Crowdsourcing vs. blogging in music journalism

SXSW, the internationally renowned music trade show, officially kicks off the live music portion of the expanding festival tomorrow. It’s the one week of the year that Texas bests every other state in the union in the “holds more music geeks per square foot” contest.

In the ever-evolving realm of music journalism, media outlets are consistently trying to figure out the best way to maximize their coverage of something as massive as SXSW. So, I was slightly intrigued about AOL’s concept for tackling the issue of covering the thousands of bands playing SXSW head on. As paidContent explained [via The Daily Swarm]:

AOL is trying its most ambitious super-content project yet with freelance content site offering 2,000 $50 assignments on SXSW bands for its music site New Seed programming director Saul Hansell sees it as the “perfect chance” to showcase reporting and journalism along with what Seed can do for sites within AOL (NYSE: AOL). The basics: Spinner and Seed are recruiting U.S. “reporters” to interview all 2,000 bands for a Q&A and bio in advance of the March Festival.

But, I stopped myself from enrolling in the experiment myself. Why? It’s not like I couldn’t use the extra cash. Hey, $50 for a quickie interview ain’t half bad, right?

Well, not really.

There’s a certain crassness to AOL’s experiment. The very concept places more weight on quantity vs. quality, and the setup undermines the very ideals and democratic nature of Web publishing and blogging. With blogging, most bloggers pour their blood, sweat, tears, time and love into a little blog that may not get a lot of hits: Many see zero monetary gain. It’s a labor of love, and the best content (or most creative, etc) tends to rise to the top and get noticed. And, one hopes, those who are able to create some fantastic content on a consistent basis can begin to establish themselves online and perhaps make some money for their hard work.

AOL’s experiment does the opposite. If you’re able to string words together in a sentence and want to make a quick buck, you can hop on board and get your name on Spinner. So, instead of rewarding writers for creating well-thought critiques and excavations of pop artists, AOL is shelling out cash and providing great space for potentially terrible content.

How did it all turn out?

I received an email from a publicist for Bang Bang Eche a little while ago. The press release boasted about a “hilarious” interview for the AOL/Spinner SXSW coverage. It is indeed hilarious, but not in the good way:

What’s your biggest vice?


What’s in your festival survival kit?

See above.

Beatles or Stones?

I f—ing hate the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are just a band as far as I can tell, but what I hate more than those two bands are fans of those two bands. Die in a fire.

My only question is, how can a once-powerful empire like AOL actually publish content like this of such poor quality? Yes, content like this exists out there online, but for a big media entity like AOL to publish it themselves is an absolute embarrassment.

I hardly say this from some pedestal. I have produced my fair share of weightless journalism. But when it comes to getting paid to write, if I come up with something that appears barely scrapped together, I’ll get it thrown back at me and I’ll be asked to redo it.

To see questions that have obviously been the result of a lack-of-an-answer-via-email actually published on Spinner is ridiculous.

And the questions themselves reek of complete ineptitude. From the smallest blogger to the biggest hot shot journalist, most people who have conducted interviews understand that if you want to get some well-thought and unique answers, you have to know a thing or two about your subject and probe a little bit. But “Beatles or Stones?” What decade is this? How is that relevant to Bang Bang Eche? How will that make the reader actually care about that band? All I can say is thank goodness for the interviewee, Bang Bang Eche’s frontman Zach Doney, for making a mockery of a situation that much more apparent with his own humorous twist.

How did the rest of the Spinner SXSW coverage go?

Well, as far as their goal to get an interview with every artist performing at SXSW, they appear to have failed. I went through the site’s alphabetic band listing for SXSW to see if my friend Dan’s new band, Most Ghosts, is included in the interview collection. Most Ghosts is a new band and not entirely well known, but they’ve got seven SXSW shows listed on their MySpace page, so I figured they would be included in the massive project.


I looked to see if Milwaukee rapper Juiceboxxx, who has performed at SXSW in previous years and will be playing four shows there this year, was included.


How about Austin-based act Zookeeper, fronted by former Mineral frontman Chris Simpson?


I’ll stop there. I’m just so perplexed that a project that placed such a massive emphasis on quantity over the quality of the content couldn’t get all of the proper content together. When I look at a project as ambitious as AOL’s, I want to find interviews with the super-unknown musicians as much as the superstars. They deserve some loving in this project too, right? Well, in the case of those three acts, apparently not.

It’s a bit sad to see things end up this way over at AOL HQ. It’s projects like this that make me thankful that I’ve been given the chance to write for a place like True/Slant because the folks here recognized my devotion to writing about music. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and I’d hate to see opportunities at other sites pass over those with the skills, knowledge and passion needed for this field go to those who want to pocket a little extra cash.

I’d go as far to say AOL’s found the equivalent of scabbing in online music journalism. It seems that as long as the content is there, who cares about the quality, right? I just hope this doesn’t become a trend elsewhere.

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