The Conversation: The Effects of Blog Culture on Music in North Texas
|That's a Gorilla versus a Bear -- get it?|
For this week's conversation about blog culture, we brought in two respected area bloggers. Chris Mosley, formerly of We Shot JR, currently covers music for D Magazine's Front Row, and Jaime-Paul Falcon, formerly of Day Bow Bow, now writes at Dentoneer.
These guys gave their thoughts on how the area's need for more music coverage created a need for blogs like their own and Gorilla Vs. Bear, which have served as a template for many blogs over the last five years. We also discussed the ever-evolving state of music journalism, how it has affected artists, and how the artists have reacted to it.
Hit the jump to read the whole thing.
DH: Hey guys. First of all, thanks for being a part of the conversation. Let's start things off by simply asking, how have you seen blog culture change or affect the North Texas music community?
CM: Thanks for having me. The short answer is that it that has changed behavior here the way it has in many other parts of the world; the difference being that distribution of information was maybe more consolidated locally than in other cultural hubs.
Leading up to the 2000s it's important to remember that the '90s were bookended by both of Dallas' other papers shutting down; The Dallas Times Herald in 1991 and The Met in 2000. So the millennium begins with less choice regarding criticism and information. There was a lull until about 2005 or so. I believe those events were what led to the blog activity in North Texas to be especially active; many felt they had been without a voice for quite some time. All of a sudden it was possible for more inaccessible and less obvious art to share the spotlight with safer choices. Papers started having to behave more like blogs and always acknowledge what blogs showcased and discussed. People who were traditionally unlikely to send demos to editors were now being plucked out of obscurity. That changed things immensely and still continues to have an impact.
JPF: Print media dying was one reason for blogs to take off, and the way technology took off was another reason. The advent of open source blogging technology, like Wordpress, gave people the opportunity to share their thoughts in a cohesive manner. No longer were you stuck using some form of "journal" to share things with friends, you could sit there for a few hours and create a viable page that people outside of your friends could visit pretty easily. Add in Google buying Blogger and re-vamping it as a Blogspot and we were off to the races.
I find it interesting that less than two years later you started to see blogs like Gorilla vs. Bear & You Ain't No Picasso popping up. People saw what those sites were able to do and they wondered to themselves why they couldn't do the same. All of a sudden those who had been marginalized by having no outlet looked at the playbook in front of them and created something of their own and with that you had access to those people. Like Chris said, the ease of getting a hold of bloggers made it pretty easy to get your music in front of someone's "ears," and that's how we started to see acts that we'd normally see ignored by someone like The Dallas Morning News being discovered.
DH: So, basically, what you guys are getting at, is that because of the way print media has yielded to blogs, one of the outcomes is that it's easier for obscure artists to get discovered. It would seem then, that those artists would be given a bigger stage and audience, and in turn, some of the bigger, more commercial acts would start to be marginalized on some scale. That being said, in the North Texas music community, are you guys seeing obscure, art-focused artists surface and gain a following more so than they would have according to the old model? And if so, what examples come to mind?
CM: Without contradicting my earlier point, there is a danger in giving blogs and traditional media outlets too much credit here. I guess I'd shy away from using the word "discovered." Some bands and artists really have no idea what to do with even a small amount of attention and they really seem to despise it. Underground artistic activity existed long before the current system and always will; I think it's natural for the artist to feel as if he or she doesn't need the system or to at least be highly suspicious of being misrepresented. The way the information is distributed changed the type of coverage; the blog phenomenon was closer to '80s zine culture in many ways, though that crowd might be loathe to admit such a thing. So whereas older music articles in print would be something akin to covering a Pop Olympics, where the "best" band gets to the top, now things were presented in a way that was much less linear. So with all of that in mind, I don't think anyone was marginalized. There was just room for a wider variety of acts and venues in arts coverage all of a sudden.
The way I always tried to approach things was that everything was completely level if you were to look at a map of the metroplex. My thought was that a house show in Denton was just as valid as a big business show in Grand Prairie or House Of Blues. I felt it would be best to treat these disparate events with equal respect. Ultimately that was a decent decision, since when I look back through the archives there are many examples of bands playing Mable Peabody's or The 8th Continent that ended up actually playing House of Blues or larger venues in general. That's a pretty old story in "The Business," but the point is that I don't think the papers always caught those bands until it was a little late. There are some really good examples, but I think one of my favorites is Best Fwends, because that is a band that bet their entire future on just being completely annoying. And they ended up at House Of Blues and doing Bacardi commercials; meanwhile other artists that were still trying to gain traction through traditional avenues were probably wondering how that possibly happened. I find that hilarious.
JPF: I wouldn't say there are bands tailoring themselves to fit blog niches, but I wouldn't discount that blogs and press are definitely on their minds. You see a lot of blogs and bands attach themselves to this idea of genre specific music effort to be apart from the pack. This leads to what at times feels like symbiotic relationship as bands keep getting written about by the same blog over and over. DayBowBow was guilty of this.
You would hope that because of the sheer number of blogs we have in the area there would be more diversity and that there would be avenues for a broader coverage but it doesn't always feel that way. There are drawbacks to having so many voices out there, one of which is the borderline insane way you see local entities jump over themselves to cover some bands; we're anointing the best new thing in the area pretty much every month. Look at a band like Soviet, they're a solid group who seem to be oblivious to their own hype, but in a two-week period they were reviewed or featured on pretty much every site in the region. Now while that was great for them you started to notice how every review was pretty much repeating the same thing, just in a different order. With so many voices in the choir you start to worry about the coverage being too diluted.
DH: Interesting that you mentioned "the sheer number of blogs we have in the area," Jaime. We do have a high density of blogs here, which can be redundant when it comes to local coverage. I feel like bands are starting to react to that problem, though. Like you mentioned, Soviet had two weeks of strong coverage from a lot of voices, and then they disappeared. But Good Records has announced that, with their relaunch, they're moving to singles format so that their artists can stay in the news constantly, rather than once a year when a new record comes out. I'm seeing a lot of bands do this too. Air Review, for example, is releasing a song a month, rather than the traditional full-length model. If more bands adopt this mindset, it seems like it will encourage their music to evolve faster. What do you guys think?
CM: It can be redundant, but it doesn't have to be. Too many writers let themselves get pressured into covering things for the sake of doing so, and that's not helpful to the publication, the artists, or the writers themselves. There's a tendency to let people steer the conversation based on little more than profile; sometimes you're the one steering and it's great, but it can be frustrating if you aren't. I'm sure everyone has experienced both sides of this to some degree.
Another way to fight redundancy is to try as much as possible to disregard the non-music associations of what you're covering; never mind their booking company, never mind what the one-sheet is feeding you, and never mind people who have business interests trying to direct your coverage. This happens all the time and it's one of the worst nuisances in covering local music.
Finally, the return to the singles model of disseminating music is really just about the most anachronistic method we've seen in decades and decades. If you consider that wax cylinders and 78's were singles, it's an extremely retro idea. A better example perhaps is just before the "Album Era" that began in the '60s and of course, rap, disco, and punk helped foster a singles-happy climate as well. So it's hard for me to think of it as anything new. I don't necessarily agree that the band or artist will make strides any more quickly, but it's probably best that they don't feel compelled to make an entire record if they don't have the inspiration necessary to sustain such an endeavor. Now that the CD is quickly approaching its final days, we're left with warehouses of rotting full-lengths that were only made to fit the business model of a given time. A single is easier to consume quickly; however, is everyone up to the task of taking a more sensational and attention-grabbing NME-styled approach to keep up with everything? Maybe that's why there has been so much succinct junk journalism lately.
JPF: I would point out that the blueprint for running a local blog was laid out by Mr. Mosley's We Shot Jr, a site that was very vocal in their support for acts many people had yet to discover. The always entertaining "it list" and "weekenders" shined a light on pretty much everything worthwhile going on in the area. The disregard for the PR and booking companies that flood our inboxes certainly drew more fans to the site as we felt that we were getting someone's actual thoughts, not just the regurgitated thoughts of some PR flack. It was, at least for me when I first moved back to the area, kind of a bible for those of us wanting to discover new things and learn about our region.
This doesn't totally touch on the singles thing, but I've always found Bishop Allen's 2006 EP project fascinating. You had a band who was afraid of going through a sophomore album slump decide to halt the recording of their album in favor of releasing a four-song EP every month for an entire year. That's no small order. I believe that at times art is born from necessity and by putting themselves behind the eight ball like that Bishop Allen forced themselves to deliver to the best of their ability and they manged to cull a lot of their second album from those songs.
I don't believe the album will die. We'll always get musicians with these grand ideas of what an album should be and they'll continue churning out double discs despite the public's move to the single rich formats that are readily available at the moment. In fact it's very interesting that there's almost as much writing out there from last week discussing the technology one of those formats, Spotify, as there is discussing what you can actually do with it. We have access to a (mostly) free service that puts 16 million-plus songs at our fingertips and much of what was written was about how it was ad-heavy and hard to get, not about how we now could easily share each other's music libraries. It feels as if it's more fun to complain these days than to highlight.
Does anyone else find it encouraging that Carles, the king of all blogging parody has proven himself to be a top notch writer over at Grantland? Here's a guy who freely parodied everything that's wrong with blogging (the gotcha headlines, the "wave" culture and the none breaking breaking news) through Hipster Runoff, writing these increasingly thought-provoking pieces on a site that I freely admit I was shocked to see him on. I think that it shows the writing aspect of blogging can still shine through.