for myself. Sometimes I write well, other times I don’t but I just get on with it. If I am struggling I take a week off or wait until a good album comes out and that usually helps. Also I try not to let the attitude of journalists bother me. I used to work for a magazine and chose not to pursue that career because there was no money or future prospects in it for someone like me. I admire those who were able to make it in the industry but I don’t think that makes their opinion necessarily better than mine.
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Well into the sixth year of Vinyl Connection and I’m still not sure what to make of blogging or the changes that have taken place over those years. Certainly I seem to be getting more ‘likes’ but less evidence of reads. What does that mean? My hypothesis is the rule of blog reciprocity: I’ll follow you if you follow me. I don’t do that, nor can I even hope to cover the blogs of those I do follow. There just ain’t enough time.
I think, possibly to do with the burgeoning international blogsphere, people are less willing to read longer posts. I regularly wrote 1000-1200 word articles for the first few years, but in 2018 I tried to (mostly) keep to around 800 w. In the paid music writing (for an on-line record shop’s blog) the length is 400-500 words.
Being paid for doing much the same thing as I’ve been doing for love all these years was an interesting development in the second half of 2018. The biggest noticeable change is the time pressure, seen in the neglect of my non-music blog. Love to write, need to write, sometimes feel a bit pressured to write. As I negotiate the records to be featured, I am yet to confront the challenge of gilding something that I dislike.
Finally, thank you for a thoughtful and engaging reflection on blogging. The theme running through your post and comment is about doing what we do for the love of the music (and writing, brilliant or mediocre!) and if that has grown a social media appendage called ‘micro-influencing’, then good-oh. The butterfly effect really is a thing.
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Hey thanks for taking the time to read and reply. I’m not sure about likes either – some of them are legitimate but I think there’s a lot of bots too. I haven’t really noticed a difference in reads for longer or shorter posts. Most of mine are about 800 too although this one is probably double that. I would like to write shorter posts but often that’s impossible.
I think writing without being paid frees you up to do what you want without stress. Maybe you run out of energy for it eventually but until then I will keep on plodding away.
Your post is very interesting. I also think that music blogging can be difficult and needs a lot of time, but it’s very gratifying and fascinating, despite the difficulties. I experiment it since I created my blog one year ago and I identify myself with all you say. I wish you a happy new year!
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Happy new year to you too! Good luck blogging in 2019 x
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Thanks for this Michelle. Couple of thoughts:
“Personally all I have ever wanted to do with my life is listen to music and write. Since no one gave me a job doing that I just decided to get on with it anyway.” What a lovely, clearly expressed sentiment. For all the angst about platforms, formats and models, this is all that really matters. You have something to say, and you’re not waiting for someone to give you permission. Congratulations to you.
I returned to music writing in early 2017 after a 20-year absence. In the old days (85-97) I hosted a community radio show in Toronto and wrote for a handful of Canadian music publications. My dream was to piece together a living as a music writer/broadcaster. Giving that up was liberating. Having built a career that has nothing to do with music, I’ve been able to return to writing and broadcasting free of commercial expectations or restraints. I feel privileged to receive music from all over the world, and to be in a position to share it with my small following. It is my contribution to an artform that in many ways has defined my life. So blogging is an end in itself, just like music. And independence is a gift that need not lead to anything else.
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Thanks so much for reading and responding in such a thoughtful way! I do agree there is something liberating about writing as a hobby, for sure. You appreciate things more and I love to hear from every reader. Also yes I think too many blogs in the past have become victims of success. If you’re happy to stay at one level then how much you enjoy it is the only driving factor.