24
Oct 07

So You Want To Be A Blog N Roll Star?

FT15 comments • 814 views

Idolator has been having a good deal of snarky fun about the OiNK bust, and it’s been very entertaining to read, but the fast-moving nature of that site means that the most interesting post of the last few days, Jess Harvell’s despairing analysis of the MP3 blogosphere and the nature of the hype it generates, is already off the front page. It’s well worth reading, though (and most of the comments are smart too).

A couple of the commenters on that thread put forward the idea (also seen in PGWP) that the rise of the MP3 blog is a “British-ization” of the traditionally slower American promo and hype cycle, with Pitchfork and Stereogum playing the NME and Melody Maker*. Specific parallels aside, I think there’s a lot of truth to this: it’s a structural shift which even the downfall of something as big as OiNK won’t really slow. Jess’ main point is that the hype cycle is damaging to bands as well as to criticism – new bands barely have time to make an impact before their new fanbase turns on them. There’s definitely truth in this, but I grew up in the UK with a similar level of turnaround and actually being a fan in those kind of hothouse conditions is terrific, weirdly exhilarating. I once stopped reading the NME for six months and when I picked up a new issue it was like I’d missed a decade – every name was different. If you’re 17 or 18 and buzzing off the hype and the sense of discovery then it doesn’t actually matter to you if the stuff you’re listening to is crap: there’s no more irrelevant question than “will this last?”. It might, it might not – let’s find out when we get there!

But even then British acts found it very hard to break out of the hype ecosystem – I may have been a giddy young thing but I could still hear how naive and raw a lot of the bands I liked sounded, how untranslatable their appeal was, how ridiculous their claims of “breaking America” were. And the virtual Britain created by the blogosphere isn’t much larger than the real one used to be. There must be an enormous disconnect for a band who suddenly become blogosphere heroes – the logistics of cashing in by physically touring for all those virtual fans must be daunting. Plus if you enjoy having an audience then a six-month lease on your fans isn’t a brilliant deal. What’s a band to do? Assuming you manage to get some internet hype going – and how exactly you do this is somewhat beyond me, innocent old man that I am – how do you keep your audience in the brave new world?

If I was the Black Kids (using Jess’ example), my strategy would probably be:

  • identify, befriend and court the second-tier blogs: they’ll be more grateful for exclusives and more likely to feel guilty about turning on you. For the top-tier ones, identify with specific people there rather than the site as a whole.
  • get a good lawyer, a better PR and an even better manager and don’t go anywhere near any long-term label deals.
  • remember that spending 2 years between albums is a label-led marketing strategy that dates from the 90s at the earliest and is now woefully inadequate – if you do want to put out albums, do two a year like bands generally have at times of maximum buzz (Mid-60s, glam, punk, etc.)
  • but even better break out from the album format – keep a dripfeed of recorded material coming in the form of exclusives, remixes if they’re fashionable (as now), acoustic demos if they’re fashionable, bona fide new tracks, works in progress – turn your work into a story people will want to follow
  • for god’s sake get a proper domain as well as a myspace, and get some good message boards going on it.
  • once you’ve done that you can get feedback, a sense of who your customers are, and the kind of good direct relationship that means you can ask for money when you need it.
  • and you can go the honesty box route if you want
  • though of course then you need a lot of bandwidth too
  • grr arrgh

OK, I am almost certainly being naive myself (I’m a marketer, not a musician), and hypothetical bands doing this kind of thing still aren’t going to make much or any money, and none of it will make their music good (Jess is right that the Black Kids are not good) . But the principles of audience engagement and hard work – the virtual equivalent of doing endless Transit Van tours – could take the sting off the backlash and let bands get the opportunity to shamble vaguely in the direction of ‘good’ and ‘money’.

*of course the British hype cycle has changed itself in the last few years – more about that tomorrow tho.

Comments

  1. 1

    I think there is a really interesting point which is very rarely dealt with — the assumption has always been that the “music being raved about” is the central issue, with the community of commentary a secondary matter dependent on the first

    i REALLY REALLY don’t think this is the case — or at least, it isn’t the case for a signficant sector of the readership, who want very much to belong to the “community of the in-the-know”, which means knowing about the WRITERS and what’s been written (and actually you DON’T need to know that much about the music, or indeed anything at all!) (i mean the writers probably do, bcz there’s a competitive pressure on being one, and BIG GIANT RECORD COLLECTIONS is a factor in the competition, but the readers don’t)

    magazines and newspapers and blogs all conjure up imagined communities — the sense a reader has of being part of a like-minded, far-sighted, correct-tasting group — but the fit of those groups onto the followers of this or that music act or music movement is often very shaky indeed (but since information on the fitness of the fit comes entirely through the magazine or blog or whatever, the fact of the unfitness of the fit is generally distorted to the point of uselessness)

  2. 2
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2007 #

    Looks as though the Black Kids might have sunk into obscurity if it hadn’t been for that article on Idolator drawing attention to them!

  3. 3

    true but maybe it’ll be good for them having to ride the shape of the wave jess has directed at them! his response has given them the opportunity to be part of an argument — to embody or do battle with content — which they can turn to their advantage

  4. 4

    “to embody or do battle with content” — ie content NOT supplied by them or their early adopters (fans and/or writers)

  5. 5
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Oct 2007 #

    If only the music blogosphere had been around at the time of the Jazz Insects!

  6. 6
    katstevens on 24 Oct 2007 #

    EMBITTERED FROM LONDON WRITES: The other day I caught myself thinking how relieved I was that I was no longer in a band/dealing with record labels/tramping up and down the country to play to audiences of 3 (including guitarist’s parents)/sitting through 3 or 4 rubbish bands with whom you are sharing the line-up then having to lie and tell them ‘well done’/having loads of good musical ideas only to see them dismissed or laughed at by your BANDMATES/having absolutely no money ever. I was probably just in the wrong band, but I do know that it was an awful lot more fun before the record company got interested in us.

    I hope that everyone who wants to be a rock star knows by now that it is only lucrative enough to give up your day job if you a) ‘sell out’ b) are bogglingly successful to the tune of selling at least a million albums. Neither fit in with ‘indie’ ideals very often :(

  7. 7
    katstevens on 24 Oct 2007 #

    Ahem. There was meant to be a point in between all that ranting:

    “But the principles of audience engagement and hard work – the virtual equivalent of doing endless Transit Van tours – could take the sting off the backlash and let bands get the opportunity to shamble vaguely in the direction of ‘good’ and ‘money’.”

    This is the sticking point – I really don’t think a lot of bands can be faffed with the ‘hard work’ part. If you can’t afford a manager, tourbus driver, tour manager, PR person, website designer etc then you have to do it yourself (or find some mug who will do a sh1tty job reasonably well for free). The whole business is absolutely exhausting: at least the equivalent of 2 full time jobs if you really want to get anywhere. I only managed thanks to my day job having VERY flexible hours & an understanding boss, a good credit history and vast quantities of booze and fags.

  8. 8
    byebyepride on 24 Oct 2007 #

    A lot of the oink whiners have argued that bands should be grateful that they steal their music because in exchange they pay for gigs and what have you. There seems to be a real sense of resentment here – because I enjoy your songs you deserve to be kept touring all the time to shitty little venues for next to no money (being realistic about the level most of these bands are at). Or since these are all boys, the argument must really be: you’re getting pussy, why should you have money to live on too? Most of the arguments are pie-in-the-sky since they’re extrapolating from a situation in which some consumers are successfully parasitic on a system in which many people pay something for music to a model in which no-one pays, and only bands that stay on the road or flog T-shirts make a living.

    Sorry, doesn’t have much to do with Jess’s piece. Since I gave up reading most music blogs I don’t really recognise the situation he’s getting upset about.

  9. 9
    katstevens on 24 Oct 2007 #

    I’ve skimmed over Jess’s article – I can see how the blog machine could be responsible for churning out half-formed bands, but surely if the bands are worth anything at all they can progress past all this hype business and come out the other side sparkling? I hate to say it but the Arctic Monkeys seem to have managed this quite well, thanks to them producing a high turnover of catchy tunes that have a broad appeal (and being able to play said tunes competently, of course). Their music is not exactly ground-breaking and certainly not worthy of media hysteria, but they are hard-working and talented and have succeeded because of this. I guess the failing bands Jess mentions are lacking either talent or effort or both.

  10. 10
    Steve on 24 Oct 2007 #

    ‘I really don’t think a lot of bands can be faffed with the ‘hard work’ part.’

    The reasons you give are sound but in other ways it’s still never been easier to do many of the things desired or required of a band. cheaper ‘instruments’ (hardware and software at least), cheaper travel in certain respects and obv. the internet as shop window (or in mp3 blogs cases, shop assistants?).

    But yeah those things becoming easier increases quantity of and competition among new bands, replacing the old problems with new ones chiefly how to actually stand out in the first place as well as maintain audience interest…in order to make a living. i figure that’s where the resignation and reluctance for artists will kick in now. But still not enough artists making the net work for them in as many ways as they could. Tom’s tips are very good but not extensive of course.

    the ‘British-ization’ point is interesting but, and I know what it means in this context but still, the ironing is that seemingly 95% of the influential mp3 blogs are made in the USA. There’s so much Europhilia on many of these that it probably doesn’t matter but I’d still like more popular and prominent mp3 blogs based in the UK. i’m a little out of the loop tho ala byebyepride.

  11. 11
    Lex on 24 Oct 2007 #

    It’s telling to compare the “mp3 blogs => mad hype cycle => shitty bands who don’t get a chance to develop” argument to what I see repeated so often on pop blogs: I hope this song ends up on the album, why hasn’t this been released yet, why is the release date being pushed back again, why has this been taken off the album, where is the goddman product on the shelves?” Pop acts, subject to the whims of record companies rather than ADD-riddled bloggers, seem to suffer the opposite thing…

    Also I can’t believe there is an indie band called Black Kids. ffs people.

  12. 12
    Lex on 24 Oct 2007 #

    oh yeah and byebyepride fully otm about the oink handwringers! I have never before witnessed such a sense of entitlement. ged yr hands out of yr pockets and PAY UP, tight asses.

  13. 13
    Tom on 24 Oct 2007 #

    To be fair to Black Kids Lex, they are actually black. And pretty young.

  14. 14

    no one is younger than the lex — it’s the law, lex lex is its name

  15. 15
    stevem on 24 Oct 2007 #

    ‘they are actually black. And pretty young.’

    what? that’s even worse!

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