On Writing About Music on the Internet

Posted on May 26, 2010


I spent a good solid hour a few weeks ago whining to my infinitely patient roommate and friend about my struggle to find an appropriate outlet for my writerly ambitions (musically, at least, I’ve got some irons in the fire). Fiction is a shitshow, news journalism isn’t really my cup of tea, and writing about niche bands for a niche audience often makes me feel as if I’m throwing all my time and energy into something with about as much purpose as if I were tracing my essays in the sand at low tide…in Sanskrit. She told me in response that she sees online cultural dialogue as a cloud, and that even those at the edge of it are still a crucial part of it. I said something petulant and stubborn, but what she said stayed with me.

Yesterday, sitting in a cafe, I happened to come across two of the minds behind Microphone Memory Emotion and Visitation Rites. As you have probably gathered, I’d been feeling down on music blogging (what else is new), but speaking with these folks and occasionally eavesdropping as they composed a piece about the potential ethical conflicts within the world of music blogging really perked me up. One of the reasons I get so frustrated with that world is that the people who populate it often seem to have a self-righteous lack of perspective in which they assert over and over again that the new hierarchy of music tastemakers is a perfect meritocracy that funnels good music straight to the top while the old, callow, money-driven label system burns in the backgound. This is insane. Just because financial capital has been mostly replaced by social capital doesn’t mean there is any kind of purity in the taste of music blogs. Is it just a coincidence that the same bands show up on nearly every single one? More tautological proof that the best music is in fact what’s being recognized? Let’s not kid ourselves: correlation isn’t causation and social power is at least as tempting as the almighty dollar. Plus, it’s not exactly like running an obscure indie label is a pipeline to owning a fleet of yachts.

It was a huge relief to meet some other people who are concerned with some of the same things and an inspiration to see how they choose to take up their concerns publicly and actively rather than just trying to secede from the seamier parts of the music world, as I’d been trying to do. It made me want to take up my recently neglected keyboard once again. I was impressed by the fact that they weren’t afraid to stir up some trouble and by how much care they put into the wording of their piece, which told me that they wanted to come by said trouble honestly and fairly. When I went to their blogs later, though I found we don’t share the exact same taste in music, I can respect what they say about the music they love, and I actually do believe they love it. So, partly because of this meeting, I am returning to the internet writing fold. I could stand obstinately aside and pester my friends about how shallow I think the popularity contest of the music world is, or I could step up and do what I can to guide it in a thoughtful and honest direction.

Here’s to finding my place in the cloud, wherever it may be.