Interview 4080 - Andrew Barber speaks on the role of the blogger, FSD, and More
Coming to you from the Closed Sessions office is a fresh new edition of Interview 4080, the interview series in which we talk to music industry professionals about what life is like on the regular. In today's edition, Cameron Smith catches up with the illustrious creator of Chicago music blog FakeShoreDrive, Andrew Barber. Andrew speaks on his goals for FSD and together, they nerd out about the future of the music industry. Cameron's questions are in bold while Andrew’s responses are in plain text.
What’s the role of a music blogger in 2016? Do you think it’s to give your personal opinion on music? Is it to be purely a tastemaker?
I don’t know. I think the role a music blogger has changed significantly since when I first came into the business in 2007. It’s a lot different. At that time there weren’t many outlets, there weren’t a lot blogs. There definitely weren’t a lot of bloggers. It wasn’t a cool thing.
Now I feel like, people treat being a music blogger as a cool type of gig. I think at the time when I first started people didn’t know what it was. I think people looked it them as computer nerds, or a guy who’s on the internet all day, which wasn’t the case, I mean for some people sure that was in their personality, and that definitely is kind of in me.
I think people get into it for the wrong reasons now, and I think breaking through, to really have a voice is a lot more difficult now because there’s so many people trying to be writers trying to be bloggers, trying to get into the industry this way because of the success a lot of first and second generation have had. So now they’re trying to capitalize on it. I’m not sure if they’re into the music like the first generation of bloggers. Of course some of them are, but we had to earn our stripes coming up. We had to really know about the culture. We had to really be educated and knowledgeable about the music. And live it and breathe it. And now I think you have a lot of people that write about rap music that maybe just started listening to it a couple of years ago, or didn’t really sit with the culture. I hate to say culture – haven’t really sat with the genre. As far as the role-
I know this is kind of a long and dragged out answer but I want to give a good one.
I think the role just depends on the blogger. I think you have certain bloggers or people out there that you trust that have a good track record. I think there are others who put out a lot of noise out there and they may not break through.
I don’t think the blogger is as important as it was 5 – 10 years ago, but it still does matter. I think it’s a little more about the individual now than the blog itself.
With that said about how it used to be computer nerds, maybe 10 years ago, writing for the blogs, I guess I can’t help but make the comparison between that and the Internet in general with Silicon Valley in general being a bubble that’s popped –
That’s a good way to think of it. That’s a good analogy.
And with tech start-ups not necessarily being as lucrative as they used to be and the bubble is starting to pop. Do you think that can ever happen again in terms of blogs in the music industry being so successful?
I think it already has. The role of the blog has changed so much. Before the blog was like the renegade. It was the anti-mainstream website. It wasn’t from the machine it was independent people writing about it. No big cash cow behind it, just people with unique voices. Unique outlooks. Really strong opinions and good taste.
You had that, right? Then you had the magazines that controlled print for years. And the blog was like anti-print, right? The blog was like, 'yo we like the magazines but we have different taste.' So for myself, I started doing FakeShoreDrive because I thought that no one was covering Chicago.
No one was covering what was happening out here unless you were one of the big artists – Kanye, Common, Lupe, or Twista. And so what happened was – the print magazines folded, and a lot of them were smart enough to see – and I credit Complex for being really the first ones to be smart enough and say – 'okay, print is still important, but let’s tackle the online game head on,' and they hired the best writers. and that’s why you see Complex as the leader. You have Noisey, Complex and the Fader. And those are, like, the big outlets now. They’ve made it hard for a lot of the big bloggers now because they have funding, they have staff they have budgets, they have venture capital money, whereas a blog is usually one or two guys, they have no funding, they have no staff, they can’t afford to pay the top writers.
It’s made it hard for a lot of the blogger to survive, that’s why I feel like it is kind of like the ‘dot com’ bubble burst where the strong people are still alive and still thriving and have figured out other ways to go about doing things and a lot of people haven’t survived.
What’s the goal for FakeShoreDrive as far as how you’d like to be perceived by your audience?
As far as what FakeShoreDrive is, first it started off as a music blog. As we talked about earlier in the conversation, the scopes of the music blogs are changing. I think they’re important, but social media has also had a part in that and the role of the artist going straight to the fans has changed a lot. So, blogs aren’t what they used to be. Yes, they’re still important, but they’re not the end-all-be-all like they maybe once were. So, social media changed that because there are tastemakers who don’t have a site, they can just put the link right there. So, in order to get people to go to your site, you have to give them a valuable opinion, they have to trust you. They have to like your style of writing. They just respect your brand.
Now, I started off FakeShoreDrive as a hobby. I never expected it to become a fulltime job, like what it is now. I’ve been doing it 5-6 years, and its been my only job. I worked in corporate America before I was able to turn it into this. Just by hard work, good connections, and reallly busting my ass and a little bit of luck I was able to turn it into a fulltime business. Now it’s not just a blog. We’ve taken this thing that I started from a Gmail account in 2007 and now we have a radio show on Sirius XM, on Shade 45. We work with companies like Red Bull. We’ve been working with Red Bull doing concerts as a part of their Red Bull Sound Select Program for the last 4 years. We’ve worked with Beats By Dre and Hennessey and Ciroc and LiveNation I’m now working with. I’ve taken the blog and I’ve expanded it into other things, so it’s not just a music blog, it’s a media company. So, if you want to be successful in doing this, you can’t just rely on one bucket. You have to have multiple buckets. At least that’s how I look at it and that’s how we’ve been able to have a good amount of success.
Do you feel a responsibility to continue covering the Chicago music scene?
We started covering the Midwest like 3 years ago because I saw the same issue happening throughout this whole region as I saw with Chicago when I first started writing about Chicago rap. There’s not much coverage unless you’re one of the big people and I felt like the whole region should be represented. When I started FakeShoreDrive a lot of people laughed at me cause they were like ‘man there’s not enough happening in Chicago for you to survive and for you to have a blog that people care about and for you to last’. People were like you’re not going to survive in this game but it ended up being one of the things that made us to stand out.
With all if the partnerships that you guys have, do you see yourselves expanding on that and trying to be the same size as Complex or the Fader in that they’re huge media conglomerates with video and all sorts of media on their websites?
Perhaps, I mean I think we’ll continue to do what we do. We might do a little bit more of the video stuff and try to grow it that way, but I also like the ideas of a lot of these events and creating experiences that we’ve been doing and doing other things within the industry. I love doing the blog and I think it’d be great, but FakeShoreDrive has grown into more than that so I want to do a little bit of everything.
Changing gear a little bit, I just want to get your opinion on some things related to the industry in general. It seems as if rappers make most of their money through touring. How do you think this is going to change over the next few years? Do you think it’s possible at all to making selling singles and albums profitable again?
I mean, I think you’re always going to be able to make money selling music, but I think music is changing and it's been changing. It hasn’t been the same since 1999 when Napster came out and people were so used to getting music for free and they had been getting used to getting it for free for all these years it's like we’re having to retrain people over again. Now streaming is the new frontier and I think streaming is the biggest change in music since the mp3 came out and since Napster came out because it’s almost getting people to begin paying for music again. It is, but I think a lot of people are unhappy with the payout to the artists and the politics of streaming.
The issue is not a lot of people have come on board yet. It’s going to take some time before the rest of the world and the rest of the country and all of the music listeners get on to streaming. The average music listener might do it a little bit but they’re still new to it and I think there’s going to be more money in it once they figure out this platform. I think it can eventually get back to where the music industry was in the late 90’s and early 2000s where there’s a lot of money floating around but it’s going to be different. I think people are going to have to, as much as they don’t want to, and a lot of people are anti-streaming, but they’re going to have to embrace streaming. You can’t compete with free and if the music is free and the music is cheap the people are going to go that route as opposed to buying it. So you have to figure out a way to level the playing field as far as streaming is concerned. It’s crazy to hear people complain about y’know “Oh man I don’t want to spend $10 a month to join this or join Tidal or Spotify or Apple.” But if you think about it, if you were a person who bought CDs in the 90s and early 2000s, you spent way more than that on CDs. One CD was like $16 back in the day. I think we have to retrain people to get them to understand that music is still something of value and you should pay for it – the artists have ben getting ripped off all these years. It’s going to take a while to figure out but I think we’re on the right track.
The industry is just changing. There’s so much data out there. The labels will always be around, and they’re very important still, but it’s the tech companies who are going to control all of the information. Think of all the data that Spotify has. Not only do they have your Facebook account, and see what you’re looking at and they can peer into that, but they also have all the statistics on how you listen to music – what you listen to, what you like. What point in the song do you like a song or that you replay a song, or skip a song because you don’t like it. Shazam, on the other hand, has the capability to spot a hit song 90s days out. That’s how good their technology is. They can take data from a song, because now they can tell what part of a song of the most Shazam-able part. They can say ‘okay, this 30 seconds of this Adele song, or whoever is the most important part. So let’s take this to Apple, and lets take this to any company and this is the part you should put in your commercial because it’ll make the biggest impact.’
So, the data stuff is so important now, and I think that’s where you’re going to see the change. The data components will come into play even more, where the labels and industry people are going to be studying that stuff. They’ll buy the information from the streaming and Shazam companies to see what’s going on there.
With the case on Vinyl and CDs, those mediums decided what the music would be like in terms of format. CDs helped to create the album format of 60 to 70 minutes of music. In the case of streaming and what you said about Shazam picking a specific 30 seconds of a song that’s amazing and that’s going to be catchy. How do you think music itself as a product is going to adapt to these new limitations and new frameworks?
I mean they got to move fast because for the past few years it has been all about millennials, all about millennials, all about millennials. Now it’s about generation Z. That’s who’s next. That’s who we need to go after. These are young people who are going to grow up in a world where they never have to buy music. The concept of going to a physical brick and mortar location with walls that you had to go in and pay $15 for one CD that you had to listen to until you could afford to buy another one will be the most foreign and bizarre concept to them ever. They’re going to think that that’s the craziest thing ever because there’s more content, more music, and more access to information than ever in the history of the planet right now. It’s a constant music buffet. It’s changing so quickly.
They’re going to start looking at the habits of generation Z and seeing what they’re doing and how they’re consuming. I think that’s how the future’s going to go. I know Vinyl is super popular and cassettes are kind of hot now, I’ve been seeing a lot of cassettes over the past couple of years, but I don’t know if those really sell enough to make a dent. I know that there are articles that say Vinyl outsold CDs, whatever. I still think Vinyl is a novelty and people like it and it’s cool or whatever, but it’s something you have at your house that you listen to. It’s not portable; it’s not as easy. You can’t play it in your car. It’s not like being able to have everything on you phone like Apple Music or Spotify or whatever. I don’t know. The technology is always changing. I’m glad that the industry now is embracing it instead of trying to fight it as they used to do. It’s either you embrace it or you get rolled over, so what side are you on?