Meet a Blogger highlights our favorite writers from across the web.
For this edition, we chatted with our friend Josh Dalton from the fine UK-based blog Crack In The Road.
How long has Crack In The Road existed?
I started Crack in the Road (I’ll shorten to CitR, just ‘cus it’s a bastard to keep typing) just under three years ago. I was in my first year at university studying architecture (which I’m no longer studying… long story), and we had to start an architecture blog documenting our work, research, ideas etc. After seeing how easy it was to set up a blog, I guess I figured, “Hey, why not write one about music as well.” There was never any intentions behind it, other than to write about music that I loved, so anything else that’s happened since then has been a nice surprise.
Where did the name Crack in the Road come from?
Haha, damn this question is the worst ‘cus my answer is so embarrassingly bad. During my time at university in Dundee, I used to walk back from class along Perth Road back to my dorm room. Due to the direction I’d walk in, and the time of day (normally around 6 in the evening), the sun would be setting towards the direction I’d be walking, and the glare would get caught in all these small ruts in the tarmac (the cracks in the road), really bringing them to life. It sounds horrendously pretentious…I guess it is.
I love finding out where blog names come from, there’s always a great (and slightly embarrassing) story behind them. Don’t worry, that’s not horribly pretentious—you can’t help it that you just happen to see the world around you in a more beautiful way than everyone else. So how long did you run CitR before you started bringing on other writers? What led you toward including others?
It was about a month or so, I’d only posted about a dozen articles. I just asked a few friends who I knew shared similar music tastes, and they were more than willing to be involved. There was never any real conscious decision to include others, it just happened I suppose. Over the years CitR has fluctuated from having as many as 10 or writers at one time, to being down to only two or three. The four main contributors as such, in terms of writing, design and organisation have been Andrew, Ben, Joel and myself. The key element of the writing is done by myself and Joel, although we’re always looking for people to be involved. It’s just difficult to keep people interested, given that there’s no money involved.
Wait, you mean you’re not making millions running a music blog?
Millions of friends haha. I think some people who start music blogs have this idea that it’s going to provide them some form of income, and that by simply re-posting what Pitchfork, or whoever else, writes about is going to gain them either financial benefits or ‘online fame.’ It’s quite frustrating really, the buzz-blogging culture that has risen from Tumblr. You’ll see a ‘buzz band’ put out a new track/video etc., and within minutes (sometimes less time than the length of the track), it’ll be up on websites, blogs etc. In my mind, this concept of being ‘first’ is actually harming the the creation of music. Don’t get me wrong, being the first person to write about or give coverage to an unheard artist is part of the reason I do it, but not because I want to claim some form of internet fame, but because of the reaction I tend to get from the artists themselves. Getting an email from an unheard artist and thanking me for taking the time to listen to and appreciate their music—that’s the part of blogging that truly inspires me. However writing about a new video from Beach House or Haim (just two examples, I mean an artist that already has existing popularity and is going to do well regardless of me posting them or not), that doesn’t interest me at all.
I’d rather write about 50 artists that will never receive any other coverage than be the first person to post the new Bon Iver track or whatever else is going to rake in website hits.
It’s the same idea behind blogs that simply post music without writing anything to go along side it. For me, the creative control that I can add to blogging is what I write; the music doesn’t belong to me, and therefore by just posting it without any words, I’m not adding anything new, therefore rendering it rather redundant. The search for increased website hits, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, YouTube subscribers, etc., which in my mind is what most buzz blogs are after, doesn’t interest me at all. They don’t add anything worthwhile to the criticism of music and ultimately just contribute to this passive state we as a generation seem to have adopted, wherein we don’t critique anything. It simply exists without comment.
Wow, I’m actually glad I seemed to have hit a nerve, because we know exactly what you’re talking about, and there is that moment you come to in yourself, as a blogger, where you have to make those decisions: do you write for hits or for your own satisfaction? You definitely seem to cover a wide range of music and an unusually awesome amount of new music. Where would you say you find most of the music you post? What’s you’re discovery process like?
Haha yeah, it’s my pet peeve, I could talk about it for hours, apologies. I think there’s too many music blogs that write for notoriety, and in some ways I can understand it, in that, there’s some musicians who write music for notoriety. In other words, they write music that they know will be popular, in the same way that certain blogs post music that they know will be popular. In my opinion there’s two different types of music blogs: those that choose what they write about based on their own perceptions of their audience (i.e. they post what they assume their audience/the largest number of people is going to enjoy) and those that write because they love the music so much that they want it to reach as large an audience as possible. I think (hope) I fall into the second category, I’d never post anything that I didn’t have a passion for, regardless of whether it was a positive or negative passion. That said, I’d never write negatively about a new artist, it’s just unnecessary. Sometimes I wonder with some of these buzz blogs which it is they enjoy more, the music itself or the internet notoriety that comes with posting the music. Sadly in numerous cases it appears to be the latter.
I try not to limit myself to specific genres, however I’d concede that there are certain styles that grab my attention ahead of others. For example, screamo (never got it), although I did once buy a Bullet For My Valentine album on iTunes when I was 13, thinking it was My Bloody Valentine that I’d kept hearing about. Initially I used to find music through other blogs, then overtime I began using SoundCloud, although since the new layout was unveiled, it’s not as good for discovery as it was. In terms of my own personal discovery, Bandcamp is far and away where I unearth most music from, including quite a few acts that have now gone on to sign with some of my favourite labels. I also try to get through as many of the submissions on the website as possible, especially ones that are directly from artists, and if I have time, I’ll go through some of the PR correspondence. Also, word of mouth is hugely underrated in terms of discovery. Many other bloggers, musicians, and fans that I chat to offline and online have introduced me to fantastic new artists. I think at times all bloggers (myself included) are guilty of thinking that if an artist isn’t as internet savvy as others then it’s like they don’t exist, but live music is ultimately more important than ever, and has introduced me to some brilliant new artists over the past few years. I usually sit down at my laptop for a couple of hours, and I’ll open up about 15-20 tabs at a time, with new music, be it a Bandcamp/SoundCloud/website link etc. I’ll then work through them, one by one, listening to them, making up my mind on it. If I have enough time, I’ll try to give it a second listen as well. Obviously, If i choose to blog something then I’ll listen to it a few more times before writing about it. I also keep an Excel document with info on almost every single artist I’ve listened to over the past couple of years. It’s pretty obsessive, but it helps with my thought process. I’ll write down basic info that I can find (names, location, artist name), details on releases, any contacts I can find (press, management, links (SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter, website etc), and then finally my opinion on the artist. I actually have a few Excel documents, going into varying levels of detail, and also selective depending on whether I liked the music or not. The least selective one (the one with pretty much everything I’ve listened to since 2010) is 20,000+ artist names long. Wow, sounds obsessive when I say it like that (music is why I don’t have a girlfriend).
Man, that is some seriously good stuff! I would love to see one of these Excel sheets if you’re willing, even a screenshot would sufficiently curb my need to see this! What’s the scene like in the UK? How do you see being a UK-based blog being different than say the US or anywhere else?
Haha I’ve attached a (small) screenshot of one of them, just to give you a rough idea of how they work. This is the rather non-selective one, so just documents pretty much everything I’ve been listening to. Even my work don’t have access to the spreadsheets haha, but I’ll show you them next year at SXSW!
The UK blogging scene is really vibrant in parts. Quite a few people who I now consider to be friends write great blogs that I really respect. At the same time there’s also this growing scene of people taking up music blogging purely to try get jobs within the music industry, which isn’t ideal, as quite a few of these blogs end up becoming controlled by the label/PR firm/management agency that the blogger works for. It’s quite sheltered at times, and like much of UK music journalism, there’s a real tendency to avoid the DIY, which frustrates me. In the age where anyone anywhere in the world can create and consequently upload music onto the internet, it’s a shame that so many blogs and websites feel the need to cover the same artists as their contemporaries. Before anyone calls me naive, I know entirely why they chose to do so—for the popularity and the hits, but for small blogs that are just starting out, I’d really encourage them to look deeper than simply posting what every single other blog is posting. There’s an endless stream of wonderfully creative new music out there, and to avoid so much of it because it isn’t associated with a label or doesn’t have PR, or hasn’t been featured on every other website, is almost more naïve than my earlier claims.
The same can be said for much of the music in the UK at the moment, particularly some of the artists coming from London. Obviously it’s a very small minority, yet for such a creative city with so much cultural heritage, it’s a shame that so many websites and blogs focus on the same circle of six or seven artists, several of whom happen to be close friends with the writers in question. I’m beginning to feel like I’m being purposefully negative, so I’ll pick up on some positive aspects of the UK music scene. Acts like Kirk Spencer and Jamie Isaac really have limitless amounts of talent and will surely fulfil their potential sooner rather than later. The same can be said for Only Real, Father Sculptor, and Blaenavon. M O N E Y are the finest band to come out of Manchester, if not the UK, for several years, and hopefully will turn numerous heads with their debut album out later this year.
Whilst I was over at SXSW, Ben (who I’ll be eternally grateful to for all the hard work he put into getting us out to the festival and the show) and myself spent quite a bit of time with various Portals writers (all of whom were incredibly welcoming, and helped make SXSW one of the best weeks of my life), and it made me realize how valuable something like Portals is, and how much the UK needs a greater sense of community within blogging. I think it’s partially an aspirational element, as I mentioned earlier, with certain UK bloggers seeing it as a stepping stone, and therefore not giving the same commitment and passion as the music actually deserves. For anyone who writes a blog, there’s an undoubted element of narcissism to it, and to deny that would be ridiculous. However it’s whether the writer lets their own sense of self-importance overtake the importance that they instil in the music. I’m as guilty as most in that sense, I just always try to remember that without the music, the blog would not exist; the music would still exist without the blog.
That’s so true. And wow, that spreadsheet has given me a whole new outlook on blogging-life. Thank you for that :) I love your outlook on blogging, I definitely think it’s one more people could use. Have you ever thought about calling it quits?
Yeah a few times. Very rarely out of frustration, and when I do pack it in, it won’t be because of that. Despite all my previous negative ramblings and issues with blogging and the music industry as a whole, the blog has given me some fantastic experiences over the years, far greater than anything I could of imagined. The main issues for me considering letting CitR go have been time constraints: being at university, juggling paid jobs, and writing the blog, which can get quite overwhelming a times haha.
Totally, I’ve found that blogging has helped provide an outlet that has actually helped me keep doing some of the things I “need” to be doing in life, aka jobs, school, etc. Well, what is in store for your future, and the future of CitR as far as you can see?
Yeah, blogging has opened up so many different avenues, that otherwise would never have been accessible to me.
Haha I genuinely have no idea in terms of what lies in store for CitR. It could all end tomorrow or could keep going for another ten years (hopefully not…). Putting on a show at SXSW felt like a real step up for us. Having been the first blog to write about several of the acts who played for us, we’re really keen on this concept of having initially provided an online stage for artists to impress, and now being able to provide a stage in the real world for them to impress. We’re collaborating with a few of our friends to put on a show at the UK’s version of SXSW, a festival in Brighton called The Great Escape, and have a few surprises lined up for that.
We’re also hosting our own night at a venue in London, on 25th April (which randomly happens to be my birthday), with Jamie Isaac, MOKO, Kirk Spencer, and IYES, four of the UK’s most exciting new artists. We’ve also got our friends MADESCAPES taking over the venue with art installations, visuals etc. (details here) So we’re stoked for that, and who knows, hopefully we’ll be back over to America before too long.
Aside from that, we’ve just branched out into reviewing and covering more visual arts, and hopefully in the near future we’ll be able to add even more sections to the website. Ultimately, we want to keep pushing the music (and now art) that we love, and keep the focus on the creativity.
So glad you got some exciting stuff coming up (and happy early birthday!). I’ve immensely enjoyed talking with you, it’s definitely bloggers like you that made a lot of us realize we all wanted to be friends and do stuff together. Any parting words of wisdom for any blogger, music listener, or general people of earth you want to share?
Hmm, haha what can I say that isn’t going to sound massively pretentious….
Take everything I’ve said with a healthy pinch of salt I guess haha. Support initiatives that you truly believe, and most importantly, keep the passion for the music. Thanks to Portals for asking me to be part of this, truly one of my favourite music websites around at the moment, and it was so great to meet so many PORTALS people out at SXSW. So much love. Also, R.I.P. Wallace.
Curated by Tim Thompson.