Journalism Tips: Overcoming The Holiday Slowdown (AKA Stop Worrying About Traffic)

Christmas is just days away at this point, and as a music news writer you have no doubt noticed a major drop in the number of press releases and pitches hitting your inbox. Many PR firms, as well as many record labels, take off the last few weeks of the year, if not longer. It is a long-standing corporate tradition that is both a gift and a curse to blog owners, and so far this year seems no different. On the one hand, you have less emails to keep up with and far more time to relax. That said, the lack of breaking news almost always means a dip in traffic, which is the kind of thing that keeps most serious editors awake at night.

Though this certainly won’t prevent you from worrying about the longterm impact from the drop in traffic try reminding yourself when things get slow that these dips impact virtually everyone in music journalism. Culturally speaking, there is very little emphasis placed on entertainment news and the tour plans of emerging musicians around this time. We as Americans are conditioned to view the time immediately before Christmas, as well as the days leading into the new year, as something intended for family gatherings, get togethers with old friends, and generally strengthening the bonds within their individual communities. People are not reading your review the new album from Before Their Eyes because they do not care, but rather because they have been trained through years of advertising, lessons from parents, and countless other avenues to focus more attention on themselves and their immediate surroundings. You are likely the exact same way, even if you don’t notice it. The only difference between you and them is that you understand what it is like to rely on the number of unique clicks given to any one site or page in order to make it through the day without hating yourself.

I wish I could say that the holiday dip gets easier to handle with each passing year, but sometimes I believe the opposite may be true. When you first start out, the importance of day to day traffic is not as big as, say, how you perform over an entire month. You are happy that anyone is reading your work at all, or at least you should be, so dips come and go without much thought given to the reason for their occurrence. As you begin to build your professional profile however, the frustration you feel towards negative changes in traffic only continues to build. It is at that point that traffic becomes a true addiction for most bloggers, outpacing alcohol and prescription pills in the rate at which they can make or break a person’s day. You begin relying on numbers to justify your work rather than the feeling of accomplishment writing about music well typically provides. When that happens, and it hits almost everyone who finds the smallest bit of success, it is hard to not feel like the world is telling you they no longer care. You feel as if you are a hobby, or maybe even something less, and that the vast majority of internet users would be perfectly fine living life whether or not your site ever existed.

Of course, this is all big and lofty stuff that holds little real weight, but in the mind of a creative person trying to use their voice to share their vision or perspective of the world around them it can feel like a 10-ton boulder weighing on their shoulders all day long. The dip inn traffic sets off an internal struggle between the belief one is doing what they were put on this planet to do and the horrifying notion they may have chased a fruitless hobby to the point of no return. This is admittedly a selfish thought, but that is the way the mind works for many writers. They feel every change in traffic directly correlates to something that was first birthed in the deepest canals of their brain. Every success is because of them, but so is every failure, and allowing themselves to believe that is true can often worsen an already fragile sense of self worth. Writers typically believe they are good, even if they won’t admit it to others, but it is a lot easier to believe with data. When data says differently, that initial blind faith is hard to maintain.

My battles with the holiday traffic dip have been epic since day one. Like many young writers, I believed the easiest way to create more traffic was to have more posts. More content would equate to more unique readers, at least in my inexperienced mind, so I would spend long hours writing about artists – many of whom I did not even care for – who had for new or even recent updates that we had previously not run. I was a news madman, but for all my effort the results were typically about the same. A day with twenty articles and a day with forty articles would only be separated by about 500 uniques, which made the value of those extra twenty posts incredibly small. Ever worse, I knew how much time with family and those I love had been sacrificed in order for them to be created. I was losing on all fronts and feeling even worse about myself than I had just knowing the dip existed.

Two years ago, things started to change, but certainly not as fast as I might have hoped. Instead of driving myself insane by sacrificing large amounts of time for content that very few people would enjoy, regardless of that content’s quality, I decided to use the holiday slowdown as an opportunity to plan the year ahead. Admittedly I did not plan as well as I might have liked, but for the first time in over half a decade of blogging I had found an outlet for my frustrations that allowed me to constructively combat my own demons, as well as the drop in uniques, all while focusing on the one hobby/job/passion/interest I have carried the last decade of my life. It was not perfect by any means, but it was more productive and beneficial than any of my previous late December breakdowns, and I am hoping to improve upon those efforts in the weeks ahead while I set to planning what this blog will do in the new year.

When we started the month of December I had no plans to write this article, as we wrote a similar entry last year, but as I noticed students posting about final exams winding down and saw numerous friends begin complaining about traffic I had a change of heart. I saw myself in those were frustrated, and I wanted to reach out in hopes of easing their worried minds. Let me tell you right now that anyone thinking that the dip they see in traffic around this time is a direct result of something they did is wrong, and that perspective is coming from someone who has spent many holidays being hard on themselves for not producing stronger traffic during Christmas Break. You are worth more than you know, and so is the work you are doing to promote the art and artists you love. That is true whether or not your analytics surpasses your expectations, and it always will be as long as you do not allow yourself to get lost in data. You didn’t start writing to become obsessed with who is or is not reading you work, so don’t let it distract you now. Be the best writer you can possibly be and the rest will follow.

Believe me, young writers, when I tell you that the world has not forgotten about you. The audience you have built remains dedicated, your work remains consistent, and the support you have from the rest of the blogging community is as strong as it has ever been. Instead of letting the holiday slowdown throw you and your emotions for a loop, accept that traffic dips and focus your efforts on creating a more productive new year. Don’t waste time with stories no one will read or social media efforts that will find only minimal traction and look to the future. Build a content calendar, draft requests for 2016 album releases, apply to SXSW, and/or something else altogether. Whatever you do – stay positive. The world is not ending and your talent is not going unnoticed. People simply have other priorities right now, and in less than two weeks things will return more or less to normal. Just breathe.

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.