Oct 07

I Bolted Through A Closing Door

FT20 comments • 1,404 views

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.


  1. 1
    CarsmileSteve on 8 Oct 2007 #

    hehe, classic related links there ;)

    SR just sounds so webfogey, how do you know other people are replying to your post without checking a billion blogs on the off chance? unless you are, eg him or similar, with previous as a journo/critic i don’t think you have any defence in not having a comments box, you mayaswell just photocopy your writing ten times and give it to your “friends” or write it on yr bedsit wall. and i *do* wish he’d stop banging on about “poptimism” like it existed…

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    scott pgwp on 9 Oct 2007 #

    I blogged about this today, too (and tomorrow – really I went pretty overboard). I guess I just wasn’t very up to speed on music blogs four or five years ago – I missed this supposed golden age. Even I Love Music I didn’t learn about until about seven months ago. I’ve been going there and mostly lurking but it’s really just a lot of polls. I don’t get the point. It feels passionless.

    I don’t see why this golden age couldn’t be returned to. The critical conversation shouldn’t have to happen on sites like facebook. Blogs are unique because they are (ideally) embued with personality – something that is disappearing, for no good reason at all.

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    Marcello Carlin on 9 Oct 2007 #

    Scott approached me to participate in this but I had to decline since my answers to his questions would have been – from my perspective only – necessarily too personal. Likewise comments boxes wouldn’t have been appropriate on CoM given the nature of and rationale behind the writing on it. I experimented with comments boxes on Koons and all I got were spammers and trolls. Bit of a waste of time and energy really which could be much better directed elsewhere. However, I have introduced comments boxes to my new blog – plug plug – and these seem to be working well, largely because I can moderate whatever comments I get before they are posted (which formerly couldn’t be done on Blogger) and also because the (thankfully) small nexus of people who do comment there have a good understanding of what it’s all about.

    My view on music blogs, however, is that they had an initial exciting run of 3-4 years when they were new, everyone’s minds were mildly boggled at their newness and everyone was keen to interact with everyone else. But as preferences and prejudices begin to become reinforced then eventually hands get thrown up in surrender and everyone settles into their own niche. The great period (2000-4) was when nobody knew where the fuck anyone was going with this and everyone was jumping off their own cliff in a way, hoping for a cushioned landing. But now if you look at, say, Woebot or K-Punk or LJ Poptimists or me or whoever then everyone knows what they’re going to get. That isn’t a negative but it’s the way these things go. The beauty was at the beginning they didn’t have a clue what they were going to get, least of all the bloggers themselves.

    The reason I like FT now is because it reminds me of what ILM was like in the beginning – a relatively small circle of people (largely the same relatively small circle of people, admittedly) exchanging ideas, opinions and notions. There is a “Hide Polls” option on ILx if you log in but even without the poll factor the boards are a pretty listless and depressing read now and even as a lurker I visit there less and less often.

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    Tom on 9 Oct 2007 #

    Scott – hadn’t seen your blog before (though I’d seen Dial M For Musicology and People Listen To It, which I think you link to) – thanks, it’s sparked a few thoughts already. As I say, I’m quite out of touch now so I’m glad there are relatively new, critical blogs around.

    ILM nowadays is a very different kettle of soup from ILM in its prime. (Though I guess I would say that)

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    CarsmileSteve on 9 Oct 2007 #

    just a point of clarity MC, i was refering (not quite explicitly enough perhaps) to K-Punk in particular, and in a hand-waving kind of way to those blogs who post “confrontational” critiques (of “pop(tim)ism” in partic) without anyone being able to call them on it to their faces, as it were, rather than to CoM or similar. I’m just of the opinion that, if there’s a point/difference to on-line writing, rather than print/fanzines, it’s in the relatively unmediated interaction with and between the audience like in the popular comments or even the Tanya Pink Floyd comments.

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    […] Ewing in Freaky Trigger wonders if “social networking” distractions like MySpace and Facebook haven’t sapped music […]

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    Dave on 10 Oct 2007 #

    all of them then are only really able to namecheck their friends when asked to recommend good ones.

    Though to be fair, I found my current friends through the conversations that they were having, and I still don’t dismiss any site in terms of finding new friends. But perhaps after a while your “new friends” become old friends (say, after 3 or 4 years?) and your need to go out and actively seek new people diminishes, even if the “new people” are out there in full force. (And not all of them should be expected to start a blog of their own or attempt private communication as an initial shout-out — this is another reason comments are so important!)

    The ideal interpersonal relationships between bloggers and commenters goes somewhat unmentioned in all of this. I believe in trying to engage with all commenters who bring new ideas to the table, though my pool of commenters is limited enough to make this manageable (I see it work here in greater numbers, though, even if it’s usually a regular dozen+ or so). I think I’ve actually developed pretty solid friendships with people I’ve never met, er, offline; sometimes I think my optimism in this regard is a little naive, but I’d rather err on the side of naive than cut someone out of the loop.

    I imagine that this aspect of online chat gets harder as you go along; people start coming to you, because you’re no longer looking just about anywhere for conversations. But this is only a problem when it impedes a given site/community’s ability to sustain a good conversation, which isn’t inevitable, just common from what I’ve seen. (I think, e.g., SR/K-punk’s blogs would be much livelier if they allowed commenting, even if they were moderated comments. I think they’d find — esp. re: K-punk’s “war” piece — that the ensuing conversation with implicated writers would be much more amicable than the terms he’s setting, and I’d be interested to hear him defend his rhetoric conversationally. Even when I have overwrought or overheated or cryptic posts, the conversations tend to maintain a certain level of congeniality — I don’t necessarily have to disown a post if there’s a more reasonable conversation within it somewhere.)

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    Tom on 10 Oct 2007 #

    To be fair to K-P, he used to have comments boxes on his blog, and there was a lot of conversational discussion of ideas, and he came to the conclusion (IIRC) that arguing directly with people via the comments box sapped his energy for doing more important things – which is entirely his prerogative. So it’s not like he’s never tried that! (And he co-founded Dissensus too)

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    Stevie on 10 Oct 2007 #

    And if you did want to take issue with something K-Punk said on his blog you could always write something in reply on FT, and I’m sure it would come to his attention – the internet is one big comments box, d00d! Actual comments boxes tend to invariably descend to crossposts, cheap zings and spam …

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    one advantage of comments threads is that the “random” comment which is good and interesting and unexpected and takes stuff off in a new direction is actually also there on the page for everyone who read the original to read as well — the internet is indeed one big giant comments box but most of it we easily ignore (and lots of it we never even know about)

    “all in one place” can create a crackle which pushes somewhere new — niche-located allows response to be elective and selective, when (sometimes) it didn’t ought to be, and i think the push somewhere new is actually reduced (what we’ve somewhat seen is the establishment of multiple zones-in-exile pushing old lines, letting themeslves be unbothered by dissent because it’s easily screened out

    the problem is that there’s no way to allow space for “serious” dissent (obv inc jokes) without also enabling “timewaster” dissent (obv inc utterly po-faced counter-args)

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    also — new voices best arise to be noticed within collective free-for-all, rather than off solo out in the deep spaces of the web (where no one can hear them scream)

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    Marcello Carlin on 10 Oct 2007 #

    But remember that Derek ended up going off solo most of the time because in particular he couldn’t stand saxophonists “showing their balls.”

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    yes but DB also famously ran an improv troupe called “company”, which was a showcase for “newbies” in respect of the “right kind of conversation”

    (my favourite OMG moment in ref.this last was probably lee konitz)

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    Marcello Carlin on 10 Oct 2007 #

    Logical though considering that Josef Holbrooke polished their free improv chops backing Konitz when he toured the North in the early sixties.

    That ’87 Company was remarkable; the CD is well worth getting. After the first performance (which is also track one on the CD: slow, string-dominant, very mournful but with Konitz’s alto spurting acetic acid over the proceedings), Konitz asked DB whether he thought the music was too Jewish for him. DB replied no, but said it did remind him of Focus by Stan Getz. “THAT Jewish?” Konitz exclaimed.

    DB was famously stop-and-start with Company (cf. me and CoM), going without it for years before starting it up again.

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    Ned R. on 11 Oct 2007 #

    ILM is ILM. It merely mutates. (I like the existence of the mutations, not necessarily every mutation.)

    My experience (which my trawl through the last fifteen years of my life via my blog this past week has put into further focus): I receive, almost daily now, comments, compliments, considerations via social networks, private boards and public, ye olde e-mail, the lot, from people who think, discuss, perform, receive. I don’t have time to engage with it all and combine that with the fact that I’m doing my usual social life-random joke-‘what to cook tonight?’-HI DERE living of life as well ultimately means a scattering of thoughts and drive.

    I think a lot of the perceived relocation of discussion energy is merely that the central identity of one’s location on the net is almost inevitably nonexistent now — it’s *everywhere*, as much as you would want it to be. My blog I set up not so much as a key locale as it is a clearinghouse and connecting point for each of the identities, at least those I wish to share (I don’t want to share them all, and don’t).

  16. 16

    […] some general music blog talk October 11th, 2007 — Ned Raggett Going to this FT entry from Tom E. further led to this one on rockcritics.com. Well worth checking out (I might read them in reverse […]

  17. 17

    […] a wide-ranging bunch of music blog characters, and a typically astute summation of the issues by Tom over at Freaky […]

  18. 18

    […] terms of blogging per se, I’m answering without having read in detail the responses of others or subsequent commentary – that I’ll do when I’ve finished, and maybe signal which thoughts most and least accord with […]

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    Ashley on 9 Apr 2008 #

    so today i had track practice and i was coming into the school and i ran into a closing door everybody was laughing at me it hurt so bad i got a black eye from it lol

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    Ashley on 9 Apr 2008 #

    my bf just broke up with me its so sad tear tear lol idc tho so yea i just found this site its pretty cool

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