When I started this blog I looked everywhere for some sort of how-to, and surprise! Such a thing did not exist. So now I’m making one for future generations because music blogging is fun! and it keeps kids off crack!
First, you need a blog. Any blog will do, there are lots of places where you can get a free blog (WordPress, Blogger, etc), or if you want to invest a little you can pay for your own hosting (about $6-$8 a month). I would recommend starting off with a freebie and then if you actually stick with it transfer over to a hosting service. A hosting service will also generally provide you with some storage space and bandwidth to host music, which makes things a little easier. I don’t really know a whole lot about having a self-hosted blog, however, so I will focus on what is involved in having a completely free one.
I’m partial to the free WordPress variety of blog, although I haven’t tried Blogger since they supposedly made it better. WordPress works pretty well for music blogging, but it has some limitations. Its built-in music player doesn’t work for me, it shows up as a button and there is no way to label what will be played when someone pushes that button. It’s too awkward to say “the first button is blah and the second button is blah blah” in the post, so I just put what the song is and then link the words. This isn’t a huge problem, but it would be nice if I could use their sleek built-in player instead of having plain ‘ole links. I love their stats feature though, it gives you the numbers of people who are coming to your blog (in a fancy line chart!), what search terms are bringing people to you, and what other sites people are coming from. I like that you can choose your theme (and there are actually some that aren’t so incredibly boring), but I wish I could change things like the font/alignment of my header without having to know CSS. This is probably something that only bothers me though, so I’ve learned to live with it. Another thing that is kind of annoying is that when you use the online WordPress editor to write posts it edits out your blank lines between paragraphs. This makes no sense and it’s amazing to me that they haven’t fixed it yet. Apparently people are just writing their blogs in one big long paragraph, way-too-personal-facebook-note style? I don’t know. BUT! there is a way around this annoying problem, it’s called Windows Live Writer. WLW is a beta program that lets you write posts offline and then upload them to your blog. It somehow magically gets WordPress to keep the paragraph breaks and also has other nice features such as picture editing built in that will allow you to add borders and margins and whatnot. Obviously it only works for Windows, I’m sure there is something similar for Apple, but I don’t know what it is, if anyone does leave it in the comments and I will edit it in here.
Now that you have a blog, you need some music. I can’t imagine having a blog if I didn’t have a constant stream of new music coming at me via the radio station on which I have a show. You could certainly find enough music to write about without having it dropped in your lap every week by promoters, but it would be a lot more work. Once you find a band you want to write about you need to go to their website or Myspace and see what songs they have for download or stream and then only us those in your post. I missed this important step at first and was just putting up whatever I liked best, but then I realized that was kind of a crappy thing to do to the band because who is going to buy a song when they can just download it for free from my blog? By using something that the band also has on their site you aren’t enabling people to just go from blog to blog to get an entire album for free. It’s also not very polite to link directly to the song on the band’s site because they probably have to pay for their bandwidth, instead host it yourself at somewhere free (more on that in a bit). Along these same lines, you should have some sort of disclaimer like I have in my right column which says something to the effect of “if you are a band and you want me to take something down, email me and I’ll do it. If you like some band you see on here, go buy something from them so that they can pay their rent.” You also need to provide a link to where people can buy an album in each post, preferably directly from the record label because the band gets a little bit more money when a CD is purchased from the label than when it is purchased from itunes or amazon or whatever other big corporation. Plus, it’s fun to get surprise stickers with your CD that you ordered from the label and you won’t have to deal with itunes’ stupid DRM copy protections.
Now that you have chosen some music you have to convert it to mp3 so that people can listen to it online using QuickTime. If you use itunes* you can set it to import everything as mp3 instead of its own made-up file format from now on so that you won’t have to go through the hassle of converting stuff later. To do this go to edit, click preferences and when the box comes up click the advanced tab. Underneath the main tabs there will now be a second row of tabs, click on the Importing tab in this row. Where it says “Import Using” change it to MP3 Encoder. That takes care of any CDs you may import from now on, but what if you want to use something you already have? Then, my friend you use a fabulous little program called Switch. It’s a program you have to pay for, but you can download the trial version and it will do everything you need. When you download it it offers you the option to download a whole bunch of other programs, but the only other one you really need is the one called Stamp. Stamp is an ID3 tag editor (ID3 tags are the things that tell itunes and other audio programs what to put under the artist, album, etc. headers), you will have to enter the ID3 tags after you convert your songs.
To use Switch all you have to do is click add file, find the song you want to convert (if you imported it using itunes it will be in your My Music folder under itunes library), make sure the output folder is where you want it (a different place than where it came from so you don’t confuse yourself) and the output format is set to mp3 and click convert. Now open Stamp, click add files, click on the file you just outputted (not the original), enter the right information in the boxes at the bottom, and click Stamp File(s) (note: you have to click the Stamp File(s) button for each individual file, if you do them all and then click it it will only do the last one and you will have to start all over). If you have made a mix or something and want all the songs to have the same album title you can highlight them all, put in the title and then click the button and it will give them all the same title so you don’t have to type it in 400 times.
Now that you have your music all shiny and converted you need a place to host it. There are thousands of places that will allow you to host things for free and most of them are total crap, with ads for penis pills in the margins and hard-to-find upload buttons and other horrible things.
Among this carnage is a gem by the name of MediaMax. MediaMax is simple to use, does not try to sell you a new mortgage, and gives you 25 GB of storage and enough bandwidth to start out with, all for free. Actually I’ve had trouble with MediaMax recently. At first it was just being difficult and I was having to upload stuff more than once for it to show up and then it deleted every single one of my 50+ files without warning and I gave up on it. Now I use Boxstr. It’s not as easy to use, their folder system doesn’t work, there’s not upload progress indicator, and there are more ads, but so far it hasn’t given me any major problems. If your blog gets wildly popular you will definitely exceed your monthly free bandwidth and no one will be able to listen to your music, but at that point you would probably be ready to switch to a paid hosting service anyway. Boxstr also gives you a lot more bandwidth than MediaMax, albeit in a confusing way. You get up to 1/2 GB every day, which theoretically means 15 GB a month…I think. I’m still unclear on this. Once your song is uploaded to Boxstr the link shows up automatically, but it can be hard to tell what is what if you upload more than one song at a time, so I always save the file as Artist-Song Title to make it easier. Boxstr is the site to use if you want your visitors to be able to click a link and be taken to a blank screen with a QuickTime player that will play the song (they can also download it by right clicking and doing save file as). If you have something big, say a mix, that doesn’t need to be available for online-listening, but that you want people to be able to download, the site to use is MediaFire. There are other sites like YouSendIt that do the same thing, but I like MediaFire the best because the ads are unobtrusive, their upload thing has a status bar, there is a Facebook application that lets you put the stuff you have on it on your Facebook, and when people go there they don’t have to search around for the download button, it’s right there and it’s really big.
Finally! Now you can write your post. I like to include a fair amount of information about the band, secretly this is because I never know what to say for a review and including information about the band makes my posts an acceptable length. To find this information I first try the band’s website, but sometimes they have nothing about themselves (which is both annoying and really strange to me) so then I try allmusic, the source of all knowledge. If I want something kooky and potentially completely made up I will occasionally go to Wikipedia. Myspaces are sometimes helpful too, but a lot of times they just have quotes from magazines or blurbs written by PR firms which do not not contain any actual information but do have words like “searing” and “kaleidoscopic” and “icy grandeur” which can be entertaining. I always link to both the band’s website and their Myspace though, so finding them is not a total loss. It’s also nice to have a picture of the band too. They can be found on band websites, occasionally on label websites, or on Myspace if you too have a Myspace. I generally just upload these pictures to WordPress because it’s easiest. Before uploading though, you need to compress them so they aren’t gigantic using a photo editing program. The standard Windows one that comes with every PC works fine.
Congratulations, you now have a music blog. You probably want people besides your mom to read your music blog at this point. My best advice for that is to put a link in your Facebook/Myspace, a lot of my traffic comes from mystery stalkers on my Facebook, which is both cool and kind of creepy. Second to that, get your blog on music blog aggregators. Aggregators search lots and lots of blogs for music and compile it in one place, then people can search at the aggregator by band or song and find a link to your blog. The two best ones are HypeMachine (they require that you wait 3 months before submitting yourself) and elbo.ws (I actually like this one better, but it doesn’t have as many blogs. They don’t make you wait 3 months) at both of these sites there is a link that says something to the effect of “suggest a blog!” A weird phenomenon I’ve recently noticed is that writing about some popular (but still at least moderately indie) band like Spoon or Interpol will get a lot of people to your blog through the aggregators. The post I did recently reviewing both a Spoon and an Interpol album brought more traffic to my blog than my last 3 months of posts combined. Another little trick is to find a really good obscure (unsigned) band which will gradually start gaining popularity and write about them. That way when someone searches for them your blog will be one of the few things that pops up and as an added bonus you are giving free promotion to a deserving band. Cataldo is this band for me, people searching for him make up a significant portion of my traffic.
*You can’t convert things you’ve bought from itunes to mp3, however because of the DRM copy protections. If you are really determined you can always burn the songs you want to cd and then re-import them to get rid of the protections. Apparently there are some artists that are available without DRM protection for a little more money now, but I think it’s mostly people like John Mayer and Jay-Z, so that probably doesn’t help you.
Here are all the things I linked to in this novel gathered for your convenience:
Some other links that may or may not be helpful:
midPhase-this is the pay hosting service recommended by I Guess I’m Floating and the one that I will use when I finally get around to figuring out the whole striking-out-on-my-own thing.
Gimp-an open source photo-editing program which is a viable alternative to spending one million dollars on Photoshop. I use this to make headers and mix CD covers
In anyone has any questions not addressed here or needs clarification, send me an email at commoditiesoftheabstractsort AT gmail DOT com or leave a comment and I will attempt to answer them.