Beyond The Blog: Four Music Blogs For This Generation

Posted May 21

This O Music Awards, we chose not to feature our splendid “Beyond The Blog” category — however, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been collecting and taking note of standout online music efforts over the past year. Check our four fine examples of innovative content-collecting after the jump!

QELLO

To state the obvious, there’s a ton of music content floating around the Web — from amateur cellphone videos to concert footage gems — and in this content-packed world, it can be hard to sort through the clutter. Well, concert doc/footage service Qello is hoping to do so — specifically by hiring a seasoned music journalist to contextualize its wares.

The service — which is available for iOS, Android, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Windows Mobile, Samsung, Sony Smart TVs and the Web — launched a brand-new editorial vertical recently, and at its helm is former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres, who worked at the magazine during its early days. Fong-Torres was hired to provide background for famous concert footage, in addition to to conduct Q&As live with notable musicians.

In fact, Fong-Torres first joined the team when Qello was set to premiere a Doors concert film. “This was a remastered, fantastic concert film and in that we started talking about what should be the editorial voice?” says Qello CEO Brian Lisi. “Who can we bring in who can really kind deliver something unique and interesting to our userbase and the Doors fans that they might not have known before or heard before?”

Fong-Torres’s name came up, since he had been one of the last individuals to interview Jim Morrison before he moved to Paris. “At that point in time we thought this would be fantastic not only for the Doors project, but for everyone else that Ben has interviewed — from Paul McCartney to The Grateful Dead to Marvin Gaye, all these other artists that he had really interacted with and became friends with over the years,” Lisi says.

At that juncture, Fong-Torres came on to do a live Q&A on Qello with the Doors’ Ray Manzarek (who passed away yesterday, sadly) — complete with audience interaction — and stayed on as Senior Editor of the blog.

From now on, Fong-Torres will pen posts for Qello to accompany particular concert films and documentaries, injecting his own commentary gleaned from years of interviewing bands.

“I’ve been to a number of rock concerts over the years and met a ton of musicians,” he says. “I can write about Santana or Sheryl Crow or the Rolling Stones or Willie Nelson from the point of view of not only a fan enjoying the music and reliving the concert, but also saying, ‘Well now, on stage with Willie at a music convention he told me that he began as a disc jockey,’ or some revelation about his health regime or his songwriting or why he chooses to play a broken guitar or any kind of anecdote to add to the review so it’s not just me saying, ‘Oh, well, these songs are pretty cool and these songs sucked.’”

The addition of Fong-Torres to such a techie team blends old media with new in a way that truly fleshes out traditional music journalism in a multi-media way.

MAURA MAGAZINE

When the majority of people find themselves dissatisfied with their line of work, they stew in angry silence, perhaps taking to Twitter (or a real-life friend, even) to vent about their stagnated situations. If you’re music journalist Maura Johnston, however, such quiet desperation lights a fire under your desk chair so intense that you get up and move. That’s why Johnston — weary of the pageview-grubbing morass of the Web — has started her own digital magazine replete with content that she would want to read in the format she prefers. And, just for the hell of it, she named it after herself: Maura Magazine. Chew on that, media malcontents.

Maura Johnston is a veteran online music journalist, having founded Gawker’s Idolator music blog in 2006 and, until recently, served as the Village Voice‘s music editor. Lately, however, Johnston has been dissatisfied with the viewcount-centric nature of Web culture, and after parting ways with the Voice in September 2012 (a decision that was not her own), she decided to strike out on her own.

Earlier this year, Johnston teamed up with literary app developer 29th Street Publishing and a team of talented and acclaimed writers to launch the first edition of her magazine, which centers around culture in general. Yes, that’s a daunting idea, but one that Johnston thinks is rife with possibility. As she says in a blog post announcing the app, “I’m leaving its purview deliberately open-ended because I want to see where we—the writers, the readers, and me—can take this deceptively simple concept.”

The magazine comes in the form of an iOS app and website with new issues dropping each Thursday. The app itself is free to download and comes with one issue. Users can pay $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year after that to subscribe and the site itself also lives behind a paywall.

Johnston’s magazine launch came at an opportune time in the world of digital media — mere weeks after Daily Beast writer Andrew Sullivan split from the publication to launch his own subscription-only site The Dish, a venture that racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in its first week. Such success stories show that folks are willing to pay for digital content when it’s penned by talented writers with a proven track record, and given Johnston’s long history with the Web, her magazine very well could be the next Sullivan-esque, bootstrapped wonder.

For our interview with Johnston, click here.

THE TALKHOUSE

Hey there, denizen of Nowheresville, USA, (population: 2) — have you ever dreamed of hanging with your favorite bands? Lurking at an exclusive salon-like affair, listening to Melissa Auf der Maur (of Hole and Smashing Pumpkins fame) having a musical love fest with her new favorite act, Buke and Gase; sitting back while multimedia artist Laurie Anderson waxes poetic about Animal Collective; laughing as Sean Yeaton from Parquet Courts yammers on about peyote cacti and They Might Be Giants? Well, now you can — thanks to a newly launched website from music journalist Michael Azerrad (author of music obsesso must-read Our Band Could Be Your Life).

Azerrad’s newest venture, The Talkhouse, is a kind of Interview magazine for music — a website that features a musician-penned album review each day, and, on weekends, a long-read piece. The site had a soft launch in early March and has racked up the contributors since, hosting stories by Matthew Dear, Kip Berman (of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart), Dapwell (formerly of Das Racist) and more.

So what separates The Talkhouse from the plethora of other music review sites out there? Well, as we said, all of the reviewers are fellow musicians. That means that when you read Dean Wareham’s (of Galaxie 500) piece about Richard Hell’s book I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, you not only get Wareham’s assessment of the coming-of-age story, you get glimpses of Wareham’s own life as a musician and how they relate to Hell’s experiences.

The Talkhouse also distinguishes itself by doing away with your usual comments section: The only people who can comment on reviews are the musicians being reviewed, opening up a fascinating dialogue to the public. Yup, The Talkhouse takes that whole distasteful trend of musicians waging dirty-laundry battles via Twitter and whatnot (a trend that has become the fodder of many a breathless gossip piece) and turns it on its head. Instead of watching artists beat each other up, on The Talkhouse, you’re more often than not seeing musicians opening up to each other (unless, of course, Wiz Khalifa chooses to strike back at Dapwell’s pretty damning review of his new album).

For our interview with Azerrad, click here.

PITCHFORK

Music blog institution Pitchfork has been shaking up its look of late — playing with the way content is presented online in a way that both looks to the past for inspiration and modern tech for utility.

If you haven’t hit up Pitchfork of late, the 17-year-old site has brushed up with some new features. Last fall, it unveiled its new “Cover Stories” format, which mimics the visually rich layout of a magazine story (see above). Instead of bombarding readers with a seemingly infinite scroll of text, Cover Stories unfold via rich photographs that change — GIF-like — as you read and pithy pull quotes scattered throughout. You can also listen to tunes while you scroll — something you obviously can’t do in a magazine. In a sense, this new story format is asking the reader to make an investment in what they’re perusing — to shut out outside distractions and focus on the story so richly unfolding before them.

Pitchfork continued this consciousness crusade with the launch of a new album stream hub, titled “Pitchfork Advance.” While pre-release album streams are pretty much the norm on music blogs nowadays, Pitchfork’s iteration is much more intriguing, much more immersive than your average slap-and-go SoundCloud embed. Each album stream is accompanied by album art, lyrics, track listings, credits, artist info and exclusive content, making the act of listening to a new disc more lean-forward than ever before. (see below)

While intriguing on their own, these new features are just the beginning when it comes to overhauling the Pitchfork reading experience. These tweaks are all part of a plan to explode the traditional guidelines of what makes up a website, replacing that skim-friendly format with something more tangible.

For our interview with Pitchfork, click here.

Images courtesy of Flickr, craig Cloutier, Sean MacEntee