The difference between good and bad content

There are a lot of music blogs in existence today, yet many will tell you that interest in music writing has long started to wane. People claim services like Spotify and Apple Music, which are increasingly adding editorial efforts to their platforms, have replaced the space once populated by music nerds with a their own URL. Who needs a blog for discovery when a streaming service algorithm will auto-populate discovery playlists for you every week? Who needs critics when everyone with Facebook or Twitter has the ability to blast their thoughts on any and everything to the world at large? Who needs….you get the point.

As a career music writer I will be the first to admit that the vast majority of music writing is completely disposable. As more and more artist compete for our attention blogs have increasingly turned to regurgitating press releases as a means of constant content creation. The transition from classic journalism to clickbait and/or what essentially amounts to embed posting has been something no one could have predicted in the age before the internet. Writers have been trained to see clicks as the determining factor in quality, which in turn has placed less focus on the stories being told and more emphasis on timeliness. It’s a vicious, unending cycle that makes for lazy writing and forgettable content. If your only goal is to be the first to share something, why would anyone look to you for anything more.

The hard truth is that sites who promote themselves as being the fastest or ‘first’ to share new content are indeed on the way out. There is simply no competing with platforms owned by global corporations capable of hiring as many writers as they need to chug out links, tour dates, and embedded media. That said, there remains and always will be a place for legitimate music journalism. People love stories, especially those stories about artists who travel from town to town sharing their creativity with the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new artist or someone trying to preserve their legacy, a good story told well will always have an audience.

The problem is, or at least one of the major problems are, that most writers – and many young consumers – have been trained to think of entertainment writing as a vehicle for promotion rather than one of understanding. The content being churned out each and every day revolves largely around making people aware of the latest thing someone has done and whether or not it is any good. Great music journalism bridges the gap between author and reader in a meaningful way by offering perspective and/or understanding about the artist being discussed. Unfortunately, most music journalism barely qualifies as good because it merely spins promotional messaging and never thinks to dive deeper. The reader has no reason to care about the author because the words being shared mirror the messaging the artist (or their representation) is using on their social feeds. This lack of an originality hurts two-fold because it fails to establish a reason for the reader to care about the author and it fails to offer any insight whatsoever into the media being shared. It’s no different than junk mail alerting you to a sale. You appreciate the notification, but you don’t necessarily need it in your life.

Bad music writing often amounts to a lack of detail. Think of any author whose work you have enjoyed and you’re likely to find the reason you care about their craft is in the way they share their perspective on the subject at hand. They dig deeper than “_______ did ______ to promote _____” and ask the questions that really matter. These include, but are not limited to: Why do you create? What is the meaning of your art? What motivates you? What are hoping to accomplish with your art? Is there a message people should be receiving? Is making music everything you thought it would be? How are you changing as a person, and what impact has that made on your art?

There will come a time in the not too distant future where content factories posing as blogs go the way of the dinosaurs. Those sites and writers who survive will do so because they offer engaging, original content that strives to further connect readers with the talent they love and those they have yet to discover. Make sure you are standing on the right side of history.

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.