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Roundtable

Credit: theilr

Catching Up With the Mp3 Bloggers

A decade ago, and then again five years later, we gathered a set of music bloggers who pioneered online music discovery—often to the chagrin of record labels. Now we reconvene to discuss the current state of listening to and reading about music online.

More than 10 years ago, a group of bloggers began posting mp3 files of new music to their independent, self-run blogs. Sometimes legally procured—though often, to the displeasure of record labels, posted weeks ahead of their official release dates—the tracks and their accompanying commentary became essential listening and reading for music obsessives.

We convened a roundtable discussion with a group of the so-called mp3 bloggers in 2004, then again in 2009. Now we’ve brought them back again to check in on how online music listening and criticism have changed over the past few years—as usual, they didn’t hold back.

David Gutowski is a writer who publishes the music and literature website Largehearted Boy.

Montreal’s Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He has contributed to publications such as the Guardian, McSweeney’s, and The Wire. His first novel, Us Conductors, was published by Tin House/Random House this year. A story of Lev Sergeyvich Termen, inventor of the theremin, it is a finalist for the 2014 Giller Prize.

Andrew Nosnitsky created Cocaine Blunts & Hip Hop Tapes. He is a writer who contributes to NPR, Washington City Paper, and HipHopDX.com.

Matthew Perpetua of Fluxblog.org didn’t start the first mp3 blog, but he usually gets credit for it. Now he writes about music at BuzzFeed.

John Seroff (The Tofu Hut) is currently the owner of a boutique NYC PR and marketing agency specializing in supporting live performance and not-for-profit institutions with a focus on venues and festivals. Life is good.

Oliver Wang is an associate professor of sociology at CSU-Long Beach. He continues to contribute to outlets such as NPR, KPCC’s Take Two and Medium.com’s Cuepoint. He also continues to write the (increasingly antiquated) audioblog, soul-sides.com.

 

When we last spoke in 2009, we asked: “What will the music business look like in 2014?” Based on your predictions, included below, how right (or wrong) were you? How might you revise your predictions?
 

2009 Oliver Wang: There will still be physical product in five years. What I’ll be curious is to see is when and if a major recording artist releases an album digitally but not physically. I don’t mean some special, side project. I’m talking about Toby Keith or Beyoncé deciding, “You know what? I’m just going to sell this digitally.” Personally, I don’t see the CD being abandoned in five years (10—maybe).

2014 Oliver Wang: CDs, still around, albeit still on death watch. While I haven’t seen a digital-only album come to pass in any trending way, you do have an example like Beyoncé releasing her album + videos last year through digital outlets first. So I feel like I’m half-able to say “CALLED IT.”

But yeah, physical media still matters and I guess you can insert some example about 1) “the comeback” of vinyl; 2) all manners of overbaked Record Store Day “exclusives”; 3) artists creating cassette releases. Digital might have advantages in distribution and portability but the aura of the object is something digital can never replace. I think we’re clearly heading towards a music world where digital will be the indisputably dominant form but I can’t imagine one where physical music becomes anachronistic.

2009 David Gutowski: The trend toward more digital sales will continue, but I think that more companies will offer all-inclusive music streaming services for one set price, as some consumers will slowly buy into that model… I have been saying this for years, that eventually, our iPods will actually be rolled into our phones, and the telecoms will be offering music subscriptions and sales, and eventually this will become a major revenue generator for them, if it isn’t already.

2014 David Gutowski: Spot on, streaming is taking over.

Smart and driven performers of the future will tour with teams capturing meticulously filtered behind-the-scenes and onstage moments to build the equivalent of a dedicated subscription music channel.

2009 Sean Michaels: Come 2014, labels will still sell at least a hundred million CDs, vinyl records and high-fidelity downloads each year. But the vast majority of music consumption will be through subscription services offering downloads and streams. Some of these will be funded by advertising, though most will just be rolled into our internet/phone plans (and seem free).

2014 Sean Michaels: Think I mostly got it right, to be honest. Maybe 36 months too early.

2009 John Seroff: I think there will continue to be some ongoing deterioration in “real world” sales but there’s a bottom ahead. Plenty of people simply like having physical items that represent the music, and plenty more don’t have access to the technology. I believe pretty strongly that the next frontier lies in monetizing live performance. My hope is that we’ll be subscribing to artist’s output directly in five years; something along the lines of $20 for an album, four live shows, and access to ongoing projects all for the download. More likely outcome: We subscribe to Live Channel services to watch daily shows on our integrated skull phones.

2014 John Seroff: Regarding live performance, I’m still a little ahead of the curve here. Thus far, YouTube appears to be the biggest investor and beneficiary of this business model but I continue to believe there’s a small-market and artist-driven future here that remains to be more fully exploited. I’d prognosticate that smart and driven performers of the future will tour with teams capturing meticulously filtered behind-the-scenes and onstage moments to build the equivalent of a dedicated subscription music channel. Beyoncé is more or less already on board; as goes Beyoncé, so goes the nation.

As for subscribing to an artist’s output directly, this is a not entirely spot-on description of Kickstarter but it’s close enough that I think I get at least a half a victory lap.

Is online music culture and criticism better or worse than five years ago? Ten years ago?
 

John Seroff: It’s very Web 3.0 these days to pack six flavors of interactivity into a feature; even august NPR offers video, streaming audio, and deep links. Back in my day, posting a single track of music alongside a story was a revolutionary angle. The normalization of integrated multimedia has made what was once insider communication surrounding music more accessible, more interesting, and more instantaneously engaging.

There’s also been a tremendous explosion of critical voices whose perspectives don’t fit the trad-crit boilerplate. There’s a host of strong feminist writers willing to call artists to account for antisocial lyrics in ways that can impact business. There’s an array of non-cis-identifying critics working to support non-cis artists, to change the game and put gay artists in rare air. K-pop, azonto, and roots bluegrass are readily discussed in the same breath as (and borrowed by) Kanye, Beyoncé, and Taylor, suggesting a less hide- and genre-bound listening audience.

I daresay the culture and the criticism has improved since last we spoke. Your mileage may well vary.

Andrew Nosnitsky: Every day on the internet is worse than the one that came before it. Where the first wave of music blogging (or at least the circles I ran in) seemed to be fueled by curiosity, a desire to find and understand music that wasn’t already represented in the critical conversation, it’s now mostly been reduced to a game of simply reacting to The Thing That Everyone Is Talking About (which more often than not has been massaged into existence by a big PR firm). You announce your love for it or your hate for it or your outrage or, if you are a particularly advanced player, you make a dismissive Twitter joke to show how you are above The Thing and also Everyone. There are a lot of very smart people whose livelihood now depends entirely on them churning out Why Iggy Azalea Is Important/Horrible/Irrelevant essays or making the first and best Solange/elevator pun. And even the handful of people who are still out there exploring and engaging off-the-radar music are often transparent in their desire to turn those things into The Things so that they can then be anointed The One Who Found the Thing.

Sean Michaels: Andrew’s right-on-ness makes me sad. He is right on. The internet has even less interesting music criticism than it did before. There are even fewer places where people are having interesting conversations about music. (I think these conversations must mostly be happening in the privacy of Facebook.) If you are keen to read about music, especially personal or experimental writing, there are so few outlets. Even the remaining music blogs have mostly stopped writing anything, unless it’s to add their indistinguishable voice to an existing echo chamber. And almost no one is doing musical crate-digging with any kind of context; I can’t remember the last time someone helped me discover and understand a new artist or genre, even at a local level, apart from just pointing me to a YouTube video, SoundCloud/Bandcamp page, or .zip file.

On the other hand, the internet’s appetite for outrage has made 2014 a boom time for music criticism that works on a political axis. Never have so many think-pieces thunk so hard about the intersection of music, gender, race, and sexuality. That’s one solace. And I am genuinely hopeful about the kids who are growing up amidst these conversations.

Never have so many think-pieces thunk so hard about the intersection of music, gender, race, and sexuality.

Oliver Wang: While part of me agrees with Noz’s take, I feel like my consumption of information online has changed so much in the past five years that I’m not in a position to comment on “the state of the scene” in any informed way. I do think that the rise of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc., have absolutely served to soak up energies that, in a previous era, might have gone toward personal sites/blogs instead. I don’t know if that’s a net gain/loss for the general discourse around music though. I still learn about music via other avenues. The organization of information via blogging was never that organized (let alone consistent) to begin with. I don’t think things have improved, but my gut says it’s not on the whole worse either.

John Seroff: I get where Noz is coming from, but I can’t help but feel that’s simply an argument against the pernicious influence of 201X internet in general rather than music writing in particular. All those same charges could be levied just as easily against journalism in the fields of fashion, food, sports, television, etc. Music writers’ propensity for ad hominem may be arguably more historically pronounced than the average critpool, but I daresay our collectively bedraggled desire to wearily chase the shiny object is a broadly realized sign of the times, not of the subject.

Sean’s complaint about lack of depth of context is far more damning to my ears; too much of the contemporary music writing I read either assumes near-ironic levels of over-familiarity with the subject on the part of the reader or betrays a lack of curiosity of music outside the author’s narrow field of interest. Either way, them’s slim pickins.

Matthew Perpetua: I feel like there’s plenty of good writing in many different forms on the topic of music, but it’s all scattered and decentralized. It’s on all sorts of culture sites, and Tumblr, and Twitter, and really, anywhere it could possibly be. I think for the most part, generalist sites like Grantland, Vulture, Slate, the New Yorker, The Awl/Hairpin, the Atlantic, and (I would hope) BuzzFeed are publishing more interesting pieces about music than most music-centric publications now. But you know, Pitchfork and Rolling Stone do a lot of good work, and that’s no slight on them at all. Rob Sheffield and Mark Richardson are at those places, and they’re as good as it gets.

I think a wider range of people have more of a voice now, and that matters to me a lot, but aside from a few things here and there, there’s no main “conversation” happening. When I was running the music section at BuzzFeed our editor-in-chief, who has a background as a politics writer, would encourage vertical editors to push the “conversation” in our respective domains further, and my constant frustration was that there’s no such thing in music culture now. Even when you focus on the most popular stuff, the majority of potential readers don’t care. You don’t really have that problem as much in writing about movies or television. There’s a much clearer sense of “what is happening” in those things at any given moment. But as much as that is aggravating, I actually think one of the things that makes music so interesting is that there is so much of it, and that there’s so many contexts for it. I think being a good writer on the topic requires you to be endlessly curious about it, and the people who make and enjoy it. I think music critics are, in aggregate, far better writers and thinkers than television or movie critics for this reason.

What Andrew said—that most music writers today are “simply reacting to The Thing That Everyone Is Talking About,” sometimes due to PR manipulation—suggests a divide between music criticism and music news, with news winning out. Do you feel that the two are necessarily at odds? How is the relationship between the two different today than when you started blogging?
 

Sean Michaels: The triumph of music news over music criticism has two terrible consequences: one, by privileging (easily aggregated) news stories over (probably original) essays and reviews, the quality of discourse deteriorates; two, news emphasis on scoops and timeliness discourages writers from thinking or writing about anything that happened more than a week ago. The only antidote is the handful of writers, like Carl Wilson at Slate, who use timely headlines to reflect more widely, or deeply, on cultural topics. But most editors don’t seem to feel that those articles’ extra substance justifies paying the higher word count.

Being a good writer on the topic requires you to be endlessly curious about it, and the people who make and enjoy it. I think music critics are, in aggregate, far better writers and thinkers than television or movie critics for this reason.

John Seroff: When we all started, the inaccessible was not so much the music itself but the immediacy of opinion; our readers weren’t used to having song and commentary hand-in-hand on first listen. Now that model is old hat, and the current common wisdom in music writing appears to be that the inaccessible is first and foremost THE NEW, served up at gatling-gun speed so as to better take advantage of circadian office rhythms. THE NEW is followed distantly in clickbait importance, but pivotally in the modern listener’s world, by MEANINGFUL PERSPECTIVE: a hopefully well-argued opinion from a trusted author or brand on the true meaning of a song, even (and, increasingly, especially) when that meaning is disconnected from aesthetic judgment. Cultural context is, of course, pivotal to understanding art of any kind, but I have to believe there’s still room at the table above and beyond a tweet for listeners documenting their well-delineated personal reactions to the visceral joy of hearing THE NEW.

If email newsletters are the new blogs, what’s the analog for mp3 blogs? Are there any great music critics or fans that you follow?
 

Matthew Perpetua: I don’t think there’s a “replacement” for what mp3 blogs were or are, it’s just a thing specific to a moment and still a perfectly good format for writing about music in a very diary-driven sort of way. It’s just not a format that makes a lot of sense for people’s “discovery” of music now. There’s more efficient ways of doing that now, or at least that’s the consensus.

Sean Michaels: I’ve loved Owen Pallett’s recent excavations of pop songs—this particular mixture of compositional analysis and interpretation felt unfamiliar and exciting, reminding me of how a unique voice can make us understand music in new ways. I also mourn the long silence of LPWTF?, who are mining a different angle of music (album art) with panache, curiosity, and style.

Oliver Wang: I’d like to second how great Pallett’s pieces are to read. I thought that podcast, Song Exploder, would have potential too, but sadly (for me), my taste in songs is very different from the maker’s.

The “new mp3 blog” might be Facebook groups where people post new arrivals/current rotation records. My friend Andy Zax is a beast on one of those, called Now Playing, but it’s generally photos, not sounds, so there’s still a missing element there. Personally, I always try to record short Instagram videos of records, just to give a taste, and I wish more people would do that besides just showing off a label pic. I mean, that’s great and all but this is music we’re talking about. Give us something to listen to!

I’d also think YouTube channels, for many, function like audioblogs once did. I think we all need to really consider how YouTube, specifically, had an impact on how music is shared online. Hate to use the term “game changer,” but it seems apt here.

John Seroff: Oliver couldn’t be more right about how influential YouTube was on what we were doing—and likely the other way around. The thousands of people who post videos with ambient recorded audio of their 45 or 78 while we watch the record spin are all very much of a piece of the audioblog ethos. That caveat aside, I don’t know that there is a modern analog for “mp3 blogs” (always hated that phrase; it wasn’t the medium, it was the message). I think meaningful general curation is sorely lacking at the moment, as no one has the chutzpah to offend by taking sides or even through omission. There’s a lot of recommendations but not much in terms of a recommender, if that makes any sense.

One of the sites I love (and occasionally contribute to) is Singles Jukebox: a not-for-profit hivemind of intentionally not-like-minded but generally excellent critics skimming the surface noise of pop music of all stripes. A week’s worth of reading gives you 15 tracks and upwards of 90 capsule reviews to chew on while you listen. It’s the best way I know of to explore new music.

David Gutowski: I second Owen Pallett’s recent pieces, and also enjoy The Talkhouse, a website where musicians discuss another artist’s work.

Sean Michaels: Really? The Talkhouse drives me crazy. Too many musicians kinda suck at writing about music, and I also think it’s a mistake to privilege their voices, as the Talkhouse does, with a kind of exclusive authenticity. The way it’s presented—“Finally, the perspective of someone who actually knows what they’re talking about!”—has tinges of rockism and celebrity worship. We already have outlets for presenting exceptional music writing: Let’s just publish the work of the best musician/critics, like Owen Pallett, John Darnielle, or Meredith Graves there.

How does your music discovery process work now?
 

Andrew Nosnitsky: The same way it has always worked—I listen to the opinions of people I respect. I listen to the opinions of people I do not respect. I go to record stores and flea markets and junk shops and buy any tape, CD, or LP that looks interesting. I lose hours bouncing around YouTube channels and SoundCloud accounts and LiveMixtapes and DatPiff and Soulseek, which still exists and is awesome. I read music books and old magazines and dead blogs and take note of the names I don’t already know. I search for obscure artists on Twitter and Tumblr then poke around the timelines of the users who are mentioning them to see what else they’ve been listening to. I watch Vines. I lurk on message boards. I pay close attention to the low end of the digital and radio charts. I listen to local terrestrial radio mixshows. I listen to internet streams of regional terrestrial radio mixshows. I listen to the sounds I hear in the world. I Shazam things, and when that inevitably doesn’t work I write lyric fragments down in my phone and Google those instead.

It’s still a great time for deep-dish music discovery, and it’s truly unfortunate that so many consumers have all but given up on the process.

My friends still are by far the biggest influence on my listening. The growth in social media has expanded that network, and in many ways replaced many of the blogs I used to read.

David Gutowski: My music discovery hasn’t changed much: My friends still are by far the biggest influence on my listening. The growth in social media has expanded that network, and in many ways replaced many of the blogs I used to read for suggested music.

Sean Michaels: I still listen to songs people send me over email, though almost never if they seem like part of an email blast. I also (slowly) listen to music people send me in the mail. I browse ILM and skim some of the many shallow music blogs, the ones with good taste but no real content, to discover new pop, rap, and indie rock. Friends tell me secrets. I go to shows. I try to stay curious.

John Seroff: The aforementioned Singles Jukebox, a regular quick listen to most anything that clicks name recognition on Spotify’s weekly new release roster, recommendations from friends and colleagues, occasional mixtapes from my dad, scanning potential and confirmed clients, 106 and Park, the New York Times, ILXor, the usual impossible-to-avoid media gargantuas, lots of live music intake, plus occasional autodidactic forays into areas that I know little about. I often upbraid anyone who I hear complaining about “the state of modern music” that if they don’t think there’s anything worth listening to, that’s entirely because they’re not trying.

Oliver Wang: All the above plus I very much benefit from sound clips on eBay auctions. I can’t tell you how useful those have been in turning me onto new records.

Matthew Perpetua: It hasn’t changed much in a long time. I pay a lot of attention to pop music. I get sent a lot of music and check out some of that. I look at a handful of music sites that post entire albums and check out what seems interesting to me. Sometimes my friends recommend a thing. Sometimes I listen to something because it’s clearly making an impact on culture and I’m curious.

All the streaming services offer varying types of discovery functionality. What’s your take on what’s out there?
 

David Gutowski: Though I occasionally use streaming music services for specific music, I don’t use them for discovery.

Oliver Wang: Meh. I don’t trust an algorithm to suss out my taste. Sorry Pandora/Beats bots.

Matthew Perpetua: I virtually never use these things unless I have to for work. Unless I’m home with my stereo, I listen to things almost entirely on my iPod.

Andrew Nosnitsky: I don’t believe in “discovery services.” Cultural discovery should be an active and personal experience, and once again it all comes back to curiosity versus consumption.

Sean Michaels: I really like what Andrew said. But one of the undocumented glitches in the current internet is all its asymmetrical licensing rules. I can’t use Spotify in Canada (yet). Whenever I’m able to, there’s no guarantee that Spotify Canada’s music library will match Spotify America’s. Just as Netflix Canada is different than Netflix US, and YouTube won’t let me see Jon Stewart. As we move away from downloads and toward streaming, international sovereignty is going to become more and more of a barrier to common discussions of music.

Cultural discovery should be an active and personal experience, and once again it all comes back to curiosity versus consumption.

Here’s a completely dumb but explicit example: When Dev Hynes remixed Sia’s song “Chandelier,” the artists/label only posted it to Spotify, which won’t stream in Canada. It wasn’t leaked to SoundCloud or YouTube, it didn’t slipped into a torrent, and music blogs all obediently shared the Spotify widget. It wasn’t even for sale on iTunes. Hundreds of blogs and magazines “shared” this promotional single, and I couldn’t hear any of them. I predict this kind of thing is going to get worse, not better.

John Seroff: I fear Sean’s point about the invisible walls of countries and commerce is terribly apt, but as an overly pampered middle-class ‘Murrican and a well and truly hooked Spotify power user, I am an unlikely sheep to rail against the boundaries … even though every now and then, I wonder If the gate was put up to keep crime out or to keep our ass in. The only “discovery” element that’s proven interesting to me is the ability to see what my friends are listening to and even that feels downright creepy. The lack of meaningful innovation and dependence on lousy artificial intelligence over mechanical turking betrays a lack of creativity in my opinion.

Here’s a freebie suggestion: I would love to see microtransaction subscriptions for celebrity, expert, or friend-provided curation of streaming playlists and recommendations with the service taking a cut and the artists getting a cut and the curator getting the rest as a tip. The service would benefit by discerning itself through the curators who call you home and you’d retain a more devoted user base. This strategy worked for YouTube, it can work for you.

Certainly one aspect of many mp3 blogs from back in the day was the posting of files without permission from the label or artist—with the element of danger now missing, has the excitement left as well?
 

Sean Michaels: Actually, labels are more strident than ever about posting unauthorized mp3s. The bigger indies keep their mp3s on fucking lockdown. Try posting a Secretly Canadian track that’s not an “official promo track” and see how long it takes before someone from head office accuses you of strangling their artists’ livelihoods.

Andrew Nosnitsky: I have never felt an element of danger in mp3 blogging. We were already years past Napster when I started my blog, so by then sharing free mp3s on the internet didn’t seem like a subversive act—it was just a way of life.

Oliver Wang: Like Noz, I never felt an element of danger. I got cease and desisted a couple of times, but it’s not like I nervously pushed “publish” and expected RIAA to resurrect the battering ram on me.

Try posting a Secretly Canadian track that’s not an “official promo track” and see how long it takes before someone from head office accuses you of strangling their artists’ livelihoods.

Matthew Perpetua: At some point I just stopped posting music more than a few days in advance of its actual release and never was troubled by this sort of thing ever again.

David Gutowski: I’ve never felt that danger. I have always tried to post tracks made available by labels and artists.

John Seroff: I highly doubt anyone taking part in this conversation was seeking illicit thrills in posting music without written permission. This wasn’t about screwing with bands or screwing over corporations; it was about sharing things we cared about. There was no “excitement” in not clearing usage rights. There was excitement about the music and a real belief that we were helping support the careers of artists we loved.

Now that streaming services dominate, did the labels in fact win?
 

Sean Michaels: Win what? Over whom? The music industry is not a war with two armies and a single front. It’s a mess. Apart from Apple, everyone is earning less money than they used to. The major labels are mortgaging their back-catalogue to pay for their present. Little indies can’t sell records. Big indies are screwing their artists. Streaming platforms are on top of the world until incompetence, legislation, competition or renegotiated royalty rates send them whirligigging toward bankruptcy.

The current model is great for teenagers, and people with the spending habits of teenagers, who want tons of music without spending any money. But artists are no longer going to be able to afford to keep being artists. We’re not going to see musicians, especially bands, mature and persist. There won’t be enough money to persist, not after an artist’s hype-cycle has wound down. The art’s going to change; people will give us less of it.

Andrew Nosnitsky: Well the dominant streaming service is still YouTube and even though I know they have big plans for “properly” monetizing it as an actual music streaming site (probably by destroying everything that makes it great currently) in its present state it still mostly exists as a wild west type free for all in which even the most popular songs are uploaded without permissions. So, no, I don’t think the labels have won yet but the game is definitely rigged in their favor, and the answer to this question will likely be different in a few years.

The industry was always a clusterfuck of industrial bloat, asinine judgments, and woefully conservative tastes. Now it’s still all that, just broker.

John Seroff: I don’t think “the labels” won; the bigs fell back, mobbed up, and cut off fat, while the small guys died or dramatically reconfigured. One might argue that the artists won with the prize of greater direct access to the general public and with business models that no longer force them to give up ownership or creative control in exchange for a bullhorn, but I’m not an artist and I’m not in a position to make that argument. I believe the undisputed winners of the streaming era (for the moment at least) are the listening public. I’m old enough to remember when the celestial jukebox, even a major-label-centric one, was a pipe dream. Now here we are with access to, well, certainly not everything or even everything of import, but enough that I can hear interesting new music every minute of every day. Never have so many had access to so much for the cost of so little. Again though, our mileage may ultimately vary.

I look forward to hearing what the next 10 years bring.

Oliver Wang: If the labels are “winning,” I’d hate to see what “losing” would look like. Streaming may favor major label artists but that’s not the same thing as saying streaming favors major labels. The industry was always a clusterfuck of industrial bloat, asinine judgments, and woefully conservative tastes. Now it’s still all that, just broker. I’m not one of those folks who’s all “let it all burn down, baby!” since I don’t see how the utter collapse of manufacturing, distribution and marketing benefits artists either. But we’re still in the middle of The Disruption and I’m still not clear what new models will replace the old ones (or if they’ll be that much better).

Matthew Perpetua: I don’t really have a horse in this race other than that I hope the label side can somehow thrive so that musicians have the resources they need to make great music and ambitious art. That’s what matters to me.

David Gutowski: It seems more that artists have lost, revenue at the very least.

Matthew’s comment about “ambitious art” is somewhat telling. Do you think that the general loss of revenue in the music industry has caused artists to play it safe in terms of their art? Is there any hope for outsiders or experimentation in the new model?
 

John Seroff: If anything, I’m inclined to believe that the semi-bottoming out of the industry leads contemporary performers to risk-taking and not to toe anyone else’s artistic line. Selling yourself as a commodity that someone else defines has never been a less sexy proposition, especially when anyone with GarageBand and a modicum of tech skill can have a go at bootstrapping DIY talent into a living wage. Crowdfunding presents a legitimate and often immediately sustaining alternative to Albini’s major label shit-trench; new acts focused on live performance can build living-room tours without an agent and established names can trade on the 1000 true fans model to actuate projects that would have been otherwise flatly unimaginable. I’m not so idealistic as to posit this shift to be entirely meritocratic, but it is inarguably democratic and allows for all manner of fringe interests to survive and thrive.

Sean Michaels: Actually, the current system is wonderful for certain kinds of “ambitious” work. The industry is a hungry ghost in constant need of delicious new talent. It craves novelty, especially “interesting” novelty, from Gaga’s meat dress to FKA Twigs’ Google Glass—anything that can drive clicky-clicky headlines. But these ambitious young artists gradually grow older; and with waning novelty, media interest subsides; and soon there’s some new ingenu(e) posing for Vogue; and it’s the ambitious music that comes after that, by career artists reflecting on the experiences of their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond, that the industry simply doesn’t give a shit about. Unless said 47-year-old is publishing misogynist, clickbaiting rants about buzz bands.

Are you still operating your blog? If not, when and why did you close up shop and where are you now?
 

John Seroff: Once it got me a job, The Tofu Hut rapidly fell victim to the stresses of my regular gig as a marketing and publicity shill. The Hut has been shuttered for quite some time now, but I like to think it served its purpose. In the meantime, I’ve built my own business and carved out a comfortable niche supporting PR for an eclectic roster of venues, festivals, arts organizations, and special events across New York City.

Hopefully someday when I’m considerably less busy, I’ll get to return to the long-form-essay-supported-by-music format. Lord knows I’ve always got a couple dozen tracks at any given time that no one’s paying me to champion, but that I’d love to see get wider appreciation!

Andrew Nosnitsky: I’ve written two longer posts on my blog in the past three months, which is about as many as I wrote there in the two years prior—so I guess the answer is a tentative “yes, I am still operating my blog.” I never purposely closed up shop, it just got to a point where I was freelancing to live which, as you guys probably know, involves a whole lot of freelancing. And along with that I was Tweeting and Tumbling hard, too. At first these outlets seemed like vibrant creative spaces then they turned into professional obligations/life-ruining addictions. All of this left me with very little time, energy or incentive to go home to the old blog.

By some gift of semi-employment, I do not need to freelance to stay alive right now so I’ve been gradually pulling out of that sad game of chasing checks/followers and instead trying to figure out how to once again find some pleasure or reward in writing about the music I enjoy.

Oliver Wang: Soul Sides turned 10 this past February so yes, still around. The pace of posts has definitely slowed down on the site itself but I find that “Soul Sides” exists across a few different platforms (in my own mind), especially Instagram and Facebook, so I’m quite active with it, just not as much with “formal” blog posts.

David Gutowski: I still write Largehearted Boy, but I gave up daily updates last month after almost eleven years of seven-days-a-week posts. The site’s focus has shifted more toward literature and its relationship with music.

Matthew Perpetua: I still regularly write Fluxblog. I miss some weekdays depending on how busy I get or if there’s some kind of technical issue, but I still do it to keep me sharp even if I don’t think many people still care, or notice. I do it for me, as I’ve always done it for me, and if other people get something out of it, that’s great.

Sean Michaels: We are still writing Said the Gramophone. Though sometimes it rains.

What are you listening to right now?
 

David Gutowski: The Bob Dylan box set The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, which collects his legendary 1967 recordings with the Band, has enchanted me lately.

Sean Michaels: Andy Stott’s brilliant, devastating Faith in Strangers.

John Seroff: A few of my favorites this year are Owen Pallett’s In Conflict, DJ Quik’s Midnight Life, Run the Jewels 2, DJ Q’s Ineffable, Kutiman’sThru You Too, Chronixx’s Dread & Terrible, OOIOO’s Gamel, Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack for The Knick, Shabazz Palace’s Lese Majesty, Miranda Lambert’s Platinum, Lecrae’s Anomaly, Lone’s Reality Testing, Gene the Southern Child’s Southern Meridian, Holly Cook’s Twice, Popcaan’s Where We Come From and Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo.

Oliver Wang: ’60s sweet soul on 7-inch and new hip-hop off Bandcamp and SoundCloud.

biopic

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