The fact that this intriguing (and personally flattering!) rockcritics.com “symposium on music blogging” has slipped out with so little discussion is itself some kind of proof of its central, slightly mournful hypothesis – that there isn’t really a discussion-based music blogosphere any more. Almost all the (fine) writers involved lament the lack of interaction and wider conversation among music blogs (compared to 2, or 4, or 6 years ago) – all of them then are only really able to namecheck their friends when asked to recommend good ones.
It would be possible, but not necessarily helpful, to trace what happened to that music blogosphere that’s led to its current archipelago state. Something worth pointing out is that blogging as a whole has followed a similar path – my first blog wasn’t NYLPM, it was Blue Lines, and when that was running it was still possible for a bunch of 30 or so British bloggers to get together in London boozer and know that they represented a significant minority of the entirety of UK blogging. Lamenting the break up of early 00s blogospheres, and the subsequent loss of energy, is a bit like lamenting the cooling of the Universe or continental drift. 2002 might as well be Gondwanaland.
(The shadow of the MP3 blog looms fairly large over proceedings too, and it’s a pity Scott Woods didn’t improve an already fascinating piece by recruiting a couple of the shadowy scofflaws who run them: the impression I’ve got from conversations with a couple of the pioneers there is that the lack of interaction, of commentary, affects them too – it’s an uphill struggle to get comments box play on even the freshest tracks. But there are huge generational divides in the MP3 blog world too.)
So if “online energy is nomadic”, as Dave Moore quotes me as saying, where is all the music-crit energy going? Please do bear in mind that I’m in my mid-30s now and have a one-year-old son to keep my finger well away from the pulse, but I’m not that sure. Social networking? MySpace has had a transformative effect but in terms of access and distribution of music, not conversation, and when I finally cracked and got onto Facebook I was incredibly disappointed at how little content there was on it. Sure, intellectual content isn’t the point of Facebook, but some of the people amusing themselves on it would otherwise be amusing themselves elsewhere online. The “1% of users create 90% of content” idea is no doubt sound, but for the 1% of users to find blogging worthwhile they need a lack of other, more instant distractions and they need to be able to distract their audiences better than a network site can. This is hugely difficult – in fact “hobby blogging” feels in many ways like an interim technology (kind of like the ZX Spectrum – creating a mini-generation of sharp-minded people whose commitment to creativity and coding skills may or may not end up being useful to them).
What about last.fm, which is rammed with discussion features? Well, it’s so rammed that it does itself a mischief – for a given band you will have a shoutbox, a forum, cross-links to articles, an editable information wiki, plus you have your own shoutbox, group forums and articles, personal forums and articles…it’s almost impossible to work out where to go, and in any case the way the site works encourages band-by-band focus rather than wider thinking of the kind the symposium bloggers like (in principle). The same will probably apply to the forums Amazon is apparently trialling – a tight focus on individual acts and records doesn’t rule out interesting ideas by any means but it makes connections between acts and musics harder to tease out.
There are still new music blogs starting, and new trendlets within them – the wave of discography blogs I wrote about a few months ago, reviewing acts track-by-track; or a growing number of musicologists who are finding blogging a looser, friendlier format for exploring academic ideas about pop. These don’t to my jaded eyes have the amazing energy of the peak blogosphere, though. One thing I am sure of is that the talent pool isn’t drying up – the people ten-plus years younger than me talking about music on Poptimists or other sites are full of ideas and hunger and what’s more they’ve also HEARD more stuff than I could have even dreamed of at their age. I don’t think the urge to try and make verbal and conceptual sense of the amazing impact music can have on your life is one that was limited to a particular time and place, even if a specific vehicle for doing it is slipping into disuse.