Disclaimer: This article is an unashamed act of navel-gazing.
When we started blogging here on UtR, we didn't really think we'd be a likely target for criticism.
We don't publish reviews, so there's no chance of the increasingly common online backlash to a hatchet job, and we don't fawn over established acts, so no-one can accuse us of any commercial bias.
No, we entered into this with our consciences clear and an unassuming goal: to offer a platform for the best new music in Scotland. Gee shucks.
How naïve we were. In the blogosphere no-one is exempt from potshots, and so, when we came across a post
on one of Scotland's most established music blogs, The Pop Cop, which derided our choice of acts, it sparked our curiosity.
We were keen to find out why Mr Pop Cop had become "disillusioned" with UtR, so we asked him to expand on his comments with a guest blog post. Here we offer up his argument in full, followed by our response.The Pop Cop writes...
This month is a significant one for The Pop Cop as it marks the first birthday of the Music Alliance Pact. MAP is an international group of bloggers who each month simultaneously post a list of freely downloadable tracks by their countries' best new acts, with one suggestion from each MAP member.
My job is to pick a Scottish song worthy of sharing with a global, music-hungry audience once a month, and it struck me that one cracking new act a month from Scotland is as much as I could ever hope to find these days.
To put it bluntly, there is a very limited amount of spread-the-word music being made in this country at the moment by up-and-coming artists, despite the fact I check out every single band recommendation, MySpace link and email tip-off that comes my way.
That is why I was shocked when I heard that Under the Radar are on course to have featured 100 bands on their 'on the radar' pieces in its first year of existence.
As thorough as UtR is in promoting the underground music scene in Scotland, I find myself becoming increasingly disillusioned by what they deem blogworthy talent. It doesn't matter how they spin it, the frequency of UtR's artist profiles - usually two or three per week - is done so at the expense of quality control, not with their writing (which is top-notch) but with the new acts they choose to feature. The overwhelming majority fall in the 'average to alright' category.
It's the equivalent of going to the casino and putting your chips on all 37 slots on the roulette wheel - you're guaranteed to land on the winner but you'll also back an awful lot of losers. If you think that’s harsh, ask yourself this question - of all the streaming songs featured on UtR, how many do you listen to more than once?
While it's undeniably heartening that Scotland's underground music scene is given such significant coverage, UtR do their readers a disservice by taking such a rose-tinted view of it.
Of course, UtR isn't coming out and declaring that every single band they write about is the best thing ever, but by making their 'on the radar' pieces so frequent, they have little choice but to give average Scottish acts a platform they haven't earned.
You're probably wondering why I care so much, especially as I have my own music blog to write about whoever I think does deserve the attention. Well, I also regard myself as a reader of UtR, and as a reader, I find it disheartening to constantly sift through mediocre songs on a website whose motto is "showcasing the best unsigned bands".
UtR reckon there are 100 up-and-coming artists worth hearing each year in Scotland. I think there are 12
I long for the day when I can go the UtR site and just know that this new act I'm reading about for the first time must be amazing - simply because they have made it onto 'on the radar'. Now, wouldn't that be something special?UtR replies...
The Pop Cop makes several points, but the thrust of his argument is that Scotland's music scene isn't productive enough to warrant anything more than one band worth writing about per month.
We respectfully disagree. In seven months we have published more than 60 profiles, and have rejected far more enquiries after a swift listen. So far we have yet to feel stretched, or under any pressure to feature a band just to plug a gap in our schedule. Nor did we set out with any bands-per-month target (a whole new meaning for BPM). The frequency of acts on UtR grew out of a natural reflection of what we were listening to and being exposed to on a weekly basis. Simple as that.
And we're not alone in our "rose-tinted" view of music in Scotland right now. It's surely no coincidence that The List's Exposure
feature has picked up the pace this year, or that Glasgow Podcart
introduces many more bands than we do on its weekly podcast, or that The Skinny
is stepping up its emphasis on homegrown talent, on top of sites like Song, by Toad
, Ten Tracks
, Off the Beaten Tracks
and The Kiosque
. Granted, not all of the above focus solely on Scotland, but they're all based here and set aside more than a fair share for our native music-makers.
But what really struck us was the accusation that we have done all this "at the expense of quality control". We don't begrudge an honest opinion - and we hope this editorial proves that we encourage them - but there are two problems with making this assumption:
1. It's subjective. As is musical taste. Does a music website or magazine exist where you enjoy every recommended band? We have six regular writers with their own preferences, covering anything from electronica to indie-pop to post-rock. We assume each of our readers also has their own preferences. We guarantee that you won't like everything on the blog. There, we said it, and we're perversely proud of that fact.
2. The alternative, to follow The Pop Cop's logic, would be to enforce UN-style bureaucracy over our editorial policy. We'd have to organise meetings where we all sit around and debate whether a band is good enough for the blog. Weirdly, that sounds like fun, but in reality everything would be vetoed, and you, dear reader, would never get to make your own mind up because we'd never publish anything.
No, we operate a benign dictatorship here at UtR. The writers pitch something, we take a listen, and if it's genuinely original or just damn good, it enters the queue for publication.
The final problem we have with the complaint (and yes, this is beginning to sound like legalese) is the roulette analogy. You play the roulette to win, and The Pop Cop implies that we stand to gain if an act we have featured makes a breakthrough.
Nonsense. We're not doing this for self-congratulation. And we've been in the music hack game long enough to know that rewards, whatever form they take, are reserved for a select few. Sure, it would be a nice validation of our efforts if a band did achieve success on the back of an UtR profile, but that is certainly not the fundamental purpose.
Despite our little disagreement, we're still grateful for The Pop Cop's feedback, and perhaps there are issues we do need to address or things we should be doing differently. As ever, we keep an open mind, so on that note, we invite your comments...Does Scotland produce more than 12 blogworthy bands a year?
Have we sacrificed our quality control?
Which UtR-featured acts made you sit up and take notice?
Labels: editorial, The Pop Cop