4 Main Purposes of Hyperlocal Blogs [INTERVIEW]
This is part two of my interview with Jordan Stepp. She's Editor in Chief of Athens Music Junkie. Stepp started writing about the music scene in Athens, GA in 2008. Since she has interviewed and reviewed bands and artists from all ends of the spectrum, from R.E.M. and Widespread Panic to little indie startup groups.
In this interview, Step talks about hyperlocal blogging and music piracy.
The main challenges of the digital age are raising cultural awareness and fostering communities that support creativity. Hyperlocal blogs unite physical and digital realities, creating an easy way for fans to say up-to-date.
What role do hyperlocal blogs play in fostering communities that support creativity and getting fans from the web to the local venue? What main challenges present themselves in attempting to bridge those spheres together?
Jordan Stepp: Hyperlocal blogs serve four main purposes: to inform, to entertain, to educate, and to connect.
We are supposed to inform our readers of new artists, upcoming shows, new record releases. And if a blog is not entertaining, well, there goes any impact you might have. Local blogs also educate readers about their local culture, how it came to be, how it's doing, what they can do to get involved.
And blogs are supposed to connect. Bands depend on fans finding them, fans want to find bands, and blogs bridge that gap. Now the main challenge of being that bridge is bringing an authoritative voice to the blog.
People want to know that you think what they think or at least that you might know what you're talking about. Once you've gained their trust, it's a lot easier to suggest going to see a show and actually getting people out.
In most cases, you're not spouting anything that hasn't been written before, you're reminding people of what they should already have heard, or you're presenting it in a way that grabs their attention better than the next guy.
Hypebot: Do you think that trust is something the major labels have lost in the music buying audience?
Jordan Stepp: There's no doubt that the music buying audience has lost trust in major labels and big music business in general. Years of $20 CDs with only two good songs, outrageous ticket prices and fees, and crappy music releases have soured the populace on major labels. We're bitter, we're angry, and we have tools now to find what we really want and "stick it to the man." Great, another greatest hits album, another repackaging of something old, another one-hit wonder or "cute singer kid" that gets shoved down our throats. In our current climate, people want to do one of two things: escape reality or find it. You can go on flights of fancy with Lady Gaga or you can get some actual blood and dust with Arcade Fire. But placing one over the other in the name of the bottom line is a mistake.
Part of gaining that trust back would be to acknowledge that things have gone wrong, stop trying to find the next big one hit wonder and focus on growing some of the few artists that they have left, and try new techniques of reaching customers in ways that aren't annoying or expensive. Give away free music, let us test streaming services, give us a reason to want to continue working with you because we have other options and you're not going to like those at all.
Hypebot: How else have your blogging efforts enabled you to get more involved in the local music scene and allowed you to forge new connections between regional artists and their fans? What opportunities have emerged as a result?
Jordan Stepp: Personally, my blog has allowed me to develop better relationships with bands, venues, and other music figures around Athens. Suddenly, I'm more in the know about a secret show happening down the street.
I'm the one that's supposed to help spread the word. Bands know they can contact me about helping round out their bills for concerts, whether they're from Athens or not. Readers know they can ask me just about anything in regards to Athens music and I will do my best to find them an answer. I've gotten to interview so many interesting people, fan, and band alike. But nothing is quite as satisfying as receiving a message that Mr. Smith is now a big fan of Local Band because he read about them on AthensMusicJunkie. THAT is what I love.
Hypebot: We've reached the limits of a delocalized music culture. Fans are disconnected. They have no stake in the songs that are marketed to them.
Music just exists. It inspires no action.
Are we starting to reach the limits of delocalized culture and are fans less willing to support artists that they feel no connection to?
Jordan Stepp: I grew up in an incredibly small town with no local culture and it was my experience that piracy was more prevalent. When the nearest place to buy an $18 CD is a half-hour away, you only want to go through that effort for your "absolute most favorite I can't breathe without this" artist.
However, I will disagree with the notion that music inspires no action. There are fans of music and then music fans. Your typical music fan will hear a song, download it or burn it from a friend, and then promptly forget about it in a month or so. A fan of music will live and breathe for their favorite artists. They will pay that extra money for the limited edition album set or travel out of state to go see a show. If there's no connection between an artist and a music listener, then no, they won't support them financially. That band is just another click on the iPod.
But it's become such a Copy/Paste culture that many fans don't realize what that download does to an artist depending on that cash.
Hypebot: The web has lowered the barriers to becoming a more active participant in our cultural lives. It's easier than ever to connect directly to an artist and support their creativity. Simultaneously, the web has made it effortless to download the entire discography of music from an artist without ever visiting their Myspace or signing up for their email list. Do you see the future of music on the web as fans becoming more disconnected from artists and passive in their consumption? Or, conversely, do you see fans as becoming more active?
Jordan Stepp: I see the majority of music listeners headed towards a disconnect from artists themselves. But by the same token, I could see a small fraction of fans becoming a lot more active in their favorite artist's work.
They'll be the ones donating to Kickstarter, offering up places to stay for touring artists, going to shows, buying deluxe editions…. They will be fewer and far between but they will be extremely passionate about the music they love. As for the rest, there's a theory that music will become like water, piped in, streamed, and just there. We won't blink twice.
Hypebot: Would you contend that piracy affects the local artists in a negative way? And if not, at what point does it begin to become a problem? Do fans support the local acts to a point where obscurity is their enemy – and not piracy?
Jordan Stepp: Piracy really only becomes a problem for local artists when they depend on the money from those pirated albums and songs to help them get from point A to point B.
As far as Athens goes, it would seem that obscurity is more of an enemy than piracy. Great bands constantly give up single songs to download through music blogs and it is not uncommon for whole albums to be released FOR FREE.
One of the top local albums of the year, Bambara's Dog Ear Days, was released for free. For many locals, they just want the music to get heard. Not that they don't want you to buy the limited edition vinyl release at the next show...
But unless a band is getting some serious money from album sales, piracy is not as big of a problem as it might be for larger acts.