Heartbreak No. 3: The Blogosphere As The New Status Quo

You know what I miss? “Blog rock.” I know what you’re thinking. I’ve been as bored as anybody by the blog-beloved blandishments of the Voxtrots and Bishop Allens of the world. However, there was a time when the blogs represented a via media between the print media and the online “magazines” like Pitchfork. Sure, they were prone to sycophancy, and knee-jerk “greatest band evah” reactions, but it was exciting to watch a new media movement blossom, one that was chaotic, democratic, and in direct opposition to the establishment.

How quickly things changed. One look over the elbo.ws or Hype Machine charts in the past year finds it indistinguishable from any mainstream media outlet’s “hot list.” While I would never decry the appearance of hip-hop and pop artists on the previously white-boy-driven elbo.ws charts, posting a Kanye West or Jay-Z MP3 isn’t exactly making an adventurous statement. And Coldplay, Britney Spears, and Katy Perry? Yeah, uh, they need the help. The majors have gotten in on this blogging thing, and everybody’s playing along, quite possibly to feel like they’re a part of the biz or join in on the never-ending quest for page views: “Sufjan used to get mad hits, but it was nothing compared to Britney! Make a reference to her boobs and that’s double the hits!”

Are these hardly scientific blog charts representative of everything that’s being done? Of course not. The blogosphere shares a lot in common with ’zine culture and alternative newspapers: off-the-cuff writing and irreverent attitudes, with the added immediacy of posting listenable music. Hype Machine’s charts are dominated by a thriving remix scene. Digging deep into the MP3 blog world, you’ll find blogs offering up all sorts of artists from myriad genres. There are plenty of interesting blogs, deserving mention on an individual level.

But there is so much noise out there it’s not surprising a lot of my favorite MP3 blog progenitors decided to collectivize under the MBV umbrella. And outliers’ voices are squelched by the press-release repeaters that now make up so much of the blog landscape. Much like the (dying) print world, everybody’s either consolidating or burrowing further into their niche. Part of the blogosphere’s success as a new media movement, in my mind, depends on its ability to act as a collective. When a preponderance of choices presents itself, things tend to slide down the path of least resistance to the most popular and obvious. Three years ago, the MP3 blogosphere touted independent, often unsigned artists. Now it posts Katy Perry’s cover of MGMT.

MBV [mbvmusic.com]
elbo.ws [Official site]
80 ’08 (and Heartbreak)

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know Lucas, this is creeping dangerously close to the “Why can’t things be the way they used to be, maaaaaaan” type of thinking that Idolator often makes snarky blog posts mocking.

  • Lucas Jensen

    @2ironic4u: Well, the way it used to be was only four or so years ago, but can’t I express that sort of disappointment? There was real promise there as a third way, but now the blogosphere as a whole (and keep in mind I’m talking more about it as a movement than anything) is playing straight into industry hands. What’s wrong with a little wistfulness? I didn’t care most of the blog bands out there. I’m not nostalgic for that. I think there were tons of problems with blogs back then. I bemoan the latent potential in this relatively new medium that’s being squandered.

  • Lucas Jensen

    @2ironic4u: Hmmm. I don’t see how you can infer that from what I wrote. My wistfulness also acknowledges the problems that blogs had in the beginning. I don’t want a world where Annual Arcade Weekends dot the landscape. What I want is an active, creative, music-seeking third way: something that’s not print, but it’s not Pitchfork.

    And if something is four or five years old, how can it even be possible for me to make “remember when” style arguments? I’m bemoaning lost potential.

  • Lucas Jensen

    Haha. I crossed posted myself. I thought the first one got deleted. Synthesize these two!

  • Anonymous

    @Lucas Jensen: In terms of a new medium being squandered I think it’s just another example of a certain platform being over-saturated. Ever since the “Blog boom” of the 2004-05 era there have just been way too many blogs toting way too many different bands which means no one can get any traction. Plus, I’d really enjoy life without any mention ever of CSS, Animal Collective, Dan Deacon, etc.

  • Lucas Jensen

    @2ironic4u: I’m not disagreeing, but remember that the major labels were very anti- until a couple of years ago. Now they’re throwing MP3s out there or at least looking the other way and voila! Britney Spears on the elbo.ws charts. Sure, this might not even be anybody’s “fault,” per se, but it can be a source of disappointment, which it is for me. I’d say that the press release repeaters certainly do bear some of the responsibility.

  • LiquidHeaven

    I know this really cool small blog, the guy who runs it must be really fucking awesome. It’s not the most obscure but those podcasts are great! [livingears.blogspot.com]

    Wonder if a site that cool will ever get real eyeballs.

    I wonder.

  • scott pgwp

    I think it goes, as Maura and Ryan Catbird and myself and many, many others have said, back to the “professionalization” of blogs that are, in truth, run by hobbyists. That’s not a dis – I’m a hobbyist too. In fact, it should be seen as a compliment. I’m personally really saddened when I read a blog that I know is run by some dude in his dorm but is clearly being fed press releases by labels large and small. To me it just goes completely against the spirit of what indie rock should be about – genuine enthusiasm and a little old-fashioned crate digging and bin sifting! At least in the early days of mp3 blogs, MySpace kind of worked like a virtual record store. People could lose hours of their lives sifting through page after page of unkown bands. Now it’s largely delivered to your inbox by those bands’ representatives.

  • DocStrange

    @Mike Barthel: Yeah. This year’s championable (not a word? screw it, it is now) new bands is a pretty small list (for me anyway) and are mostly bands that had at least an album or an EP or two out before coming onto the American hipster radar (Los Campesinos!, Midnight Juggernauts, Fleet Foxes, Why?), and actually genuine new bands (White Lies, The Gaslight Anthem) were few and far between.

    @2ironic4u: I like two songs by Animal Collective: “Peacebone” (which played last night during my local alternative/college station WBRU’s Jazz After Hours late night program, which has been recently sneaking in stuff by Broken Social Scene, Regina Spektor and Arcade Fire into its rotation of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock) and “Water Curses”. And I liked that “Rat is Dead” song by CSS.

    I also still use elbo.ws, but only to get semi-legal free mp3s that I won’t get sued for downloading. Running a blog does not get you as many free MP3s as you think (I do get a few, maybe about 3-5 a month, but it’s mostly by labels who believe Hawthorne Heights qualify as indie rock)

  • moomintroll

    You know what’s interesting about the homogenization of “indie” blogs is that somewhere in there it became O.K for serious music snobs to like really poppy pop music, and have an opinion on it.
    It sort of worked both ways. Not only did blog rock become mainstream chart fodder, but mainstream chart fodder became the subject of hipster blogs.
    It’s not generally a bad thing, it seems that music is being judged more on its merits rather than its genre. Mainstream pop isn’t being shut out of serious music discussion, and some quite obscure indie is making it onto the charts.

  • Mike Barthel

    2 alternate explanations do suggest themselves:

    1) Blog rock got picked up something fierce this year? Bon Iver, Likely (I refuse to type that out accurately), Santogold, Cut Copy, MGMT…all these are people who would have been blog stalwarts a few years ago, but now everyone likes them, and that’s good, right? If these acts aren’t seen as owned by blogs, maybe it’s because the need for high posting volume watered everything down and tastes degraded so that these all got mentioned but not enough to catch on–always hadded to post new content from new acts to be 111st11!!! But it’s not that blogs got big–the mainstream got small. With blogs representing one of the few demographics that still pays for music, their preferences become more important.

    2) There just wasn’t any good blogrock this year. The phenomenon is still going strong, but there wasn’t an Arcade Fire to champion.

    Maybe both of these are true simultaneously, somehow?

  • LiquidHeaven

    @Mike Barthel:

    And now I’m picking up what you are putting down. SIR.

    Well said.

  • Michaelangelo Matos

    @T’Challa: If it makes you feel any better, I called them “the Williamsburg Radiohead,” not the American one.

  • Thierry

    @DocStrange: The Gaslight Anthem’s album is at least their second – if not third (haven’t been able to check yet) – record.

  • Thierry

    @Thierry: The ’59 Sound is their third release (an album in 2007, an EP and an album in 2008).

  • Lucas Jensen

    @Mike Barthel: I am not saying that no blog rock is a bad thing at all. It’s not really about individual artists. It’s about independent artists on not-so-obvious labels if any at all. As a former independent publicist I worked tons of great records that we struggled to get placed, like a lot of other publicists. There is a lot out there that people don’t know, and the blogs were an exciting place for new bands to gain some press foothold. If the blogosphere as a whole is seen as me-tooing Pitchfork or SPIN then there is a problem.

  • DocStrange

    @Thierry: what? christ. There really were no new new bands this year. Except White Lies. But then they were called Fear of Flying for like two years. Um…who else….Noah and the Whale and..um…

  • T’Challa

    @Michaelangelo Matos: Well, maybe just a little…

  • T’Challa

    PS: I heart Idolator.

  • Lucas Jensen

    @DocStrange: There are plenty of new artists out there that you just haven’t heard. This kind of myopia is exactly what I’m talking about here!

  • T’Challa

    @Lucas Jensen: I’m picking up what you’re putting down, sir.

    I was just making a year-end ‘best of’ list, and realized that it matched about 99% of every other list I’ve seen, from Rolling Stone down to hipster blogs (does it kill me just a little bit to see every pub in the world deciding that my fave band, TVOTR, is now ‘the American Radiohead’? Yes, a little).

    It caused me to make a reactionary list that didn’t include TVOTR, Fleet Foxes, MGMT, etc just to be able to mention some music that hadn’t already been beaten into the ground. Not that it was so super-obscure (Alice Russell, Black Milk, etc), but still…

  • LiquidHeaven

    No there aren’t. We’ve all heard everything. Everywhere.

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