On the Possible Death of the MP3 Blog
Jeff Klingman: Is it time to officially note that the open-source music criticism utopia some predicted last decade with the rise of the MP3 blog officially never came to pass? It’s harder, not easier, to start a new site with any sort of cultural currency than it’s ever been. Blogs with any sort of clout, like Gorilla vs. Bear, or 20jazzfunkgreats, say, are the ones that got in on the ground floor, and are now officially sub-sections of Pitchfork. There’s even less money in it than writing for a traditional publication. Can we stick a fork in it?
Mike Conklin:Well, that would be nice, wouldn’t it? I know I risk coming off like I’m just trying to protect my profession here, and it’s not that there aren’t some people out there doing very good work in the medium, but the lack of commentary, or at least the lack of valuable commentary is, I believe, starting to wear on everyone’s nerves. Enough people have spilled enough words about the problems with simply racing to be the first one to post something that I have to believe it’s become accepted as fact at this point. And the other thing I like to think people are growing weary of is that even in spite of what seems like it should be a more personal connection, my god, those blogs are just too fucking dry
Jeff:Well, no one is going to stop kids from starting new sites, and there may well be some as of yet unseen technological shift that will make the endeavor finally seem truly vital, but I think what no one reckoned with in those exciting early days is that the longer the MP3 blog exists, the harder it becomes to make any kind of dent in people’s awareness by starting one. Like, if you asked what are some good music bogs, you’d get roughly the same answers today that you did five years ago. I think maybe the focus on obscurity and newness that people saw as a shortcut to relevancy is now proven exactly backwards. It’s really perspective and time that are key to affecting criticism, right? You see that in how smart critical folks like Matt Perpetua, Maura Johnston, Eric Harvey, etc., have been mooning over Steve Hyden’s “Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation?” pieces running in the Onion AV Club. Now, there might be small blogs out there who do the same sort of thing, at a high level, but it’s really tough to find them without some kind of authoritative filter pointing us there. Which is what the first wave of MP3 bloggers were trying to shake off, in a way. What other trends do you see in terms of more traditional publications taking back the lead in terms of driving the critical conversation?
Mike:First and foremost, we’re seeing a lot more lists, of course—it’s all “13 Reasons We Think This” or “8 Things I Hate About That,” and on the surface, it’s troubling. But as with anything, in the right hands, those lists can be really smart and integral to all sorts of conversations, big and small, if the writer is so equipped. And if all we have to do to get some power back into the hands of people with smart things to say is to present those things in list form, it doesn’t seem all that bad.
Re: On the Prevailing Contrarianism Among Music Critics
More troublesome is how instead of using “their considerable smarts” towards educating their followers, many critics labeled as fresh and innovative bands from the past decade which had clear and, more often than not, striking post-punk antecedents. For every comparison of Interpol to Joy Division–regardless of merit–there were numerous instances of either ignorance or arrogance by folks who might have thought their readership had not a clue who Wire or XTC were, for example, and failed to comment on their marked influence on these new artists.
Those dinosaurs from the ’70s may have erroneously ragged on Led Zeppelin, but they sure knew who Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon were. I recently had a conversation with a 20-something music critic in which I slagged Lady Gaga as a more media savvy Dale Bozzio. I didn’t expect him to agree with me, necessarily, but I would’ve appreciated that he’d known who Bozzio was.