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.