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Friday, June 09, 2006

Where You Want to Be

Chris posted a New York Times review of a recent Tapes 'n Tapes show but had a great comment/question about it:
Why is it when traditional media outlets mention blogs (mainly, in relation to generating buzz about a band), they do so with tongue firmly planted in cheek?

Here's the part of the article that rubs me the wrong way (aka, the opening paragraphs):
Tapes 'n Tapes is indie rock's latest Internet-driven mini-success story, which is no surprise. This charmingly nerdy quartet is just the kind of band a blogger loves. It makes hazily majestic, slightly experimental indie pop that honors at least two forefathers (Pavement and the Pixies). Its members do not come from a hipster enclave. (They're from Minneapolis.) They have a babe-in-the-woods origin story (literally: they recorded their 2004 EP in a freezing cabin in a Wisconsin forest).

Most important, their work seems humble, as if they aren't quite sure they deserve to be liked. When the record labels came calling, bloggers got to feel good about themselves, as if they had saved nice guys from a sad life of dive bars and bowling alleys.

Nevermind the natural fan reaction of "What's so great about [band/artist that has received praise on some MP3 blogs]?" To those in the "traditional" media, I can understand why they may take the piss out of bloggers (ie, anyone with an Internet connection can blog), but I think MP3 bloggers are a tad misunderstood in their intentions.

The author of the New York Times piece is Sia Michel, former editor-in-chief at Spin. I didn't read many of her Spin articles because I have never read the magazine on a regular basis. Simply, I've never really warmed up to their general approach to covering music. I don't mean to imply that all of their writers rub me the wrong way, but a general style that a number of their past and present writers go with doesn't agree with how I like to discuss music.

For me, I like to read something with a strong sense of sincerity. I've always thought of writing with a sharp sense of cynicism over sincerity is a distraction. If almost everything is written with a tongue in a cheek, then how can I tell when the writer is being serious or sincere? Plus, if the focus is on the "lifestyle" side of music, I can't say that I'm really interested in that. I think there is too much stock being put into this side of ever-changing culture. In other words, this kind of writing tends to make bold statements in the now. However, the now is always changing into another now. I'd rather talk about stuff that's in the now in a way that will still be relevant in a week from now, a year from now, ten years from now and so on.

Despite the fact that fellow former Spin writer Andy Greenwald wrote a book that I don't like, I do not think of him as my sole punching bag with this kind of writing. However, I recall a short little piece he did on My Chemical Romance that was rather on the surface. Instead of talking about their music, this was more about their fashion sense. Do I sound like a total nerd for wanting to read about music instead of fashion? Maybe, but I want to read about concrete matters instead of matters that are a part of the whipped cream of life.

So this leads me to what MP3 bloggers are trying to do. Sure, I've griped that the natural tendency is to post a hyperlink and say "download this." However, getting to know various bloggers in person and via Ryan's great ongoing "Get To Know Your Blogger" series, I'm realizing some things I didn't even consider before. Though I think some sort of explanation is good to decipher what you're getting, oftentimes for others, just posting some music to download is enough.

After hanging out with Chris a few times, I get what this guy's about: he loves music and likes sharing new and obscure bands with people via his site. He's not into this for the fame or attention - he just has some good ears to tell what's worth talking up. When he put together a bill featuring a then-unknown Tapes 'n Tapes and Birdmonster this past spring, I wanted to go see these bands without even hearing a note of their music.

Instead of thinking I would have future bragging rights about seeing them before they got popular, my intention was to support a friend. Though I wasn't really sold on either bands' music, I had a great time as they both put on excellent live sets. I may have not been completely taken with their music right away, but that doesn't mean I'm going to dismiss them. I liked what I heard and I'd like to hear more, but there is some much other stuff that I want to listen to at the same time.

I had a great talk with fellow blogger friends Eric and Amy last night. Chatting about various topics for Post, we came to a realization about music blogs in general: they're very much in the spirit of fanzines. Instead of printing 500-1,000 paper copies of one at a local Kinko's, as long as we have an Internet connection and Blogger or Typepad account, we can spread the word on what we like and don't like. As tempting as matters would be to write about what we don't like, we have to choice to talk about what we do like. Nobody is telling us what we can and can't write about; this is coming straight from the heart and the brain and onto the keyboard.

Bloggers may never get the full respect of traditional media, but then again, neither did the paper fanzines in the '70s, '80s and '90s. As shown in Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, fanzines (and their spawn) are a part of the lifeblood to promoting music that isn't promoted in the mainstream. Since the chances are very good that nobody else is going to talk about the underground/obscure bands that we like, it's up to us to do something about this.

3 comments:

zach said...

highly enjoyed your analysis. why cant everyone just get along? other ways to find out about music? oh no!

Random Kath said...

since I haven't made the plunge into buying satellite radio, the only way that I have been exposed to a lot of new bands is through random blogs. Even if I don't agree with the writers, at least now I know these bands are out there and know a little of their sound - I just like being a bit more well rounded in my exposure to new new music.

Eric said...

I agree that what I do (as well as a lot of others out there do) is definately in the spirit of fanzines of the 80's and 90's. Technology just allows us to have wider distribution to those who seek it out and also to attach little music files. I'm also going to have to give that Nightmare of You album another listen on your rec.