A music blog from Ireland.
“Bloggers! Just tell them to bloody well sod off to their grubby dingy little bedrooms.” Spat Terry Coverly, the downtrodden press secretary from Armando Ianucci’s hilarious BBC2 sitcom The Thick Of It, in response to an aide’s concerns that bloggers would be the first to spread rumours. It’s a funny quote because it’s quite true – lots of bloggers do work from grubby spaces, like pretty much anyone who works from home and finds the flow of information so exhaustive there’s rarely time for such things as housework or exercise. True for me anyway….
While bloggers still face a distinct degree of derision from various sources, their usefulness is growing every day. Unlike most utilities, blogs have a glamour and charm of their own despite being functional websites as a result of the individual voice and tastes of the writer. And although there’s been a great deal of debate about the Internet’s effect on the print media, blogs have never been an attempt to replace the magazine. There’s a distinct difference between settling down for a long read of a mag and clicking a link to hear a new song or watch a video.
Back in the summer I was asked to contribute my opinion as a blogger to Steven O’Rourke’s thesis ‘Is There a Future in Dancing About Architecture? An examination of the role of the professional music journalist in Ireland in an era of citizen journalism‘. Along with my own, the views of four other music bloggers (2UIBestow, Asleep On The Compost Heap, Swear I’m Not Paul, Those Geese Were Stupefied) were contrasted with those of three established print journalists (Stuart Clarke, Jim Carroll and John Meagher) and one middleman blogger/columnist (Nialler9). I don’t know the other interviewees’ thoughts on the thesis and it’s a very interesting read but not something I have covered on the blog this year as I felt many of the summarisations lead to some contentious issues. I won’t go into the print journalists’ opinions of bloggers just yet but focus on what I consider to be issues raised in the thesis.
The bloggers involved were portrayed as cheerleaders and according to Steven: “It is…clear that many of the bloggers believe that cheerleading is irreconcilable with the role of critic and, it seems that many have chosen to forsake criticism in order to promote the music they like to their readers.” We certainly do promote the music we enjoy, because we maintain our own individual sites according to our tastes. The difference between a blog and a magazine is that the writer of a blog is not handed commissions by an editor which necessitate completion in order for payment. What kind of blogger would write about music that gave them no pleasure, unless they derived pleasure from writing about music they don’t like? Doing so would then infer a nasty kind of attitude, simply bashing music for the sake of it or to stimulate sensationally high traffic. There is a great difference between spending time and money promoting good music that needs to be heard and that of a cheerleader, which simply means ‘an enthusiastic and vocal supporter’. Anyone who buys an album, applauds at a concert or recommends an artist to friends is a cheerleader. Considering music journalists and bloggers alike are equally committed to extra-curricular pursuit of music, it seems unfair that bloggers in particular were labelled with such a patronising term.
However the word ‘cheerleading’ was not mentioned at any point in the questionnaire that I and other bloggers completed and neither was ‘archivist’ nor ‘critic’, despite the fact that those labels were integral points made in the dissertation;”While many of the bloggers interviewed outlined the importance of cheerleading, scant mention was made of critiquing.” Scant mention was made by Mr O’Rourke, I might add – the majority of his questions revolved around our opinions of music journalism in Ireland,its current state compared to ten years previously, the role of a good print writer, how blogs in Ireland compare to those abroad, the influence on the music-buying public and the future of music journalism vs. blogs. But there’s more. While the bloggers involved spoke of their desire to share good music that is overlooked, when it came to cheerleading, the print journalists were far more concerned with being the first to discover a new band.
Stuart Clarke of Hot Press expressed this clearly: “For the most part you want to be an evangelist, you want a band you discovered and wrote about first to be loved by the masses” and continued with “I think the Internet is exceptional for building up hype around a band, but I‘ve yet to see a band having their career sustained by the blogosphere.” That’s very interesting indeed as, for example, bands who garner regular blog coverage such as Adebisi Shank, ASIWYFA, The Cast of Cheers, TDCC and Villagers have enjoyed exceptional success in 2010, both on- and off-line. Bloggers however, have not been using this as a platform from which to self-congratulate but rather, use it to congratulate their readers in their support for good music.
“Like that of the critic, the role of the archivist appears to hold little appeal to the bloggers interviewed. As outlined in the cheerleading section, bloggers appear to have a preoccupation with what is new, with very little attention paid to what may be considered historically important in the future,” and “unlike critiquing, bloggers actively engage in archiving even though they may not be conscious of it.”
Well, talk about stating the obvious in terms of archiving. We date-stamp our posts and cross-reference to previous articles of our own and others’ through the months and years, tracking the progress from a first gig, to album, to record deal or international recognition. That is blogging 101 and practically every blogger remembers every post and artist they have covered. Why else would some bloggers write ‘Introducing….’ posts? However, again O’Rourke neglected to mention that the majority of printed music articles pertain solely to the zeitgeist; an established band with a new album will easily garner hefty column inches, regardless of whether that band or their music is any good, simply in order to sell more papers.
Bloggers in fact have the upper hand: they can and do return to old music which is worthy of further attention and can post a video or interview with a band who have not released recently, simply to share it based on merit. And while papers and magazines are quick to hop on a band who have attained widespread recognition at any particular point, to fulfill that zeitgeist/promotional requirement, in many cases the band or musician involved have been featured on blogs for a long time before that, building up the fanbase that give them the push towards more-mainstream success.
In terms of critique, it seemed quite under-handed that Steven O’Rourke also chose to omit the fact that not only do many bloggers review albums on their sites, but also, of the five bloggers questioned, three are regular contributors in a journalistic capacity to magazines and other music news sources, not just with reviews but also interviews and features, which require professional writing and research skills. However, this is overlooked even by the print journalists, who regardless of any blogger’s resume, still dismiss the majority opinion. As John Meagher of the Independent said: “For example, there are about 1,000 Irish bands out there doing their own thing. A very small portion of them are any good but you wouldn’t know that by the way they are being promoted by bloggers. That’s one of the dangers of citizen journalism”. I’d be at a loss to name any solitary Irish blogger who has championed 1000 new Irish bands. However when more than ten bloggers all agree that this is a particularly creative period in Irish music and the content of their blogs reflect this, when viewed as a venn diagram of sorts, it is clear that the agreement of these disparate music lovers must point to a simple truth: the portion of bands agreed by music bloggers to be good, must surely, be good.
This depiction of bloggers as unreliable does not help when compared to the print journalists’ opinion of bloggers. There was an unanimous opinion amongst the writers that bloggers are simply bigging up their friends. Let me just say, for all my friendly demeanour in public and my drinking and gigging habits, there are only three musicians’ phone numbers on my mobile that I would use to text for non-work related reasons. Three friends in bands – the other people I know, that I’ll have a drink with, say hello to at gigs and voice enquiries which revolve around gigs and recording sessions , are just acquaintances. Nice, cool acquaintances but nothing more. I have a few more on Facebook but…they don’t exactly email asking how I am and whether that nasty cold cleared up. And when I think of the bloggers involved in Irish music, I’m one of the more sociable types. Certainly Darragh McCausland and Karl McDonald, who blog about of Montreal and Jay-Z along with Hunter-Gatherer and Hipster Youth, aren’t on Christmas card terms with their subjects. Ronan Hunt-Murphy is based in Wexford where there are very few gigs or musicians passing through while Peter Nagle is a schoolteacher and father who organises gigs in Slane, Co. Meath, and isn’t particularly chummy with the subjects of his blog bar email correspondence. Yet the journalists’ opinions suggests that we should all be living in a commune, so deep is the love:
One reason for this may well be to do with issues of integrity. Stuart Clark certainly thinks so when he says that “you don’t really have issues with the truth or people hiding relationships with musicians in print media.” John Meagher agrees saying that “you have the phenomenon, particularly in blogging, where people are ‘bigging up’ their friends and then not coming clean about that.”
Jim Carroll goes on to say that it’s the biggest problem in Irish music journalism though he believes that it is not just confined to the blogging community. “The biggest issue with Irish music journalism is the failure to declare an interest. It’s a huge problem. I don’t mind if people are related to people in bands or are friends with them, it’s too small a scene for that not to happen, but journalists and bloggers should have enough cop on to refuse to write about them.”
While I agree with Jim Carroll‘s opinion in this instance, why should any writer adhere to rules that make no difference when the sterling example of music on offer is enough to provide an objective example of quality? Knowing someone who has made a great album should not be a reason to refuse to write about it, especially if the print journalists have no time for an obscure act, as a result of their editors’ compromised loyalties to the featured artists in their publications. While I have outlined that personally, I am not particularly good friends with any musicians or industry workers, a lot could be said about the media, where professional and social connections bring people into contact with influential characters whose reach extends quite deeply into the music business. In many cases, music journalists operate on a ‘not what you know but who you know’ basis. Very few bloggers move in such circles or operate under such compromises and as a result, have no qualms about calling a spade a spade when it comes to overhyped artists. Yet this kind of criticism is overlooked and undervalued for less relevant concerns of whether a blogger goes to the gigs of the artists they promote.
Music writers don’t/should not write from a lofty tower of expertise insisting that their opinion is infallible but rather, should simply suggest the reader with interests of a certain kind may like to hear something of similar quality. In fact, journalists have been known to descend to dubious standards in order to make a profit from their writing, even going as far as to review an album or gig negatively in one instance, only to rescind that opinion for a favourable one in a different publication. Bloggers know that their music sites a categorical archive of their tastes and so, if by chance they change their mind about a particular artist or song, must be forthright and honest about it, and provide a decent explanation as anyone clicking the artists’ tag of that blog would immediately be faced with conflicting information.
Although the network of communication is growing stronger through social media, the bloggers of Ireland, as I mentioned, are in reality quite a disconnected, loose bunch of people who hold no loyalties to any specific outfit or organisation, even if they also freelance for a paper or magazine, their independent blog is a place where their individuality stands alone. However there is a misconception that Irish blogs are a clique, in each others’ pockets and sycophantically supportive of one another, subscribing to a hipster attitude that they’re the saviours who can dispel the occlusion and obscurity of music, arrogant in their belief that the music they publicise is better than anything anyone else knows. This stereotype is also evident in Steven O’Rourke’s thesis under the sub-headings of “I saw them in Whelan’s back when they were supporting The Frames” and “They’re a really good band, but you won’t know them”. This preconception is so misleading and as far from the truth as it’s possible to get. Most Irish bloggers are simply driven by a desire to strengthen the network of support for local music and to do this, face stiff opposition from the mainstream music fans who dismiss the merits of music in favour of general appeal. Some fiery debates have broken out amongst bloggers and therein lies the real winning factor of writing independently; journalists may write ascerbic columns or articles but have no way of interacting with their readers – bloggers with conviction can and do challenge a stimulating exchange of views and sometimes, now and then, the blogger will succeed in changing someone’s mind and make a new fan of the local scene. It takes guts to stand alone and deliver an argument against something that anyone can counter with equally convincing points, and even then, that’s when a blogger is lucky. More often than not, a frank exchange leads to criticism, sometimes by dozens of commenters but bloggers continue to do it without the protective wall of incommunicative paper.
So when I was asked to join the panel of judges associated with the Digital Socket Awards, I had my concerns about fuelling the illusion that Irish bloggers are a cabal of arrogant cheerleaders with too much time on their hands. So much work is involved to bring a project like that to fruition and for a bunch of amateur event organisers with no material ties, the chances of failure were potentially huge. But the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that it was a risk worth taking. The single unifying factor that extends from Belfast to Cork, Kildare to Wexford and Galway to Dublin is the fact that every one of us sets aside our time each day to setting one more brick in the foundations of the Irish music scene. And this year has been the most rewarding and positive period of Irish music that I can attest to in the last five years of working in music, which may not seem like much but even those who were making music ten or fifteen years ago agree with the sentiment. So why not celebrate that music and at the same time, recognise that regardless of what the media or the music business think, blogging is a good thing? It presented a chance for some of Ireland’s most dedicated music fans to share a common goal, to bring together a group of people who really should be friends but aren’t. And when the live event has passed in February and we have come to a conclusion on the best album, radio show and song of 2010, maybe we won’t be friends, maybe the journalists will still think we’re fanatic timewasters, but maybe, just maybe, we’ll recognise each other at a gig, smile and say hello.