I’d be shirking my metablogging duties if I didn’t mention that the music issue of the Oxford American looks at the blog-band hype cycle through the prism of Annuals (remember them?), who were tearing up the MP3 blog world a little more than a year ago. Bill Wasik’s piece traces the origins of the band’s online popularity, and the way that the phrase “get ready to get sick of this band” could be used to describe any number of hype-torrent campaigns that have made their way around the Internet during the music-blog era:
“Get ready to get sick of hearing about this band”–it would be difficult to think of a more apt motto for indie rock in the age of the Internet. A loose genre defined not by any sound but rather by its opposition to (or exclusion from) corporate radio and labels, indie rock evolved out of the hardcore scene of the 1980s, at a time when finding out about important new bands depended much on whom you knew or where you were: News spread almost exclusively through word of mouth, through photocopied ‘zines (often with circulations in three or even two digits), or through low-watt college radio stations.
Today, indie-rock culture remains an underground culture, basically by definition, in that its fans shun mainstream music in favor of lesser-known acts. But now, MySpace, iTunes, and Internet radio make location and friends irrelevant for discovering music. Blogs and aggregators enable fans to determine in just a few minutes what everyone else is listening to that day. What you know, where you are–these matter not at all. To be an insider today one must merely be fast. Once Mike found out that Pitchfork would be posting about the new band, one cannot blame him for his haste, because après Pitchfork, le déluge: Unknown bands become all-too-familiar bands in a month, and abandoned bands the next month. Get ready, that is, to get sick.
And as a companion piece of sorts, the proprietor of Pretty Goes With Pretty spun Wasik’s piece into a must-read four-part series called “Can’t Talk; Hyping,” in which he discusses the churn of the music blogosphere and what he sees as the motivations of its writers:
You forget that half these blogs are outsiders in shitty apartments in Pensacola or Indianapolis, who likely started their little blogs because they loved music. Worse, they forget.
They post about multiple new bands per day with little articulation of what’s worthwhile about them, aside from an audio clip, myspace link, a list of tour dates, and–not always–a perfunctory they’re grrrreat! I guess they’re assuming the music will speak for itself. Ultimately it does, of course, but rarely are mp3 blogs a true reflection of one person’s tastes. There was a time when it seemed like most blogs were digging for new music. More recently, the passion seems to have been replaced by some kind of faux professionalism. At best they tell you what’s good, not what’s great. They’re giving you all the dirt: you do the digging.
The problem of music blogs “[telling] you what’s good, not what’s great” has been a problem that I’ve had with the format–and its attendant charts–for some time. Especially now, with the increase of PR departments that promote their attendant bands’ wares exclusively to blogs (which, as PGWP correctly points out, does so because it’s interested in large part in “keeping its enemies close”), it’s a lot easier for all those proclamations of “good” (or even “existent”) to stack up in such a way that they sort of resemble the idea of “greatness.” And what’s most troubling to me about that, particularly recently, is the way those implicit declarations have fallen pretty much entirely in line with the e-mails that land in my inbox.
One of the earliest Idolator features was Track Marks, which traced bands’ ascent on the elbo.ws charts via blog posts about them; over time, that feature became mostly used for figuring out how, exactly, music-related rumors got started, mainly because the narrative “this MP3 showed up in my inbox, then it sprang up everywhere” got kind of tedious to write. (Although we do reserve the right to go back to that feature’s well again, if only because the Vampire Weekend “overheralded demo setting the stage for pre-first-album backlash” phenomenon seems to be replicating itself all over the place these days.) And I think the current state of the RSS feed outlined by Pretty Goes With Pretty–the lack of critical filters, the rise of the “promo MP3″ and having to respond to that and only that if one is going to craft a post about a band, the symbiotic relationship between PR companies’ aims and music bloggers’ content–has also resulted in burnout on my end, with there being so much chatter and noise that I’ve gone back to only really trusting recommendations from friends and a few hand-picked sources in order to find out about new music. (Or I just tune it all out and watch TRL, even though it only shows full videos when it suffers from “technical difficulties.”)
And really, when was the last time a blog “broke” a band beyond the one-shot promo MP3 catching fire? Sure, a large part of that is because the growth of the music-blog world has resulted in things becoming so diffuse that it’s hard to have a “hit” beyond the most popular Usual Suspects Of Indie, but sometimes I wonder if the burnout as far as blogs, and music blogs, and the relentless torrent of new music, isn’t something that’s solely in my mind, and if there’s just such a glut of bands and hypemen, you need to escape from it all by just going into another world for a while. Like TRL, for example. Or, as PGWP puts it:
… many of the bands proffered on hype blogs have no Genuine Listeners. For that we must buy albums, must sit with them, alone, undistracted, and hear them through our own ears, process them through the context of our own lives. For that, you’ve got to log off.