Behind the Blogs: Next Big Thing
Welcome to Behind the Blogs, WAMM’s newest weekly series! A lot of musicians and music professionals tend to view music blogs as a kind of necessary evil, something they have to feed to get their names out there. And with hundreds of thousands of music blogs in existence – and more launching every day – it’s hard for anyone to figure out which sites to invest their time and energy on.
But often, artists and professionals don’t have any sense of the motivations and challenges that drive music blogs, and Behind the Blogs is meant to change that.
Our first subject is Next Big Thing, the web version of a legendary zine of the same name founded by veteran music journalist Lindsay Hutton. Hutton wrote for Sounds and Mojo (among other publications) for decades, and in some sense, Hutton created this blog out of necessity. “It’s not feasible for me to do the print version anymore,” Hutton admitted in our e-mail conversation. “I used to take out bank loans and run up overdrafts for the greater good, but the resources aren’t there to back it up now. Maybe I’ve become more ‘responsible,’ but there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.”
In virtually every sense, Hutton is the polar opposite of the standard blogger caricature. He doesn’t post MP3s, doesn’t race to discover artists before anybody else. He didn’t even set the site up himself; a friend in Utrecht, Jeroen Vedder, set everything up in 2003, and Hutton is quick to credit Vedder for NBT’s “transition to the ‘interweb.’”
Why are you blogging? What’s in it for you?
I developed the habit of rooting for the stuff I like, with a side of spiritual accomplishment sometimes.
What, in your opinion, is your best blog entry? Why is it your favorite?
I have no idea about “best”. Quite recently I did something on Rita Redshoes and The Legendary Tigerman, both from Portugal and that got a great reaction from people there who were pleased to see these artists get coverage out in the world. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that there’s great stuff going on everywhere and these two artists in particular, are world class.
How much music do you get every week? How do you sort through it? How much time do you spend, on average, with each release?
I get a lot of unsolicited links and MP3s, dozens maybe nudging 100+ per week. In terms of actual CDs, not that many. I still buy most of the music I want, preferably vinyl. A lot of the unsolicited stuff just gets deleted because it’s patently obvious that it’s just coming by means of being added to a mailing list. If the individuals that hit send had half a clue of what we’re about then they’d recognise that there is little or no interest in what passes as R&B these days (or is it called urban now?)
It’s all processed according to what appeals to me, and who or where it’s come from. I have my trusted sources. I might spend as little as 10 seconds or as much as 10 hours depending on what hits or does not hit the spot.
Our name has become a bit of a cliché and I’m pretty sure that some people end up here when they’re looking for the glorified talent contest that goes by the same name. It would be good if we could help these individuals discover music they might like on their stopover, however brief. These days there are a number of “Next Big Thing’s”. Having taken the name from The Dictators song – with the author’s blessing – I reckon we were there first and that the others should cease and desist. Ha ha.
I do try to listen to everything although as the frequency increases, I’m very aware that something will have to be done about that. In as much as the most precious thing that someone can give you is their time, it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day and it becomes like a chore at that point. Listening to music should never become like bean counting. There is the aspect of too much and that often doesn’t give some stuff a fighting chance. You might experience two clunkers, and then the third might not be great,but would still constitute some manner of relief that it didn’t suck. I’m the most objectively subjective critter on earth, and despite all of that I can still be knocked sideways. It is also possible to recognise worth in something that doesn’t fit one’s particular regimented taste.
What kinds of submissions get your attention?
Obviously, the submissions with the $100 bill attached get most attention… No, I would say that in the first instance that everything is guilty until proven innocent. It might be a line on a press release or a photo. I can tell by e-mail blurb whether or not I want to open a file or click a link. Not much of a skill, but I’ve been doing this for a long time. Comparisons can also turn me right off, so press folks might care to consider that a possibility. It’s useful as a point of reference but sometimes very tenuous, if in any way at all accurate.
What role do you see your site playing in the music world? Do you have any goals for your blog?
NBT is there to connect people with stuff and to act as a filter. I’m not interested in posting MP3’s, I’d rather that visitors were directed somewhere they could interact with the act or label. If I can save someone from having to trawl through acres of crap to get the cream then a service has been provided.
The only tangible goal right now is to update it at least once a day. I get a little aggravated when sites and blogs are seldom refreshed with something new. Attention spans are zip as it is, without encouraging it to slide further. If someone drops by every day (as some do) then they deserve to see something new up there.
What are your top three sources for new artists? On average, how many live shows do you attend per month?
I am continually trawling for fresh produce and also old stuff I haven’t heard before. An example of that would be Black Tambourine, who have been around since the ’90s. There are also a number of individuals whose taste I trust implicitly and will check out their recommendations, an extended, worldwide A&R posse.
In terms of gigs, maybe four or six, depending on what’s on. I also travel to see something special. I go to shows like some folks go overseas to follow a football team or something. Not being a sports fan this is the same kind of vice. Anyone who hasn’t attended a gig at El Sol in Madrid needs to prioritise such an experience because it will restore their faith in going out.
What are the most significant lessons you’ve learned in your time as a blogger? How has your view of the music industry changed since you began?
You mean other than establishing once and for all that I don’t have a life? Not much. It’s important not to get bogged down in negative, mean spirited diatribes. If you don’t like something, ignore it. This isn’t about trying to establish me or us. It’s about providing a platform or maybe a springboard. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment to know that folks have discovered the greatness of Annika Norlin (Hello Saferide/Säkert!) or Matt and Kim or Moon Duo via this humble portal.
The “industry” has changed out of recognition. Just as something can spread all over the planet in an instant, it also provides an old-fashioned opportunity for a band or artist to take their act out to play. I don’t like the fact that success is sometimes plotted on spreadsheets or that being in music is a legitimate career prospect that can be “taught”. This also manifests itself as an act being flogged to death in double quick time. Sustaining a profile isn’t an easy thing to do, particularly when there are so many charlatans jamming up the mirror and claiming fictitious Myspace hits or whatever to trump up attention.
So many great acts are cheated out of success by bottom feeders that clog up the media system. Sometimes perception of how popular something gets measured in advertorial. It’s quite a privileged position to have folks consider that you might be able to recommend they listen to something. If they take the time to do so then that’s as far as I can take them, they get released into the wild right there. They’re always welcome to drop by and feed. It’s a shaky nail though because all credibility can be lost through one rash impulse rave. It’s not expected that everybody will like everything. That’s sort of what’s wrong these days with faux hipsters and alleged tastemakers that have no tangible opinion but are very handy at cutting and pasting.