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Music and the Media, Part 4: 'The Man' vs. The Music

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A massive argument amongst indie music bloggers spilled over Twitter on Thursday. Or, in real terms, a blip on Twitter’s scanner brought up some pretty big concepts about how new music is transmitted dispersed online, and right from the keyboards of a few “big” name indie bloggers.

The whole shindig went down when I Guess I’m Floating‘s Connor McGlynn posted the following three messages on his Twitter account (I’ve formated and streamlined them into a single quote to make it easier to read):

i am so gargantuanly bored by the indie music machine. the whole ‘hype’ process is so cliche now, it’s getting painful to watch again and again. process: gvb writes abt some band, pitchfork jacks it, everyone freaks out about mediocre music, better music goes unnoticed. the end.

As anything else online can become misconstrued into some larger argument, it set off a torrential downpour of public back-and-forths with Connor, Gorilla vs. Bear‘s Chris Cantalini, Get Off The Coast‘s Jheri Evans, Drowned In Sound‘s Sean Adams, E.J. from Loudersoft and a whole peanut gallery tossing their beefs and ruminations on the way music blogging is going.

A lot of it sounded like common sense and common knowledge. Connor’s points weren’t entirely unfounded: If you want to know what Pitchfork will talk about 2-4 months from now, go to Gorilla vs. Bear. People freak out about whatever Pitchfork dubs “Best New Music.” Some like it, some think it’s mediocre. Rinse, repeat.

The initial defensive response of some bloggers aside, it did create a conversation about how people discover music today on the blogosphere. While Christopher Weingarten has been preaching against the mediocrity machine the hype-fueled blogosphere produces for quite some time (if you want to hear a guy eloquently rant about Fleet Foxes sucking, check out his speech at last year’s 140 Character Conference. And his speech at this year’s conference was great too.)

But what’s so refreshing about this Twitter conversation is it’s perhaps the first public discussion about the “state of music” done by some tastemakers who’ve helped break a number of bands in the indieverse. It’s no giant leap for mankind, but talking about these issues in public could be the beginning of the changing of the guard for music blogging.

Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.

Of the many blogs out there, there’s a large number of music blogs. So many music blogs, so little time, so many distractions. And how many of these intrepid bloggers would like to, someday, maybe make a living off their passion for music and blogging? I’m more than willing to admit wanting to get a full-time gig in music journalism: Other like-minded folks can’t be far behind.

But how does one expect to get noticed in the overwhelming mp3 blogosphere? Well, update early and update often. And get out there, make sure people see where you’re at, what you’re about. Garner that fan base, work hard, etc.

But that takes time. To mold an image of a well-focused, unique music blog takes the kind of persistence that, well, some folks might not have. And it’s just so much easier to re-blog whatever is getting lots of hits on the hype machine, but do it first.

Again, this is not a new concept whatsoever. But the glut created by this is overwhelming. The glut created by press releases regurgitated on countless mp3 blogs I will never be able to read because the mass of music bloggers is so thick it probably spans the earth’s circumference several million times over is hard to wade through.

The glut exists because the formula that created it is successful. PR folks work hard on their releases, and they’ve got plenty of flowery language in some releases that makes for great copy sometimes. So when I get a press release about MGMT’s performance on “SNL” and I see that news story pop up on everything from Pitchfork to any random music blog with a lot of the same language, it’s, well, too much. And lord knows I already dislike MGMT.

But the “rise of mediocre music” argument aside, and over to “the man,” the sometimes-promoter of “mediocre music”: Pitchfork. In a time when “pop” hardly stands for the kind of mass popularity music once knew, Pitchfork has amassed quite a bit of a following, and built a culture of cool.

And it’s not simply due to the artists they choose, but the sheer variety of bands Pitchfork covers. Sure, most of it is of the “indie” variety, but there’s some variety of bands with the “Best New Music” tag. Hell, there’s probably more hip-hop “BNM” acts on Pitchfork than rappers that ever get their proper dues on many “indie” based blogs.

Which explains Pitchfork’s success. Despite the Balkanization of music, people do appreciate some variety of sound, some variety of bands. Gorilla vs. Bear does great coverage of a niche set of sounds (the site helped break Wavves, Toro Y Moi and Vivian Girls in recent years, to give you an idea), but Pitchfork takes those bands and tosses metal, noise, techno and more into their mix. It’s eclectic to a certain set of ears.

Yet people still read it as “indie.” And many aspiring music bloggers still reproduce the “indie” set. Which is fine if you love that type of music (I certainly do): But does it help to move the culture forward to simply re-re-re-re-re-re-re-and-re-describe that Vampire Weekend song everyone else has talked about in the same way?

Sure, there are folks who look at VW with a refreshingly different language (I’m looking at you, Hardcore For Nerds), but that’s few and far between. Yet what sets apart certain music sites and blogs may not be the collection of nouns, verbs, predicates, conjunctions and punctuation, but a certain combination of treasure hunting and a keen eye. These sites break bands that no one else is talking about, and make all the other sites follow the lead. And hey, if they can write a solid handful of sentences, that ain’t bad either.

So, where can we go to break the cycle? Write about what you like, sure. But don’t feel constrained to write about what’s perceived as “cool.” To paraphrase Weingarten, try things you don’t like. Click “search” more often and seek out bands to write about. Just remember why you liked music in the first place! And find what excites you beyond the regurgitated band names. But really, listen to what you love.

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