Mp3 blogs will become your life. As you read these words, thousands of self-anointed music experts in thick plastic glasses and headphones are furiously posting, downloading, and analyzing fresh tracks from The Knife and Of Montreal, alongside deep cuts from dusty LPs of their parents' generation. Since 2003, mp3 blogs, which post free tracks to download alongside criticism and news, have guided a steadily growing audience through the dense wilderness of aural culture.
Spend a few minutes on The Hype Machine, mp3 blog aggregator extraordinaire, and you'll get a better sense of the range of treats out there for the sampling. The first thing to catch my interest is a DJ Mehdi remix of Architecture in Helsinki's "In Case We Die," from the blog Analog Giant. It turns out to be excellent. I skip down to some old Brigitte Bardot tracks posted on Lessons from Things, then notice the Mudhoney classic "Touch Me I'm Sick" has been posted on a blog called Doklands. I click through to the original site, and I'm delighted to find a stockpile of artsy gems: Julian Cope, Steve Reich, People Like Us, some weird junk from the old mp3.com.
And on and on, through the morning, the afternoon, and potentially all night.
"It's one thing to read about a band someplace, and quite another thing to just click a link and hear them." I spoke with Josh Dubin, a.k.a. Philabuster, who graduated from Penn in 2003 and manages The Paul Green School of Rock in Downingtown. For the past year and a half, Dubin and his pseudonymous partner SkinnySlim have run BadmintonStamps.com, establishing the site as a prominent voice among indie media in the region. "Most writers are, to put it plainly, wrong when it comes to music. Descriptions can be off the mark, sometimes wildly. When I hear a song for myself, I can decide right away if I like it."
In a crowded and competitive field, BadmintonStamps has been a distinct success. The site pulls in roughly 15,000 visitors per week and ranks in the top 30 on The Hype Machine's index of stats. Thanks to ad revenue, the 'Stamps boys were recently able to orchestrate the Philly debut of Canadian up-and-comers Tokyo Police Club at the Khyber. In addition to promoting more shows, Dubin hints at plans of releasing a record under the BadmintonStamps imprint in the near future.
Commenting on blogs' relationship with print media, Dubin noted, "Local coverage . that's a legitimate battlefield. If you look at the niche that BrooklynVegan has built for himself [in New York], it's really incredible. I don't think a local print music journal could ever hope to compete with that. The blog is more current, and the demographic looking for that sort of information is already prone to search for it online. One of the reasons that BadmintonStamps has enjoyed the success it has so far is that there was a vacuum in Philly, I think, for a similar source of info."
BadmintonStamps represents one end of the mp3 blog spectrum: locally rooted and focused on new material. Somewhere near the other extreme is Moistworks.com, a site run by a loosely organized collective of professional writers. The site stresses historical connections between tracks, and the complexity of commentary on each post far exceeds the Hype Machine average.
Brian Howe, sometime Pitchfork writer, is one of the Moistworks regulars. Comparing his roles in traditional and non-traditional music journalism, he rejects the end-of-old-media rhetoric that often arise in discussion of mp3 blogs. "As a colleague of mine recently quipped, mp3 blogs are proving the old saw about opinions being like assholes - everyone's got 'em, and we still need critics to put pants on them. There are some very insightful mp3 blogs that are functioning at the level of criticism, but there are many more that are poorly-written hype machines trying to get credit for unearthing the next big thing."
In theory, the purity of an mp3 blog is beautiful. The RIAA has largely ignored the sites' blatant copyright violations, enjoying the free publicity bloggers give artists. And since mp3s rarely stay up for more than a week, these infringements are hard to track. Without the commercial concerns of their corporate media counterparts, music bloggers have the freedom to lead their audiences down obscure back alleys and through the most remote audio boondocks, shifting indiscriminately between past and present. But with so many sites competing for limited number of eyeballs, there's bound to be a mediocre, nameless middle.
According to NewMusicTipsheet.com, 96 new albums were released this week. Even if mp3 blogs won't save your soul or multiply your hipness overnight, they can go a long way toward closing the gap between what you catch and what you miss. And for foreign artists like Justice, Hot Chip, and The Teenagers, attention from blogs can mean the difference between stateside buzz and irrelevance.
And that ain't no hype.