musician blogs are mules

What’s missing from these three excellent musician sites, all of them full-fledged blogs, as well as from my own musician blog?

  1. Brad Sucks
  2. Jonathan Coulton‘s blog
  3. TweedBlog

All of them take advantage of internet standards. All of them have a strong centralized hub for their own presence, which they use to point outwards to any presence they maintain on distribution points like Myspace. All of them publish their own music on their sites in MP3 format with full songs rather than 30 second samples; none of them limit their music to pointers into sale outlets like the iTunes store. All of them develop momentum by publishing regularly.

But none of them link to other musician blogs.

And why should they? Playing is essentially selfish, and player’s blogs are naturally inward looking rather than outward. A player blog which pointed outward would be just another music blog, except that it would corrupt the flow of recommendations with bias for the player’s own creations.

The problem is that successful blogging is recursive. Blogs blog about blogs. It’s not an accident that there’s an echo chamber. Blogs which attract links are those which generate links to blogs that may link back to them. It’s a Darwinian fitness test. Does your blogging get other people to blog about your blogging? If so, you’ll get links. If not, your blog probably won’t generate enough attention to sustain itself.

Musician blogs are like mules. They’re a final generation that can’t breed more generations.

Obviously I wouldn’t be doing it myself if I didn’t believe in it. I just don’t know how to tackle this issue. MP3 bloggers post what they have gotten from CDs, filesharing networks, or other MP3 blogs. I have never seen a blog post music from a musician blog or a social site like remixfight unless the blogger was directly affiliated with the source. Why would anybody link to a musician blog?

11 thoughts on “musician blogs are mules

  1. After my new site launches, I’ll eventually be featuring other musicians’ / bands’ music alongside my own. In web / blog terms, there’s no reason not to turn your own music blog / site into an “aggregator” of music that is in (what you consider to be) the realm of your own music.

    And, I’ll be looking for people to “comment” on my site / blog with links to even more music that is in (what *they* consider to be) the realm of the music on my site (my own, and others’).

  2. I guess it depends how you define “successful blogging”. I assume you mean super popularity, Scoble-grade interaction, the echo chamber, etc.

    I think on a musician site the blog isn’t the #1 priority, the music is, so by its very nature it’s got that working against it.

    I was a lot bloggier in the past, pointing to any neat stuff I came across, but I felt most people were coming for news about Brad Sucks related stuff and have gotten a bit more insular as a result.

  3. I think that you make a very good point, Lucas.
    I think that musicians themselves can serve as
    “sorters” and “finders” and can link to other musicians’ music in that function, to the benefit of all.

  4. I suspect that a lot of the non-linking behaviour comes from the subtle cultural indoctrination we’ve been living with for centuries now (since the advent of copyright) that a musician who is influenced by others is a lesser musician (by exposing themselves to considerable risk of being less original).

    Copyright effectively says that the only works worthy of the public’s attention and their reward are works that are wholly original – any derivative work is a trespass upon the work of the ‘original’ creator and warrants their consent or veto.

    A musician who links to another is admitting exposure to that other musician (unless perhaps in a wholly different genre that they doubt they’d ever wish to explore in the future).

    Perhaps when copyright is abolished, and its spurious stigma of ideological theft dissipates, all musicians can come out of their closets and embrace each other and their works as naturally inspirational or influential to a greater or lesser extent.

    It’s the same with authors today who fear to reveal what books they’ve read or may have used as references for fear of copyright infringement (or even accusations thereof) – far better to pretend to be unread with any apparent similarity to be pure coincidental.

  5. That’s a good point too, Crosbie. There’s certainly a bit of that fear in me.

    Also: musicians are often fiercely competitive. While a regular person may just love a song or artist, a musician can often have a love/hate relationship with it. Seething jealousy that they didn’t write it, etc, etc.

  6. Jay, I like the idea of being able to add relevant music via a comment. That would be a great way to create a playlist. I especially like that the song from the blogger would be a conversation starter instead of a monologue.

  7. Brad, I agree that the issue of the blog being a lower priority than the music is key. The blogging is what makes you a sorter or a finder of other people’s music. And I agree that the competitiveness is a problem. I’m a lot more critical of other people’s music — pretty damn bitchy, sometimes — when I’m on the bill.

    But here’s the question about being bloggy — what would it take for musicians posting their own music to also point to music posted by other musicians. I worry that an echo chamber like this is the only way for musicians to get as much traffic on their standalone sites as they would get on places like Facebook.

  8. “what would it take for musicians posting their own music to also point to music posted by other musicians?”

    Merely a vogue for people doing it–if a few people started, and the people they list started, the same viral thing that helps videos of schoolchildren playing “while my guitar gently weeps” would help musicians spread each other’s word.

    It’s as if we all have been living in a Second World country, and then moved to east Hollywood.
    We’re all still a bit tempted to struggle with other customers over who gets the fresh fruit.
    Yet, we need to realize that there is plenty of fruit to go around, and that if more customers request the usually-hard-to-find fruit, then it will start showing up on the shelves, virally increasing its popularity, leading to more exotic fruits gaining mass acceptance, and onward.

  9. One thing to add: in some sense, this is about how much a musician chooses to have their own site be part of a specifically online music “scene.” So, there are at least three things keeping musicians away from developing their own sites in this way:

    1. they’re already part of an offline music scene, and that’s where their social linking happens

    2. they’re part of an online music scene on some kind of community website, and that’s where their social linking happens

    3. they’re loners / outsiders doing things on their own, and who eschew social linking

    With the varied landscape of offline and online scenes, some musicians are wrestling with all of the above.

    Obviously, musicians have particularly nuanced kinds of “social” links that aren’t just about friending, e.g., we have collaborators, teachers, band mates, fans, and friends, etc. And, I think the real challenge may be: is it worth the effort to try to have one’s site / blog represent the richness of all of that, or is it just a distraction from where the real action lies?

  10. lucas: I think you’d just have to start doing it and see. When I think about doing it though, I can think of these reasons not to:

    a) I don’t know if visitors to my blog really care about whatever music I’m into at the moment. My sense is my subscribers either want news about what I’m up to, particularly interesting music/art stuff or recording/music business posts.

    b) I’m not an authority on what’s going on musically online. The musician blogs I read are mostly friends. I don’t spend much time exploring music online.

    c) I don’t consider myself to have particularly unique or interesting taste. I’d just be all “HEY CHECK OUT THIS SONG THAT WAS POPULAR MONTHS AGO” or “HOPE YOU LIKE SHITTY DANCE MUSIC BECAUSE I SURE DO”, etc.

    d) Most of the music that I’m really into doesn’t have blogs attached, or at least I have no idea where they are. I’m not very compelled to care about musician blogs unless I have a personal connection with them.

    Lately I’ve been thinking about doing a weekly 30 minute mix of my favorite tracks but it’d be a bunch of work and time for probably very little benefit to me or really anyone else.

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