Can someone create a successful, sustainable music blog in 2017?


Not long ago the idea of launching a music blog was thought to be a smart way for aspiring music professionals to network and get their foot in the door of an otherwise hard to access industry. Anyone living anywhere who could string together sentences and navigate a ‘create your own site’ type blogging platform (WordPress, Tumblr, Blogspot, etc.) was suddenly able to be a part of the entertainment business, and many signed up to do just that. Sites of all sizes were creating original content, building communities, and – in some cases – catching the attention of the business world at large. Some site owners sold their creations for thousands of dollars, while others built writing teams largely funded through click-driven ad revenue.

Over the last few years however, things have gone downhill. Sites have been folding by the dozens, and any newcomers who dare try to launch a new project without some kind of celebrity backing or association often struggle to develop an audience. Patreon has helped in some cases by making it easy for consumers to support content creators, but when the majority of a site’s content (news) is easily available for free on a hundred other sites convincing people a single blog deserves even a dollar a month can be an uphill battle. This is especially with younger audiences, who have likely never paid to read news or opinions in their life. That demographic has only ever known the news to be something that was available on demand, for free, 24/7.  To make them think otherwise requires original thinking, innovative content, smart marketing, and relatable voices with in-depth knowledge of the subject matter.

But there’s a problem: All of those things require money, and anyone who is actually getting paid to write about music right now will tell you there is little of that to be found. Advertising revenue has been falling for years, which has no doubt killed many publications and forced others to drastically downscale their operations.  In turn, the rate(s) freelance writers receive for their work has continue to fall year over year. Some have found success by selling music related content to brands and social platform as a form of marketing, but even those jobs are increasingly hard to find.

With all of this in mind one has to wonder: 

Can we create a successful, sustainable music blog in 2017?

From my experience, the responses to this questions can best be described as coming from either optimists or realists. The optimists will tell you that people will support something they believe if it is done well. Realists will tell you there is a lot of great content from great writers available for free all the time, so why do you think anyone’s work deserves more than theirs?

It really comes down to money and content. If you ask former music bloggers why they quit the first response they are most likely to offer will relate in some way to money. Maybe they needed more of it, or maybe they never made any at all. Maybe they made it work for a minute, but in order to have any kind of life as a functional adult they needed to seek additional employment. That secondary job inevitably paid more than writing so, over time, writing faded into the background.

Seriously, you would not believe the amount of great music writers who would love to continue writing about music, but due to the simple fact they have lives they cannot reason the time needed when no payment is involved. It’s not a matter of whether or not they are writing for the right reasons, but that our society is not one where credits can sustain one’s continued existence. Clicks don’t put food in writer’s stomachs or pay for their kids to have school clothes. People need money to live and asking for it in exchange for their time and creativity should not be something they hesitate to do. They deserve it.

The other factor, as mentioned above, is content. What kind of content can a publication offer today that cannot be found elsewhere for free? The answer is two-fold: The voices of the writers involved, and the type of content they are able to create because they have funding. The possibilities are endless as long as their is support for the creative endeavors of those involved.

If it mainly comes down to money, how much do we need?

This is a good question. Perhaps, the only question. There is no exact answer, but reliable monthly income is a good place to start. The amount a writer feels their work is worth and the amount they’re willing to accept to create said work is often two different numbers. Those with a passion to develop a sustainable brand and home for their work will be willing to take less to begin if they believe in what is being created. With the backing of an audience that reenforces the necessity of their work through financial support writers can be positioned to do great things on even modest budgets.

The thing is, most career writers will not jump into a non-paid project for an unknown site if there is no guarantee of money down the line. They may be willing to contribute an article or two, but they are likely too busy with paying work to take on something for credit.

How do we get around this?

It is possible that there are consumers who want quality content related to alternative music/entertainment enough to financially support a site at launch. With the right team of influencers, each bringing their own audience to the site, a community of passionate readers could theoretically support a new site from launch.

Right now, the best way to approach this appears to be through a funding site like Patreon, which allows consumers to give creators a few dollars a month, every month, in exchange for continued content creation. One could create a Patreon page promoting the launch of a new music site from a group of writers who have agreed to write as long as the page maintains X amount of money per month. Readers wishing to see the site launch agree to contribute a few dollars a month, and once a certain threshold is reached the site goes live. From that point, the amount of money generated per month directly correlates to the amount of content created.

For example: Let’s say MUSIC BLOG X starts a Patreon Page promising to launch once the site is receiving $250 a month in contributions. Prior to reaching this goal, all subscribers who sign up to donate early will receive a weekly newsletter with headlines and short reviews. Once the page is bringing in $250 a month, the site goes live. At this point all money donated to MUSIC BLOG X is split into three groups: Site costs, operational fees (taxes), and paying contributors. The first two groups could be covered with $100 a month. If the site continues to generation $250 a month, this leaves $150 to pay contributors. If the site pays writers $15 per feature (a low rate), the site can run 10 features that month. As more contributions come in, more content can be afforded. Writers get paid, readers get quality content. Everyone wins.

But we still come back to the first problem: Finding consumers who ‘give a damn’ enough to pay for a new publication.

It’s one thing to find subscribers to established brands, even if you have to lowball yourself to do so (Example: Alternative Press selling $5 subscriptions), but starting something new is an entirely different story. Many people equate something new with presenting risk, and no one likes to think they are risking their money. It may take a ‘proof of concept’ beta site to win over consumers, and even then it will be an uphill battle to gain followers.

This does not mean we should not try.

If you look around the digital space you will find there are small revolutions happening all the time. Every week there is a new idea or site or trend that grabs a corner of the internet by the collar and hooks them into whatever is being sold. It is unclear how large the market for a music blog is in 2017, but suffice to say there will always be an audience for quality music journalism. We as creators have to believe there are consumers who understand that the content we provide is not created out of thin air, and that every keystroke comes at a cost of time and money to the content creator. Just because consumers cannot hold our creations does not mean they do not have value, but convincing a generation of consumers raised to believe otherwise is a problem plaguing much of the digital space. The answer appears to reside in people and the community that can be created around their voices, as well as through empowering those who support them. When everyone feels like they are not only being heard, but respected, then we can move forward a global music community.

We need a revolution. Who will lead us into the future?

James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also the host of the Inside Music podcast and a ten-year veteran of music journalism. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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.