The Rise And Fall Of The Obscure Music Download Blog: A Roundtable

From The Awl:

One internet music “sharing” trend largely unnoticed by the powers that sue was the niche explosion of obscure music download blogs, lasting roughly from 2004-2008. Using free filesharing services like Rapidshare and Mediafire, and setting up sites on Blogspot and similar providers, these internet hubs stayed hidden in the open by catering to more discerning kleptomaniac audiophiles. Their specialty: parceling out ripped recordings—many of them copyrighted—from the more collectible and unknown corners of music’s oddball, anomalous past.

While the RIAA was suing dead people for downloading Michael Jackson songs (and Madonna was using Soulseek to curse at teenagers), obscure music blogs racked up millions of hits, ripping and sharing 80s Japanese noise, 70s German prog, 60s San Francisco hippie freak-outs, 50s John Cage bootlegs, 30s gramophone oddities, Norwegian death metal, cold wave cassettes made by kids in their garages, and the like. It was the mid aughts, and the advent of digitization had inadvertently put the value of the music industry’s “Top Ten” commercial product in peril. That same process transformed the value of old, collectible music as well. If one smart record collector was able to share the entire contents—music, artwork and all—of one vinyl LP on his blog, for free, and upload another item from his 1,000+ collection the next day, for weeks and years, and others like him did the same, competing with each other about who could upload the rarest and most sought-after record, and anyone who downloaded it could then share it again and again… Suddenly everyone in the world had the coolest record collection in the world; and soon, nobody in the world had the coolest record collection in the world.

Obscure music download blogs weren’t shut down like Napster or Megaupload were (though they were indirectly affected by that crackdown); they just, mysteriously, seemed to burn out on their own sometime around 2008. While some are still around, their number represents only a fraction of that mid-00s heyday. Was this because obscure music blogs had overshared the underexposed and blown the whole thing into oblivion? Is the fact that a guy in Japan will no longer pay $500 on eBay for a first pressing of the No New York compilation because he can find it for free on the internet good for the world? Was the commodity-lost but the knowledge-gained an even exchange? To explore what was going on then, I assembled this email roundtable discussion between creators of some of the most popular blogs of the time: Eric Lumbleau of Mutant Sounds, Liam Elms of 8 Days in April, Frank of Systems of Romance and Brian Turner, Music Director of WFMU.

Mark Allen: Do you remember the earliest days of obscure music sharing blogs? How did they start?

Brian Turner/WFMU: In the initial days of music blogs, I’d say 2004-2008, there was certainly a race to be at the top of the share heap, to garner attention, to come up with the most fascinating albums or artists to spotlight, and I think that a lot of authors really blew out the depth of knowledge they had quickly.

Liam Elms/8 Days In April: It was around late 2004 with the demise of a file sharing service called Q-File. In those days RapidShare’s maximum file size was 30 megs, split archives not allowed, and people would put one half of an album on Q-File and the other half on RapidShare. With the sudden demise of Q-File, suddenly all these blogs had not one downloadable album, and they disappeared. The only one whose name I remember is That Girl Needs Therapy. Around this time I started uploading one album a week to this site, the name of which I can’t remember. After a few months I got tired of this guy editing my little blurbs that described the album, and I decided to start my own blog. The very first day I had 1,500 hits, so I knew I had tapped into something. I can’t tell you how many comments I got from people that said something like “I’m starting my own blog!” I’m not saying that I’m responsible for the explosion of obscure music blogs, but from my blog many people saw that it was an easy thing to do and they suspected that it would be fun, and they were right!

Continue reading the rest of the story on The Awl