“Are you sick of this sh*t yet?” reads the first sentence of Pitchfork’s “Top 10 Albums of 1999” article published in 2001. “...Let's not forget the New York Times' incredibly out- of- touch list of the 25 best albums of all time. (One word: No.)” The introduction reads like an angry college student madly pounding at their keyboard, more concerned with establishing a flippant attitude towards mainstream music journalism than introducing a list for the best albums of the year. A Pitchfork article beginning in such a manner in the year 2015 would raise eyebrows with its complete lack of professionalism, yet it was this exact attitude that propelled the website into the cornerstone for independent music journalism that so many regard it as today.
Yet gone are the days where posting a video of a monkey peeing in its own mouth was an acceptable review for a Jet album. While still on the website, the hilarious review contrasts sharply with what Pitchfork has become today: a multimedia company equipped with festivals, marketing deals and, most importantly, a reputation to uphold. Every rebellious blog or magazine eventually has to settle down in the realm of mainstream media. The legendary Rolling Stone went from breaking stories about the most influential rock musicians of the century to a dentist-office waiting room periodical. Every fiery voice in music journalism has to quell at some point. The real question is, what’s next?
As The Daily Cardinal works to increase its online presence, it seems fitting to talk about the current state of music journalism on the web. It seems like every 20 seconds a new music blog is conceived into the digital world. Some survey micro-micro-subgenres while others dedicate their existence to lauding the complete discography and general existence of Bon Jovi (Shout out to the blog, Blame It On The Love).
Contrary to music veteran skepticists who scoff at their imagined coffee-shop faux hipsters hacking away at their Macbooks, music blogs do in fact have the power to make or break artists and albums; Style of Sound puts out a seasonal publication of the 100 most influential music blogs in the form of a hardcover book, and websites like Noisey and Tiny Mix Tapes are increasingly becoming a medium for up-and-coming artists to explode into popular media.
But as music blogs go through journalistic puberty from raving blog posts written in a college dorm into professional websites for media discovery and consumption, one is left wondering when the next Rolling Stone or Pitchfork will appear, the next creation that doesn’t just critique music history but also becomes a part of it, the next publication that doesn’t go through the motions of the monetization lifecycle but pushes its medium into the future.
My bet is on Internet radio. While the term brings to mind humdrum podcasts recorded in a suburban garage, many are realizing its full potential to deliver the sound of artists around the world. Take Radar Radio in London for example. Modeled after pirate radio stations like Rinse FM or the increasingly popular NTS, Radar puts an emphasis on featuring fresh acts for hours at a time. Purple Tape Pedigree—a label from New York with no more than 1,500 Soundcloud followers—nabbed a multiple-day residency at the station, allowing their sound to be heard all across the UK and abroad.
The key difference between Internet radio and music blogging lies in the fact that the artists determine their own worth and appearance to the masses. Radar Radio doesn’t spend an hour after a DJ set reviewing the performance; they move right along in their programming to the next slot, which could be taken up by anyone from a bedroom producer in South London to established DJs like Hyperdub’s Ikonika and London club superstar Amy Becker. Atlanta’s Awful Records just came through to host a show, and grime crews spitting verses live in the studio is a regular sight. When pushers of music, whether it be blogs or radio or otherwise, break down the barrier between journalism and art, it allows for a development of a music community where everyone involved benefits.
While more performance than journalism, Radar Radio presents an alternative for new artists to be discovered in the Internet era. Imagine if producers of Jersey club had a radio station in Newark broadcasting their sound to the world. That community might have been able to take control of their own musical destiny instead of having their sound snatched and commercialized by Mad Decent, the music mogul infamous for appropriating local sounds into whitewashed commercial successes.
Another sign of Radar Radio’s potential to be a part of musical history is its rebellious nature. Guests are free to drink and smoke before, during and after their sets. Grime performances have the studio filled to the brim with hip-hop heads moshing to a sound that the London police force has tried for years to suppress. If the edgy attitude of early 2000s Pitchfork ascended its indie success, then a radio station that manages to be both cool and respectful to artists could make waves.
Music blogs will exist as long as the Internet does, and with good reason: It’s quite enjoyable to regularly sound off on one’s opinion on the current landscape of music as I happen to do every week here at the Cardinal. But to ascend from a hobby to a force of change requires a loss of ego. Pitchfork might not have done the comically whiny music review best, but it did it first. Music bloggers can’t strike gold twice on that trick, and many are accepting of this fact and continue writing in a similar fashion. When professional consumers of music finally put aside their ego, as I struggle with every time I write these columns, in order to better music culture and music journalism culture, the world will see a force powerful enough to shrug off the ghosts of massive labels, publications and talent agencies.