What It Means to be a music blog in 2016

Every now and then we stumble across something our friends in the media have written about life in the industry and we beg them to allow us to post it here on our blog. Sometimes they say no, but this time our pal Scott Fugger said yes! What follows is a piece Scott wrote about his experiences as a blogger, as well as what he feels it means to be a music blog in 2016. Whether you’re new to blogging or a veteran of the online writing game, there is something in the following post that everyone can enjoy.

If there’s one thing we know it’s that the music industry is constantly changing. It may not be clear how, why, or what’s next, but this beast never stays the same for long. What it means to be a music blog today is vastly different from what it was five years ago and in many ways even from this same time last year. With 36vultures going through structural changes and a refocus on original content, what better way to kick the year off than by discussing what a music blog can and should be?

The basic building blocks of any music site are simple: news, reviews, interviews, and features. These four things build up the substance of what is created and ultimately delivered to the audience. On a deeper level, the goals of a blog are greater – to expose others to up and coming artists, to spark conversation, and to become an extension of the personal tastes of both the staff and the readers.

With so much news continuously coming from so many bands it is impossible to report on everything. For those who enjoy a wide range of music, the unfortunate truth is that this leads to a fragmented music news experience. No one website will ever be able to deliver all of the news that you, let alone every single one of their readers, want. But is that such a bad thing? Now that social media is commonplace it is possible for fans to get up to the minute updates right from the source – the bands and labels themselves. This fosters a stronger connection by opening the possibility for great interaction as well as allowing each person to decide specifically whose information they want to see. There is, of course, always the fear of missing out on some extremely important news, which means it is still useful to canvas a variety of blogs for news stories. Throwing away the idea of covering everything blogs then necessarily focus on the news that is most important to its audience and creators; thus each site is able become a unique extension of its viewers’ personal tastes and creating a community around it. However, because news is simply a basic requirement, blogs must find a way to also make a name for themselves in other ways and to actually make a statement.

In this digital age of streaming, anyone can listen to anything with a few taps of a screen meaning that reviews in their traditional sense become somewhat pointless. Why would someone care what you think about the new big album when they can just listen to it themselves? This doesn’t mean reviews should be thrown out altogether, just that those who write them need to find creative ways to dig deeper. Just like any other type of article, a review should have a hook that makes it special. It’s not enough to say the music is good or bad while talking vaguely about the sounds coming out of the stereo. Readers are looking for a more analytical approach because most of them come in with already formed opinions. A more in-depth look at the lyrical content, an interesting point about the structure of a song in relation to the album as a whole, or a personal connection that has come out through the music are just some options for this. If something can be offered that puts the music in a different light or causes critical thinking and introspection can cause a review to be worthwhile both to be written and to be read. Similarly when reviewing an up and coming band it is important to discuss why the band is worth sinking time into and persuading others to do so while still allowing for a back and forth, furthering the conversation. Ideally a review, like a persuasive essay, isn’t just “I think this and you should too,” but a summary of assertions that are backed up and logically presented.

Property of Zack is dead, long live Property of Zack. Since their relaunch at the start of 2015 original content has become more important than ever. The site revolutionized themselves by completely removing reviews, cutting back on news, and focusing on real, substantive content. It may not have been the first website to do it, but it made waves that were felt throughout the Internet. While anyone with an Internet connection has the ability to start a blog in mere minutes, original content is what draws in readers and keep them coming back. Features and interviews offer the opportunity to shine the spotlight and give a deeper look at important artists and subjects. Interviews with artist can quickly become mundane for both the artists and readers. No band wants to be asked the same questions over and over again and no fans want to read them. When interviewers do research and plan their questions, but also allow the conversation to flow musicians really open up, revealing more of themselves than even they expected and creating a fresh, enjoyable story to bring to those who read it. Additionally, breaking new ground in features produces a similarly enticing experience. Making predictions, bringing new thoughts and ideas into others’ minds, and keeping them up to date on the cutting edge is how to do this. The most meaningful connections happen through education, the voicing opinions, and encouraging others to join the conversation. Articles like this allow sites to show off their own unique and unified voice. This in turn leads to a passionate fanbase of likeminded readers, much like the lyrics of a song do for any band.

Many of the major outlets fall into these traps out of necessity. They serve too large an audience, which leads to an overwhelming amount of news items, each only relevant to a small portion of their readership. While some articles may have proper substance, they do not shine through in the same way they would otherwise. Chasing the bigger bands and web traffic may be what makes them money, but it is also their downfall. Much like independent bands, independent websites now have the chance to shine. 2016 is the year of the passionate, individualized blog. Do it for the music, do it for the readers, and do it for the love.

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.