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.