Advice For Aspiring Music Writers: Quit Now
There may be 100,000 blogs about indie music, bikes, and beer already in existence, but what if there were 100,001? There is now, thanks to the initiative of a young man in Boston behind this Kickstarter project to fund his blog Indie, Bikes & Beer. All he needs to get going is $12,500. Sounds like a bargain, where do I sign up for this unique service?
"The music industry as a whole is a pretty negative place," Maxwell Nagel explains in the video introduction to his fundraising project, which isn't a Portlandia sketch as far as I can tell. "But within the indie music scene there are a lot of great artists, and there's no need to put any more negative exposure on great musicians."
You sure about that? That's where Mr. Nagell and I part ways. Well, that and the idea of starting a blog, wanting to "champion" anything, liking things in general, listening to music earnestly, talking about music, doing literally anything, and thinking other people want to read your writing about music. As a longtime music writer and blogger I can say this without it being racist: no one gives a shit. It's not just an entry-level blog no one gives a shit about either -- it's all of them. Skip the sincere pontificating jerk off, tell me a few hacky jokes, then fuck off so I can go look at this Buzzfeed gif roundup. A music writer isn't even a writer anymore, we're DJs who just point at a song for other people to go off and do their own thing with while we're moving onto the next track in the queue.
I know what you're thinking, though, starry-eyed would-be music scribes. There's soooo much good music out there, and you need to share it with the world. And yes, there is a lot of good music out there, and sharing it with people can be a rewarding experience, but one thing you may not be accurately assessing here, quantity-wise, is the sheer breadth of time and space. The internet is an infinitely gaping maw, and there are a lot of days in a year. You might not think you'll run out of great bands to hype, but you will, and sooner than you'd imagine. And then what do you do? You start repeating yourself, or writing about a band you're a little less enthused about. Eventually you write about a band you don't love all that much yourself, but hey, people seem to care about them, so let's get a post up. Next thing you know you're on to bands you actively dislike, because the content mill sleeps for no man. Woops, now you hate music, because, shit, look at all these bad bands you're writing about all the time. Didn't music used to make you feel good? What're you doing with your life? Then you inevitably hate yourself, which is kind of a bummer, but to be honest, it does provide a little creative-spike, material-wise, for a while there.
I'd have quit the whole charade myself a long time ago, but I'm literally unqualified for any other job in the world, so I'm pretty much stuck, frozen, as an inevitably downsized castoff in a dead industry. Don't end up like me, Maxwell *rattles ghost chains* Look into your future. It's not pretty.
He explains his motivation for flying against all basic standards of reason a bit more:
I've been into music since I was a kid and I have been always been captivated by finding new artists with new sounds. For the most part, I've listened to "obscure" indie bands whose under the radar status meant true talent. After friends and family repeatedly asked me for musical suggestions, I chose not to send them a playlist and instead decided that I would start a blog.
My friends always tell me I'm funny, which is why I became a successful standup comedian, except no I didn't because everyone else who ever heard that tried and failed at the same thing. I don't want to give the impression that I'm only picking on this one earnest be-sweatered music nerd in particular, (I bet our respective Belle and Sebastian greatest hits playlists would be very much alike), although I am also doing that specifically, but rather the idea of a single additional person in the universe tossing their musings-hat into the blog ring, hoping to "create a dialogue" by promoting "art," and helping bands get "exposure." Bands have enough exposure already. The only thing we have more of than an irrelevant overabundance of music blogs are the bands music blogs blog about. The entire business -- if you could even call it that, because how many blogs, or bands for that matter, actually make any money? -- is propped up on a false illusion of supply and demand. Bands that aren't ready for exposure are sifted into the content mill because blogs that aren't ready to be read need something to write about every day for people who don't need to learn about a new band every day of their lives. The end result is a continuous feedback loop of irrelevance.
Having a name was a start, but the real challenge was finding a way to put together cohesive thoughts and create a website. With some elbow grease and help the bike guy, Nick, the site was launched. The first post was a review of the lovely Cambridge duo, You Won't, and their debut album, Skeptic Goodbye. To be honest, I was kind of starstruck upon receiving positive feedback from the band after the post-- I was honored to be given such high praise for my work. I imagine this is how a musician feels when someone thoughtfully reviews their work. It was at this point that I knew the site could be something more than just my musings on indie music, bike news, and good beer.
The way you talk about interviewing a little known band let's me know that you're not ready to be a music blogger, son. No offense to You Won't, who I think are perfectly good, but I'm not about to get starstruck by them. It's not like they're Fat Creeps or something. That's the problem with music writing on the content farm in general (and something I've certainly brushed up against with my constant stream of posts on all the sites I write for, like this one!), is that everything isn't good. Everything is quite bad, in fact, on the whole. Everyone eventually realizes this, and whether you end up finding it inspiring, making you want to do better, or soul-crushing, making you want to quit, says a lot about your character. Also your level of narcissistic personality disorder.
Does saying that make me part of the "negativity" in the music business? So be it. Calling something out for being shitty isn't a symptom of a vile, cretinous age that we live in now, it's a lost art. We used to be able to simply ignore bands that weren't worthy of broader attention -- there's nothing to be gained by shitting on someone who doesn't rate, which, why did I write this then, it just occurs to me? But now that there are so many music blogs propping up so many bands, it's downright irresponsible to look the other way. If you see something bad, say something bad. Normally I wouldn't go out of my way to criticize a young music writer, because honestly, who cares if this guy starts a blog, good for him, it's probably a solid move if music writing is in fact what he wants to do for a living (LOL) -- but the sheer balls of expecting people to give him $12,500 for the privilege of doing what so many other tens of thousands of people are already doing for free, without having established a demand for those talents in the first place, is a bit too much. You know how many listicles I have to churn out in a year to make that much money? It's not pretty.
All of this false reinforcement of everyone's precious little vanity projects, which is what every band or writing gig you do without being paid for your time amounts to, have only been exacerbated by the idea of Kickstarter, the patronage model of unrealistic dreams. Proposing a music blog be funded by Kickstarter is almost too meta for me to process here. As I've written about before, for free, on my personal blog that also doesn't need to exist, using Kickstarter is unjustly gaming the system. Mercifully, most Kickstarter projects fail to reach their goals, and that's a good thing. Maybe that's Kickstarter's chief innovation then? Not all of the projects that it has in fact enabled, and the dreams it has made come true, but all of the ones it's squashed with brutal, market-based efficiency? We need more of that in the world.
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What we don't need is any more music blogs. Not one single one more. You could spend the rest of your life reading through the existent content and never, ever run out of new bands to read about on blogs you've never heard of.
Maybe I'm wrong here. For all I know Nagel could be the next, uh, (quick, someone think of an actually well-known music writer). He certainly seems like he has the blushing passion of the neophyte, something you need a lot of to bolster yourself in this silly game. And it's not like actually having anything meaningful to add is a barrier to entry in the music churnalism field. Something you do need a lot of, however, is a familiarity with rejection. I've been doing this for over 10 years and rejection and criticism (of my criticism) is something I live with daily. I can't even get some of my editors to return my emails, or pay me (S/O to Interview Mag). Consider this a first of many free lessons in how it feels to sound your impotent yawp unto an indifferent world then. Which gives me an idea for a Kickstarter of my own: It's called Crushing Yr Dreams. I should only need about $30,000 to get this thing off the ground. I'm going to be a big success, I just know it. There's too much positivity online, and I don't see any need to put anymore exposure on the mediocre.
And, if nothing else, once I'm busy with my new job, it will hasten the process of getting jaded old cranks like me out of the way, and clear the path for actual music fans like Nagel.
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