It feels a bit weird to be writing an introduction to my blog when I’ve published well over 500 posts and it’s been running for 8 years. I’ve delayed publishing this post for some considerable time because I’m avoiding a very difficult question that challenges its very existence.
Are blogs like mine still relevant?
I realise a small blog like mine isn’t well known and doesn’t have – and is unlikely to have – a huge number of readers. I’ve been taking stock of where the blog is, what I’ve achieved and where it’s going.
Way back towards the end of 2012, I had a random idea to start a blog. At that time I wanted to reinvigorate some posts I’d written on music theory and resurrect some thoughts about music from an old, defunct website and also write about the music creation process. I didn’t realise how much time and effort a blog would take. Of course there’s a commitment to write and publish posts but I hadn’t factored in how I would get anyone to read it. I completely overlooked that you need to grow an audience. I primarily used twitter and facebook to promote the blog and the initial idea grew into reviewing albums, music software, sample packs and books too.
The blog idea arose because I had just started making electronic music using the Caustic app on Android. This was somewhat accidental, I got Caustic to create drum patterns and basslines to practice guitar because I hadn’t played for a while. I started experimenting with samples and a mate suggested I make my own sounds. I didn’t have a clue where to start, did some research and the rest is history. Those first tracks – which still exist on the Caustic user forums – were created using music theory but had no concept of key fundamentals such as EQ, mixing and compression. It took a couple of years but I decided to give them a basic mastering (in the loosest sense of the word) and released them as the album Caustic Maidens.
As part of the software review process, I started to create demo tracks and this evolved into EPs and whole albums although not every release is associated with a review. I’m very grateful that reviews have given me access to software I never would have been able to use otherwise which has developed production techniques and inspired creation of 80+ self-released albums, 5 releases on netlabels Fwonk, Mobius Spin, Submarine Broadcasting Co and Mystic Timbre, numerous compilation album appearances, joining projects such as Naviarhaiku, Disquiet Junto, Cities and Memory and joining groups such as WEATNU, Arcade Creatives and Electronic Music Alliance.
The blog has achieved around 76k visitors and 100k views. That’s not particularly massive in the scheme of things but I’m proud of how it’s grown and absolutely delighted to have been supported by the likes of Glitchmachines, Brainmodular, MuTools, Audiothing, Inear Display, Loopmasters, Pluginboutique, Miller Music & PR, Softube, Rob Papen, Eventide, AAS, KV331 Audio, Waldorf, Kuvert, Black Rooster Audio, Spitfire Audio and many others, but not Native Instruments, I’m too small for them.
But I’ve found myself at a crossroads for some time
I have a number of outstanding software reviews that are taking a long time to complete and I’m struggling to prioritise. At the same time, the music review list has grown massively to a point I can barely keep up and can’t keep track. Yes I should have implemented some form of logging and tracking system ages ago, especially once requests grew beyond what I could remember which was a long while ago to be honest but 2019 saw the biggest increase by far and this has continued since.
My review list is driven by a number of factors – music I discover myself; support from labels such as Factory Fast, Cardinal Fuzz, Sunrise Ocean Bender, Verses Records, Bricolage, Triplicate, Cudighi Records, Pink Dolphin Music, Shameless PR, Factory Fast, Citrus City, Z Tapes and more. This can be directly or via codes that I find myself on Bandcamp; direct contact from bands / artists and emails from PR companies. Requests have grown significantly, possibly the shift away from releasing albums to releasing singles which results in much more contact.
So this results in far more albums in my Bandcamp collection and more music in my inbox than I can feasibly listen to and review and it’s still growing. It’s impossible to do it justice, I’m barely scratching the surface and there are so many great artists I would love to review but just don’t have the time.
But 2019 also saw a 20% reduction in overall numbers and I know you shouldn’t get hung up on stats but the worrying thing from my perspective is that even the top album review of that year had very poor stats This trend continued through 2020 and 2021.
So despite the massive demand for reviews and the time commitment to publish, conversely there seems little appetite to read such reviews.
Is this because I'm not reaching the right audience i.e. should I shift my focus on reaching listeners rather than artists?
I haven’t put much effort into growing the blog for a while, I need to build and keep this momentum going although it’s difficult because it is time consuming which is why I haven’t been doing it as much as I should although lately I’ve finally sorted non-followers on twitter so that I can now start following more people. That said, I’m not convinced there’s a connection between tweets and blog views, on the face of it I do tend to get more views when I tweet a lot but stats show the vast majority of views come via search engines rather than Twitter. Incidentally Facebook is a very poor publicity source. In 2017, the proportion was approx. 85% search engines, 17% Twitter and 7% Facebook; This has changed to 90% search engines, 9% Twitter and 0.6% Facebook..
Do artists need to take a co-operative approach and promote each other more?
A trend I’ve seen over time is that a number of artists want publicity and exposure but do not want to return the favour nor put the effort in to support fellow artists. That’s quite difficult to say. But I see both sides being an artist and blogger. I know how much effort I put into reviews, RTs etc and see the flip side of who I promote that also supports me as an artist – I’m sure a lot don’t even realise or care. I have to say I don’t expect anything in return, but it tends to show that promotion is unfortunately very much a one-sided process for many reasons. Even groups created and designed to work cooperatively that should flourish tend to flounder because they equally suffer.
That said, publicity is hard. It’s difficult creating and getting your music out there in the first place, that will be the focus of most artists and take up virtually all their time but publicity does require about an equal amount of time and effort to be effective – which is time that you could spend being creative. So it’s usually a forgotten or ignored element. I’m really poor at self promotion which seems a strange thing to say being a blogger. It’s easy to see why such a co-operative approach is very difficult to establish and maintain.
I have an aging laptop
That might sound a bit irrelevant and for music reviews it’s not an issue. For software reviews, it is. I can only run 3 Kontakt instruments before it maxes out the CPU, barely run one instance of BreakTweaker and nothing else and more and more modern software like Orb Composer won’t run at all. I use a workaround where I export audio stems so I can apply effects separately, I can’t do it all at the same time. Because I make no money from blogging, financial constraints and other priorities mean a new one is not likely in the near future, especially as I need a fairly good spec and not just a bog standard one.
So where do I go next?
Let’s face it, 2020 was particularly challenging for everyone. I had just started to make progress with the backlog and then we had 3 weekends of storms in February which was a prelude to the whole Coronavirus situation which gave me less time than ever. I have come very close to giving up several times, that’s partly why I’ve put off writing this post in case I did. What keeps the blog going is that I really enjoy what I do.
2020 gave me a new perspective. For the sake of my own sanity I needed to do something because I had reached the point where the blog had completely taken over all my spare time. As well as the Coronavirus situation, one of our daughters ended up in hospital and was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, my Dad passed away about a month later and then my Mum ended up in hospital for several months. My new perspective was really liberating. If I was doing this full time or even 24/7 I would still never keep up.
It took a long time to come to terms with the fact I’m never going to be able to listen to and review everything I receive and the need to stop over committing and limit software reviews to a manageable amount. I think this is partly because when I started reviewing albums and software I had complete control over what I was reviewing and it took quite a while for the requests to build up to an unmanageable amount. I’ve wiped the backlog of album reviews and started over a couple of times and now apply selection criteria to what I publish to keep control. I haven’t quite stopped always over committing but I am much better.
Which brings me back to the opening question. Maybe blogs aren’t as relevant as they used to be. But they are a platform and there are precious few of those for independent artists and small labels who work tirelessly.
I’ve made a few changes. I migrated the blog to self-hosting in 2021. The process was fairly straightforward although there were some hiccups, Many posts didn’t transfer across and some were duplicated so I had to manually go through all 500 to check. I changed the format of the post link which meant that shortcode links didn’t work and I had a lot of broken links to update. I also had to learn how to use new themes and page builders. Self-hosting can be really expensive if you’re not careful. Nearly every plugin needs to be paid for with a subscription and many are quite expensive, especially when you’re not making any money. That said, I love the extra flexibility it provides, I’ve been able to add more media, finally have a reliable place to host sample packs that I’ve created and also experiment with coding. I’ve also been able to add affiliate advertising which I’m trying to keep fairly subtle rather than taking over.
Even though I took the plunge to migrate, I had made the decision to back off considerably with blog posts and making music last year. This may sound counter-intuitive because a new website needs quite a bit of promotion but once I sorted the link issue and added redirects it was a fairly seamless transition for users. Of course this massively increased the backlog but I’m fine with this. That’s because I have a much better blog / life balance and wanted to make space for other interests including liberating a guitar from the loft, I’ve started building simple instruments – that reminds me I need to post about the DIY Kalimba I made – and have plans to build a couple of pedals. I’ll keep trying new ideas, improving efficiency, work on publicising and growing the blog to keep offering a platform that can fit within my available spare time until the relevance finally diminishes.