Tag Archives: Blogging

End of Year lists – a lukewarm take

24 Nov

It’s that time of year again, when thoughts inevitably turn to lists. Lists for Santa, naughty lists and of course, year end lists on music blogs such as this one and beyond. The tradition of listing things has existed since man first learnt to count and cave walls were adorned with pieces such as “Top 10 Rocks in the valley” (number 7 will astound you). Yet the practice of presenting a year end list is not without controversy. Something that is especially true when ranking the previous year’s music.

Aside from the very obvious question of what criteria to use when determining your list; favourites, most played, most sing-along-able, best (whatever that actually means) there is also the very important question of when you should do your list.

Now, we have said somethings on twitter in the past about waiting as long as you can and making sure you have time to fully appreciate the art of an album etc etc. Naturally, that can sound fairly pretentious and really music is about whatever you want it to be. One man’s art for example, is another man’s Pitbull. That said, we do feel that albums need time to get lost in and to explore. On more than one occasion our opinions have changed on records we initially thought were amazing – but on repeat listen turned out to be less so.

We also stand by our comment about waiting to post a year end list, at least until the year has actually ended.

Just to clarify before we go any further, we are talking about year in review lists here. Best album, single, video and the like. We are not talking about Tips for the future lists. In our opinion they can be posted whenever you like. If you think someone has the potential to be successful, it doesn’t really matter when you tell people. Hell, shout it as soon as you think it if you want. No, this is just about lists that look back over the previous 12 months musical output, but don’t include all 12 months.

To our mind, you cannot really represent a full year’s music in your list when the year is not even over. Granted, it is impossible to represent a full years list as there is no way you can have listened to everything that has been released in that time period, but at least give yourself a chance.

We’ve done it ourselves before, of course. We have written and been involved in year end lists that were compiled well in advance so they could be posted in December. Yet in so doing we have missed many great records from our lists. For example, John Grant’s Queen of Denmark is one of our favourite albums of the last decade, yet never appeared on our end of year list. We had started compiling it so early that we never got round to listening before publication. More recently we have tried to wait until January to publish our lists, to use the holiday period to catch up on records we had missed, and to give more time to those we have loved in the year.

Yet the race to be first still exists within the blog and music journalism world. The desperate charge to get your opinion out first, to plant your flag and claim a narrative as your own dominates the internet.

Take a look at the list of albums still to be released this year. The 1975, Clean Bandit, Earl Sweatshirt are all scheduled to release music between now and 31 December. And that doesn’t allow for any surprise releases either. Despite this, some publications have already posted their best of 2018 lists.

It’s true that some of these lists are from retail outlets and those lists in particular are hard to read without a degree of cynicism. We know that the people involved are incredibly passionate about music and probably know more about it and hear more of it than 99% of the population. Yet, when you see a list released in mid-November that is dominated by records that coincidently happen to come with exclusive releases available only in that store, it’s hard to see it as little more than an attempt to increase sales before Christmas.

In reality, that may be where our frustration comes from most. Seeing high quality, reputable establishments jump ridiculously early to cash in. Maybe our ire is misplaced and in reality, grumbling about when people post their end of year lists is a futile exercise. As we said, music means different things to different people and we should all be allowed to interpret it, enjoy it and experience it however we like. Perhaps the same should be true of end of year lists. Just do whatever you want, whenever you want. Even if the year is only 90% complete.

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Why we write, or: How we learned to stop worrying about hits and love the music.

15 Nov

blog

‘Why do you write about music?’ is a question we are occasionally asked (usually immediately after people discover we make no money from it and how much time it takes) and is one that fundamentally is easy to answer. Because we enjoy it. It may sound facetious to say so, but it is true and we feel it is the most important part of blogging. If you don’t enjoy it, why do it right?

That’s a serious question by the way. Blogging should be fun and for some, well we don’t get that impression anymore. We often find ourselves befuddled by the occasional blogger outburst and woe-is-me-isms that pepper our twitter feed from time to time. Those that complain and grumble about how hard their life is with so many emails in their inbox that need dealing with, on top of working a full-time job and going out to gigs. But that’s the same of all of us surely?

We did a quick survey on Twitter last week, asking bloggers how many unread mails they had in their inbox and the responses ranged from the tightly managed 15 or so, up through the few hundred, the couple of thousand all the way to the majestic (and terrifying) 68,000. Yet none of the bloggers who responded were complaining about how many mails they got, usually upwards of 100 a day, nor have they done so via social media. Why would they? They, like us, are in the privileged position of being given access to music first and for free. There are sometimes invites to gigs, offers of access to some of our favourite artists for interviews and the like, downloads of albums months in advance of their release etc. We fail to see why or how this is a hardship, especially when we have chosen to put ourselves in this position in the first place.

And that’s the thing, no one has told us to do this, we are not being forced, we (and we presume this is the case for our peers) have found something we enjoy and have chosen to pursue it. Blogging isn’t hard, not really. The hard part is making the music in the first place, writing it, finessing it, recording it and then having the bollocks to send it out to a bunch of random people to (hopefully) profess their love for it to an even more random collection of people online. That’s the difficult bit, that’s the bit that takes effort and guts. To then complain about the amount of people that are doing this and sending it to you is, we feel, disrespectful to the artists and frankly, makes you look like a prick. Sorry, but it does. ‘Oh no, lots and lots of people are sending stuff to entertain and excite me, for free. My life sucks’ Nah, doesn’t wash with us.

Most of us are in the same position. Very few of us make money from blogging and those that do (we don’t – the ads on the site belong to WordPress, not us) probably don’t make that much. Most, if not all, of us have day jobs and many of us have families and children to spend time with and look after. All of this eats into potential listening and writing time, but if you genuinely enjoy what you are doing, it won’t feel like a chore when you get to it. None of the bloggers who responded to our twitter query have complained about their inbox size, or the fact that they have to write on top of a day job, because it is a choice.

Is there too much music for any one of us to handle? Probably, and the very talented Joe over at A New Band A Day wrote a great blog piece on this recently; but there isn’t really too much music for all of us. Not good music anyway. As individuals, we don’t have to do everything, we can pick or choose and write what we like, as often as we like, and collectively we will probably end up covering a good proportion of the quality artists out there.

If you don’t have the time for blogging or don’t enjoy it anymore, if it feels like a job or a chore that has to be done, just stop. That may sound harsh and perhaps others do it for a different reason to us so it does feel more like a job to them, but really, spending your free time doing something you openly complain about just sounds daft to us.

We don’t imagine we’ll be blogging forever but we will be doing it for as long as we choose to and for as long as we enjoy it.

And we do enjoy it, we love it in fact.

We’re going to level with you, Alphabet Bands is not that widely read. Not really. We came along after the music blog boom of a few years ago and are not one of the established big boys. We’re not read by and referred to by tastemakers, radio dj’s or Guardian music bloggers. We don’t have a team of writers who can help increase traffic with a greater number of posts and promotion either. But that doesn’t matter; it’s not why we are here, though to be honest it took us a little while to understand that.

When we first started doing this properly, just after the birth of Alphabet Bands Jr V2, we saw what we thought was quite a rapid rise in hits. Not to anything very high but enough that we got excited. Since then the rise has continued but very gradually and from month to month there might be a slight fall or a slight rise in visits. We used to get quite engrossed in this and more pertinently, vexed as to why a piece we were quite proud of wasn’t being read. For example, we interviewed quite a popular band sometime ago, took the time to write up what we thought was a solid piece that approached them from a different angle to the norm and were very happy with the results. Then hardly anyone read it.

Honestly, we questioned why we blogged at that point. Why put in all that effort and take all that time if no bugger was going to read the result?

It took a little while for us to realise that actually, the fun had been before. In meeting the band, spending time with them, asking questions and getting to know them and then in finding the story within the interview. Crafting the narrative arc in an engaging and entertaining (we hoped) manner. Once we did that, we knew that hits weren’t important. It was about how much we enjoyed the whole process and in understanding that we felt liberated, much more in control, and much more capable as well. Of course, we still don’t really understand how a PR company can send you three emails in 18 hours asking for an album review and then not even RT you when you write said (positive) review. We don’t understand it, but it bothers us a lot less than it would have 18 months ago.

Perhaps the way we have chosen to approach the blog has allowed us this freedom. We don’t believe that we are offering bands a service, not really. It’s great when an artist tells us how much they enjoyed our post or that our writing about them has really helped, but we know our place in the world; we know that there is a limit to what we can do. That may be doing ourselves down somewhat but as we said, making the music is the hard bit; we just listen, write and hope that some people might read and enjoy it.

We have no aspiration to work in the music industry either, to show people how good an ear we have and how we are ahead of the curve. We’ve put a couple of gigs on recently as a happy by-product of blogging, because we have developed relationships with artists we are fans of and want to see play live, so we have done. That’s not from a desire to become a promoter, but because Norwich is still an occasional stop on a tour rather than a go to city, so if we want to see bands up here, we’re going to book them ourselves.

We don’t race to post first either; the odd occasion when we have done (and we have done a bit recently) has come about, again, from those good relationships with bands and some PRs that have allowed us a reasonable amount of time to listen before a track has gone live. Because we love to listen to music, to spend time with it and get to know it rather than be writing a post halfway through the very first play of a song.

We love to let music wash over us; get under our skin, provoking an emotional and visual response as we do. There’s a lot to be said for just sitting back, closing your eyes and letting a song take you by the hand on a journey to who knows what. By doing so we’ve found whole new worlds of aural excitement opening up before our ears and eyes. So much so that in recent weeks our posts have become much more visual themselves, which is a lot of fun. Letting it unfurl before you and seeing within a song to sounds that rise like a Kraken, or lurk with unfettered menace beneath a city, or is a Scooby-Do ghost train, or like entering the mouth of a cave is a fantastic and hugely enjoyable feeling, and one we feel privileged to be able to share with you, regardless of how many of you there are.



We’re up all night to get blogging…

5 Nov

blogathon

Alphabet Bands has been going for a little over two years now and in that time we’ve been lucky enough to make some great friends in and around the music industry, been given countless albums and singles for free and even the odd concert ticket and piece of merchandise. It’s opened doors that have led to radio appearances, gig promotion and even judging talent competitions. In short, it’s given us a lot, and now it’s time to give something back. To use it for someone else’s gain other than ours and the bands we have profiled.

When Breaking More Waves’ head honcho Robin Seamer mentioned a couple of weeks ago that he was going to do a 24 Hour Blogathon for charity, we were instantly struck by the simple genius of the idea and we knew it was something we wanted to be a part of.

Robin, being the amiable sort of chap he is, was more than happy for us to take part (if nothing else it means we’ll have someone else to tweet at and talk to at 4am) and help raise more money for the charity we both chose, Cancer Research.

So, on 31 January 2014, we too will be blogging non-stop for 24 hours straight (except when nature calls of course, but we think that’s only fair) and we would very much like it if some of you could sponsor us, even if it’s just £1. In this case, every little really does help.

Cancer is an illness that effects so many of us and can destroy the lives of more than just those unlucky enough to contract it. It’s affected our friends and family and it has possibly affected yours in some way, shape or form as well.

Whether you are a friend, family member, colleague, reader of the site, band we have (or have not yet) supported, member of the music industry or just a kind hearted soul, please donate as much as you feel you can to support Cancer research and help find a way to beat this illness once and for all.

There’s a song at the end for you to enjoy and be inspired by when debating sponsorship 🙂

Thank you.

Adam H.

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