clap clap blog: we have moved

Thursday, June 23, 2005
So, these musicblogs--they're pretty dead, huh?

Seems that way to me, anyway. Can't remember the last time we had a good old-fashioned cross-referemced debate. Maybe the Ying Yang Twins, and definitely MIA, but it seemed like, aside from certain key points, the nexus of the discussion in both cases was ILM, or at least so I gather from reading, er, ILM. (Whose self-congratulatory nature is just endlessly endearing, by the way.) But still, that's two minimally vital discussions--the MIA one was great, but the YYT thing seemed ridiculous from the start--in 4 months, and I can't even remember what we had before that. Sure, the Dissensus folks still occasionally bat an idea around amongst themselves on their blogs, but even there, most of the discussion seems to take place on their chose message board. This doesn't even approach the rapid pace and intensity of two or three years ago.

Normally I would chalk this feeling up to my own inability to keep up a good musicblog. Lately, though, I've had lots of things to say, and have even been saying some of them. But it increasingly feels like what I'm doing is played out, done, over--not necessarily from my perspective, but in the attitude I get from everyone else, to say nothing of what I'm reading on other blogs, i.e., almost nothing, at least not about music, at least not in the vital, engaged voices I used to hear. I mean, check out the NYLPM sidebar--how many of those blogs came into being in the last 6 months? Remember when there was a new one every few days that seemed worthy of a link?

Let's just examine what's up with the old guard these days. Marcello stopped a month ago. NYLPM is still enjoyable to read, but Tom seems to barely post anymore. Jess is done, Skykicking is done, Woebot is done. K-Punk seems to mainly talk about anything but music. Simon cut down on posting and put a year or two of his life into writing a book about a 20-years-dead rock genre. Others have convereted to being either straight-up MP3blogs or just dispensers of short posts about songs. (Sasha's still working the short thing, but he always was, and his outside writing was far more central than than the blog itself.) There are certainly exceptions, some of which I don't read as much as I should--Gutterbreakz, Geeta, pop (all love), the Rambler, LPTJ, Le Fou, a billion others I'm doubtless forgetting. But still.

There are two primary reasons for this decline, aside from various personal reasons with the participants and/or the arguably waning vitality of the world of music itself.

One is MP3blogs. I don't think they necessarily set out to kill the old-style musicblog (although comments from certain folks have led me to think they're not entirely displeased with the situation), but the fact is, doing short write-ups accompanied by a song is both easier (if you don't care overmuch about quality) and, let's be honest, more fun to read 90% of the time. This isn't even getting into the philosophical concerns of them being better tools for our particular purpose, since simply letting someone hear what you're writing about is very powerful, but they do seem to encourage people entering the game to go that route, both because it's easier and because you get more traffic this way. That, in turn, seems to have diluted the vitality of MP3blogs themselves, because almost everyone converges around the same few artists week-to-week. Meanwhile, even the non-MP3-based blogs that have the greatest visibility follow much the same form of daily updates and short blurbs.

The other is the message boards. I quite deliberately stayed away from ILM for a while, but now that I've been sucked in, it, along with Dissensus, seems to be absolute death for blogs, especially once they reached a certain critical mass of participants. One of the great motivators for blogging rather than just writing like normal was always that you can get feedback and responses to what you post--absolute catnip for those of us used to an audience that more closely resembled a void--but the audience for the boards is bigger than almost any individual blog, and that plus the expressly discursive envirionment is much more encouraging of actually getting responses, so if that's what you're after, why not go to a board? Questions, links, and theories I would have in the past expected to see posted on blogs are now almost inevitably funneled to ILM, where they're batted around but it's hard to say that definitive statements really ever arise. People on the boards periodically debate about the vitality and importance of the boards themselves, but the fact remains that they are discussion forums, and no matter how much we might want to change Western hierarchies of importance and legitimacy etc. etc., the only dialogues in libraries are Platonic ones, sourced at some point to a single mind (or two or three), and there's a whole book's worth of good reasons for that.

I don't mean to complain about either of these reasons in and of themselves--hey, I spend most of my leisure time at work perusing message boards and short-form blogs--but I have always loved the particular blog form that was en vogue back in '01-'03. I love music, and I'm even a musician, but I'm also a writer and a reader, and at the end of the day I want to read about music almost as much as I want to listen to it, and MP3blogs and ILM, for all their good parts, aren't going to satisfy that jones in the way a substantial blog post will.

It may seem kind of absurd to talk about blogs as centers of reasoned discourse, but compared to those other two forums, they undeniably are. MP3blogs are concerned with desciption and persuasion, rarely going on for more than a paragraph or two, and while I've seen some great writing there, and even some great interprative readings, it's a lot fewer and farther between than on old-style musicblogs. And while you will ocassionally see a longer post on ILM, there's a strong impetus to get things out as quickly as possibly and without opening yourself up to insults; even the best longer message board post would probably be better off on a blog, where you wouldn't have to filter out all the conversational white noise, and where you wouldn't be expected to compose a reply as soon as you read it. A blog where there's no daily posting expectation and no particular word limit (whether self-imposed or not) encourages thoughtful writing, and allows you to develop your ideas (ideas!) in a way that the rapid-fire environments common today don't.

If this sounds like an elegy, maybe it is. I loved being able to read people writing at length about something they were passionate about, something I was passionate about too. I loved the musicblogs as a counterforum to the paid gigs that couldn't and still don't accomodate that kind of sprawl and particularity. And I loved the words, the writing itself, to say nothing of the ideas that were put forth. But maybe by a year or two in blogs had already attracted everyone who might be able to make use of such an opportunity, and maybe by a year or two after that they'd said all they had to say about the admittedly limited subject of music, or just, you know, gotten older. Maybe all those people have moved on to paying gigs, and don't have the leftover energy for blogging that they did back when it was merely a hobby. Or maybe Pitchfork just got less stridently indie; lord knows that served as an impetus for a number of musicblogs!

Whatever it is, I'm not posting this hoping for a resurgance--I'm just pointing out what seems to be a reality, and explaining why I think it's a negative. But I certainly wouldn't mind a fresh burst of energy, a new crop of writers, not just talkers.

Don't take this the wrong way--this isn't one of those "Well, I'm done, nice knowing you" posts that are so common in the blog world. As many people have pointed out, I always go on too long, and clap clap blog as a whole won't buck that trend. There's still lots of stuff I want to talk about, and there ain't no editor here that I can see, so I will be around for a while.

Of course, if someone wanted to give me a book contract, I wouldn't say no. Books are even longer, mmm...