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Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Dire State of Music Blogging - A reaction

By Stef

On the highly recommendable blog "An Overgrown Path", the author muses about the state of (classical) music blogging, some days ago, with some self-irony since that's what he does (I assume he is a man, but I might be wrong). Here is a big chunk from the author's article:

"In the early noughties new media in the form of blogs arrived offering a platform that was free from the commercial agendas of mainstream media. As lively, informed and free-thinking writing was squeezed out of the mainstream, the hope was that blogs would provide a platform for the defiant viewpoints that Deryck Cooke praised in 1964. But the dream never became reality. As traditional media atrophied, those with something to sell - and there are very many of those in classical music - realised that blogs offered the perfect platform for their sales pitches. So music blogs progressively became vehicles for scarcely hidden self-interest and disingenuous spin pandering to the foolishness of crowds.  

In a series of recent tweets Charles Downey assessed the state of music blogs by tracking those in Alex Ross' seminal 2004 listing, and concluded that "Year of last update often somewhere around 2014. Some completely disappeared. Some with one post so far this year. #itsover" Elsewhere attempts have been made to explain the slow and painful death of music blogging, with everything being blamed except the real reason. Music blogs are dying because with very few exceptions they are not worth reading. They are not worth reading because they have become just another expression of the compromised ethics and scarcely disguised self-interest that pervades classical music. In fact most music blogs, like so much social media, are no more than selfies in print posted by a new breed of prosecco activists .

Music blogs are now just another part of a tacky global marketplace where people have principles, but are prepared to change them if the price is right. There is no place in the blogging community for the rich range of independent viewpoints that Deryck Cooke cherished or the constructive debate that such richness of opinions fosters. Charles Downey is right when he observes that music blogging #itsover. Classical music desperately needs a wider and more diverse journalistic constituency. However it is not to be. A golden opportunity has been squandered by music bloggers, and I am in that group. But given the dire state that music blogging is in today, its demise will be regrettable but not a major loss". 

I am sure he has a point, yet at the same time we are happy to say, that with our 10th anniversary in view, we can still claim with great emphasis that we managed to avoid all commercial interests, while steadily growing our readership. In August - last month - no less than 112,000 pageviews (yes!) came to our blog, with a similar figure in July. And these people (you!) read our reviews only because of the informative value they offer. Sure, we get albums from the music labels, or directly from musicians, and from our friends at Instantjazz and Downtown Music Gallery, who only give us CDs with no strings attached. Yet we also buy music, at concerts, from digital outlets, and from regular music stores (although it's rare that they sell the music we review). And for sure, labels and musicians send us emails asking to be reviewed, yet the music and the quality of the music remains the number one criteria for writing posts. We'd like to think we are fully independent, even so independent that our writers wield their own pen based on their own opinions. And that is what explains our success : enthusiastic writing, with critical interest in the music, and - I need to repeat this - only reviewing the music we like, the music we would like to recommend our readers to explore themselves. 

He also has a point when he says that some music blogs, especially when they are independent and when they cover other than mainstream music, have a hard time to continue existing. It requires daily efforts by a team of dedicated people who listen and write just for the fun of it, because they love the music and they love to share what they hear, spending valuable time with their ears glued to the music, and with their fingers on the keyboard, finding out more information about the musicians, browsing through catalogues to place the music in the development of the band or the artists, going through their own archives, listening again to earlier recordings by the musicians, reading liner notes and listening again, and again and again, to absorb the music, to listen again with an analytic mind, to listen again with a vivisective mind, to listen with a synthetic mind, to listen without rationality again, letting your whole person be overwhelmed by it, letting the music sink in and reach the entire person, or not. I started this blog like a maniac, reviewing albums on an almost daily basis. Today, we have a whole team of people who contribute, more knowledgeable and better writers than myself, and maybe that is the key to our success, that it's the result of a team of individuals with their views and preferences and style, but we all share the same love for the music. 

To end my long litany, one more point : the music we write about deserves a wider audience, and often we write for the converted, but at the same time listening and writing about it has widened my musical horizons, and together with the evolution of the music itself, our readership has gradually expanded too, reaching more people. We are reaching 'only' some tens of thousands to read our blog posts every month, and maybe that's our 'universe' as marketeers would call it. We hope to expand and inform, and include more people in this community. He writes that "a golden opportunity has been squandered by music bloggers" and "given the dire state that music blogging is in today, its demise will be regrettable but not a major loss". I hope that we have demonstrated the opposite. 


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Stef. This blog is invaluable to me; I glance in every day or two. Here, of course, the review duties are shared among a number of dedicated people, while most of the contemporary classical blogs I know of rely on a single person's energy and predilections. No wonder they trail off into silence. I haven't noticed that many of them are biased or blinkered, though. What do other people think?

Colin Green said...

As you say, it's unsurprising that blog's run by one person eventually run out of steam. As for pressure from commercial interests: none of the reviewers on this blog get paid, and let's face it, there's no real money in free jazz. There are classical bogs, such as those run by BBC Radio 3, which are quite active and free of any record label pressure.

Alexander said...

As someone whose interest in jazz and improvisational music has recently grown, this blog, both new postings and the tremendous archives, has been a big part of it. Thanks to the whole team for all their work keeping it going!

Martin Schray said...

Interestingly, I recently talked to a German music journalist and college lecturer and he complained about the deplorable state of music journalism. He said that most journalists copy or rewrite the press releases from the record companies. He thought that blogs cannot replace good, well-written articles but at least they're there and highlight music which would not be in the focus without them. We do what we can do, that's true, but sometimes we are also - even as a collective - at our limits, since we all have regular jobs and don't get anything for our reviews. As Colin said: There's no money in free jazz. The positive feedback we get from readers and musicians is the motivation that keeps us keeping on.

Jochen said...

Dear Stef, Colin and all other reviewers. I'm a german guy living and working for the last 30 years in New York City. Thanks for keeping this great blog alive and keeping me aware that great creative music is happening all over the world. Reading your blog (often followed by discovering new musical treasures) while having breakfast, is an experience I do not want to miss. Thanks to all of you, Jochen.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that the notion that "classical(?) music blogs" are "over" is a very silly notion, unless one defines "blog" in a very particular way, and one frankly, where I don't know why anyone would care. If the comment is received in any generality, then it suggests that people will not be reading or writing about music online? Again, I think that's just plain silly. Anyway, Stef & others, keep up the good work. Anyone complaining that writers are not producing interesting material, which I agree has a ring of truth to it, should simply try to produce more interesting material, as you guys do. Other gnashing of teeth is quite pointless.

joesh said...

I agree with what Martin said, that blogs don't necessarily replace good music journalism. I'm (like many of the reviewers who write/wrote here) firstly a music freak, I've collected records all my life.

Many people use blogs - or at least I often do - to keep up with the massive amount of music being released, and often things you've missed, and this blog (FJC) gives people a chance to simply be aware or, discover, and also have an opinion from another fanatic, about new records coming out. In our case we have (and I include many past writers) a very big team, which explains why the reviews keep on coming.

However, as someone who also studied Musicology, I learnt an important lesson about not letting a piece of music or a performance be judged personally, but as something to be looked at externally. Much music blogging, as someone has already said, is about personal motivation - in the good sense of the word(s). I think that with all topics, books, cooking/restaurants, wine, and music, when you realise that someone has the same tastes as you, their opinion is something you can trust, or at least understand. If you need a more in depth viewpoint, then it's maybe better to read somewhere else than a blog post. Although having said that there are indeed some bloggers that combine both aspects (Alex Ross being an example).

LYM said...

Thanks Stef, and thanks to all the Free Jazz collective. I'd like to write this way.I'm here 3/4 times a week, I'm in other, very few places sometimes. To my knowledge this is one of the most intresting and exciting places (the most?)for reading abot non integrated music. Thanks again for Your invaluable effort and generosity. I'm not really a blogger, I write on some webzines, I wrote for a fine PDFzine named Jazzcolours now over. So I know well the strenght necessary in writng a possibly honest review: listen to the record many times, searching for infos, listening to the previous recordings, to the recordings of other musicians connected. and so on.

A great THANKS! My days would be poorer without Your blogging.

Andrea (Italy)

Gennaro Z. said...

I would like to thank all the staff of the Free Jazz Collective blog.
Please Stef, come back to review records: I miss your unique point of view!