In the 12 days since Elaine Fine posted “The Gradual Fall of Musical Bloggery” (in which she laments a steady monthly decline in the readership of her music blog, from 5,532 in January 2013 to 2,365 in July), there have been quite a few similarly minded missives written by other music bloggers such as Lisa Hirsch and Tim Rutherford-Johnson (whose Rambler blog just hit the decade mark—Happy Birthday!). Even Alex Ross has weighed in.
I must confess that to me it seems to be somewhat of a tempest in a teapot, but then again I’m someone who is perpetually skeptical of the aesthetic worth (comparative to less highly marketed fare) of best-selling novels, Billboard-charting albums, blockbuster movies, and highest Nielsen-rated TV shows. (They actually still measure such things.) If there’s a line around the block for something, chances are that it’s not something I want, whether it be the latest iPhone model or tickets to attend the 2013 Comic-Con. (There was literally a line spreading across three New York City blocks for the latter near my office last week, and the event isn’t even happening until October.)
What grabs people’s attention in the short term tends not to have a lasting impact most of the time, whereas a great many things we now consider to be iconic originally had very little popular impact—Johann Sebastian Bach’s music was mostly unknown during his lifetime, Jimi Hendrix never had a hit single, etc. There’s an oft-cited Brian Eno quote from a 1982 interview in which he points out that although relatively few people bought the Velvet Underground’s debut album in the first five years after it was released, everyone who did started their own band. It’s also extremely reassuring to keep things in perspective.
I am in no way attempting to revive a “who cares if you listen” attitude about new music, writing about new music, or anything else for that matter. But I do think that playing the numbers game can lead down a path that is just as misguided as a path that completely abrogates the significance of audience development.