I know insiders claim that people are listening to music now more than ever before, but what if people are just not as interested in new music as they used to be? Has perceived demand for new product outstripped consumer interest?
The answer is easy. Search your heart. Everything will be easier if you can just admit what you know to be true.
No. The vast majority of people surfing the web aren’t interested in music, or just not as much as you believe them to be. Don’t get me wrong: there are audiences for obscure stuff that’s off the beaten path. I, for example, love Raven Sings the Blues, but I think one can safely assume that that blog, wonderful as it is, has a small, committed audience.
The problem I see with an editorial approach that values quantity over quality is that the bulk of your work is simply being ignored. It also plays into the perception that you’re willing to cover just anything in order to have fresh content. It’s one thing to cover music that deserves mention; it’s another to slave away writing content for content’s sake.
If you think that this post is directed at legacy webzines like Pitchfork, you’re right. Pitchfork’s trademark practice of assigning numerical values in their reviews certainly contributed to the way we consume music press today. Why read a review when you can just click inside, look at the number, and ignore the rest?
Now they’re reaping what they’ve sown.
The site recently revamped its news coverage, imparting a bloggier tone. In a strange twist, you’ll find that Pitchfork is often behind the rapid-fire internet news cycle, something that had never been as obvious as it is now. Then again, an audience that goes exclusively to them for their music news wouldn’t notice something like that. That’s the sort of inside baseball only RSS junkies would catch.
More importantly (damningly?), Pitchfork went from publishing a daily feature piece to three-a-week maximum schedule. They only published two last week! You could chalk it up to a bad economy translating into less money to pay for long feature pieces, or you could view it as an admission that publishing regular pieces on grime and dubstep below the fold weren’t appointment reading.
If it’s not a list, it’s hard to get people to commit to features. As much as analysts want to write off critics now that the web has made everything available on demand, it’s impossible for just anyone to sift through the amount of information out there to get a great overview of a genre or even the best new music in a given year. Sites like FAIL blog demonstrate the value of a curation to create a best-of-web experience. It’s what makes a site worth visiting. Curation is still king.
Now, not everything needs to drive clicks. Like any publication, Pitchfork’s features have always been a mixed bag of the excellent and the irrelevant. To their credit, they’re not abandoning them entirely, but rather shifting them from text to video, a risky move that’s difficult to monetize. It’s the right one, even though it might not seem that way now.
I think the move to video storytelling for music is a natural one. It’s been interrupted by music’s disappearance from television, but it’s familiar enough and exciting enough to grab someone’s attention. The real hurdle is convincing workaday info snackers to make the jump from reviews and features that take a second to skim to longer form video that can run for several minutes, all while they’re on the clock. It ain’t easy, but it may be the last best hope for music features on the web.
I know I promised to tell you how to run a successful music site this morning, but I’m running out of time. I’ll say this: Pitchfork’s new news section, though odious at times, is a step in the right direction. It’s the sort of content that can build a traffic stream to support the purer music content on the site. There are audiences for both and we as editors need to accommodate the full spectrum of music fandom to the extent that we can. It’s the only way to survive!