Everett True

a brief note on The Daily Swarm, and the homogenisation of music writing on the web

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By the Collapse Board editors … ah, OK, Everett True

Who watches the watchmen?

The Daily Swarm is a music blog/website that supplies (some decent) editorial content, and aggregates other music websites in quite a discriminatory fashion. This is to the good. Because of this, it can be quite influential in terms of audience figures for an up-coming music website: when it started linking to Collapse Board a few months back it was very noticeable. However, its very nature means that it picks up mainly on the stories its editors figure are of most interest to its readers (i.e. the ones everyone is reading already) and everything else falls by the wayside, kind of like the way Google Search hides most web content from view. (It doesn’t mean to. It just does.)

Having said that, like Sean from Drowned In Sound says, the Daily Swarm editors seem like good people. This post is more a comment on the general ethnography of web 2.0 environments than on one particular site. The Daily Swarm is not the enemy: there are tens of thousands of blog aggregation sites out there, and they are one of the very few that help contribute to the dialogue going on around music, both through editorial and their selective filtering process.

But. Let’s face it. They’re always going to be about Jay-Z. Never about No Mas Bodas or Barbara Panther.

After showing a little interest in CB a while ago, The Daily Swarm suddenly stopped linking back to us – maybe its editors deemed our content not serious enough, or adult enough, or important enough, or mainstream enough. I have no idea. Maybe it’s coincidence and I’m being over-sensitive about my beautiful unruly baby. Whatever the reason, that’s their call and that’s as it should be. It does seem a little weird to have people sitting in judgment on Collapse Board at blog aggregation sites across the Internet, though (most of which are far more faceless than The Daily Swarm). Maybe that’s as it should be as well. Maybe music criticism should be reduced to a Best Of, where one person’s opinion is of no account. Maybe it’s good that music criticism can be homogenised by the effect of powerful blog aggregation sites where, if you don’t fit in with their aesthetic or write about famous-enough artists, you’re simply ignored. Maybe music criticism should be a grey, amorphous mass, as dictated to by those numeral-loving birds at Pitchfork and all their supporters (human and otherwise) at sites like The Daily Swarm.

However, my pal over at Drowned In Sound – a music site I enjoy, because it adheres broadly to the sort of music writing I appreciate – linked to this recent editorial on The Daily Swarm, celebrating 15 years at Pitchfork. I would like to draw your attention to a couple of paragraphs.

… as cutting edge as Pitchfork can be, it follows a journalism tradition started in the ‘90s: promoting the brand, de-emphasizing the writer. The quality of writing maintained on Pitchfork remains high, with many strong writers in regular rotation; however, the only scribe to really break out of Pitchfork’s stable as a star, for example, is the brilliant Nitsuh Abebe, who currently writes superb criticism for New York magazine (and still also contributes to Pitchfork). Otherwise, the reviews’ impact primarily stems from the numerical rating, and the fact that they’re on Pitchfork, rather than who wrote them.

So what does this all mean? Well, in its decade and a half, Pitchfork has become the establishment, much as Rolling Stone and SPIN did in their respective heydays. That status doesn’t mean that Pitchfork has lost its integrity, however. Even fifteen years on, there’s nothing that does quite what it does, and the achievements just keep piling up …

So faceless blog aggregation sites think faceless music writing websites like Pitchfork should become even more faceless.

Go figure.

P.S. That line they have in their promo blurb about how “The Swarm founders and contributors include writers, editors and executives from all facets of media and the industry including Rolling Stone, Spin, Vibe, XXL, Vice, Village Voice, Urb, XLR8R”  … um … it’s not really from all facets of media and the industry, is it?

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