I would feel compelled to give full disclosure here, however, Cullen Hendrix, who interviewed myself, Lyn, and Scott, was a stranger to me before we met for the interview for the article featured in this month's San Diego Music Matters. Now, a few months after that interview, I consider Cullen a close and dear friend and I'm glad that I can call him an ally. Still, we were strangers the day he came to talk to me about my blog so it was even with some nervousness that I read the article when I saw the new issue sitting at the Casbah tonight. So here it is in all it's honesty, and since Music Matters does not have their issues online, I'm gonna type out the full article in its entirety, because I have the time, and because I'm looking for a job and can prove that I can type 70 wpm. Yeah!
And by the way, since this interview, other bloggers have come on to the scene. All the links are on the right, including Chickrawker and Cat Dirt Sez, featured in the article, but also It's Too Sunny Out Here by Natalie, Skull Kontrol, Sound Sound Sound, Baby Heisman, and even blogs by our major publications like Last Blog On Earth done by the CityBeat crew and Street, now a blog but formerly the "cool" section of the U-T's Night and Day. Also, one of my favorite San Diego blogs, created by none other than the author of this article, Dirtbag's Delight. I read them all every day, and if you wanna know what's happening in this town, I recommend checking all of them out.
San Diego's Blog Culture Grows Up
words: Cullen Hendrix
Unless you still think that Rolling Stone provides cutting edge music journalism, you're already hip to blogging, the pseudo-journalistic/online personal journal phenomena that's changing how people find out about and keep up with music. The music industry loves and fears its capacity to break and break up bands. Music journalists love it because it allows an army of amateurs to do most of their legwork for them. And music fans tend to love them for their access to new music and the perceived distance from the music industry which facilitates shoot-from-the-hip band reviews that range from gushing to snarky and often savage.
Blogs probably won't replace print music media entirely. Despite advancing technology, blogs are notoriously hard to read while on the john, or in between bands at SOMA, or riding the subway. Given the primacy of the computer as a means of storing, accessing and exploring music, however, the development of blogs has undoubtedly changed the landscape. They are already a part of the the fabric of the New York and Los Angeles music scenes, with the popularity of blogs like Sterogum and losanjealous allowing their creators to turn opining about YouTube footage, new Tapes n' Tapes songs and next year's Coachella lineup into a fulltime (and largely clothing optional) job. San Diego's music blogs aren't quite to that point yet, but they are an increasingly influential and vibrant part of our musical culture. Over three conversations at various locales, the authors of Cat Dirt Sez, Chickrawker, and SD Dialed In shared their thoughts about blogging as media, their relationships to one another, and what they hope to accomplish with their activities.
Scott Pactor is an inscrutable man. Online, he's an opinionated, anti- Live Nation tastemaker, whose blog generates thousands of hits a day. Offline, he's a quiet, measured speaker, knowledgeable on a broad range of subjects and harboring a palpable distaste for print music media- including this magazine. "I think they're a publicity organ for agents that arose in the period of mass media culture, i.e. the major labels and their successors. I see the same people pulling the strings. The bearers of the message may change, may not be changing at all. I just see a lot of co-option." In addition to co-option, he laments the lack of editorial voice. "A good writer should be able to make almost anything interesting, and have a voice. That's what's so incredible to me about the people at Union-Tribune. They're so co-opted. They wouldn't know an interesting story if it came and bit them on the ass. Forget favoring one thing or another: they've got this tremendous engine over there and for a long time didn't even post interesting stuff."
Cat Dirt Sez cheerleads unabashedly for Fifty on Their Heels, Pactor's good friends and the first band on Pactor's Cat Dirt Records, and generally has the best readership of all San Diego blogs, which affords Pactor a pulpit from which to use his bloog as meta-criticism of the music industry. "I view part of my project- and maybe this is where I'm different- is the demystification of the music journalism, demystifying what goes on in the culture of the music industry," he says, saying that his position owes intellectual debt to critical theorists like Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. "The Frankfurt school isn't cool and it's a little bit geeky, but that's where I got it from."
"The culture industry- popular music in this country- is almost like false consciousness in the sense that fake identity gets expressed. The music industry has been very successful with that. When I talk to guys at 91X and they say that people do call in all the time to hear the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There's not vast conspiracy to keep independent music from the ears of the alt rock audience in San Diego. That's honestly what the people who listen to 91X want to hear."
The flip side, of course, it that as blogs become more influential forums for their creator's opinions, they become a greater target for the music marketing industiral complex, the collection of publicists, advertisers, labels, and music magazines (Filter, I'm looking straight at you) dedicated to generating- and I am loathe to use this word- buzz about new bands. "I would hope that the whole blogging project would deal with (the music industry hype machine), but I kind of despair of that when I read things like Stereogum where the trend has been to become more integrated."
The added attention (and competition for advertising dollars) may threaten the unique charm that makes blogs different, in the same way that college students and Gaslamp denizens invading your favorite watering hole (the Turf Club and Nunu's come to mind) may send you scurrying for lower profile environs. Cat Dirt Sez may focus on San Diego music and feature book reviews about 19th century Native American culture, but it's rise to prominence has been fueled by a) clever reportage and breaking music stories (the Jesus and Mary Chain performing with Scarlett Johansson at Coachella 2007) and b) a willingness to wade into the murky, panty-sniffing waters of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton-related gossip. "My biggest draw by far is a picture of Lindsay Lohan in a bikini," he concedes, acknowledging that dabbling in this sort of tabloid journalism helps drive people to the site.
Pactor's perspective on blogging as a new media revolves arount the medium's flattening of production costs, allowing bloggers to get their stuff out there without incurring the massive costs associated with print media. "In the past, with print media, you really had to put yourself on the line- in terms of capital outlay, worrying about subscribers- there's real money involved. My blog costs zero dollars, my MySpace costs zero dollars. It costs zero time- just the 15 minutes to write my post. I don't need to be co-opted to keep doing this for 20 years. I don't need success in the capitalist sense."
I meet Lyn Pags for happy hour in midtown. Though friendly, Pags is quite shy. It may account for the detached tone of Chickrawker, which addresses even local bands with the same distance with which she treats the national acts whose fortunes on corporate radio she tracks. According to Pags, distance helps maintain the objectivity, and hence the honesty, of her blog. "I'm not trying to be part of the scene," she admits. "I exist as a part of what's going on, but I want to go out there and write about things as an observer. I think a difference between me and other people who blog, and I'm not saying it's a bad thing, is that I don't want to be part of the cool club, make friends with people who are musicians. I want to be able to write freely about what I think. What I try to do is be honest about what I like and to write about it."
Managing programmers for a day job, Pags splits her time between San Diego and Dallas, covering both scenes in more or less equal fashion. "One of the things that I've always done when I travel is see what the music scene is like. I spend a lot of time in Dallas- one to two weeks every month- and I consciously went out to the independent record stores, got a feel for where the good venues were. I'm definitely grounded in both areas." That grounding has led to her forming a perspective on the city of JR Ewing and Terrell Owens that's counter to a lot of expectations. "Dallas, you'd think, is a cow town, but there's a good rock scene there. It's interesting to see bands that I know from California out of context in Dallas. I've seen the Delta Spirit a couple times there, and it's interesting to see the different reactions."
Chickrawker reads the most like the musings of an industry pundit or radio programmer. There's lots of talk about music, but there's also lots of talk about chart movement, national spins, and predictions about which national singles are about to start picking up steam. Pags, an avowed Panic! at the Disco fan, is something of an anomaly among bloggers. Her page may be read by indie-conscious music journalists, but it's not particularly directed at the indie scene. "I definitely lean toward a lot of mainstream music because I write about the radio a lot," she says. "There are definitely some blogs out there that are indie, indie, indie, and won't even talk about the new Linkin Park- which I hate, but I'll talk about," she says, distancing herself from the perceived role of tastemaker with which many bloggers are saddled. "There are those blogs that are like, 'I'm going to break this indie band,' and that's just not for me. I'm interested in music from this sort of broad perspective. I listen to some crappy music, I'll admit it, but there's this pop sensibility to me that I just can't ignore. I really liked the new Fall Out Boy record and I got a lot of crap for that, but I don't care."
THE (NOT SO) GONZO JOURNALIST
Rosey greets me at her home with a friendly dog and a couple of Budweisers in tow. Of the three, Rosey is the least personally guarded. The photos on her blog echo that particular fact, with her face (usually along with those of several others in varying levels of sobriety) appearing on her blog often in her blow-by-blow weekend recap.
More than Cat Dirt Sez and Chickrawker, SD Dialed In seems like a personal journal. If that's the case, it may have something to do with its origins as a personal blog, intended for a limited audience of friends. "Cat Dirt linked to it because of my music stuff, and I thought, 'No thank you, I don't need all my personal stuff out there in the open,'" she says. Her friend Pactor liked her posts and cajoled her into restarting her blog as a for-consumption enterprise. "Being the lawyer that he is, he said, 'If you're writing stuff, don't you want people to read it?' I still feel like it's my personal blog, but it's the part of me that I'm willing to share with whoever wants to read it."
That part of her reaches an active audience, but not a particularly large one. San Diego may be experiencing a renaissance of house parties and new venues, but the list of people attending these ever-multiplying shows is one of usual suspects. "People who are finding my blog at this point are people who are seeking out music," she says. "I'm really happy that there are more music bloggers, and I'm really happy that there are more places to play. But even though there are more choices, you're still pulling from the same crowd. Instead of three shows with a good crowd, now there are twelve shows with ten people at them."
In the interest of helping to develop more interest in local music, Rosey's been integrating more content not specifically aimed at music culture. "I would actually like to write more general San Diego stuff, so that if people fall into my blog because I'm writing about general San Diego, they might find out about a lot of stuff that's happening when they'd rather be at home watching American Idol. I feel like there's an audience of people who care what they see on MTV still." Getting that audience off their couches and out on the town is vital to the continued growth of the music scene, a project on which all three agree. By painting an unflinching portrait, cheerleading for the best and brightest or merely helping keep track of its myriad comings and goings, San Diego bloggers may help remake the very scene they cover.