Many years ago – practically a generation ago in internet years – MP3 blogs were the standard in the online music realm. Years later, the model shifted to more thorough music coverage without as much piracy. Fast-forward to today and we have to ask ourselves: where did everybody go?
There’s no beginning and end to this story, rather it’s a hazy gray timeline that juts side-to-side throughout its life cycle. But much like history is taught in our schools, we must take the time to consider where we’ve come from to know where we go from here.
A brief history of MP3 music blogs
At the turn of the century, MP3s became the staple of the music consumer’s diet, while also unknowingly becoming the poison that would eventually rot the fertility of the music industry itself.
MP3s and the Internet formed a symbiotic relationship so powerful, it threw not one, but several wrenches into the music industry over the years, with Napster, Megaupload, MP3 music blogs, streaming services, and more all being individual catalysts for major changes in the music industry.
By the mid-aughts, MP3 music blogs became a common corner of the Internet and anyone with a computer and an internet connection was able to upload obscure (but, importantly, copyrighted) music to share with the world at large. In the hip-hop realm, sites like 2DopeBoyz, NahRight, Rappamelo, and many more thrived on this business model.
The RIAA takes out the MP3 music blog
Copyright-infringement was rampant, but that was what was the norm. It wasn’t until the RIAA cracked down on this behavior, even getting the United States government to shut down sites like the highly-popular OnSmash and Megaupload.
No longer was it acceptable to post ripped audio files of leaks and other songs. The hip-hop blog thus needed to evolve. Led by Complex Media, who bought the likes of DJ Booth, 2DopeBoyz, Pigeons & Planes, IllRoots, NahRight, and many more of the blogs that made their name sharing MP3s, mass-mediated content in the form of hip-hop news and selective promotion of only particular artists became the groundwork for what would become of the modern music blog.
The end of an era
Some sites, like Kevin Nottingham, Potholes In My Blog, and others did not fare so well. Started closer to the 2010s, these blogs were arguably just behind the curve. They missed the golden era of music blogging; yet they were steadfast in providing quality content on a regular basis to loyal music enthusiasts.
This would prove not to be sustainable, however, as both Kevin Nottingham and Potholes shut down in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
The Hip Hop Speakeasy would follow suit a few months later, unofficially ceasing to publish content, and for good reason. Jacob Moore wrote a piece on this subject for Pigeons and Planes and summed it up nicely when he wrote:
“Some independent blogs managed to evolve past the mp3 era, but competing with major media outlets in the new landscape takes resources. Without a full staff of writers, reporters, and social media experts, it’s difficult to stay afloat.”
The Hip Hop Speakeasy, and I’m sure Kevin Nottingham and Potholes, lacked the backing of a major media company like Complex. Furthermore, the staff was ill-suited to compete with the likes of the now blogging giants, through the output of content and on social media.
Handling a blog as a business is a lot more difficult than one might imagine, so much so that it cannot be sustained simply as a passion project.
Because the Internet: causing music blogs to fail
But the RIAA and Complex are not to blame for this, at least not entirely. Each of these entities simply reacted to a changing market. It’s the consumers that spurred this change.
Migrating from MP3 blogs to streaming services arguably played a huge role in taking eyes away from the posts these music enthusiasts spent hours curating. No longer did music discovery need to take place on a blog. Services like Spotify, Pandora, Soundcloud and many more allowed you to discover new music in seconds.
Social media also allowed consumers to immediately connect with their favorite artists, eliminating the need for a blog to tell you about new music or the latest news on a particular artist.
Complex (I assume) ensures that their subsidiary blogs handle content accordingly, dividing news exclusives, premieres, and coverage amongst the lot (and there are a lot).
The sad truth: hip-hop music blogs as we knew them are dead
And so it isn’t possible for sites like Kevin Nottingham, Potholes, or The Hip Hop Speakeasy to exist in the form of sharing underground music anymore. This is why The Hip Hop Speakeasy has changed our mission and content direction, something we hope is successful and something that Kevin Nottingham and Potholes can someday accomplish, as well.
But it is still an arduous journey for any small, independent hip-hop blog like our own. The big blogs get bigger, the smaller ones continue to claw their way out of obscurity. It won’t be until, as Moore says:
“…Those passionate and savvy entrepreneurs who would have started a music blog five years ago…find a new lane to occupy, leaving the big corporations scrambling once again, trying to figure out how a bunch of random internet kids are doing shit more efficiently than they are.”
There’s still hope…
Consider this a call to action for true music enthusiasts to uncover gems in the blogosphere where they can go to scratch the itch of discovering incredibly obscure music before anyone else, where they can uncover nuggets of golden information not mentioned anywhere else, where they can join in a community of fellow music lovers to share their interests and knowledge with each other.
Support the modern music blog before they’re all gone.
At the same time, music bloggers need to adapt. There needs to be added value brought to the table by music curators that isn’t currently available, or at least popularly delivered today. Once again, music enthusiasts need to rise up and bring attention to the underappreciated, while cultivating the realm of music lost and found in the modern age.
We hope you’ll join us.