Saturday, August 9, 2008

MP3 Blogs vs Music Blogs: Part II

Largely unbeknownst to me, it seems my last, rather informal, post on the differences between music blogs with MP3s and those without became a wee bit of a meme (let's put it this way - I got far more mentions on other blogs, feeds and sites than I ever had before and would ever had expected from my cobwebby corner of cyberspace). Now that my MA thesis on MP3 blogs' rhetoric and social meaning is finished, and now that I've thought myself into a nervous breakdown of sorts, I have a few more opinions about this topic that I came to while finishing the behemoth.

Before I explore my own arguments a little further, I would like to address a few different opinions that seemed to emerge in reaction to my earlier post. Firstly, I found a post from incidentals and accidentals, which took issue with the fact I said posting music that you didn't like would be a waste of time, especially for those who write music blogs for a hobby. This blogger's exact words were:

This is the line of thinking that always really burns me. All the kvetching about the sheeplike tendencies of mp3 blogs is precisely related to the fact that so many bloggers think it’s a waste of time to talk about stuff they don’t like. More specifically, to articulate why something isn’t good, beyond a mere “this sucks” lobbed into a comments box or message board. It’s not a waste of time, particularly if you value the fact that people are regularly reading your blog. Dislikes give shape to likes. The fact that someone might be able to explain why they think one artist is shit might add weight to an argument for another artist’s strengths. I’m not saying you have to get into compare-and-contrast lists, but regular readers will grow to know and trust your tastes.

Oh and the whole thing about text-heavy bloggers being largely professional critics - Personally I’m an exception to that idea, and I know there are plenty of other exceptions as well. Again it just goes to this whole idea of people not wanting blogging to be “a waste of time” - as if one can’t write seriously about music for fun, sans paycheck. That is the hobby! Putting an mp3 online is not a hobby, it’s an impulse.

This is an interesting point - dislikes do throw your likes into relief. Perhaps to clarify my "waste of time" comment, I could argue that posting MP3s of music you hate seems counterintuitive ("Please take the time to download and listen to this song that I just provided a solid argument against listening to"). I'll be looking into the significance of MP3s as a medium later in this post. However, just as I can't assume that everyone writes positively about music (which I don't), no one else can assume that bloggers should write some negative reviews, or in fact, that they all do. I've come across many blogs who do either or both, showing that time and time again, MP3 blogs cannot be lumped together into one general genre of media. It's pretty much impossible to make any generalizing statement at all - the same blog can be different things between different posts. Like this blogger from incidentals and accidentals says, there are too many exceptions. There is also an implication in this blogger's argument that a certain type of MP3 blog is more valuable and "truer" to the genre than others, these "others" being those who just post MP3s rather than write text-heavy opinions or criticism; that those who just post MP3s are less thoughtful, less perceptive, and somehow acting on a lower, more instinctual level than one of higher, intellectual deliberation. This implication points once again to purpose, which I will get to shortly.

I also had a couple of interesting comments left on the post itself, one of which provided a link to Nevver, an MP3 blog which just posts photos and MP3s without any text, implying rather than explicitly stating connections between the two forms of art. This example takes MP3 blogs to their extreme conclusion, where words are no longer necessary. Another comment was also very helpful in that it drew a line between MP3 blogs being the new radio whilst music blogs are discussion and opinion, comparing MP3 bloggers to DJs. Together, these comments really got me thinking about why people create and maintain MP3 blogs, and the connection between how they do it and why they do it.

Now, after sorting out some rather ridiculous Kenneth Burke Dramatistic ratios about MP3 blog rhetoric, I learned a few things. The most significant one is that MP3 blogs are in no way a cohesive body with the same purposes; these purposes, however, do vary depending on which media the MP3 blogger favours to remediate, in other words, the agency he/she utilizes to convey his/her purpose and act. But how does the purpose affect the choice of agency? Or is it the other way around with the agency affecting the purpose, and then the act itself? I'm inclined to believe and argue the latter.

Let me track back a bit to remediation, which is how a medium re-uses and re-interprets a different medium. Remediation can work backwards and forwards, meaning that television is a remediation of film, which came before it, but it can also increasingly be seen in terms of interactivity, as a remediation of the Internet, which came after television. I see MP3 blogs as a remediation of the diary, music journalism/criticism, fanzine, pirate/alternative radio, and mixtape. These are the media, with their attendant purposes, that shape the purposes of MP3 blogs.

The diary element of MP3 blogs affects the purpose by making it personal and reinforcing the affective relationship between the blogger and the music he/she is writing about. This diary remediation shifts commentary into a subjective rather than objective direction, and serves to highlight the newer development of blurring between public and private, which combines self-disclosure with self-promotion. The self-promotion characteristic innate in blogs, evidenced by site traffic meters and inclusion on aggregators, is one that can gain a lot of criticism, especially when traffic and attention becomes the primary motive; however, this attitude presupposes that MP3 blogs as a genre should be something purer of motive, where only the music matters, which is an assumption that ignores the inherent and inherited diary element remediated in the blog medium. Even if one doesn't believe they're promoting him/herself along with the music featured, the very fact the blog is made public and that there is the concern for appearing trustworthy and credible, including having enough subcultural capital, makes the MP3 blog a site of self-promotion.

The music journalism/criticism remediation is one on which those who believe in an MP3 blog revolution would depend. With the access that the Internet brings, amateur writers can research and publish their own pieces about music. It is too simple to say that MP3 blogs have replaced or will replace traditional music journalism, and the fact this remediation is also bound up with public relations/promotional remediation and self-promotion makes it less clear-cut a substitution. The fanzine remediation is connected to the rather positive impulse of celebrating and promoting music that one loves, which I mentioned in the earlier post, and to a more subcultural purpose, supposedly working against and in spite of the mainstream media, promoting artists who don't get promotion through mainstream channels. However, it is also too simplistic to think that MP3 blogs are actually sticking it to the man, even if their rhetoric says they are. The symbiosis of mainstream media and subcultural media is too much a part of subculture as a concept for MP3 blogs to exist in an alternative vacuum, shunning all mainstream media. Even in defining oneself against mainstream media (ie: criticizing NME in a post), one uses and depends on the mainstream for identity and position.

The remediation of the aural media of radio and mixtape is very signficant in that it brings collection, selection, and organization into the foreground of MP3 blog purpose rather than commentary and opinion. Like DJs and mixtape makers, MP3 bloggers attribute meaning to which music they collect and then to how they present it, often without text. While the radio remediation allows for brief background and commentary about tracks (as opposed to lengthy criticism and commentary), the mixtape remediation actually offers music to blog vistors like a word-of-mouth gift - the receiver not only gets to listen to it, but gets to keep it. The mixtape remediation is pervasive in both MP3 blog content and the musical end of the Internet, including sites like Muxtape and technology like Mixas, emphasizing the fanatical impulse for collection, selection, and arrangement along with love and passion for music as motive. Ultimately, MP3 blogs are a bricolage of media that came before them, making them rather slippery to define as a genre.

While it becomes difficult to classify MP3 blogs as a genre based on purpose, the one aspect that does hold the genre together is the MP3s themselves. Regularly posting MP3s on your blog simply makes your blog an MP3 blog. MP3s themselves are fundamental to the medium of MP3 blogs. To get all McLuhan on you, "the medium is the message," and in this case, the MP3 is largely the message. In the Burkean sense, if every selection of reality is both a reflection and a deflection, making most statements, textual or not, rhetorical and/or persuasive, then the mere selection that MP3 blogs employ by choosing the MP3s they feature for download automatically deflects other choices, implying preference and value to music without having to explicitly state anything negative. Or positive. Or to state anything at all. The very act of selection is persuasive, and is made even more salient by the fact MP3 files are included. In this way, MP3s speak and argue for themselves just as other non-verbal elements like images can. Furthermore, blogs, which are of course actually "web logs," have an inherent filter/selection function in which hyperlinks act as both evidence and a record of "pre-surfed" and pre-approved information. Rather than convince by authority and "unquestionable" sources alone, which journalists and critics depend on, bloggers convince by providing a way for their readers to participate in the information they consume, assuming a more active role. With this in mind, MP3s are the primary links provided in MP3 blogs, providing support for the blogger's claims, and their very existence argues for pre-approved content.

Ultimately, MP3 blog influence is far less than many bloggers would believe it is or like it to be. While aggregators like The Hype Machine and Elbows do collect and reify disparate blogs, giving the impression of power and solidarity, they do not set the agendas as much as they would imply. For the most part, the most popular MP3 blogs are reactive rather than proactive in music selection. Unless more bloggers actually exclusively search out new, mostly unsigned, artists and collectively promote them to the point they "break" into the consciousness of those outside of the music blogosphere, they cannot be said to have all that much power to change the system already in place.

We cannot herald the MP3 blog as the substitute for music journalism/criticism, nor for radio, because in remediation, it is much more and much less depending on which aspects are focused upon. For as many people as have access to the Internet there are as many opinions, especially about what MP3 blogs should be, and more importantly, what they should do. I fully acknowledge this plurality, and whether bloggers use MP3 blogs to criticize, to promote, to share, or to express themselves, they are collectively an organism still growing and changing. And since the Internet is a fickle medium, turning attention into one of the rarest commodities, all MP3 bloggers can hope for is their slice of a fragmented, but loyal audience that believes in the purpose presented. Whatever purpose that may be. I, for one, am still thinking about it.


JC said...

Sorry its taken me so long to read this piece - I've barely had time to keep my own blog ticking over this past month far less visit my favourite other places..

When I started TVV almost two years ago, the purpose was to try and share my love of songs, mainly from the late 70s and early 80s, with anyone remotely interested.

One of the reasons I wanted a counter was to see if people were reading, as I didnt want to be responsible for a pig-in-a-poke. Its the same reason I was keen to get listed on The Hype drive up traffic.

Now given that i dont have any advertising (nor will ever have any) it is a reasonanable assumption to say this obsession with hits and visitors is about ego...and to some extent I cant deny that. But I prefer to think of its as pride....

But the biggest sense of pride I get in what I do is when other bloggers make what is said on TVV as a point of reference that then leads them to post something on their own blog.

So I've come to the conclusion that I really do this blogging lark for the pure joy of communicating with people. It is perhaps the 21st century equivalent of the pen pal phenomena....folk have come to know what I like, they sort of like it themselves, they have a quick read and listen, and are sometimes moved to respond in the comments section.

Nowadays the counter is simply used as a quality control tool, as well as a way to see how folk are finding me for the first time. It tells me that I average 450-500 hits most days, but when I do post a track that is rare but from a better-known act, I can get up to 600. It also confirms that when I dont post, I drop down to 300-400 hits, which in a sense shows maybe 25% of my traffic come from being listed on the aggregator sites.

So where am I going with all this and why, with such a long ramble have I not turned it into a post over at TVV. I really don't know if the truth be told....

All I do know is that the blogs that most annoy me are those that simply list the tracks or videos without words of explanation. I could never dream of doing that, although sometimes life would be a lot easier if I did.

Music blogging is like any other hobby - yes even ridiculed ones like trainspotting or football-ground hopping (the latter may be a UK-only phenomena). The biggest kick you can get is when you meet a fellow enthusiast and you get to share the joys of what you do and why you do it. That's why the writing (even if the quality and chain of thought can never match what you find in here or ath the likes of Song, By Toad) is every bit as important as the mp3s themselves.

Sorry for taking up so much space. But thanks for letting me....

Matt said...

I'm going to have to save and re-read this again, as you've hit upon so many points that I've had burbling (and re-burbling) in my brain pan, over the past couple of years.

I 'blog', but don't really put anything substantial to the world... mostly it's just me wanting to be a part of the cool things I see others are doing, but then deflecting (genuflecting?) and just posting up songs and taking the easy way out.

Like I said, I have to re-read and absorb what you've posited here... I think, on a base-level, I know what you are getting at, but...

It's like when I read Harpers.

I have to read it again a month later to see if what moved me at first has stuck. I mean, if what I felt it saying to me the first time was really what it was making me feel, or if it were just words that I wanted to identify with.


This was a great posting. It's one of the only things I've read online, ever, that has truely made me think about my own online activities and why I do whatever it is I do.


Nathan Nothin said...


Quite the food for thought...

I have been doing what you would term an 'MP3 blog' for about a year now. I'm not a heavy poster, a little over one hundred posts so far. The reason I started was to share music that I have in my personal collection that is mostly unavailable or of limited availability. That is one of my pet peeves about what you term 'music blogs'. They often whetted my interest for some great (verbally) sounding music that I had no idea if it was truly great (aurally) sounding because it was only available for $$$ (collectible & out of my affordability usually) that never reached the pockets of the original artists but mainly profited collectors & merchants.

I know from visiting many blogs that I tend to write way more than many. I try to provide as much information as I can garner from research, album notes, personal knowledge, whatever...that I feel is pertinent, without presenting too much of my own opinion. As you have said, it seems counterintuitive for me to post up music that I don't even like, & therefore by extension, senseless for me to state the obvious fact that I like it.

I have taken the time to read both of your posts on this subject, & enjoyed the time spent, as I myself am a reader. I love to explore the human language, be it for knowledge or pleasure. But many people are not really readers. This is not a new phenomena of the electronic age. Teachers in schools have historically chided students for reading a comic book (an example) while extolling the virtues of The Tale of Two Cities (another example). I never understood how one is better than the other from a strictly 'reading' stand-point. I understand that there is a huge variance in vocabulary & experience, but those should come as a reader's choice. Fostering more interest in ant type of reading whatsoever would help reading become more pleasurable.

Particularly for non-readers, but for all as well, posted MP3s let the music stand on its own merits & allows the listeners to decide for themselves its worth, which is intrinsic. To quote you, "so they can form their own opinion about the music posted rather than engage with lengthy textual opinions." Hence the value of the 'MP3 blog'.

Thank you for stimulating my thoughts, good to give the old grey matter a work-out. I hope my comments are not too meandering & pointless.


ib said...

The question as to whether blogs exist merely to 'celebrate'; generate a sense of community through the online sharing of images, sounds and words; or to promote (whether it be self-promotion or otherwise) is, I think, academic.

Why does a painter paint ? Why does a poet create poetry ? why does the 'author' of a diary - online or not - record his daily events or thoughts ?

Why are published 'diaries' often as successful as autobiography or even fiction ? Why do consumers buy into a fad, or academics pursue a more elitist road ?

I have taken some pains to read through your post and assimilate some of those points you make or offer up for debate. Why did I make time to do so ?

I tend to agree with Nathan, here. The issue he presents is valid and wholly relevant. Does a comic book compare favourably with syllabus informed literature on creative and cultural terms ? What if that comic book is written by Charles Bukowski and illustrated by Robert Crumb ; where does it stand against a DC or Marvel mass-produced print run ?

There are no hard and fast answers, anglopunk. It is the sum of all parts, and the parts which make the sum.

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Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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