As we nip away from the computer for a few moments to give our eyes a break and to grab something to eat (that’s totally allowed btw) we didn’t want to leave you without anything to read. So we had a bit of a chat with the founder of this madcap feast of blogging, the brains behind Blogathon and all round good egg, Robin Seamer.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Robin is editor of Breaking More Waves, a fully independent and unfunded new music blog from south-central UK and a purveyor of A.M.A.Z.I.N.G new music. He is also the man who came up with the idea to bog for 24 hours in the name of charity.
We spoke to him, digitally, about his site, his love of pop music, his reasons for blogging all night long, sexy songs and whether or not he is a robot (he’s not sure). Have a read, get to know Robin a little better, go sponsor him and we’ll see you after lunch.
Let’s start at the beginning. Breaking More Waves used to be a paper fanzine so for those of us who weren’t around at the start; can you tell us a bit about that? How long have you been writing, when you decided to move online and why?
The paper fanzine was called Breaking Waves and was first published way back in 1997 (showing my age here – I really am the oldest blogger in town / on the internet). The very first issue was 38 pages long and contained an 18 page review of Glastonbury Festival written in a diary style. Here’s some extracts from that review:
23.00 When Daft Punk take to the stage I am very glad that we have a small amount of water left in one of our bottles to drink as it has become incredibly packed and hot. Things I love about their set….the funky boys and girls in the audience, the mad woman climbing the scaffolding column at the end, my “I’m sorted for E’s stare even though the strongest thing I’ve had is a little bottle of beer.”
00.16 Tent. Cappuccinos. You know the score.
It’s fair to say that even back in 1997 I wasn’t your typical drug taking, get off your face festival goer and I’m still not now.
Anyway I pressed 100 copies of that first fanzine, sold them all and then went on to do a number of further issues. Issue 3 had a 16 page review of a compilation album called Snakebite City, which consisted of me and a friend reviewing every single song on the album whilst also reviewing alcopops at the same time. 1 song = 1 bottle of alcopop, My review of the last track (after a lot of drink simply read as follows: “What a crap name for a band – Spud. Sorry Spud if I was sober I’d give you a better mark for your song. 3/10.”
I moved on line for very simple reasons – it was easier and cheaper to produce (no printing) and you could reach more people. I also like the idea of being able to write something short and quick daily and then publish, whereas a 16 page review of a compilation album whilst drinking alcopops, whilst being a lot of fun, was very time consuming and having become a father as anyone with kids and a full time job knows, time is precious.
I am king of the procrastinators and can make one 300 word post last all night. You on the other hand often write a week worth of posts in one afternoon and I am extremely jealous of your ability to write so well, so quickly. What’s your secret?
I really don’t think I write well and there’s no secret. I just bash out the first thing that comes into my head. Bosh bosh bosh, done. I’m not a journalist so I don’t need to spend time perfecting my craft; a lot of my posts are more about trying to have a conversation with the reader. I guess because I spend a lot of my spare time thinking about music (I’m full of ever evolving and changing theories about pop) and talking to friends about music, when it comes to writing I already have lots of ideas in my head and they just spill out onto the screen. Not all of my posts are reviews as such, much of what I churn out is more the inner workings of my brain rather than critical appraisal or quality writing. There are also often within the text in jokes for friends and occasionally coded messages for certain readers who I know are reading, but nobody else will realise that. For example this post about one of those ‘mystery’ bands gave a very subtle clue as to the real identity of the mystery band. So subtle probably only the band themselves realised.
What I really like about your writing is how immediate it is; you can feel the strand going from the song, into your brain and out onto the page and it is always very positive. Have you ever been tempted to just tear into a song you didn’t like?
Not these days no. I’ve re-appraised criticism and have decided that as I have very little spare time I’d rather spend that spare time positively rather than wading in negativity. A lot of my day job is spent dealing with complaints and unbelievable levels of bureaucracy plus colleagues that I work with moaning and that can very easily bring you down. So in my spare time (not just the blog, but other aspects of my life away from work) I like to fill the air with positivity. Having said all that there are occasions when I’ll get a bit sarcastic on twitter about a terrible song, but it’s rare.
Have you always written in this conversational style or did you go through what’d I call a ‘Petridis Phase’ where reviews are practically dissertations with reference upon reference?
It’s mainly been conversational I think.
Where do you stand on the state of music criticism these days? Does such a thing even exist anymore?
For people who aren’t free time rich or don’t listen to music all day long it can be useful to read a few reviews by writers you trust to get an idea about an album you might be considering buying (that is if you buy albums of course rather than stream them). Also it can be useful to a band – a few good quotes can be nice for their promotional campaign for a record. However, there’s no doubt over the last 10 years music criticism has become of lesser value and to a certain extent I think its quality has deteriorated. Many reviews seem to be written in a homogenised house style these days and you get no sense of the person behind the review, therefore it makes it difficult to determine if the reviewer shares similar taste to you. Yes and I mean taste, I don’t think it’s truly possible to give an ‘objective review’. They’re dull. I’d rather read a review of someone with opinions and bias. Even if I don’t agree with the review I’ll have probably got some entertainment out of reading it and that means it wasn’t a waste of my time.
What tips would you give to anyone starting a new blog? Is there a code of etiquette we should be following?
If you want people to read your blog regularly you need to do something a little bit different as there’s already loads of them out there. So just posting a song up and writing ‘Cool jam’ won’t keep people coming back, no matter how good that jam is because one day you’ll post a jam that isn’t cool – even if you think it is.
Also do it regularly, make it a habit, even if it’s once a week or once a month – because it’s easy to get started but so many blogs don’t even make it past the first year. Oh and don’t worry about the hits. They’ll come with time.
Etiquette? Hmmm – well don’t post dodgy MP3’s for free download that you don’t have consent to post. Make sure you use a band’s official Soundcloud / Bandcamp or the like.
What other blogs do you read?
I’ve just recently reduced my RSS feed to just a few blogs, because I had so many that I couldn’t read them properly. So now I only subscribe to yours, Von Pip Musical Express and Just Music That I Like. However I’ll regularly dip into Crack In the Road, The Blue Walrus, Disco Naivete, Brighton Music Blog, The Metaphoric Boat, Daisy Digital, Sounds Good To Me Too, A New Band A Day and also Strong Island which isn’t a music blog as such but a brilliant and well respected culture blog for the city I live in (Portsmouth). Apart from Disco Naivete (which is from Belgium) they are all UK ones. Recently I’ve also started looking at Pigeons & Planes, Hilly Dilly and Oblivious Pop in the US a bit as I’ve noticed through Hype Machine that they post quite a lot of similar tracks to me.
Can you tell us about the Blog Sound Poll? Bands on the longlist this year seem to have been genuinely pleased and appreciative of the whole thing; where did the idea come from and how pleased are you with how it has grown over the years?
Basically the idea came from a conversation that myself, Andy Von Pip (Von Pip Musical Express) and Simon (Sweeping The Nation) had a few years ago about the BBC Sound Of List. Whilst I have a lot of respect for the BBC list in terms of promoting new music (I was asked to vote on it once myself) we felt that it didn’t necessarily represent the taste of music bloggers, so we thought we’d try an experiment to find out and created our own alternative Sound of poll which only asked music bloggers to vote. The first year the results were very different from the Sound Of list, the next year there was some similarity (Haim won both polls) and this year there was a lot of difference again, although some BBC nominated acts still made the Blog Sound list and this year one of the joint winners (Banks) came in the top 5 shortlist on the BBC poll.
I’m a massive statistics geek and so as the person who counts the votes I get a kick out of seeing how all the votes add up. I’m pleased it’s got a bit of recognition; just because it makes the time doing it seem worthwhile. I certainly had more music industry people contacting me after the longlist was announced to ask questions about it this year and the artists nominated seemed genuinely pleased which was nice. It was also nice to see some unsigned and independent bands get nominations on the list, rather than it just being full of major label plugged acts. The list isn’t about ‘what will be big in 2014’ it’s about ‘who do the most bloggers like’.
You include a good mix of the pretty much brand new or unknown as well as some quite buzzy acts. How do you choose what gets posted and what doesn’t?
Simple – just what I like the most that day and / or acts that I’m a fan of and want to support. I’d never post something just because it was buzzy and likewise I’d never post something just because it was obscure and nobody had written about it. I just post music I like.
Have you ever posted and effused about something that you’ve then gone back to and thought; this is just rubbish?
Yes. Loads! But pop music is all about relationships isn’t it and you can’t get it right every time. In fact that’s part of the fun. Like the boy or girl that you meet, fall instantly head over heels with, but a year later after countless arguments you wonder” what did I see in you in the first place.” It’s like that.
You don’t just write about music, you’re also a judge for the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition which requires you to listen to what, 100 new artists? How do you find the time?
I think it was 200 artists last year. A combination of good time management and lack of sleep. I’m doing it again this year.
On a similar note, you go to more gigs and festivals than practically anyone I know, often travelling quite far for them, how do you find the time?
Same answer as above. Lack of sleep. Also I’m lucky in that my day job has flexible working hours so if I’m going to a gig a distance away I can finish work early, come in a bit later the next day and catch up on my hours on quieter days. But generally lack of sleep. I’m hoping that will work to my advantage in this blogathon, I’m always constantly tired anyway, so a few more hours should make much difference should it?
What’s the furthest you’ve travelled for a gig and what was the most expensive?
For a single gig? Probably last year to see Girls Aloud in Glasgow (I live at the other end of the country in Portsmouth). But I do have friends there, so the trip was also to see them.
People talking at gigs are a nightmare as is the constant filming of shows on phones and tablets. What would you do to improve the gig going experience?
We gave some suggestions about talking at gigs here.
Phones and tablets are difficult to control. I don’t mind people taking a few snaps at the start of the show (I often do myself) is fine but it does get annoying when someone films the whole gig. I think it needs to be a combination of the venue, artist and audience themselves taking the responsibility to reduce the behaviour, but it’s hard – what is the right / acceptable level – and how do you actually enforce?
You’ve also offered large and long lasting support to a number of new acts, I can think of a couple in particular who no one but you was writing about to start with but who now have quite a following. Is there anyone out there you are particularly proud of discovering?
Alice Jemima. A completely random discovery who I started writing about before any other music blog and kept writing about until other people started to take notice – not just bloggers either. One of my favourite days of last year was when Alice got invited to record a BBC Radio 1 Session at Maida Vale which came about directly because of my blog. Alice was kind enough to invite me to attend the session with her and going to Maida Vale, which is so steeped in music history, was a huge thing for me. Then watching Alice absolutely nail one of her songs (When You Dance) pretty much first time at the session was an incredibly moving moment – I have to admit I shed a little tear and couldn’t speak (most unlike me) for a few minutes – the whole thing actually became quite overwhelming. Yeah I know I’m a lightweight, but it really was powerful stuff – which is the beauty of music isn’t it?
As a follow up to that, you don’t appear to rush to be first yet still manage to write about a lot of people before many of us have even heard of them. Where do you stand on the race to be first and is it actually important?
Yes and no. Here’s something else I wrote about that.
It’s probably fair to say that you favour female fronted synth/electro pop acts. Has that always been the case or have other genres had their moment in the sun? Have you ever had a death metal phase for example?
I do seem to the last few years don’t I? Well I’ve always liked electronic music (but then I like other instruments as well – I’m not a purist) and recently I just seem to find more female vocals move me than male ones. Can’t really explain why, that’s just the way it is. If you rummaged through my CD collection you’d be surprised though. I’m a music fan which means I love lots of music. From Aphex Twin to Abba. From My Bloody Valentine to Madonna. Not a huge metal fan though – that is one area that I’ve never really got anything from.
You talk about how sexy a song is quite a lot, more than me even, is that something you particularly look for in a tune or is that just one way music excites you?
It’s more than just if it’s sexy – for me there’s a huge comparison between human relationships and your relationship with music. Some music might be a one night stand shag against the wall, other music will be the stuff of marriage.
What’s the sexiest song you’ve ever heard?
Aaaarrrgggghhhh I don’t know. Ok off the top of my head here’s a few….
Slow by Kylie Minogue
Babies by Pulp (sort of sordid sexy – like many Pulp songs – I like that)
Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb (I find the woman’s voice on it quite sexy)
Pretty much anything by Giorgio Moroder
Of all the music bloggers I know, you are the most open about your love of pop music, I don’t think anyone else ever included Girls Aloud in an albums of the year countdown for example. Why do you think so many other writers shy away from it as a genre and why do you love it so much?
I guess they just don’t like pop music, or if they do don’t think its worthy enough to dedicate their words to. Actually I take that back – I’d argue that there’s been loads of writing about pop music with people expressing their love for it over the last few years. Lana Del Rey, Chvrches, Haim and Lorde are all artist producing pop music that I enjoy and have had plenty of column inches of praise.
Have you always been a music lover? What was the first record you bought?
Single – Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter Paul and Mary
Album – The Muppet Show album or The Smurfs album. (Can’t remember which came first)
I was very little when I bought these.
My first ‘proper’ purchase was XTC Senses Working Overtime
Ok, let’s talk favourites. What’s your favourite ever song?
I don’t have one. I’m a polygamist when it comes to music.
If you could be in one music video, which one would it be?
One with Nicola Roberts in it (just so I could be a fan boy and meet her. I know it’s wrong….but there you are.)
What’s the best gig you’ve ever been to?
I’ve seen over 3000 bands live so again I’m a polygamist. I can’t choose 1 over all others.
Ok, a few sillies now. How do you know you’re not a robot?
Because I just Googled “Is Robin Seamer a robot” and it didn’t say I was. Mind you it didn’t say I wasn’t either. Oh, help!!! (Neither is Marina and the Diamonds by the way)
Do you like cooking or baking best?
Cooking. My two kids love baking so I leave that to them. Baking you have to be so precise with weights and measurements of everything, cooking’s a bit more flexible and that suits me
Who would win in a fight between Lion-o and He-man?
I actually have no idea what you’re talking about – is it a TV show (I watch very little TV) I just googled the question (because Google knows the answer to everything except if I’m a robot) and it comes up with this “He-man would win. Lion-O is just a boy in a man/lion body who needs his snarf. He-man has superior strength compared to Lion-o, better hand-to-hand combat experience, endurance, and speed” So there you are. Google has spoken.
What’s your favourite cheese?
I’m kind of a cheese polygamist as well – and it depends on the context of use (if I’m going to get a bit highbrow about cheese). But for the sake of giving an answer I do like a nice bit of really mature cheddar and also I’m a bit of a feta fan.
Before we go, let’s talk Blogathon. Where did the idea come from and what did your family say when you told them?
It originally came from the fact that my dad died a few years ago from cancer and I haven’t really done anything related to it. One day I was talking to my girlfriend about the fact that I’d really love to do something of real positive intent with the blog and the two ideas just gelled in my brain. My family just said “you’ll be tired”. Which was kind of obvious really wasn’t it?
How are you planning on staying awake for the duration?
By not shutting my eyes and slapping myself around the face a bit. Also I believe that its harder to sleep if you’re cold so I’ll be doing the whole thing stark naked with the freezer door open. Maybe.
Are you going to go straight to bed when you finish or do you have plans? Are you out gigging on Saturday?
I’ll let you know on Saturday at 10.00am.
Finally, what are your hopes and aims for the Blogathon?
Simple – to raise some cash for Cancer Research (I’ve already hit my target – I doubted if anyone would be interested in sponsoring me for something that really isn’t that much of a challenge – but if anyone else wants to sponsor me I’d love to raise a bit more). It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done with the blog.
This post was written as part of a 24 Hour Sponsored Blogathon for Cancer Research.
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