Monday, September 3rd, 2012
Area music blog turns ten, has existential crisis, contemplates nuclear option
Joel BernsteinIt’s funny. I’ve written this post in my mind countless times, with versions ranging from multi-chapter memoirs to a simple, all-caps “SO LONG AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH”, and yet now as I actually take metaphorical pen to paper, I don’t really know where to begin. I suppose the best place to start is with the fact that the common thread through all those drafts was, “goodbye”.
Ten years is an astonishingly long time to do anything. When I started this blog, it was out of boredom and with no eye towards it being anything besides a place where I could ramble about whatever was on my mind at the time. Within a few years it had become its own thing, but having not much else to do I was happy to let it become one of the main focuses of my life. Fortuitous timing allowed me to be part of the first wave of music blogs, and with that came a front row seat to the seismic shifts in the world of music, both with respect to the media end of it and the industry as a whole, with the mainstreaming of indie and rise of Canadian music on the world stage as part of that. If I can get just a little LCD Soundsystem for a moment – I was there.
Before I slip into full-on memoir mode, let me switch to broad strokes and say without exaggeration that most everything I have in my life right now – my job, most of my friends, almost all of my daily routine – has come from this blog. It has taken me to far-flung locales, gotten me access to ridiculous places, seen amazing shows, discovered more wonderful music than I ever thought possible, and encountered incredible people. I met Neil Young, for Pete’s sake. There is no measure by which this hasn’t been a long, strange, life-changing trip, and I’m immeasurably grateful for that.
But it has not come without a cost. The number of hours, the kilojoules of energy, that have gone into it have been staggering. The evenings and weekends that I’ve spent hunched over the computer writing posts, hunting down MP3s and videos, processing photos, getting things the exact over-particular way I want it, when a normal person would have been out with friends or just plain asleep are beyond counting. While I’d like to think that in the areas where it matters, I’ve been able to maintain a reasonable balance between work and personal life, I suspect that if were to ask any of my exes over the past decade if that were true, they’d say otherwise. And the only person who has demanded this regimen, who has dictated the terms of my existence over the past decade, and who has unwaveringly agreed to it, is me.
Running this site has been as much a compulsion as a vocation – oh hey, remember that time I posted every day for 1050 days straight? – and as I’ve gotten older, the ability I have to justify the effort and expense has waned with my energy. I can come up with myriad reasons why I wouldn’t want to do another large, outdoor festival or make 2013 my ninth straight SXSW, but they all boil down to one thing and that’s that I’m tired. Physically, mentally, whatever. And while I could probably keep the pace up for a few more years at least – sure it takes a little while longer for the aches to fade but I’m hardly infirm – why would I? I’ve already been doing it for probably too long.
It seems obvious when you think about it, but there’s no finish line for this sort of thing – there’ll always be another hot new artist, someone making sounds that could potentially (but probably not) change your life. Someone rehashing the sounds you grew up one, someone tearing them down. You can’t keep up with it forever. As mentioned, I feel very lucky that I was doing what I was when I was because it’s allowed me to follow a slew of fantastic artists from their days in clubs to headlining arenas. But as much fun as that ride can be, I don’t necessarily feel like it’s something that I want to get so invested in again. The aughts were mine but they’re over now.
And beyond that, the nature of the blogging beast has changed. The blue skies of the medium from five or six years ago are a thing of the past and what I do in the way that I do it has increasingly become a niche thing, anathema to the tl;dr generation and I’m too stubborn to change even as I watch numbers decline (not just mine, anecdotal evidence shows it’s everyone). Further, the degree to which everything is documented, reported, analyzed, tweeted, tumblred, liked, shared, whatever, I can’t help feeling a bit unnecessary now. Everything is commoditized now and we don’t exist in remotely enough of a meritocracy to provide the motivation to working this hard at something.
As wonderful it was to be at the leading edge of this thing, to figure out what blogs were and could do, I feel like while I got there first I started late. I envy my younger peers who, despite the market being as lean and grim as it is, can still try and indulge their rock’n’roll journalist dreams. I had the full-time job when I started this and have had one all the way through, constantly trying to balance the demands of both. I’ve always had too much to lose to try and do more with this, nor have I had the ambition of some of my blogging brethren who, besides having the good sense to enslist help, have transitioned into more sustainable operations of which the blog is just a facet – booking, A&R, proper journalism, photography, what have you. I was always too wrapped up in the day-to-day to think about the long game; I just wanted to get the next day’s post done and go to bed. Which is why, rather than an anniversary party or special event, you get this post. And when I’m done, I’ll move on to tomorrow’s post.
And yeah, there will be a tomorrow’s post. As tempting as it would be to simply give the steering wheel on this thing a hard right, drive it off a cliff, and walk away from the flaming wreckage in slow-motion without ever once looking back – and you can’t know just how close I came to that over the years – that’s just not me. But if I can keep with the automotive metaphor a little bit, what I will be doing is gearing down, moving into the right lane and once in a while, pulling over to a rest stop. And if at some point an exit ramp comes along that feels right, then so be it. It’s time for this to be less of an endless race and more of a leisurely journey. In the short term, you probably won’t notice a thing; there’s enough irons in the fire that the rest of this calendar year will probably play out as it always has. And assuming the world doesn’t end in December – wouldn’t THAT make this whole post utterly moot – when the rest of the world ramps up in 2013, I will as well – just a bit more slowly.
It may take a few more days for show reviews to go up, news might not be quite as timely (though interesting things will still go up nearly immediately on my Twitter and maybe I’ll try to understand this Tumblr thing) as I try to worry less about reaching RSS reader zero, I probably won’t be aggregating the shit out of everything anymore (sorry to those sites who needed the handful of eyeballs I would send over), maybe fewer contests (PR people, get ready for more “no’s”), and eventually will put my cover of the week to bed, at least as an every week thing. I will still be soliciting a redesign – this shit is dated, yo – and have some ideas about changing up the formatting of my posts to be quicker to write and to read while still trotting out the novel-length pieces when I feel like it. But mainly I intend to be less regimented about it all. Allow myself to pause and breathe and tend to other things. I need to. If I can squeeze some free days into my week, find more time to read, to go do non-music things, work on other projects, it’ll make a huge difference. And I suspect that if I am keeping up with the zeitgeist a little bit less, I’ll enjoy what I’m doing a lot more.
You may ask why I need to make this sort of declaration of intent on the blogiversary, why I don’t just quietly make the changes and carry on, and it’s a reasonable question. But the fact is if I didn’t draw this finish line in the sand and close off this decade-long era of the blog as what it was in an official fashion, I’d never do it. I couldn’t. The compulsion that keeps me working this hard at this also stops me from not. I have to give myself permission to allow it to morph into something else or even die, if that’s how it goes. A bit mental? You have no idea.
I recall a round table at SXSW a few years ago with a bunch of my fellow music blogging lifers when the first question raised – by the inimitable Rob Donewaiting, I believe – was, “when can we stop?”. Everyone nodded, but I don’t think that any of us there has actually hung it up yet. What we do can still be incredibly rewarding, it’s just a question of finding the right balance. This has essentially been my life’s work so far, but if I’m not careful it will remain that. And I don’t really fancy a tombstone reading, “He blogged. A lot. And will get you set times when he has them.”
It’s no overstatement that I could write a post this long expanding on each point made so far, but I’ll save that for my incredibly dull memoirs. I’ve chewed the contents of this post over in my mind for so long and it’s not nearly complete, but it’s probably enough. If you’ve read this far, I can only assume it’s because you care to some degree and for that, I thank you. I’ve never taken my readers for granted – you really are the reason I do what I do – and have always striven to be informative, hopefully entertaining, and to maybe introduce you to some music you might not have heard otherwise. Buy a CD or an LP or a concert ticket. If that’s happened, then this has been a success.
And if we’re friends IRL and you extend an invite to go do something – please do – and I get this look in my eye that I feel like I need to write up a blog post instead, you have my standing invitation to smack me.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to make the donuts.