On June 30, I faced a difficult choice: attend the big Social Media Day celebration down at the swanky Seaport Hotel with all the local Twitterati, or hang out in the dank, dimly lit Middle East Downstairs to drink free beer and talk music blogging.
The choice I made reflects why this post is on Safe Digression and not georgycohen.com.
Jay Breitling (Clicky Clicky), Brad Searles (Bradley’s Almanac) and Ryan Spaulding (Ryan’s Smashing Life) spoke at the fourth event in the Middle East’s Rock Shop series, moderated by Steve Theo. They talked to an audience of bloggers, musicians and promoters about how they run their respective music blogs. As a fellow music blogger (who is hoping to steer this blog increasingly in that direction) and occasional music journalist, it was a really interesting and informative evening spent with some very cool people. What follows are more or less my notes from the evening:
- Ryan: Blogging is all about building relationships.
- Jay: If you’re going to send a press release, be sure to be personal. These guys can easily sniff out a masked attempt at a mass e-mail or a message from someone who hasn’t taken five seconds to actually read the blog. And passion stands out above all else.
- Time is short — two of these guys are dads to little kids, after all — so spare the long prose in your e-mail pitch. Cut to the chase.
- Jay and Brad are more likely to pursue coverage via pitches they get directly from bands or their own musical exploration, while Ryan and his team factor in pitches from publicists a bit more.
- Local trumps national.
- When it comes to readership, it’s quality over quantity. The value of the connections is paramount.
- In response to a question about Pitchfork’s new music blog collective Altered Zones, Jay remarked, “Pitchfork doesn’t care about you; they care about selling ads.” Ryan agreed, commenting, “Music doesn’t ask anything of you.”
- Luke “Kip” Owen of Hip2BeSquare asked about how services like Spotify, Mog etc. that some bloggers take advantage of benefit artists. The response was unanimous that apps won’t save a band; touring and t-shirt sales are still the path to profit. Relatedly, Ryan warned against agreeing to “pay-to-play” scenarios. “You should never have to pay to perform your art.” [EDIT: Owen has published a more in-depth post as a follow-up to this question.]
- A point that Jay reiterated a few times that I really liked: There’s a blog for every band, and a blog for every reader. They just need to find each other. This ties back to Ryan’s opening point about relationships.
- Someone in the audience asked an interesting question about how to write about a band if you don’t love them, or how to write about something that simply doesn’t interest you. The answers? Be honest when qualifying your opinion about music. Don’t take on coverage that is out of your depth or interest. Don’t feel obligated to write about your friend’s band if you a) don’t like them or b) it’s not your genre; if they’re your friends, they’ll understand.
- If you’re going to monetize your blog (Ryan and Jay do; Brad does not), don’t compromise your blogging in the process. Brad raised an interesting ethical point: if you’re offering up free and legal downloads from a live show, as he has done in the past, can you in good conscious accept money from ad placements?
- Labels used to be our filters for new music (“Oh, they’re on Label X? I’ll totally pick that up”) but our new filters are, well, music blogs. [Ed. note: This again comes back to relationships, and ultimately trust.]
- What not to do when reaching out to a music blog?
- Don’t be impersonal.
- Don’t try any tricks to make your pitch seem more personal than it really is (e.g. using “Re:” in the subject line to imply previous correspondence).
- Don’t have a crappy or contrived promo photo. And while you’re at it, make your assets (downloadable promo shots, cover art, etc.) readily available (or else Jay is going to scan your album cover and an image showing the liner note crease will be all over the internet).
- Don’t send an e-mail where the only link is to a Myspace site. “If it’s just Myspace, you might as well send me a Friendster link,” said Brad. In that vein, there was some interesting chatter about how Facebook has been slow to adapt fan pages to accommodate bands — audio is buried low on the page, tour dates aren’t visible, etc.
- The best consumers and supporters of music tend to be other bands, which comprise a large portion of blog readership.
- What keeps these guys going? Sometimes, just a simple “thank you” note from a reader who got turned onto a new band from reading a post.
The more I explore all corners of web publishing and social media, the more the lessons are the same (have great content, build trust and relationships) and the currency is the same too (passion, relevance, making personal connections). These are the things that make or break you, across the board.
The Rock Shop series is a great resource for the local music community. The next Rock Shop will be a CMJ infosession on July 21. Previous Rock Shops focused on how to get shows booked, how to get people to a show you have booked and a SXSW infosession.
Now all we need is a punk cover of “The More You Know” jingle, and we’ll be golden.