A year ago today, Country California was born. There wasn’t much planning involved (there still isn’t): I decided to start a blog, chose a title, set everything up, and wrote and published my first post all on April 23. Since it was a quiet beginning, this will be a quiet birthday. I’ll try to think up something a little more exciting for June 27, the day I blew the dust off and started it up again in earnest – this time, with a couple readers.
Country music blogs have only become more important over the past year. The folding of No Depression signaled a major change in the wind. While ND’s vision of country wasn’t quite my own, the magazine undeniably provided a great deal of top-notch, in-depth music coverage. And they got to the point where they couldn’t make it pay as a print publication. Then they tried the website thing and they couldn’t make that pay either. So now they’ve gone to a community site, phasing out the stable of professional writers in favor of citizen bloggers. That’s sort of a case study in what’s happening to music coverage everywhere.
Basically, it’s going online. As the shift continues, I hope that the people who started out on blogs (including myself, to whom this advice is secretly addressed) will approach their work with a renewed vigor and sense of responsibility. The quality of the content doesn’t matter much if we assume that blogs are merely supplementing or responding to conversations held in print or in popular culture. But as print fades from dominance and CMT seems more interested in running reality shows and asking us to admire the brilliance of Dann Huff than providing substantive coverage, those ‘conversations elsewhere’ are happening less and less. And that makes independent blogs not so supplementary anymore.
My dawning realization is that we’re coming upon a time when the audience of bloggers commenting on The Big Show (for audiences of their own) suddenly realize that they are the big show. The main attraction is what’s happening here (on blogs, not on this particular one); the rest of the music industry is scrambling to keep up. As a blogger, if you’re not turning out material worthy of top billing, you’re missing an opportunity.
One thing I wonder about is what will happen to long-form articles of the sort that ND used to publish. As it is, many of the long articles that make it online tend to come from print sources – like that recent Dolly Parton article in New York Magazine. As newspapers and magazines continue to struggle, will they be able to support the creation of that sort of content? If they take their acts wholly online, will they be able to make it pay and stay in business? And what about bloggers? Conventional wisdom holds that blog writing should be quick and snappy, easily scannable so that people can get the gist of it without attending to every word. But as primary sources shut down, that concept of blog writing will have to change. Because if the really meaty conversation about country music doesn’t happen online, it won’t happen anywhere. Sane people aren’t starting up periodicals these days.
Of course, the problem with extensive, scholarly type music coverage is that it takes time to develop. And when people devote that much time to something, they tend to want some reimbursement. If blogs are going to attract the highest caliber of talent and support them in producing their best-quality work, they’re going to have to figure out some way to make it pay. There aren’t many great writers willing to work for free.
I don’t know the answer to the monetization problem. I’ll let people smarter than me figure that out. My personal solution, admittedly quite limited, is to forget about trying to make it pay (in fact, I’m paying to write for you) and focus instead on trying to make it quality – to hold myself accountable for producing the best content I can, day in and day out, and to take seriously my responsibility to contribute positively to the online conversation (which is, increasingly, the main conversation). That’s easier said than done, but I’ll give it my best shot.
So, as I embark on the second year of this journey, my goal (here and at The 9513) is to be less supplementary. That doesn’t mean being entirely serious, since I’m convinced that there’s a lot of truth in a good laugh. But it does mean stretching out a bit, following my own muse, and coming into my own as a primary source. There are many changes afoot here and elsewhere in the world of blogging, so I’m excited for the year ahead.
Anyway, that’s all the rambling for now. Thanks for indulging me, and for your support over the past year.