September 18, 2012

The “Death” of the MP3 Music Blog

I stole this title from a story I saw tweeted several weeks ago. I don’t recall where. I apologize, and will attribute it properly if someone can point me in the right direction.

I’ve seen some alarmist posts lately, suggesting that music blogs as we know them may be in their waning years. It’s a fair question to bring up: in a world where music is streamed, rented, borrowed, but rarely owned, what role do music bloggers play? 

If we step back a bit, we see that music regularly falls at the forefront of the disruption spectrum. The content, relative to movies, books, apps, and other media, is relatively easily to produce and distribute. It comes in small, easily digestible chunks, regardless of the packaging.

Bloggers, then, fall into the spectrum as tastemakers. They are de facto replacements for the magazine and newspaper journalists of yore.

Or are they?

At one level, yes. They do the dirty work of sifting through heaps of bad music to find gems to share. They provide context for the music, and some go so far as to give insight into the lives and creative processes of the artists.

However, the context in which the bloggers themselves exist is significantly different.

Journalists worked for very straightforward businesses, generally driven towards mass appeal. Few bloggers aim at mass appeal — that business is ever more in the hands of the major players (radio drives the pop audience, Pitchfork drives the indie audience, and frankly I need to do more research to understand what drives the massive and ever-growing EDM audience — I suspect a mass of simplistic Tumblr blogs). A few accidentally stumble into it, by being one of the many sites that roll up into aggregators like The Hype Machine, We Are Hunted, Exfm, and

Most bloggers are not Pitchfork. Most bloggers have a niche audience that has spread largely organically. They shared music with their friends, who shared it with their friends, and so forth. Many blogs promote concerts as a way to both make (a very small amount of) money and build brand recognition. Some bloggers occasionally get DJ gigs.

So what happens to music bloggers when the MP3 is virtually dead and there’s little incentive to download when the rest of your music library is in a streaming service like Rdio or Spotify?

Very little.

Sure, their platforms might change. They might start sharing Rdio links instead of MP3s. They may become an app on Spotify. The best ones will change formats entirely, to focus on video or mobile apps to tell their story. But their fundamental purpose does not change.

Pandora has found their business in customizing and replacing radio, not as a music discovery site. They are not a threat to bloggers. Spotify and Rdio replace iTunes and Best Buy, not music bloggers.

Aggregators could not exist without music bloggers, and they’ve proven their ability to follow the bloggers regardless of format — The Hype Machine has progressed from pure MP3 aggregation to support Tumblr, SoundCloud, and a plethora of others (which make up an ever increasing proportion of their content). They’ve even brought their aggregation to Spotify, making it clear that they will exist wherever there is music.

Bloggers, or whatever they may be called in their next iteration, will continue to exist, too. There will probably be more of them than ever before. Or at least we should hope there will be — consumer interest in the stories surrounding music sits largely on their evangelical shoulders.


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