In his opening column, Michael Cranston -- the IM Solipsist -- voices meta-concerns of how to be interesting in a market already grossly oversaturated in blogs and opinions to Tripwire Editor Derek Evers.
Are You Reading This?
I don’t know if I would be.
In 2009, how does one offer an over-saturated musical blogosphere another column worth reading? How does one differentiate themselves from the legions of blogs offering the same imitated or emulated musical opinions as the next? Can we expect a Darwinian effect that will see the demise of websites and blogs that have no sustainable reason for their existence? Or can we expect a continued influx of under-qualified and over-spoken neophytes wanting their own site on Wordpress? I voiced my online-existential anxieties to Stuart Berman (of Pitchfork Media and Eye Weekly) a few months ago. “Where is there left to go? What’s left to offer when there’s already a Pitchfork, already a Rolling Stone, already a BBC, etc.?” I asked, knowing full well the impossibility of actually addressing such inquiry in a casual discussion. He was unbothered. “Honestly, good writing is good writing. At the end of the day, that is the stuff that will make it.” Touché, Stuart. Cynical Me wanted to say, “Well, easier for you to say when a part of wildly reputable organization with a cult-like following.” Reasonable Me stops Cynical Me from actually saying it.
I talk to Derek about this.
mcranston: How does a music blog sustain itself?
derek: realistically, or theoretically?
mcranston: both …
derek: theoretically, it's through ads and sponsorships, etc
derek: but realistically, it's traffic
mcranston: isn't that more realistically?
mcranston: theoretically, i think blogs sustain themselves through constant updates, contemporary relevance, and expositions of new bands.
mcranston: realistically, it's obviously just about money.
mcranston: and site traffic is intrinsically linked to money.
derek: yeah, i agree
derek: ultimately good content will bring people in
derek: or i should say, keep them there
derek: but honestly, that's not so true
derek: it's really about luring them in
mcranston: and that's the question I'm trying to ask.
derek: it can also mean a big exclusive story or MP3
mcranston: okay ...
derek: the first site to post an Animal Collective MP3 is going to get a ton of traffic, so it's a game a little bit. bit then a pfork or fader they have a built in audience, so they can kind of expose new people and not worry about whether they have enough "big" content on their site.
We don’t get very far and my queries subsist. How does any music blog sustain itself? Berman’s right: patience, trust in quality writing, patience, a unique voice, patience and some sort of cohesive/organized body. Granting these elusive qualities, what then is the ultimate aspiration of the Music Blog? Perhaps to present a mode of thinking that allows the reader of any genre to appreciate a sound or style to which he or she may not commonly gravitate (I guess?). Successfully articulating why an artist is worth listening is no easy task. Most websites don’t accomplish this feat, and few writers come close. Besides, this presupposes the reader is willing to read past the rating.
Being Jaded Is Easy
The torrent of information has already flooded and we’re bored and stagnant. The stories on Stereogum take two minutes to read. Pitchfork’s precise numerical grading system renders a careful reading of the actual review completely extraneous (i.e. an 8.1> is worth getting when you have time, an 8.8> should be downloaded within the day). Hipster Runoff is the absolute pinnacle of a frighteningly self-aware (and self-referential) media that has come to realize the ridiculousness of its environment. It’s like a fish being aware he swims in a fish tank. William Bowers, under the Puritan Blister pseudonym, recently explored Twitter’s insidious effect on the written word. To synthesis his article (though his distinctive prose should encourage a close reading): Bowers worries about the ADD of today’s technological culture and its affect on aesthetic taste (and cerebral development). Is the 140-character limit Twitter all we have to say? Whereas Bowers worries about the macro state of reading and writing, I worry about being read at all. Sure, I post the occasional link on my Facebook page when an album is really fucking good, but familial support via social networking sites only goes so far.
It’s tough not to worry I’m the journalistic equivalent of a Pitchfork echo. What am I to offer other than further confirmation that Animal Collective reign over indie-rock, or that TV on the Radio are the celebrated post-Dubya era band, or that Joe Satriani is suing Coldplay? Hell, even further, how do I strive to not become a Pitchfork-related derivative while simultaneously lauding Deerhunter, Fucked Up or Okkervil River?
I’ve given great thought how to attract more readers to The Tripwire, particularly in the vein of new sections. But most of my suggestions were predicated on sensationalist or dumbed down journalism: giving a ranking system to our album reviews, offering 250-word controversial opinions that would at least “get people talking” or just writing trivial details on our favorite bands (you know, like, who Sufjan’s dating). Inevitably, the question comes down to site credibility and reputation. Do we want to be the Perez Hilton of music journalism? After all, Hipster Runoff is as nauseating as it is funny. Actually no, the question comes down to attracting a large and consistent reader-base. How do I get you to read our site more? Is it a matter of venerability?
mcranston: okay, so with the sites that don't necessarily have the fortune of a "built-in audience," how do they establish one?
derek: that's the "game." one is persistence. doing something well and doing it over time. the other, which is easier for sites that specifically post news (like us and Daily Swarm) is SEO-friendly titles and the kind I like to consider "yellow journalism" that help lure people in
derek: but yes, also having a unique angle like hipsterunoff
derek: oh, and social networing assets, but that's a whole other conversation
I can only hope it’s venerability. After all, my blog created this past summer, In The Gnar, joined the landfills after just one entry (but what an entry it was).
Can I talk my shit again?
I suppose it takes the most vain (and dubious) of solipsists to open a column with self-referential concerns. It’s very Klosteran-esque to be reviewing oneself in the first place, let alone with such scrutiny. But my considerations are not ill founded. I honestly don’t know if you’re reading his. I don’t receive feedback. I don’t know how many of you there even are.
mcranston: Puritan Blister by William Bowers of Pitchfork is one of the best columns I've read on a music website
mcranston: he's wildly erudite. his prose is unique. he's complicated. a very fascinating read,
mcranston: so why do you think his column isn’t a staple among p4k readers?
derek: you just answered it
derek: he's wildly erudite. his prose is unique. he's complicated.
derek: people want simple and easy to understand
derek: Filet Mignon is amazing, but more people eat MacDonalds
derek: I guess what I'm getting at is it's so broad and generalized (his topic that is) that people don't really understand what Puritan Blister is until you delve into it
derek: which is why it's so great
mcranston: so with that in mind, what lessons do we take for this column here
mcranston: - simple idea?
derek: I think the answer is talking to these people who's opinions we take as "experts"
derek: because that allows you/us to delve into these very broad and expansive topics under the veil of a very simple concept
Or maybe I need a change of scenery. Writing in Starbucks is too cliché, too rom-com-esque, too “You’ve Got Mail”-ish. I need to start smoking, and get a type-writer, and probably grow a better beard. I bet that’s how Pitchfork does it.