The new year is about to begin and right now you’re more than likely staring at a barren inbox praying some pitch or announcement rolls through to give you an excuse to post something before the ball drops. We tried to warn you about the holiday slowdown, but every year without fail there is a large outcry from hungry bloggers in search of something worth sharing with their readers, and after the year most sites experienced it’s not hard to understand why. 2015 found many beginning to question the role of music blogs, as they have year after year since the initial boom of social media, but the last twelve months were particularly bad because of how many sites – both old and new – could not find the funding needed to keep their journalistic endeavors afloat. The lack of money in music writing has been a problem for over a decade at this point, but things seemed to come to some sort of head as fall gave way to a warmer than usual winter.
With all this in mind, we believe 2016 is going to be an important year for the world of music blogs. Whether your site is old or new, everyone attempting to make their mark online is going to have to rethink the way they operate, and that extends from editors all the way to the smallest contributors. Simply creating timely content is no longer enough to bring in hits, and even if it were those hits are probably nowhere near large enough to generate the kind of income needed to cover operational costs. There is more to running a successful online publication than simply being able to keep your site online, but all too often that is the most great content producers can hope to accomplish, and that is heartbreaking shame. We cannot provide you with anymore income than what you’re making from writing right now, but if you follows these tips in the new year we do believe your work in journalism will continue to thrive.
Focus on quality over quantity (AKA Death to copypasta)
We lost the ability to keep track of just how many pitches were hitting our inbox in 2015. The amount of bands being promoted by smart publicists who now how to write a good email has long surpassed the blogging industry’s ability to cover everything, but things seemed to be a little more out of control than usual as of late. Still, not a day went by that we didn’t see writer after writer copying and pasting every press release they could to create what they call ‘news’ posts on their individual sites. While we’re sure the publicists behind these mailings appreciate the support, this content has next to know journalistic value and rarely, if ever, contributes to a site’s overall traffic in a meaningful way. You can rest assured that if you’re taking the easy route of copy/paste that atlas a dozen other sites will do the same, and if you’re all running the same headline with the exact same information contained in each post then why should anyone bother to visit your particular site?
Make 2016 is the year of original content. Cover the news that matters to your audience (which you can decipher by learning to follow analytics), but focus the majority of your time on crafting content that cannot be found anywhere else online. It doesn’t matter if the final result is short or long, just make it yours. The artists we love earn our admiration for doing something that no one else can replicate and the same reasoning extends to the sites we frequent. Your blog should be a unique music destination, and that begins with quality original content.
Sources. Sources. Sources. (AKA Don’t be a dick)
Most the bloggers I speak with on a regular basis share their concerns over never being credited for the work they do. They don’t expect to get paid, or at least not at first, but whenever someone manages to learn a tasty exclusive through an interview or intelligent research they realize most, if not all sites who run the headline after them will not link to their original article. This is especially frustrating for small sites, as they rely the most on word of mouth to grow, and even if they have the best writers online there is no way they can scale their operation without people giving a damn about their existence.
The only way any site will be able to develop a real readership in 2016 will be if writers learn to respect and give credit to their peers. If you cover an exclusive someone else broke, make sure to give them credit. Doing so not only makes you look more professional, but it sends a message to another writer that you appreciate their hustle. That can of respect can go a long way toward developing both the brand of your site, as well as your personal efforts in music. It’s no more difficult than treating others the way you want to be treated, but you would be surprised how few have adopted this idea up to this point.
Leverage emerging technology
Twitter and Instagram takeovers were everywhere in music blogging over the last year, but with live broadcast services like Periscope becoming commonplace it’s time for blogs to think more creatively about their social media based exclusives. Live broadcast offers users a very unique way to interact with their musical heroes in real time, but right now very few outlets have adopted these services in their coverage of the industry. This will change in time however, and anyone hoping to stay ahead of the curve would be wise to begin planning their use of these platforms now.
For example, when covering festivals in 2016 it’s not hard to imagine blogs of all sizes running brief interviews or acoustic performances that air only on live broadcast networks. Likewise, we believe artist Q&As will be very popular on these services. The ability to not only see, but interact with talent in real time is something no other platform can offer. Artists don’t necessarily need blogs to use these tools, but through collaborations they (and you) can reach a new audience.
Innovative Brand Development
It’s hard to imagine many angles for digital features that haven’t been covered, so heading into the new year the sites that hope to develop their connection with readers will need to break the mold with their outreach. While it can be tempting to rely on the internet for everything you do and need, we suggest thinking of what can be done in the real world (otherwise known as ‘offline’) to help grow your site.
Two old school example of this that still have a lot of value are hosting or sponsoring local shows and releasing site-generated compilations. These efforts promote your site’s dedication to helping aspiring artists further their careers, as well as showcase your personal taste in music. The people who come to events you sponsor or host will see your name and align your site with the style of music being played. The same concept extends to the compilation, which tells listeners they can find more music like that featured on the track list on your outlet. If people feel strongly for the music they may learn to feel strongly for your writing, as the success of one can aide the success of the other.
Don’t Shy Away From Honesty
The one thing that cannot be taught to someone trying to navigate the waters of early music writing is that the quickest path to longterm success is found through accepting yourself for who you are as a person and a consumer of music. The reason this cannot be taught is because no one who has yet to embrace their true selves can force such a change to take place on command. It must happen naturally, and any writer trying to force their true selves onto paper or a blog post will only become frustrated at how unoriginal their words sound. Like all great art, great music writing comes from a pure place that worries not about clicks or finances. The best music writers, or perhaps I should say the best writers in general, are those who are unabashedly themselves in everything they do. They share with readers personal details both big and small that make their work, no matter how strange the subject, more relatable to consumers. That accessibility is what will convert blog visitors to dedicated readers, and it’s what will give readers a reason to tell their friends about your work.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.