I’ve taken what you might call a professional interest in the writing of ‘new music industry’ bloggers and pundits over the past decade, and while there is a great deal of disagreement among them, they all have certain similarities about their approach.
Or rather – their approaches, as there seem to be three main ones.
It’s useful to break these approaches down so that you can recognise them when you see them – but also in order to get a sense of how these kinds of information sources can be interpreted and used in a practical way in your own music industry practice.
You can probably think of other ways to slice this, but here are the three main ways in which I interpret the approaches of music industry bloggers.
The approach of the reporter can be summed up simply by the phrase “this thing happened”. The reporter will keep you up to date with the changes going on in the music industry.
When new technologies are introduced, record labels or artists try a seemingly radical new strategy, companies are bought or sold, and governments change their copyright legislation, you can rely on the reporter (sometimes a publication – but often an individual) to let you know that it happened the moment that it happened.
Reporters prioritise the currency of their information, and will most often relay what can be thought of as ‘facts’.
Depth of analysis is (generally speaking) less important to a reporter than what’s going on right now — though the reportage will often come from a particular consistent perspective, and the news will be framed as part of a series of ongoing pieces of evidence to support that perspective.
The role of the analyst is to step back and make sense of what it means that something happened. Often the analysis will take place at the point of that event occurring, but more often than not, the analyst will wait around for data to turn up. Timeliness is not as much of the essence as insight.
The advocate part of the role is to align that analysis in support of a world view about how the music industry should work and how people should behave in the light of that view. The analyst-advocate will often tell you not only what something means, but whether that’s a good or a bad thing for musicians, the music industry, consumers, the market, society – or whatever the perceived constituency might be.
Analysts are often fond of infographics, which communicate often complex data in a form that can be interpreted as a simple narrative.
A further step of abstraction away from the day to day occurrences and intrigues relayed to us by the reporters are the prognostications, predictions and aphorisms of the mystic.
There are several flavours of mystic: the fortune teller, the self-help guru and the charismatic leader are probably the three most common – but they share characteristics and can be broadly grouped together.
The mystic is less concerned with what has happened, and what that means – and more with what will happen and how you should act. The mystic borrows – at least stylistically – from “wisdom literature”, and often speaks in catchy bumper sticker phrases that distill a philosophy (or the semblance of one) into a sentence.
The mystic will often take a big picture view of ‘what is going on’ and talk about the music industry not as a series of events, but in terms of historical trends, tides and long-term phenomena.
Orientations, rather than categories
This is not an attempt to divide the world of music industry and music tech bloggers up into distinct, compartmentalised categories of writer. In fact, most ‘new music biz’ bloggers do aspects of all three. However, each of them, I would argue, has a particular orientation toward just one of those modes.
We can all think of examples, I’m sure, of blogs or bloggers that fit under each one of those headings – but also instances in which a reporter has acted as a mystic, or an analyst as a reporter of breaking news.
For the record, I’ve attempted all three in some measure or another, and I don’t happen to think I’m a particularly good example of any one of them. And neither are these descriptions meant to be interpreted as derogatory, either. I can think of both excellent and terrible examples of all three. The point here is not to favour one approach over another – but simply to shine a light on the fact that these three approaches exist so that you know what you’re reading when you encounter it.
What to do with this information
The purpose of this blog post is simply to point out that these are the primary modes of online music business information. And while each approach is useful, each is limited. Arguably – even all three together would be a limited source of information without one more useful ingredient: self-reflection.
Because while this wealth of blogging can keep you informed, inspired, and up to date with what’s going on, and while your own ideas about ethics, economics and technology may be mirrored, supported or challenged by these blog posts, what they will almost never do is talk about you and your music.
The critical question to ask yourself in the face of all this information and opinion is not “is this true?” or “do I agree with this?” or even “why is this person telling me this information?” (all important questions, of course) – but “how can I use this?”.
And not just “how can I use this today?” but, more importantly “how does this fit into my long-term view of my life, my music, my understanding of my audience, my career trajectory, my values and aspirations, my interactions with the other human beings that I deal with on a day to day basis, and my conception of myself as both a producer and consumer of music?”
Being informed is only step one
All three sources of information and advice are as potentially useful as they are potentially distracting. But without considering them in the light of where it is you’re trying to go, what your own values are in relation to that and an understanding of how you’ll know when you’re doing this stuff successfully – then it’s mostly just noise.
Entertaining, informative, amusing and full of intrigue, perhaps – but noise all the same.
You know your music. You know your audience. You know the culture within which your music fits. You know the market that relates to your music. You know the meanings that people bring to it, and what it is they value about it. You know your own political, moral, economic and musical world view. You know your social, technological and geographic context.
It’s through these frames that the information and wisdom (in all its variety of quality of insight and its degrees of nonsense) should be weighed and implemented. And that will come with an understanding that your conclusions may not apply universally.
So when you learn that Universal has or hasn’t bought EMI, or that Spotify is good or bad for musicians, or that in the future all music will or won’t be in The Cloud, having a good sense of what, pragmatically, is useful to you about that – and what, if anything, should be your practical response to that information – is a great place to start.
Not “what should musicians do?”, “what should record labels do?”, “what should audiences do?”, or even “what should legislators do?” but “what shall I do?”