Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Red Herring

While Winter works itself out and I'm messing around with some new formats for the blog, here's an article I wrote for a school paper (The Prophet, for those to whom it may be relevant). Cheers, and happy holidays!

MP3 Blogs: Turning Tables in the Music Market
By: Sean Maden

Blogs are pretty well-known entities today. They enable internet users to periodically post their personal political, artistic, and academic thoughts online for public scrutiny, a concept that has been around since the early 90s, according to a Juicee News Daily article on the “History of Weblogs.” The concept of mp3 blogging is a more recent innovation. As oppossed to a general blog, mp3 blogs, otherwise known as audio or music blogs, add a unique dimension of musicality to the blogosphere, or online blogging community. Posts by mp3 bloggers contribute music and song descriptions, relevant news and tour information, and a few free tracks by the artist in question while referencing and linking to other blogs and band sites. The idea is simple enough.

The consequences of mp3 blogs are perhaps more far-reaching than a brief description implies. In seeking and selecting new music, mp3 bloggers are promoting sounds they enjoy and think others would enjoy, too. In presenting a name and a track or two, mp3 blogs connect artists to an international community that by-and-large may not have otherwise known of them. Sean Michaels is a writer for Said the Gramophone, one of the first few mp3 blogs that began posting early in 2003. In an interview entitled “Roundtable: Mp3 Bloggers” on The Morning News, Sean states, “The purpose of Said the Gramophone is to expose good songs to willing ears. If people like a song, I hope that they will buy the record or attend the show. Many, many do. I think musicians (and even labels) are beginning to understand that sampling precedes purchase, that it’s a way to learn about and fall in love with music.”

While many blogs present track links using the URLs of tracks an artist has already made available for free on a MySpace or band site, it is true that many bloggers upload songs they themselves have selected, not the band or label. When this is done without direct permission from a band or label, the result is a legal dilemma. The argument of bloggers is generally that providing a few free tracks by a band has a negligible negative impact on their overall monetary success, while promotion of their band’s name can lead to additional record sales and tour attendances. From the aforementioned interview, Sean explains, “Exposure is one of the biggest things we can offer the musicians we promote…name recognition is worth much more than five song sales at the iTunes Music Store.” The lack of explicitly-legal music distribution may cause one to wonder about potential lawsuits, but a USA Today article by Adam Parsick, entitled “Mp3 blogs serve rare songs, dusty grooves,” clarifies, “Even the most popular MP3 blogs have no more than a few thousand visitors per day. Perhaps because of their size, or because they don't tend to offer mainstream pop, they have mostly escaped the Recording Industry Association of America's crackdown on illicit downloading.” Additionally, many mp3 bloggers include pronouncements on their blogs indicating their promotinal intent to artists and labels, and assuring their compliance, should artists want their material to be taken down.

From their fairly recent inception a few years ago, audio blogs have incited a veritable community of independent music fans and artists. Their interactions in reading, patronizing, and responding to others’ posts, promoting new and independent music, and providing news and references about shows and artists, are what make mp3 blogs such a powerful tool for more casual or less-informed music fans. Though both mp3 blogs and commercial campaigns look to promote music, there seems to be a fundamental difference in how music is promoted between the two mediums. In a music market where success is determined by promotional media, a very few select artists end up being heard, by merit of financial backbone and not necessarily because of exceptional innovation, talent, or sound. Pure commercial endorsement tends to promote this sort of market. In contrast, mp3 blogs help to eliminate financial backing from the equation determining a band’s success. The music market one sees in mp3 blogs reflects a shift in focus from a given band’s monetary merit towards the merits of their music. And after all, it’s all about the music.

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