A few weeks ago I started to take notice of what I call “Blogger Fatigue”. The Enthusiasm Gap that effected listeners is now starting to, in my opinion, effect bloggers. I was about to sit down and write about this myself, but then it occurred to me to just ask a true and living blogger to confirm or deny such a movement and get a behind the scenes look at that world. So I reached out to Craig S. Jenkins (@CraigSJ on the Tweets) who is a noted writer for Potholes In My Blog, Beats Per Minute, Passion of the Weiss and more.
I’ve been following Craig on Twitter for a few years, I think we came across each other through some sort of random hip-hop debate on Potholes ages ago that I would never remember the root of. It’s funny to say, that while we aren’t that far off from each other in many things rap related, as a hip-hop label owner and hip-hop writer we probably agree more on rock music then rap. That said, Craig is a great follow, a good source of information and one of my few sources of somewhat pop related culture on my timeline. I do tend to hide from that stuff being a giant backpacker and all.
To some degree Craig seems to eat and sleep music journalism as seriously as I do the music business side of things. So I have a kinship in that way in seeing how he approaches things and was glad to sit down with him for this interview which shed light on where bloggers and writers are coming from and how artists should be approaching them.
N - Recently I’ve noted what I feel is a “blogger fatigue”, the whole cycle is wearing on folks. You can see it. The nature of how people post music, the reasons why they do it, the speed of it and where the information comes from all seem to have changed dramatically. Bloggers themselves seem to want more then the constant chase for some new song. Some for the better, some of them are moving on to form their own labels, promotion companies and more. Some are just plain quitting or slowing to the point where their sites aren’t really worth visiting anymore. Is this something you can verify from that side of the fence so to speak? Do you feel it yourself? If so where do you think this phenomenon is coming from and what’s to blame?
C - The game’s in a crazy place because people think that releasing two and three projects a year is required behavior for rappers on the come up. They’re constantly trying to keep their name on front pages, whether it’s for tracks, videos and albums, or trailers and previews of tracks, videos and albums. Hip-hop is in a state of self-imposed overdrive, and as a result, coverage of the music feels the need to keep the pace. Writing about music is like stepping into an echo chamber, with all the music that’s out there, people’s responses to it, and other people’s responses to those people’s responses. I tried committing to it for a couple months back in 2009, but I always reached a point in the day where I hated writing. I loved music and writing about music, but constantly being plugged in, constantly churning out robotic prose made me resent both the music and the writing at the end of it. And the required speed of it did nothing for the quality of my output.
N - Where do bloggers go from there? They get caught up in the churn, but what’s the endgame? Do you personally see fellow writers moving into A & R or Marketing positions, either full time or freelance?
C - Either responsibilities crop up, reality sets in, and you quit, or you worm your way into a position somewhere in the industry. I guess the endgame depends on what you’re in it for. If you write to promote, you maybe have more traction getting a job with a label. If you write to, like, yap about what you do or don’t like, you maybe end up at a somewhat respected publication, print or online. All of this assuming you’re any good at what you do. So few of us have goals for what we want to get out of writing about music that it’s kind of a funny question. It’s more of a compulsory urge, writing, than a means to a specific end, for me anyhow. For 2012, my goal is to work better and faster than I did in 2011. So far so good, I think.
N - As a label owner, the whole process of submission/review/post (which I go through about 4-7 times a year with releases) gets old and tiring. So even in a best case scenario, where a writer has discipline and tastes, does the repetition of the process of submission/review/post still loom as an eventual reason to give up that space of the internet?
C - Sure. Multiply the number of posts you send out by the number of labels in existence, and you get a picture of what our email accounts look like on a daily basis. There aren’t enough hours in the day to actually sit, read and listen to everything, so naturally it’s easier to walk away from it all than it is to fight that uphill battle every day.
N - Why do you think people start blogging about music? Why did you? How have the reasons that you do it changed from when you began to today (if at all)?
C - I got my start in 1998 writing for the high school newspaper. Loved music and writing, so album reviews were a no-brainer. I’ve rarely gone more than a couple months without some kind of music writing since, and I don’t think my reason I do it has changed very much either. In ‘98, it was a forum to start a dialogue about music, and that still remains the case. Now that I’m considerably older and, some might say, a little more experienced, there’s the added element of metacriticism. Cause sometimes these young bucks need schooling.
N - Do you think writers/bloggers are mostly looking for something new to write about, there by associating their blog with it, or do you think most of them are just looking to keep up with the Jones’ so to speak?
C - For the right blog, it’s a combination of the two. You want to turn people onto new stuff, and you also don’t want your site to be left out of the conversation when something you didn’t catch at first bombards the internet. Maybe you have something to add to the discussion that hasn’t been brought by other people covering it. Of course, there’s also a huge portion of the rap blogosphere that is just running every song, video, and mixtape all the bigger sites are running, and I don’t know why those people are in it or what their goals are. I hope they’re at least making some kinda money out of the equation.
N - I understand what you’re saying as far as the “speed of the internet” and everyone creating an echo chamber. With that said, are there any other reasons why so few blogs and writers skip the more fulfilling work of hardcore reviewing and in depth interviewing?
C - Cause it’s challenging and time-consuming, and that’s not something a lot of these cats are interested in. For a lot of these writers, blogging is a fast track to internet notoriety, free promos and event invites. Unfortunately that can be achieved without the nerve wracking work that really good interviews and reviews require. Hip hop interviews in particular have fallen off because most sites are more interested in preserving industry connections than hard journalism. Most coverage major rap artists is straight flattery. Dream Hampton called Dr. Dre a bitch in The Source for slapping Dee Barnes. There’s a DJ Screw interview where the reporter essentially asks if Screw thought his slain friend Fat Pat had his death coming. Those kinds of conversations aren’t possible in 2012 because the rap internet is too scared to burn bridges to speak out.
N - Why do you think podcasting hasn’t become more of an outlet for people that want to promote, discover, critique music as opposed to blogging?
C - Blogging is faster and has a smaller learning curve. DIY internet radio as a concept is still in its toddler phase compared to other mediums. Once the proper technology has time to disseminate into the culture at large, once it gets easy enough for the average Joe to grasp it, that corner of the net will inevitably explode.
N - What happens to the next generation of music journalists, the generation that has ONLY known this world of rapid fire churn?
C - The new class of writers is encountering rap in an era where Biggie, 2pac, Big L and Big Pun were always dead, Def Jux was always inactive, Wu-Tang Clan as a group was always in disarray, Rakim was always kind of a recluse, KRS-One was always a self-righteous old head who does more panel discussions than albums, and Ice Cube is the Coors Light guy, an era when pop aspirations and lyrical dexterity have long since parted ways. They’re born into a handicap as far as being able to process rap with perspective. So I can’t fault them for the state of rap when they entered the conversation, and I kinda understand where they’re coming from. I got serious about rap in the ‘90s, and I’m still learning about ‘80s rap to this day.
I do fault them for making excuses. They always groan about how there’s too much music for them to be able to navigate what’s new while also absorbing the classics, and yet they live in an era where the accessibility of music is higher than it has ever been in history. If I want to hear an older song I’ve never heard before, it’s a five second trip to Youtube. I used to have to find somebody that had the album or a store that sold it. If I want to hear a new track, it’s a five second trip to Google. I used to have to stay up late and hope and pray that Hot 97 Future Flavas played it. So while they came into rap at a weird juncture in the genre’s history, they have tools for accessing music that we never could’ve imagined, and they just need to be smarter about their use of time. It doesn’t seem like that hard of a process, and I personally juggle finding new music with excavating older stuff I’ve never heard like, every day.
N - Where does all of this leave the artists? How important is blog coverage in your mind to an artist anyway? What SHOULD artists be doing in your opinion besides filling your inbox?
C - Blog coverage is and isn’t important. This Chief Keef kid out of Chicago had a dedicated fan base before any of his music got covered on the usual rap blogs. Odd Future blew up without the blessing of the big rap sites to the point where sites they openly ridiculed on their albums 2-3 years ago for refusing to cover them are now begrudgingly running all of their new releases. Blogs are great for increasing visibility, but they are by no means the only way of getting heard. Playing shows, meeting people, cultivating a personal website with interesting original content, networking on social media, throwing your own tracks on Youtube, Soundcloud and Bandcamp, all of these are great avenues for growing an audience. Blogs are notoriously resistant to certain kinds of rap and often need to see that an artist has an organic following before they’ll give them the time of day, so I don’t think anyone should be relying on them as the main way to get their music out. Especially when a lot of the time, what we see or don’t see in our inboxes is damn near a roll of the dice.
N - Forget for a minute that you are an active music writer since you are also obviously a fan and supporter of music as well. Put that hat on and tell me what it is that YOU want from the internet in terms of music discovery and journalism? In a perfect world, you wake up in the morning, thirsty for something new, what is it you see that leads you to that?
C - I need writers giving me well written, deeply considered, fair and balanced music writing. I need writers who think outside the box and don’t have boring, predictable biases that taint the way they view and discuss music. I need writers who care about their craft and the craft of making music so much that it shows in everything they do. I need writers who are cool with not running the latest track by the biggest artist cause it ain’t up to snuff, who can stick a microphone in front of a platinum selling artist and ask a question that might get them kicked out of the room. I need writers knowledgeable enough to tell me something I don’t already know. I need creativity, individuality, and fearlessness. I have a dedicated list of sites I follow that tick off most or all of those criteria, so whenever I get that nonspecific new music urge, I check one of them. 80% of rap writing in 2012 is glorified PR and not to be trusted, so my little nerdy rap corner of the net is very necessary.
N - With that said then, can you tell us some of those sites you think are at least coming close to this vision, regardless of genre?
C - Aside from the sites I write for whose visions I obviously respect, I really like Hip Hop Wired for their mix of social commentary and music coverage, Complex whenever they publish their more inspired, in depth features and lists, The Mad Bloggers & I Heart Dilla for their commitment to pushing the envelope and promoting artists you don’t see on every other site, Rappers I Know & Producers I Know cause Frank and Dart know more about hip hop than I probably ever will, the Mostly Junk Food kids cause they’re funny as hell, Metal Sucks for metal because the tone of their writing is totally sarcastic and self-deprecating where others are deadly serious, the guys at A Closer Listen for holding it down with the avant garde, electronic, instrumental, and ambient music, Absolute Punk & Alternative Press for carrying the torch for music the indie press is too cool to support, and, to be honest, Pitchfork cause hate em or love em, they’re the Steinbrenner Yankees of the indie rock blog community. Those are all sites that I can sink twenty, thirty minutes or more into reading and whose content is put together carefully by people who care about the music and the writing and aren’t just turning over whatever PR emails they’re receiving. I know I’m probably forgetting somebody… Shout out to any and everybody slaving over laptop keyboards for the love of this shit.
N - Thanks again to Craig for taking the time to do this. My thoughts on blogging also manifested themselves in this post a week or so ago if you’d like to check that out.