MP3 bloggers were the revolutionaries of music criticism, taking on established outlets like Rolling Stone and Spin by being faster, cooler, and more musical – in that they could embed what they were talking about. Readers could hear it for themselves as they read the blog, rather than looking for it on Napster or waiting for a trip to the record store.
If writing about music is like “dancing about architecture,” as the now-hackneyed phrase would have it, music blogging is like walking through buildings with an architectural expert.
Fluxblog, Said The Gramophone, and Drowned In Sound were among the early pioneers of this much-needed form, dispensing expert listening advice in a fairly standard format: paragraphs about the music and what it means to the blogger; some historical and social context about the band’s scene; and maybe an image. [Update: Adams points out that DiS started as a fanzine in ’98 and became a reviews, audio, and community site in 2000.]
As someone who has worked full time on the web since ’97, I sympathize with the plight of the MP3 blogger: What only we used to do has become what everybody does.
For MP3 bloggers and online music reviewers such as Drowned In Sound founder Sean Adams, this has meant (as noted by Crumbler) encroachment from services like Rdio, which turn every listener into a “channel;” Facebook’s ability to embed just about any music from YouTube alongside a pithy sentence; collaborative Spotify playlists that let anyone publish their taste to the web and let others contribute; and countless other services.
Essentially, they let regular civilians do what only MP3 bloggers used to do: Identify music worthwhile of publication to the global consciousness and then publish it. Everybody can be an “MP3 blogger” of sorts, by merely logging in to Spotify with Facebook.
Even Drowned In Sound has gotten in on the act with playlists like today’s “Best of Q1 Digest” – one possible reason it’s doing pretty well, with over 1.1 million unique visitors reading over eight million pages in that same quarter.
To find out more about what we might lose in this era of mass, instantaneous curation, I friended Sean Adams on Facebook for a text interview, edited here for length and clarity.
Eliot Van Buskirk, Editor, Evolver.fm: Hey Sean, thank you for accepting my entreaty to virtual friendship. I thought you might want to weigh in as one of the Original Music Bloggers on what it means that average civilians are exerting their taste in a somewhat similar fashion. What did you mean when you wrote [on Hype Machine founder Anthony Volodkin’s Facebook page], “Are Jams Killing MP3s? When You Stream Music, You Are Killing Mega-Blog Dreams! Everytime someone tweets a YouTube, a blogger retires?”
Adams: I was making a slightly facetious comment, but one which has a glimmer of a serious observation.
Evolver.fm: So, what is the problem with average civilians acting like MP3 bloggers?
Adams: There was a ‘need’ for blogs at one time, as the only outlet for music online. As we transition to services which turn individuals into ‘channels,’ the need for a blogger to post pithy things and then a track has shifted toward being an organizer and time-saver for those slightly less in the know.
Evolver.fm: Yes, a “curator,” in the parlance of our times.
Adams: There’s no problem with it, but I do think you need to have listened to a certain amount of music to be able to state that something is the best thing around right now. And to be able to say so in an historical context is somewhat important too.
Evolver.fm: I enjoyed/enjoy the pithy comments part of MP3 blogging. Do we lose that if every music fan becomes their own channel?
Adams: There is so much blind love and excitement, with people reposting tracks faster than the time it would take to listen to the entire song, let alone form an opinion on it. I think there is a loss of editorializing and providing context. There’s a lot of music that, without any introduction to urge you to spend time with it, lacks instant surface appeal.
Evolver.fm: In a way, we’ve gone to a sort of binary mode for music criticism. 1=listen, 0=don’t listen.
My favorite band is probably still The Fall, which I hated for the first months I listened to them, but I only owned like 40 cassettes, and theirs was one of them. I feel like that never happens to anyone anymore.
Adams: I think one of the biggest problems with music right now is people devouring things for short periods of time and constantly ‘upgrading’ to the next, newest, shiniest, hottest, jammiest thing. I was fascinated by the reaction to my repeated tweets about The Antlers album last year [which Drowned In Sound picked as the best album of 2011].
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