Music Blogging 101: Just Do You

Music blogging is an art. It’s art talking about art. There isn’t a proper formula or a technique to success—being short and sweet is nice and an informal touch is always inviting—there’s no wrong way of blogging. If you’re funny it helps. Mentioning any 90’s fad, favorite Rugrats episode or name-dropping oddball Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff albums might help too. Whatever you’re doing, as Prefix Mag’s Andrew Martin says, “Just do you.” In a series of interviews with blogger Starletta Watson, editor Andrew Martin and musician Jomac, I sought to tell stories about music blogs. What’s their purpose, audience and what makes them sing? 

The bulk of talk regarding music blogging is its benefit to the artist. Odd Future (OFWGKTA), hip-hop collective from California, found their success due to their ability to market themselves on the internet. Their crooner, Frank Ocean released Nostalgia, Ultra this year only for it to explode in popularity because of music blog endorsements. Marinate Media’s three amigos, in their interviews, reinforced the notion that music blogs are an asset to artists.

Frank Ocean, pictured above, created blog buzz with his street mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, featuring “Nature Feels” an MGMT inspired, R&B song.

Nature Feels by Frank Ocean

Artist Jomac says:

“Sometimes new listeners may like what they hear and in turn start to check out what I’ll share next.” 

Blogger Starletta Watson wrote half a book during our interview. If she hadn’t missed, “What is real hip-hop?” (a trick question I plopped in there,) she might still be writing. When asked about a blog’s relationship to the artist she said:

“It’s to the point where even the Grammy’s consider bloggers influential for awarding artists. It’s to the point where print magazines are starting up blogs and partnering with blogs…. All of this roots within the fact that the world is going digital and everybody is logged into something.”

Anymore it’s hard not to be logged in or connected to ‘something’. Our smartphones are equipped with Facebook and Twitter. Foursquare lets us say where we’re snagging the best sushi rolls, at what intersection we’re standing or who’s checked in at the Betty Ford Clinic. It seems we’re addicted to grasping onto any new sliver of information we encounter. Music blogs provide the same quick commentary, tidbits of information that social media Web sites offer. Jomac says, “…unlike most local radio shows, a blog of interest will most likely support new music and artists the listener will like to hear.” Amongst all the noise, blogs offer its audience—whom love to say connected—a chance to pick and choose from constantly rotating music selections. There isn’t a day where a new single, album, video, interview, etc. hasn’t been released. Blogs, Jomac says are “a way to become familiar.” 

Watson says, “Ultimately, my responsibility is to become a gate keeper for my people when it comes to the music.” Information comes at us from all angles, be it, social media, news reports, billboards or radio announcements. As hard as we try as a digital society to catch everything that comes our way, it’s not possible. Editor Andrew Martin says, “[Music blogs] serve as filters for people who can’t spend hours and hours going through new music.” 

So, who are these music bloggers? Are they even real people with emotions? Or, are they just aggregates? Well, they’re both. Martin, for instance, when he’s not churning out stories about today’s hottest music he’ll be chilled out, listening to Kendrick Lamar’s Section. 80. And, to young bloggers he says, “Find a voice and a niche. Don’t try to be the next Pitchfork or 2DopeBoyz. Just do you.” Whether he stole that last line from Rocko’s “Umma Do Me” I’ll never know. 

I asked each interviewee, “In five words or less how would you describe the music blog culture?” Martin answered, “Give me more music now.” This mirrors an audience that’s obsessed with status updates and connection. Watson said, “Constantly growing and influencing everything.”  Perhaps commenting on music blogging as an expansion of voices that’re blooming into respectable organizations. However, it’s not the answers I find interesting. It’s the poetry in them. Watson says:

“…another duty is to keep posts as short as possible, which is kinda hard for me because I can get long-winded on topics I’m passionate about.”

 Music bloggers have passion. Even Martin who writes 25 to 30 posts per week finds time to enjoy the music he writes about. It is artists like Jomac whose music—that’re a culmination of his passion, talent and hardwork—find they’re way on the pages of blogs. Watson says, “We as music bloggers [have] a responsibility to provide a new outlet for the masses…that is tailored to show a new or forgotten side of the music world.” Music blogs are a voice for a voice. A loudspeaker for a foreman. A sign for a restaurant. A gallery for an artist. Music blogging is art talking about art.

For more about music blogging (its downsides, its benefits and its unwritten rules) check out Andrew Martin, Starletta Watson and Jomac’s interviews below. 

Andrew Martin – Editor, Prefix Magazine

Andrew Martin is an associate editor at Prefix Magazine, managing editor at Potholes in My Blog and lover of Drake’s So Far Gone. After much deliberation he’s learned to appreciate Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame and Lil B. Conceding that Clams Casino and Keyboard Kid are *expletive* amazing. (Add expletive at your own discretion.) 

 – What are you listening to now? 

 Right now: A.C. Newman’s The Slow Wonder. Lately: Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 and TiRon’s MSTRD.

-In five words how would you describe the music blog culture? 

“Give me more music now.” 

-As a writer, what are your duties as a music blogger? Are there any unwritten rules? Codes of conduct? Responsibilities to the reader? 

Coming from a journalism background — it was my major at the University of Rhode Island — I follow the same rules I did as a news reporter. That means I try to present everything in a clear and concise manner, though “blogging” does allow me to be subjective in my approach. Being subjective is good, but only having an opinion can alienate the reader if not enough information is provided about the artist. 

-Who were the first artists you worked directly with? How was that experience?

Rhode Island-based hip-hop acts Jon Hope, Theo Martins, and Falside. All three were extremely engaging and easy to talk to, even if we weren’t discussing their music. 

-How do you think music blogs benefit the artist?

I think they can help in the way that older media (radio and print) did before blogs became so prevalent. They can help “break” an artist, though not as much as radio and print still can. But, more importantly, they can help artists create a strong niche market, which could allow them to release their music independently. 

-Can blogs work against the artist sometimes?

Yes, though not often. There have been times when songs have been leaked when they weren’t supposed to. The most recent example is when one blogger attended a listening event for Kanye West and Jay-Z’s joint album, Watch The Throne, and recorded the songs that were played. He then uploaded them to his blog for people to hear. Huge mistake and one that will probably land him in court. 

What do you think are music blogs purpose?

To serve as filters for people who can’t spend hours and hours going through new music.

Where do you go to find new music?

I frequently go to Rap Radar and 2DopeBoyz for hip-hop along with Pitchfork and One Thirty BPM for indie rock and electronic. 

-What advice would you give to upstart bloggers?

Find a voice and a niche. Don’t try to be the next Pitchfork or 2DopeBoyz. Just do you.

Big thanks, man!


Starletta Watson – Contributor XPosure Magazine, Atlanta’s Frank 151

Starletta Watson, a.k.a. Star of the blogosphere, graduated from number 1 party school, Ohio University in ‘10. She’s written for AOL Seed, AOL City’s BestXPosure Magazine and Soultrain.com. Also, lives in Atlanta and she challenges you to a freestyle battle, of which, she’ll destroy you. Be sure to check out her blog, Bubble Gum Pop Rap, to see her blogging methods in action.

-What are you listening to now?

Right now I’m listening to Master P, UGK and 8 Ball & MJG’s “Meal Ticket” off the I’m Bout It soundtrack.

 -In five words how would you describe the music blog culture?

Constantly growing and influencing everything.

 -As a writer, what are your duties as a music blogger? Are there any unwritten rules? Codes of conduct? Responsibilities to the reader?

As a writer and a blogger, my duties are to keep my readers informed on what’s going on in the music industry – beyond just album reviews or shows I go to, there’s also a duty to provide commentary that is my voice. Another duty is to keep the content objective although I’m giving my opinion and my voice just so readers are both fully informed and challenged. While doing all of this, another duty is to keep posts as short as possible, which is kinda hard for me because I can get long-winded on topics I’m passionate about.

That’s an unwritten rule for all bloggers, unless you have a style like mine where you’re providing equal parts information and commentary. So basically, if you’re gonna have long posts, then there better be plenty of info, plenty of pictures, video, and other visuals to keep readers engaged in ways other than just reading. Another unwritten rule that I’ve been seeing within the hiphop blogging community is that you gotta avoid jocking other blogger’s ideas. Bloggers can be mad sensitive. I’ve seen so many twitter beefs between some of the most influential and popular bloggers over a couple lines they both written or “paid reviews,” which is another unwritten rule – you’ll get no respect if you’re a blogger out here charging artists to review their albums or for interviews, or if you’re paying artists to do an interview or review their album. The only money you should really make within the blogging community is off advertisements and organizing shows.

My responsibility to the reader is to provide my view of what goes on in the music culture – which includes the business, the industry, the art and technique behind it, the influence that stems from it – in a way that makes them think. I shoot to provoke exactly what folks are listening to, how they listen to it, and how they register what they’re listening to. I keep it informative yet fun to read – some of my posts are strictly AP-style-looking news stories as well as commentary that could be completely sartalicized (yes, I do believe sarcasm needs a font, hence the sartalicized reference). Ultimately, my responsibility is to become a gate keeper for my people when it comes to the music. Music blogging, in my opinion, is so everywhere because folks grew tired of always hearing about the same old stuff, hearing the same music get passed around and waiting to hear their favorite artists (and, possibly, some of the best artists you’ll never hear) to appear in the media from the same big press folks like Spin, Rolling Stone, even Fader, Urb, Vimby, and then MTV, BET, VH1 and so on. We as music bloggers got a responsibility to provide a new outlet for the masses, or a masses for some, that is tailored to show a new or forgotten side of the music world.

 -Who were the first artists you worked directly with? How was that experience?

The first artists that I worked with strictly for my blog was (I think, I’m trying really hard to think back) Donwill and Emilio Rojas during the A3C Festival in Atlanta. Working with them, interviewing them specifically, was amazing and totally lucky. What happened was that with my pass, I was just told that I could go backstage and talk to the artists back there and take hella photos and whatnot, so when I got back there, there was Donwill. While we were chopping it up, Emilio Rojas was walking towards us, and Donwill went nuts! Here I am just trying to get an interview with somebody like Donwill and next thing I know I got two artists – Donwill and Emilio. As I’m asking them questions about Atlanta, Emilio brings up one of the most prominent hiphop studios Tree Sounds, but Donwill has never heard of it. So as the recorder is on and rolling, Emilio is schooling Donwill on Tree Sounds Studio, why it’s so innovative, how many hits came outta there and so on. I got all of that on the record. For that to be my first interview strictly for my blog was a great way to pop that blogging cherry when working with artists, especially within the realms of a festival. The festival itself was a blessing to cover because I learned how to be everywhere at once all in the name of my medium.

 -How do you think music blogs benefit the artist?

A whole, whole lot! It’s to the point where if an artist has a crappy experience with a blogger, then 9 times out of 10 other bloggers and writers won’t mess with him or her either. It’s to the point where even the Grammy’s consider bloggers influential for awarding artists. It’s to the point where print magazines are starting up blogs and partnering with bloggers (and even choosing bloggers over journalists) for covering music news for their outlet. All of this roots within the fact that the world is going digital and everybody is logged in to something. It’s easier for artists to communicate with bloggers than journos because they’re all only a tweet, email or Facebook message away. There’s less politics involved with bloggers talking to certain labels, not to mention the freedom bloggers have with how much stuff they can cover and how they can cover it. Ultimately, you’re seeing now that papers like NY Times will report from information taken from a blog, so if you’re an artist and are aware of all of this, then why not hit us up? What reasons tell you not to start with blogs and blog radio stations over sending newswires to major press outlets and trying to get your joint played during the Hit or Miss hour on the local radio station? 

-Can blogs work against the artist sometimes?

Definitely. There is an element of professionalism between an artist and a blogger. We bloggers, though we’re not as prominent as journalists, want the same respect because we’re ultimately doing the same work and reaching out to the same people, so communication should resemble that. Any artists who fail to be professional will fail to get a good blog post on just about anybody’s blog. We are informal to an extent, the extent being our writing style and digging for information, but that doesn’t mean we should be treated like that. Like I said before, bloggers are mad sensitive.

 -What do you think are music blogs purpose?

Music blogs have a purpose to be a gateway to music folks have possibly never heard of or will never hear of if we stay waiting on the big outlets to cover it. Like I said before, the purpose is to keep it real, keep it new and challenge the current status quo.

 -What advice would you give to upstart bloggers?

Know who you are and what you’re about FIRST. To be the next Bossip or MediaTakeOut or Pitchfork is a one-way road to a major traffic jam because everyone is trying to do that. To only report the news is worse. Adding your own voice and commentary is the only truly unique way to catapult into an established blog. Another piece of advice: networking is key. From acquiring a good relationship with artists and their local circle to knowing your limits in respects to other bloggers, you ultimately must know who you’re dealing with and know your environment. Don’t be an internet thug and only pop lip on the Web – make yourself known in your community by going to local shows, introducing yourself to everyone and keep your ear to the streets.

 -Where do you go to get information about new music?

I get information about new music from many places – other blogs, newswires, artist’s tweets, Facebook pages, artist’s email campaigns and newsletters, going to music shows, in-stores, talking to the PR camps I know and at seldom times through the newspapers and magazines I read.

-Thanks Star!

Jomac – Washington, DC hip-hop producer

Jomac hails from DC and he’s always manipulating 60’s, 70’s soul, funk albums and turning them into flavorful hip-hop beats. His mixtape, Meditative: Beat Set 2 “takes listeners to cool sonic atmospheresa collection of tracks that are head-nodding and thoughtful at the same time.” [via] On Potholes I said, “there’s some magic in this ole soul beat tape.” He’s a serious producer, with serious talent. Check out “FirstLight” below, it’s smooth and sax-y.

FirstLight by Jomac

-What are you listening to now?

A combination of old and new sounds.  Mostly mid-90’s to current hip-hop or instrumental albums.

 -Where do you go to find new music?

Local records stores or online retailers. 

 In five words or less how would you describe the music blogging culture?

A way to become familiar.

 -How do music blogs help bring new people to your music?

Sometimes new listeners may like what they hear and in turn start to check for what I’ll share next.

 – As an artist, what’s your relationship with music blogs? Love ‘em, hate ‘em? 

I think they are important, because unlike most local radio shows, a blog of interest will most likely support new music and artist the listener will like to hear. 

 – You’re freshly released beat tape Meditative: Beat Set 2 came out in July, what’s next?

To continue creating sounds and possibly offer another share project.

-Thanks!


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