Six Years Of Music Blogging – What’s Changed?


TechFruit may have only been going for a year, but I have been writing and editing our sister site, new music blog The Blue Walrus, for a full six years as of this week, so I thought now would be a good time to look back and see what has changed over that time.

Social

Every band had a MySpace back in 2006, whereas now the platform is basically dead after News Corp. squandered their lead. Most people at my University (Edinburgh) had a Facebook account back then too, but it was still a closed school-only network. Now everyone (Or 800 million of us anyway) has a Facebook account, and it is seen as a communication tool on a similar level of ubiquity as email – although for more personal interactions. Twitter has also emerged as the place for on-the-minute news, and with its one-way following – it is easy to surround yourself with people of similar interests and aspirations. In my mind at least, Facebook is for friends, whereas Twitter is for interest – whether that be music, technology, or anything else. More recently still, we’ve seen the rise of Pinterest, so that sharing/curating beautiful images is also more focused – niche networks seem to be the way the market is moving.

Streaming Media

Back in 2006 we had YouTube and Vimeo for video streaming, but as music blogger we were all about sharing music – this meant sharing mp3s. Sometimes this had the tacit approval of the bands and labels, generally they turned a blind eye as long as we didn’t share singles, but I certainly got my fair share of take-down notices from the IFPI and various record labels. SoundCloud changed everything. Suddenly we could upload and share streams of songs without sharing the mp3s – and this meant labels were more keen to offer us advance streams of singles or more recently full albums. A notable mention must go to Official.fm as well for offering a similar service, but SoundCloud has been a Godsend – and their streams are picked up by the aggregators such as HypeM.

Bandcamp has also changed the music space by emerging as MySpace fell from grace and giving bands a way to offer free streams and/or downloads of their songs. Most interestingly, however, was the way they let bands sell their music either through a pay per song/EP/album or a pay what you want model. They finally released the independent musician from such a reliance on iTunes.

Tools like Ex.fm have taken this move to streaming a step further, by letting music fans “save” streams of songs they find around the web to their own private streaming catalogue, which they can then access at a later date from any connected device. Music fans no longer need to download music to have it in “their collection” – Ex.fm lets you do that in the cloud with streams.

WordPress & Tumblr

When I started The Blue Walrus in 2006 there was a real toss up between using the open source PHP/MySQL based WordPress or the free but closed source Moveable Type. I plumped for WordPress mostly because I had a decent grasp of PHP (I had built the CMS for AudioMelody from scratch years before-hand) and had rarely used Perl. Looking back I definitely made the right choice – WordPress has gone from strength to strength and now powers a good portion of the web including TechFruit. WordPress can now be installed with a few clicks, and that the company started offering the hosted WordPress platform at WordPress.com for free has also opened it up to a much larger audience.
Tumblr has emerged alongside WordPress as a wonderfully simple blogging platform – everything is set up with a few clicks, there are beautiful themes available, and adding videos, pictures, and music to posts is as simple as can be. We use Tumblr for our video wall, but plenty of other great music blogs use Tumblr as their main platform – Disco Naïveté and Music Fans Mic are two good examples.

Reach & Influence

Six years ago, blogging was still seen, understandably, as a geeks’ activity. Most people were online, but setting up a blog was still considered difficult and technical – and that was true to a large extent. Now anyone can start a music blog to share their tastes, and many, many do. The music blogging world has exploded in the last six years – with a blog out there covering every possible music niche and sub-genre you can think of.
The role music bloggers play in the musical landscape has also changed dramatically – with various music blogs starting up their own indie labels (look at Song, by Toad Records and Forest Family Records), others doing regular DJ slots on the radio (Hannah Rad), and many others, myself included, are putting on live shows. In the US music blogs now very much help define the direction of new music, and even in the UK, where we still have a vibrant independent music press, music bloggers are having bigger roles. I certainly don’t mean to overstate our influence – people who regularly read music blogs are still a relatively select bunch, but the audience has certainly expanded dramatically over the years.

The Changing Nature Of Labels vs The Internet

The failure of the major record labels to embrace our increasingly digital lives has been well documented alongside their rapidly declining sales figures – but the way all labels have come to understand the digital landscape is certainly a major change over the last few years. I noted previously that cease and desist/takedown orders were not uncommon in 2006/7, but for music bloggers who try to play by the rules they are decidedly rarer today. Part of this is due to SoundCloud et al, part of this is due to most bloggers sticking roughly to a similar creed of sorts, but a lot of it is down to how the labels percieve digital. The digital frontier is no longer the land of danger, the wild west where everyone just takes what they want – it is now the only place for labels to sell music to replace the rapidly declining CD sales. The internet may mean change, but the status quo is quite obviously no longer an option.

The Re-emergence of DIY Labels

I noted previously about how some music blogs had spun off record labels, but the internet has brought with it the re-emergence of DIY labels – tiny record labels that just put out records they love with often little thought about the future profits. Labels like Cascine are a great example of how the internet has allowed music fans from across the globe start labels and put out records by their favourite bands, without such huge investments. Yes many of these DIY labels sell physical records (even vinyl) as well as MP3s, but the internet has made getting these records in front of possible fans easier and cheaper than ever.

Geography Matters Less Than Ever

The internet has never given any thought to national boundaries, and the ease of bands from one corner of the world getting their music in front of music fans from a different corner has never been easier. For music fans in the UK to have heard of a band in the 1990s – they would most likely need to have got a reputation in the UK or US and be written about in the NME. Now all it takes is an email to a music blogger that you think would like your stuff and that is the geographic barrier dealt with. Admittedly getting music bloggers to listen isn’t the easiest task, but at least geography isn’t an issue in trying to get your music to an audience.

And much, much more.

Have I missed something you think has changed? Let me know in the comments.

About the author: Tim

Tim is a digital entrepreneur and the editor of TechFruit

  • TWRHQ

    I’d like to mention the rise of the podcast/’radio’ shows/radio ‘stations’ over the past, what? 5years? — which, to my mind (& apart from being sub-species of the other & child of the mp3 blog), owe a large part of their widespread ‘everybody’s wearing ‘em’ popularity to being driven by blogs.

    • techfruit

       @TWRHQ That’s a good point DC – I rather missed podcasts, but your absolutely right. 5 years ago podcasts were still relatively niche-market radio downloads, but they have exploded in popularity alongside the rise of the smartphone really. A few particularly good ones that comes to mind are The Toadcast from Song, by Toad, the Contrast Podcast, and your own :) That Alt-J session on the last one was all kinds of awesome!

      • TWRHQ

         @techfruit It was a pretty nifty session all told :o) Cheers! If you look at what were your ‘hipster’ angled blogs of 3-4 years ago every single one of them jumped the podcast bandwagon (previously the domain of nerds, specialists & FM radio shows dipping their toes into the deeper possibilities of the web).  This, in turn, & especially around the time the ‘save 6music’ campaign garnered a frothing social network call to arms, led to a great many of these podcasts being re-imagined (rather supriously so in my opinion) as ‘radio shows’ — only none of them were actually broadcasting on a bona fide station, on-line or otherwise. Not to worry, with the technology catching up with the ego & streaming facilities becoming more adaptable for online hosting &, crucially, cheaper to integrate, these podcasts/’radio’ shows morphed into radio ‘stations’ & suddenly these hipsters weren’t just ‘journalists’ they were ‘broadcasters’ too.  Ahem.  These past 2 years alone have seen a ridiculous rise in ‘online radio stations’ poking out of the banner headers of (now re-imagined e-zine) blogs.I don’t have a problem with that, but I do worry about quality control & too much of it (which there is at the moment) devaluing the currency of on-line radio play for new artists/music — especially for those endeavours who do it with passion & integrity & not simply for the traffic stats like some blogs/’stations’ I could mention.As I have said a few times today, in relation to RSD12: music is for life not just for kudos.

        • techfruit

           @TWRHQ “music is for life not just for kudos” – very well said!
          Yeah I know what you mean by the lack of quality control in podcasts, which does seem to be following the path of blogs where there were just a few by geeks, then they got “cool” and everyone started one, and now people are seeing they are a lot of work for limited rewards except the music itself and dropping out. I imagine the same will happen with podcasts – being a “broadcaster” is now possible for everyone, so people are trying it out. I think (and hope) the market will shake itself out somewhat though over the next couple of years.
           
          One thing I think that will help is when people finally work out how get curation to work for the content creators and the curators online. There’s plenty of attempts at this (including my own – Descrier.co.uk), but once someone succeeds – then whilst the technology will be there for everyone to broadcast, there will be just a little bit more of a barrier to recognition. That barrier won’t be money, but quality control. Well that’s my theory anyway!

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