Matthew Young has a blog called Song by Toad and he also runs a fantastic label called Song By Toad Records. He is an incredibly talented, generous and humourous human being on so many levels. He’s also a fantastic writer. I wish I’d come up with this from earlier this month:-
TEN YEARS OF SONG BY TOAD, WHY DO I FUCKING BOTHER?
First things first: the answer to the above question is that I have absolutely no fucking idea why I bother.
Secondly: I have absolutely no idea if I’ve been doing this for exactly ten years, but I know it’s roughly there or thereabouts. It may not have a date stamp, but the first review I ever wrote was of Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, and that was released in April 2004, so I guess ten years is a reasonable guess.
It’s not strictly ten years of Song, by Toad either, because when I first started writing about music on the internet I didn’t call it Song, by Toad and it wasn’t a blog, initially. I just fired up reviews on a static site which nobody read.
I only discovered blogs a couple of years later, and realised that I was actually writing one already, so I moved everything over to Blogger and suddenly there I was, writing a blog like so many others. And the rest, of course, is history – if you know about the site you probably know it all already, and if you don’t then you probably don’t care.
I suppose I have to mark a (vague) ten-year anniversary one way or another though, and I suppose I’ve lived through the full cycle of blogging as it emerged, peaked and now seems to be petering out somewhat.
I say that, but people who talk about the death of blogging annoy me now as much as journalists who, back when it first emerged, would say that blogging was killing journalism. Blogging is simply a form of writing, and any good writer should be able to write a compelling blog. Blogging itself has simply been incorporated into mainstream journalism, and there are also more and more ways for amateur enthusiasts to get involved these days, so it would be daft to say that blogging is in decline.
What is in decline, though, is the sense that blogs are the drivers of the broader music conversation*. Back in about 2007 or 2008 they – or we, I suppose – seemed to be where an increasing number of fans went to read about new music. But that audience seems to have wandered off recently and blogging has diffused into dozens of different variations, from online magazines like Drowned in Sound, which publishes plenty of bloggy pieces but is still basically a magazine in digital form, to Twitter, which is published fan participation at its most minimal.
If you think about it, back when they first began to rise to prominence, blogs were the embodiment of the promise of the internet. Interactivity, amateur involvement, instant reactions… all the things we still talk about now. But back then there was no social media, for example, so all the silly conversations we see on Facebook and Twitter now actually used to take place in forums and in the comments sections on blogs. The informal nature of the writing was a welcome change to the rather stuffy world of real music journalism as well, but they learned their lesson pretty fast, and now professional journalists (being talented writers, generally) write some of the best blogs out there.
Most prominent bloggers with ambition either parlayed their status into jobs in the music industry itself or turned their blogs into online magazines, and the emergence of these has filled a large amount of the space between the amateur and the professional music press which bloggers had briefly threatened to overrun on their own.
Random chatter has now moved to social media as well, and as a consequence not only have blogs’ readerships declined, but that argumentative bickering in the comments section has moved elsewhere as well, and with it the obvious evidence of an engaged audience which made blogs so enticing to a music industry which, in 2009, had pretty much no idea where its audience had gone.
Nowadays, we know. Music fans are all over social media, they supply all their listening stats on Spotify, and with Soundcloud and YouTube embeds it is pretty easy to gauge exactly how much traction a newly released song has gained. Blogs somehow seem so old fashioned these days.
Partly, they have destroyed themselves, I must say. Posting and re-posting all the same old shit, regurgitating press releases, needless click-baiting, it all seems a bit passionless and craven. Some people made a real name for themselves with their blogs and it seems a lot of people are entering into the field with that as the goal from the start, rather than just for the joy of writing.
Back then, people blogged for loads of reasons. Some of those reasons are better served by social media these days, and others by other forms of participating in the music industry. Not all that many people wrote blogs for the particular joy of writing, or even because they thought of themselves as writers. They weren’t, they were music fans, blogging was just a way of enjoying music.
But I think that’s why I am still going some ten years later, when most people have a two or three-year trajectory from starting off to petering out. As well as music, I actually love writing and I always have. Song, by Toad isn’t just about reviews or finding the most acest new music ever, I just enjoy sitting down at the keyboard and wondering what nonsense is going to emerge this time.
It’s a pretty standard artistic cop-out to say that I don’t really expect people to read this blog, but I don’t. I’d like people to read it of course, but it’s not something I expect. There are more informed and analytical writers out there, and god knows what most people make of my music taste.
I’ve no idea where I’m going from here, either. There’s no real sense that I want to stop, although I would imagine that it’s pretty obvious that the label is taking more and more of my time these days. But two things come together here at Song, by Toad – my love of music, which writing the blog has enabled me to explore to levels I never really imagined, and my enjoyment of the act of writing.
I rarely know what I am going to write about, and although I think about albums a lot before I write about them, I never really plan the actual thrust of a write-up or think about phraseology or anything like that, I just sit down and write. And it’s fun. And I guess that’s probably why I’m still going after ten years when so many people who started at the same time has quit.
*Awful expression, I know. Sorry.
Matthew didn’t add any songs to that particular posting, so I’m going to post a few things you’ll find on his label, beginning with an old song from probably the best-known act on Song By Toad Records:-
mp3 : Meursault – A Few Kind Words
Now a songs taken from Imaginary Walls Collapse, a release that should have been named Scottish Album of The Year 2013 (but somehow it didn’t even make the final shortlist of 10)
mp3 : Adam Stafford – Cold Seas
And finally, something rather beautiful and moving from Bastard Mountain, a Scottish indie/folk supergroup (of sorts!) given that they consist of Pete Harvey & Neil Pennycook from Meursault, Jill O’Sullivan from Sparrow & the Workshop, Rob St. John from eagleowl & Meursault, Rory Sutherland from Broken Records & Reuben Taylor from James Yorkston & the Athletes.
mp3 : Bastard Mountain – Meadow Ghosts
Now get yourself over to this website and spend some money.
More Friends Electric next Monday