Dear Music Blogs: Please Stop Fishing For Clicks

The biggest story in music so far this week has been the seemingly sudden departure of Zayn Malik from One Direction. It’s a little hard to imagine anyone reading this was unaware of that fact before now, especially when you consider that his name is still trending on Twitter charts around the globe, but regardless – just know this is being considered a BIG deal in the pop world. News outlets and blogs around the world were quick to hop on the news in hopes of gaining a few extra clicks from the coverage, but in doing so many publications brought to light a problem that is running rampant across a number of sites, and in doing so is lowering the quality of content these outlets are able to provide. I don’t know that it has a problem, per se, but I like to call it ‘fishing for clicks,’ and it’s a problem we as an industry need to face head-on if we ever want to mature.

Though there are many sites that claim to celebrate all forms of music, the most popular music blogs have always been those with specific tastes who know not only what they like to listen to, but also what their consumers like to read. Sites like MetalInjection and MetalSucks, for example, cater to fans of heavy music far and wide. It’s not genre-specific, though sites like that do exist, but it does cater to one subset of music fans. You won’t find anything related to Britney Spears, Meaghan Trainor, Leon Bridges, or anything of the sort on their front page unless it somehow connects to a band most would agree play some variation of hard rock, metal, etc. This focus is what the site’s entire brand is built upon, and it’s the reason people continue to visit those sites day in and day out. There is no question what kind of content you will find on sites like these, nor is there any question about the kind of content that won’t be featured. It’s simple, and that is part of the reason people come back day in and day out.

Some sites are more broad in their coverage. HitFix, for example, covers a wide variety of entertainment. They cover film, television, and music, but nothing else. You may find reviews for both Jay Z and Wes Anderson on their site, but you won’t find editorials about politics or in-depth features discussing the future of video games. It’s not that this coverage wouldn’t be enjoyed by a segment of the HitFix readership, as it almost certainly would, but by running one piece on these topics the site would be saying to readers that more coverage should be expected in the future. In a way similar to the marketing campaign for Pringles potato chips, you cannot just have one story about something that falls outside your normal coverage area. Well, you can, but to do so would only be a disservice to your readers and yourself.

The reason I opened this article by mentioning the departure of Zayn Malik from One Direction is because headlines related to this news item can currently be found on hundreds of music sites that have never before covered One Direction, or at least not in a way intended to promote the future of the group. These are the same sites that any other day would tell you One Direction are nothing more than a boy band filled with members who have varying degrees of vocal talent and next to know true musical prowess to speak of. They’re pop music haters, or at least people who normally would tell you they don’t pay attention to radio, but because Zayn Malik is currently trending on all the major social networks they suddenly feel they too must cover his latest career decision on their blog.

BUT WHY?

If you have never covered One Direction before now, what do you believe you can gain from a one-time piece of news on a site that markets to people who (most likely) do not listen to 1D all that often. As the creator of content you have cultivated a community based around the type of news and features you can be relied upon to highlight. If you write about Warped Tour artists, you draw Warped Tour readers. If you write about jazz, those who devote themselves to hardcore are likely not your target market. It’s not that you don’t want these people to visit your site, as every new visitor could potentially become a reader, but you have to play the odds a bit when deciding what to run. Is a one-time piece of news on a group you are likely never going to cover again, or at least not on a regular basis, really more valuable than dedicating the same time to highlighting acts that fall within your normal coverage area? You may earn a few extra clicks, yes, but will those readers have any reason to return to your site after that initial visit? The answer, more often than not, is no.

I learned the lesson of fishing, or what may call “stretching” for clicks the hard way. My site, Under The Gun Review, was founded with the idea it would cover everything that appealed to my interests. I thought myself and others who read my work to be the type of people able to appreciated any kind of music, as long as it was performed well, but as time went on and younger sites began to grow at a faster rate than mine I realized that developing an audience for a site where literally anything could be posted is next to impossible. People may say they want more new music, but people do not want to discover just any kind of music. People want to discover music that is similar to what they already enjoy, and they look to sites who feature their favorite artists to assist them in that task. If a site writes about Warped Tour artists, the people who read that site are looking to learn about Warped artists, as well as other musicians who may one day appear on the tour. They do not; however, have much interest in the next country music sensation. Those artists may be equally talented, but the people visiting alternative music outlets are not looking to support those artists. It wasn’t until I began putting more effort into curating talent that played with our audiences interests that we began to see real growth and were able to actually help up and comers receive attention.

It is important that you understand there is a difference between stretching for clicks and simply attempting to extend the areas of music you cover. Every attempt to cover an artists has to start somewhere, and if you suddenly feel a desire to highlight all future news and releases from One Direction then you should definitely dedicate some of your front page to covering Zayn’s departure. It is huge news to anyone who cares about 1D, and that is a fact that cannot be denied. Still, if you have never posted about 1D before and know you likely won’t feature them again unless something as big as another member leaving occurs then you should skip covering Zayn’s departure and focus more on better catering to the audience you have already established. If you don’t give a shit about One Direction, why do you think they would? They read your site because they believe they enjoy the same music you do. Keep that in mind when deciding what to run and you will continue to see growth in time. Ignore the facts by attempting to hop on every viral bandwagon that arises and you will be doomed to experience stunted growth and create lackluster content.

Above all, be true to yourself. It might not be the fastest way to the top, but by far the most rewarding.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.