How to Fail at Blogging
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Media.
Last week I wrote something called “How to Fail at Promoting Music Online” which was pretty much about a handful of issues I take with the way publicists and bands push music online, particularly via email marketing. It’s pretty easy to unload such unsolicited advice though, and truth be told, picking on some issues and poking fun at what appear to be obvious mistakes is kind of fun. Case in point: it’s the second time I’ve done so this year. Fun, but hardly groundbreaking stuff. What I’ve really wanted to do for quite some time though, which sort of does the same thing, is turn the focus onto the mirror rather than the window. It’s pretty easy to look outside and see what’s wrong, but it’s a little more difficult to take a serious look at yourself with the same sort of critical eye. When it comes down to it though, for every easy joke about mindless mistakes bands make or how bad at their jobs some PR monkeys are, it’s every bit as easy to look at how remarkably silly bloggers can be. Many may not be guilty of such offenses and many may not confess to them, but with a strong sense of sarcasm in tow, here are a few of the ways that as a blogger, and in particular a music blogger, you’re failing at what you do.
Your opinion is valuable. After all, it’s on the Internet. (You’re a “freelancer,” you say? Even better!) So why not give the people you’re best and document as much as you possibly can. Why be a spectator at an event and immerse yourself in it when you can “cover” an event and document what you experienced? Why listen to an album and give yourself time to appreciate it when you can hastily gather first reactions and spit out a blog post? Don’t know anything about a band? Don’t let that stop you from blogging about them as though you have an authoritative voice on the subject. And don’t stop with your experiences you’ve just had either, document experiences as they’re happening, or even better, document experiences that you haven’t even had yet. Sometimes in order to reaffirm your place in the blogosphere it’s important to serve as the window to what might be perceived as cool by others. Re-tweet, blog, or post “content” to Facebook that might be appreciated by potential readers whether or not it reflects your personal sense of taste, or whether or not you’ve even bothered to consume, much less, appreciate it.
What is your motivation with meeting people in your same industry and/or niche corner of the blogosphere? Not entirely sure? Don’t worry about it. Treat friends like acquaintances, acquaintances like friends, “contributors” like friends, or even better: blur the lines of each so no one really knows where they stand with you. Further, considering that your own intentions aren’t always “noble,” assume that everyone you deal with has an ulterior motive. Are people contacting you only to get something from you? (Are you only reaching out to others because you want something from them?) Don’t worry about setting these double standards: Take the time to mock others you deal with on a daily basis without taking a glance your own habits. Certainly just because you’re tired of people link-spamming you, asking you for some sort of “coverage” or “support,” that doesn’t mean that you can’t still do the same: Spam for re-tweets, follows, votes, or simply to “inform” others about new “content” that you’ve blogged about.
In addition to allowing yourself to gain no real perspective of what your personal motivations are, it’s okay to unjustly feel like every time something good happens to someone else, that it somehow takes away from your “cause.” Allow Facebook fan, Twitter follower or pageview statistics to dictate your personal value relative to your contemporaries, and allow resentment to build if you don’t feel that you measure up. Allow contempt to develop if ignorant acquaintances aren’t using the Right metrics program to monitor their traffic. Do you feel that there’s some elite group of bloggers who are undeservingly given the bulk of the industry-love and media attention, who subsequently may or may not be stiff-arming the development of others who aren’t in their clique? Toss a little more resentment into the mix whether or not that’s a thing. Also, you’ve been blogging for longer that that other website, so why didn’t you get to post that “exclusive” track? Or if you did post something “first” only to later see other blogs posting about the same “content” long after you did, you allowed yourself to become angry at them, right? After all, whether or not they might have actually posted about the same subject on their own doing, they had to have seen your post first and didn’t cite you as a source or give you your much due link-love. Jerks. Do you feel as though you’ve been slighted or disrespected in some way? Act out! Take everything personally, strip names from your blogroll, bad-mouth bloggers behind their backs, or un-follow them on Twitter. Blogging is as much a pissing contest as it is a medium for personal expression. Never forget that.
While blogging is an easy and widely used method to broadcast opinion (and pictures of cats), don’t feel that you have to be clear about what your motivation is — to others or yourself. Is your blog a business first or is it a personal platform to share your opinions (and pictures of cats)? Is your blog a medium which you use to personally “help bands,” “support artists,” or “promote good music” by illegally offering “sharing” free mp3s? Or is it about feeding a personal sense of self-esteem that you never really bothered exploring until the invent of Blogger? Are you supporting mediocrity to drive pageviews or are you truly standing behind the “content” you’re boosting? Are you constantly striving to find new music to “post” because you need more music to post or because you want to find more music that truly resonates with you? Is the subject of what you’re blogging about good, or just good enough to blog about? Are you lowering the bar for what you’ll promote so that in the event that a band miraculously breaks out one day, you’ll be able to have your own “I was there when…” moment? Are you so caught up in pageviews and SEO-hacking that you devote just as much time to that aspect of the “blogging process” as you do “content development”? Are you blogging to feed Google, to be the “first” at posting anything, actively searching for ways to support your own relevance (year-end lists and wrap-ups in early November… why not!), or to help drive eyes to your “brand”? Which outside sources are influencing what you blog about, and how clear is it for an outsider to figure out whether your “content” is the result of a PR-push, a band letting you into a show for free, a “sponsorship,” or if it’s something that you would be blogging about regardless of any outside factors? Does it even matter? Just go with the flow: addressing any of this might end up shedding an unpleasant light on you as a True music fan.
Aside from blurring the lines surrounding why you’re blogging, be as inconsistent as possible with what and when you’re blogging. Abandon ideas about the “direction” or “focus” of “content” on your blog as quickly as you adopt them. Want to cover news one week? Local news the next? Local artists the next? Music videos the next? Mashups on Mondays? Electronica on weekends? Metal on Fridays? Then forget all of that and only blog about pop? Do you post a dozen marginally interesting news items, music videos, or mp3s one day then go a week without posting anything? It shouldn’t matter, right? After all, it’s your blog and you should do whatever you want with it.
“According to Google Analytics, there are, as of this writing, over infinity active blogs on the Internet. And your article is battling all of them for attention. And you’re not just competing against other articles, or even other blogs; you’re competing against Facebook, and Wikipedia, and YouTube, and the news, and The Daily Show, and last night’s sports scores, and tomorrow’s weather, and online games, and an impossible amount of pornography. Just because someone’s sitting in front of a computer doesn’t mean they’re going to read a 2,000-word article, because they can be doing almost anything else. It’s a tough market on the Internet. Cheers gets a lot of credit for being a popular show, but Cheers never had to compete with the most comprehensive and specific library of free pornography that has ever existed in human history.“
Pay no heed to such advice because, again, it’s your blog and the mere fact that you have taken the time to grace the Internet with your presence means that you deserve to be seen. Not only that, but your readers, Facebook fans, or Twitter followers should be fine with whatever inconsistencies you throw at them and support you in your online endeavors. Don’t take into consideration what might be in the best interest of readers when re-tooling the layout of your blog (it now takes three clicks to see a single article? Let’s do it: more pageviews!), or whether or not they’ll grow tired of you turning over new designs on a seemingly monthly basis. Don’t take a reader’s perspective into account when you flood their RSS reader with 20 posts one day, and none the next. Don’t bother thinking about whether or not your drunken live-tweeting of your YouTube surfing will be of interest to them. Of course it will! They wouldn’t follow you if it wasn’t of interest, right? Oh, and if you get burnt out on the upkeep of your blog’s Twitter or Facebook accounts and decide to delete them altogether, expect fans to re-emerge when you open up new accounts and latch back onto your every word. It’s not that you shunned their patronage, you were just cleaning the slate.
You’ve made it! People now visit your blog. A lot of people, actually. So why not give yourself a little pat on the back? After all, you’ve got x number of pageviews, y number of Facebook followers, and z number of Twitter followers, and that really means something. Not just something about your blog, but something about you. Were you recognized for your work by another website? Perhaps you were invited to contribute a guest-post or two to a well-established media outlet? Maybe you were you asked to freelance by a magazine/paper/weekly/blog/website that has a strong following? Wild! Never let yourself forget that, because no matter how long ago it happened it’s still important. Why would it not be important? They picked you because your opinion is obviously original and your taste as a music blogger, nay, Journalist(!), is impeccable. Whether or not you say anything that’s remotely original, express anything that readers wouldn’t actually be able to pick up on simply by listening to the music themselves, or document your experiences with a competency that remotely reflects the level of education you have isn’t really important here. What is important is that you wouldn’t have made it this far if you weren’t important. Even if no one else does, and whether or not it really exists, be the first in line to acknowledge your own “importance on the Internet.” You deserve it, buddy.
I know that it’s more than a little ironic to rant about bloggers who inflate their own importance by writing something that’s essentially all about me, but that’s exactly what I’m doing here. I originally started blogging about seven years ago, and started Culture Bully a few months after that. In the following years I’ve not only made every mistake mentioned here (and plenty more), but I’ve actually grown from some of them. (That said, there are still plenty of mistakes that I continue to make. Plenty.) People are supposed to do that though, right? Make mistakes… change… grow… mature…?
All considered though, I’m all but done with what this blog has become because while certain methods and practices keep pageviews coming in, doing so doesn’t really mean anything. I guess that’s the main piece of advice that I can give here: Stop taking the things that don’t actually matter so damn seriously. In the end the pageviews, followers, likes, fans, and subscribers aren’t really important if you can’t figure out what’s so special about them. It’s not about popularity or even ad revenue (the latter of which I’m thoroughly grateful for, by the way), but it’s that in a world where there might as well be “infinity active blogs on the Internet” someone looked at yours, followed you, subscribed, or liked what you did. The most important thing about this blog for me has been that many times when I began to feel invisible it’s helped me feel like I’m not, or that among an endless sea of people spouting loony opinions, that sometimes what I have to say does actually have some sort of value.
Thanks to everyone who’s contributed to that feeling. I should have said it a lot sooner. I don’t know what it means to move on, because I’ve done that before, but I’m moving on from whatever the past six and a half years have been about. Maybe I’ll try reaching my full potential or something… I don’t really know.
(The rest of this is just personal rambling [in true blog fashion, right?] and I wouldn’t bother reading it if you’re looking for more “handy tips” on how to avoid being a dummy. Rather, it’s just here for me to help sort out my thoughts as I continue to fumble my way through a digital identity crisis.)
As much as I’d like to say that band spam or “digital marketing” might be the most frustrating aspect of blogging, it’s probably the blogging culture itself that takes such a distinction. Why? Funny enough, because the landscape is filled with people just like me. In the summer of 2010 I was able to attend the Sled Island festival in Canada, but by the end I was really bummed out because of the overall vibe. My conclusion was that I was part of the problem. While I was technically there to lend coverage – as is the trade-off for access – I was not there having fun or immersing myself in beautiful moments. I was only regurgitating what had happened, be it through typed word or videos of performances. And I wasn’t alone. (Have you ever been to a concert and witnessed the band take the stage only to be greeted by a swarm of cell-phones and cameras raised to capture the moment? Ever feel sort of sick about that? Ever feel sort of sick about that only to realize that your camera’s in the air as well?) I swore off “live reviews” then and while a few local showcase recaps snuck in over the past year, I’ve largely stuck to it. While I haven’t been to remotely as many shows as I once saw (actually having to pay for these things is tougher than I’d remembered) it feels good to just be a spectator again. What I probably should have done was swear off blogging on the whole though, because again I think the way I’ve been doing things here has positioned me as a contributor to a similar problem as the one I saw up in Canada. Only it’s online. And it’s everywhere.
One of the most interesting things that I’ve picked up on over the years is how little music bloggers actually interact with one another. I don’t mean interaction through Twitter or via public meet-ups though (both are pretty good ways of making new friends, both online and off), I mean through each other’s actual blogs. Most music bloggers aren’t passionate about music blogs, we’re passionate about our music blog. But not even to the degree that it’s our favorite blog, it’s just something we expect others to find value in. The idea dawned on me one day: If I had to read my own blog, would I? For the most part I wouldn’t. Yet I expect other people to read it… Why?! This is partially what drives a lot of these issues that I listed above: a widespread feeling of over-inflated self-importance.
What follows are criticisms no different than those made of the younger culture‘s increasingly strong sense of self-importance fueled by the urge to constantly update the rest of the world of their every action and thought via Facebook and Twitter — a compulsion made that much worse every time society force-feeds the idea that we’re all special, we’re all unique individuals with something important to say, and even further inflated every time someone responds, likes, comments or otherwise shows interest in what that person’s sharing. I’m hardly an expert on the inner workings of the entire blogosphere, so whether or not this is widespread across various niches I really don’t know, but this sort of thing is really evident in the music blogosphere. Somehow music bloggers have become important not only because we have an outlet for opinion, but curious enough, because the value of what we’re doing is tied to the quality of what we’re blogging about. Curation, right…? But including a single enjoyable song on a post that features a dozen, or posting a single legitimately unique or enjoyable music video over the course of a week’s worth of slop somehow means the blogger (as a “curator”) has done an excellent job in some circles. The whole thing is bizarre.
Recently I wrote something for a friend’s zine called “Why I (Music) Blog,” with an overly-dramatic conclusion about how it’s helped save my life (yada yada yada). There’s actually a bit of truth to that, but at the time I wrote the essay I only skimmed over something that I was already really really tired of: the depressing nature of being a blogger. Not only is it depressing living tied to a screen in a room by myself for the majority of most days (which, it could be argued, is my own doing, and I get that… still a bummer), but the reality of turning a hobby into a business has its drawbacks as well. For instance, eating your favorite food every few days can be great, but what happens when you take that leap and make eating your favorite food your job? What happens when you’re in a constant dialog surrounding your favorite food with friends (or are they acquaintances… or contributors?), are hammered with emails constantly alerting you to all sorts of different brands of your favorite food, faced with an RSS feed bulging at the seems with updates from hundreds of other blogs spewing conversation of your favorite food, and are bombarded with countless Twitter and forum discussions surrounding the development, evolution, and business of your favorite food (largely between people who can’t cook to save their lives)? Sure, it all comes with the territory, but regardless of how much you once loved that food, immersing yourself into such a culture gets a little old. What’s worse is that to gain the most visibility, or succeed financially so that it’s still your job to do it all again tomorrow, it’s rarely discussion of your favorite food that is the most lucrative, but rather food that you would otherwise never waste your time with.
It should be obvious for anyone who’s checked this blog out over the years, but for me, blogging has long since become a continual push for pageviews rather than actually aspiring to showcase music that’s really good. Album reviews have been the pageview equivalent to bread and butter for years: so why not squeak out immediate reactions to an Eminem or Taylor Swift album following their leaks online, as they typically draw a good bit of traffic, and in theory ad revenue, rather than post something about a far less known act that I really enjoy? For the longest time I haven’t even been blogging about my favorite food, but food that I’ve only ever had a marginal interest in. Now the entire buffet of different flavors and aromas has lost quite a bit of its appeal. Every email from a band is as gag-inducing as day-old marked down tuna rolls from the local convenience store. They might be a hidden treasure but I’m too turned off by the idea what they might be to take that risk.
There are plenty of other downsides (having to have a basis for opinion on the entire history of a band in order to write anything about them for fear of being terrorized by commentors, or having to simply have an opinion on everything in order to keep up, for instance), but something I recently read spoke well to an issue I hadn’t even realized existed within me. In a recent entry in his Why We Fight column, Nitsuh Abebe (whose writing is genuinely as great a response as anyone’s to the accusation that “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”) explained something that he’s lost over the years: his ability to be “suckered by trends.”
“I miss my capacity to fall for everything. I miss getting caught — hook, line, sinker, reeled-straight-in — by trends, revivals, passing notions, idiot bastard styles. I am trying to re-cultivate the overwhelming enthusiasm I have had for truly, truly bad ideas.“
In August of 1998 one of my best friends and I made it our business to get out to the local electronics shop to get there just as it opened so we could be the first to get our hands on a CD on the day of its release. As the doors were unlocked, we rushed in only to find that the day’s new inventory wasn’t even stocked yet. So we had to wait for someone to go to the back and unearth a pair of discs for us. I guess there wasn’t much of a feeling that there’d be two ravenous teenagers anxiously counting down the minutes to get their hands on Korn’s Follow the Leader. Oh, how wrong they were. As unpopular as confessing to being one of those obnoxious nü-metal kids might be, that was one of the first eras of music where I can remember really feeling like I was caught up in a whole scene that was pretty awesome. Incubus’ S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was in there, as was Limp Bizkit, Soulfly and Pantera, but before long we’d drained the well dry (Cold Chamber) and moved on to the next trend. However, that wasn’t before I was also introduced to Rage Against the Machine and turned on to rap through such ridiculous and strange collaborations as Korn teaming with Ice Cube. Embarrassing? Absolutely. Regrettable? No way.
I’ve had similar moments of true fanaticism since then, of course, but after opening up the blog my perspective slowly changed from that of a fan to DIY “music critic,” and I’ve had fewer and fewer of them as each year passed. It wasn’t only that my opinion now seemed to matter, but that simply deciding who I paid attention to mattered. For all the nonsense that’s still projected at bands about the importance of getting music heard on blogs, the flip side is that bloggers start to believe that what their doing has importance. How could we not? Traffic takes off, ad revenue builds, a “fan base” develops, “contributors” reach out to you to join your team… hell, a couple years back a company flew me and a few other bloggers down to Austin for some parties (read: year-end tax write-off). All that and no one has ever even heard of this blog… Point is, it’s really easy to become caught up in the same wave of hype surrounding this whole “digital music explosion” from the blogger’s side of things as it is the musician’s. So as the years passed I spent more and more time grazing on PR emails than actually appreciating music, exploring my true interests or contemplating critiques by those who have been deep in the trenches of actual music journalism since long before my fascination with camo-shorts and backwards baseball caps began. Music blogging has quickly become a cog in machine that it first appeared to be raging against. Much like nü-metal ran its course with me, so too have the days of really taking this shit seriously.
Speaking of his work in radio and video, This American Life‘s Ira Glass explained in an interview a few years ago that “Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.” Even when this blog was good it still wasn’t that good (which isn’t meant to undermine the many kindhearted people who’ve shared articles here), and to keep on with the way it was going was driving me crazy because I knew it was getting worse. I was becoming more complacent with allowing that to happen despite becoming more and more aware that I can actually put something together that means something to me. That’s kind of why I invited some new folks to join in over the summer and that’s why I started posting about the UFC. Also partially just to see what would happen, but more than anything I was looking for a way to not abandon my crap. I still can’t kill this blog — I have rent to pay and to be frank, the scattered advertising and completely out-of-place sponsored posts still help a lot with that — but what I can kill is the process of continually stumbling through the many many many mistakes accounted for above. I’m not sure I’ll ever be done blogging, but I’m done for now. (Or is posting to Facebook and Twitter blogging?) Hope you’ve gotten something out of my little blog post here, and if you’re one of the many making the same mistakes that I’ve made, do yourself a favor and reconsider why it is that you (music) blog. I know you could have spent it with anyone, but you spent your time with me today. Thanks for that.