On Monday, November 11, Niall Byrne celebrated eight years blogging about music at Nialler9.com. On November 1, Naomi McCardle celebrated four years blogging as Harmless Noise. So many blogs have come and gone since Niall started his blog, yet he’s still standing. So it felt like a good time to chat to the pair, my two favourite music bloggers (and two of my favourite people), about the weird, selfish process of music blogging, the good stuff, the bad stuff, how they feel about Hot Press, where they see things going into the future – and yes, what music they’re loving at the moment. The conversation was (eventually) done over Gchat yesterday afternoon, Tuesday, November 12. It’s been very slightly edited since then.
It all starts after the jump.
I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it – Nialler9
TPOE: Firstly, congrats to Niall on eight years of running the music blog. I’ve been running TPOE for nearly four years, and Nay has been doing Harmless Noise for just over four years. I know how tough it can be to keep things going, so Niall, do you still enjoy it and what keeps you going?
Nialler9: Thanks. Of course, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it. That would suck. I’m still excited by music every day and that keeps me doing this weird thing.
TPOE: It is weird, isn’t it, music blogging. Like, you can be in your own world for the whole day, not seeing anybody else. It’s kind of… solitary.
Harmless Noise: That’s the best part about it for me! Escape from the world!
Nialler9: it is a bit. but, it’s also part of what i do every day. it helps my other work is at a computer and also solitary
TPOE: Did both of you start the blog because, like me, it was just a way of telling more people to listen to the music you were into?
Nialler9: Yep, pretty much. I like the document aspect of it now for me personally
Harmless Noise: Yeah definitely. I’d been blogging about Irish music on Hot Press prior to Harmless Noise because I thought it was overlooked by the magazine, but when I started HN it was definitely a case of hearing a lot of really great bands and wanting to share them with people.
TPOE: When you started Niall, it was very much the start of ‘music blogging’ on the internet really, right? Like, you and Darragh Mc and Shane would have been the main trio of bloggers in the mid-00s. Was it just a case of figuring out what a music blog actually was?
Nialler9: And MP3Hugger. Who I’ve still never met. I took my cues from the American music blogs because they were where I discovered music I’d never heard anywhere else before. I liked the concept of sharing those unknown pleasures so I started doing a similar thing. You figure out your own process though. For the first few years 99% of the emails I got sent were from shitty US indie bands. It took a while for Europe to catch up
TPOE: What are both of your processes for music blogging? Are you set in your ways in how you find new music – and is it 99% through emails from bands?
Nialler9: Nope. Soundcloud streams, friend recommendations, other blogs and sites, emails, promos, Twitter, Facebook, certain radio shows – new music tips can come from anywhere really.
Harmless Noise: I get a lot of emails but I try not to depend on them. A lot of the time it’s a case of seeing a band live as support, or going to a gig to find out whether they’re any good, before I post about them. There’ll be tips from people who know the kind of stuff I like, and the main thing is probably watching what other people are doing and following the trail…like, the rock scene in Dublin is notoriously bad for sending emails and I don’t think I’ve ever got a mail from any of the bands like BATS, Adebisi, No Spill Blood etc – you have to go to gigs and talk to people to find out what’s happening before it ever makes its way online.
Nialler9: Yes, and gigs. Obviously
Harmless Noise: Loads of strange people seem to have my home address as well, I tend to get a lot of post of CDs from people and bands I’ve never heard of which can be…weird.
TPOE: I got two packages from a band or label recently that I have no idea how they got my address. That was weird.
Harmless Noise: It’s freaky, isn’t it!
TPOE: Usually I find out about brand new Irish bands through an email they send me. Do you listen to everything Irish that ye get sent? And have ye found that bands have gotten much better at the info they include – they know what a blogger or journalist actually wants
Harmless Noise: I used to listen to everything, I mean EVERYTHING that Irish bands sent me…and now there are just *so* many emails that I read them all, but I genuinely just don’t have time to listen to it all and tend to look out for newer names more than those I already know, cos a lot of the time I’ll have ether heard about the new release already and plan to post, or I might not be that interested in what they’re doing and be trying to find something that’s really exciting and interesting: a better use of the time. Sounds a bit harsh, yikes.
Nialler9: Info from those contacting usually isn’t a problem. I do try to prioritise Irish music these days. Also, I’ve a band tips thing on my contact page that helps people contacting me.
TPOE: Did you feel that you weren’t doing enough posts about Irish music that you are prioritising it now?
Nialler9: Not at all. I don’t cover Irish music for the sake of it but I do try and give everyone a listen. There are only a few outlets like ourselves for this stuff and likely, if they’re contacting irish bloggers then they haven’t tried to contact too many others. The lack of time/volume of music has become a greater issue in the last two years
The lack of time/volume of music has become a greater issue in the last two years – Nialler9
Harmless Noise: That’s a really good point. It’s nice that bands feel Irish blogs are approachable and they don’t have to impress us by being featured on a bigger site before we’ll bother…i think for a long time, it was that way with traditional media.
Nialler9: On the flipside, it’s good to see Irish artists going to international sites first sometimes – it means they understand where their audience is
Harmless Noise: Yeah, I started out spending literally every minute of my time on blogging. I’d roll out of bed, into my desk chair, fall off my chair and into bed at night. It was exhausting. I think a lot of them aren’t sure where to start with internationals, it does seem as though being featured here is often a small step towards being picked up by the bigger blogs too.
TPOE: I hate when an international blog features an Irish band but literally just give it a two lines, get info wrong and stuff
Like what’s the point?
Nialler9: well that’s a separate issue
Harmless Noise: Though you ARE one of the bigger blogs Niall! #5 reprrresent!
Nialler9: haha, that was a few years ago. Also, Solar Bears’ John Kowalski does lots for artists in terms of connections to those bigger blogs. Dude has cultivated a serious online rolodex
Harmless Noise: Indeed, he could branch out into blogging himself if he had a mind to.
TPOE: But like, you’ve got to care about what you [post though, right? I just feel sometimes international blogs DON’T care about what they post. As long as it has ‘premiere’ on it, they think that’ll do. I just get annoyed because if the band goes to either of you they would get a really good write-up
Harmless Noise: Ah for every international blog we know of, there are 100 that do really good write-ups but just aren’t well known.
Sure even in Ireland there are great blogs with amazing writers who aren’t that ‘big’. Fractured Air is an amazing blog, I wish I could write like that.
Nialler9: It’s the content farm thing. Sites like Noisey and Thump are landgrabs for the media company Vice. Who knows who’s writing that shit half the time? Sometimes there isn’t any info on bands really and as locals we’d have an advantage
Harmless Noise: *nods* definitely.
Some people just want to press play, some people want info, some people want context – Nialler9
TPOE: Do you guys like reading other music blogs? Both in Ireland and abroad?
Nialler9: Yeah, though time is a factor i do like to go through my feedly list once a week and see what people are posting
Harmless Noise: I’m not a huge blog reader, to be honest. I never really have been. I tend to like reading other sites’ reviews and interviews, if they’re posting about bands I like. But since Google Reader died, I’ve definitely fallen out of habit of checking sites daily.
TPOE: That’s interesting. I wonder would all bloggers be the same. I quite enjoy going to other music blogs, both to see what their sites are like, and what quality their writing is at.
Harmless Noise: I have carefully-tailored twitter lists to see what people are talking about tho: bands, labels, retailers, promoters and media types. Well I judge the quality of writing on reviews and interviews.
TPOE: I’m never sure what a blog reader wants from a post: do they just want info about a song, or do they want more, the personal touch, what the writer actually thinks? About every song?
Nialler9: Everyone is different. Some people just want to press play, some people want info, some people want context.
Harmless Noise: Oh, it varies. Niall’s blog and mine for example, are really different, and there are different types of audience. Some people don’t read anything at all and just click play. Some people have to be convinced.
TPOE: Coming back to music blogs in Ireland, it feels like a good few have fallen away in recent years, and that others aren’t as regular as they should be – has music blogging plateaued in that respect, if that makes sense?
Harmless Noise: It’s kinda hard to describe what happened there but I don’t think the actual practice of blogging is suffering. It’s just that a lot of people who started out with really good blogs were doing it for their own enjoyment, and as time went on, their lives demanded more attention etc. Like Darragh Mc and Karluss were in college when they started and now have jobs to do, so they don’t have time. Some people got bored. There were also a lot of people who weren’t particularly good at picking up on new music, or that good at writing, and the investment that blogging demands just wasn’t paying off for them. There was a burst of popularity for blogging as well for a while that saw loads start up and just taper off. But there are obviously loads of younger people out there who either have, or will have, blogs of their own that will rise to the fore as time goes on.
Nialler9: To a certain extent, some of us we’re playing with the format and seeing if it stuck to them. When Twitter took off, It was crazy how that affected conversations on blogs in terms of comments for me. Tumblr came along. I think a lot of people are happy to just consume or share without elaborating. I think a lot of younger kids where we would have started a blog, they start a Tumblr or whatever
Harmless Noise: I’m glad about Twitter. I hated comments. You can have a conversation on Twitter, but you can also opt out of it too. There used to be some bizarre blog comment threads, arguments, slanging matches…I don’t miss that at all.
TPOE: You still get them every so often, don’t you Niall?
Nialler9: Yeah, like the music network piece. Generally when there’s some contention. Otherwise it’s pretty random, It’s hard to argue with I like this track other than saying “me too”
Harmless Noise: Well I suppose you don’t really post the kind of things that piss people off!
Nialler9: Exactly. so comments are less important overall.
TPOE: I think we all only put up music that we like. Do you think that that’s OK? I mean, should there be more ‘criticism’ about a new track?
Harmless Noise: How have you managed to deflect all the criticism of cheerleading etc? That was a big thing for a while, it drove me mad. (took on Eoghan’s role there)
Nialler9: Not posting anything speaks volumes a lot of the time for me. If I feature something on the site, I want people to know and I think they do, that I love it and that it passes the test.
TPOE: Yeah, like ultimately you are doing it for the reader/listener. You want them to like what you post, I think. But then, some bands could probably do with being told they’re shite, right?
Harmless Noise: Only if comments for that post have been disabled, haha.
Nialler9: I’ve not got time to diss bands in that way unless it’s really terribly misguidedly bad
Harmless Noise: But yeah the criticism thing has really bugged me, in its time. I’d like to be able to quantify everything within reach, but base your blog around that kind of treatment and to really diss a band, I think you have to properly know what you’re talking about, and most of the time I only know what I do/don’t like on a hunch. It’s either good or it’s not.
TPOE: Have you guys ever come close to stopping blogging?
Harmless Noise: Hah.
Nialler9: Yeah. When I’ve been too busy with other things and It’s felt like too much of a commitment. But it usually passes But then I don’t have kids or anything like that (yet) so if I did I wonder what would change.
Harmless Noise: Yeah, the first time I quit, I was overworked and underpaid, dealing with ‘artistic differences’ in a company that I found really frustrating. The second time I was under a lot of stress with money, my family and just thought that I was being selfish by continuing to chase what seemed like a pipe dream that was ultimately never gonna go anywhere.
TPOE: Music blogging is selfish though, isn’t it?
Harmless Noise: Now I’m all of those things, but I really love this, and it really does feel like I’m doing the right thing. That it’ll pay off…that it’s already paid off.
TPOE: It’s easier to end something when it’s not that old. But after four and eight years respectively, it does feel like it’d be a sad day if and when it does happen
Harmless Noise: I think my circumstances are just a bit weird and don’t fit into a neat scenario where I could walk into an office next week and give all this up forever.
Nialler9: well it is inevitable. I’ll stop this when I feel like I have something else to replace it or it’s not relevant anymore
Harmless Noise: For me it feels a lot longer because it’s not just the four years in Harmless Noise, but the previous years doing the OHR blog as well. They kinda run into each other. I still remember Nialler sending me a message on MySpace saying ‘hey, I like your blog’….I was thrilled.
Nialler9: haha. LOL. Myspace.
Harmless Noise: *sob* poor aul MySpace. It’s desperate.
To have an enduring print music magazine in Ireland would be a wonderful thing – Harmless Noise
TPOE: Dare I ask about Hot Press and music writing in Ireland?
Nialler9: Nay’d be best placed to say something on that. I know one or two people there and for the most part I feel it exists on its own, even online. Is it relevant anymore? I’ve no idea.
TPOE: I think your blogs do more for Irish music than Hot Press. Every time I pick up a copy of the magazine, i’m disappointed at the lack of Irish artists given coverage, whereas with your blogs, it’s all there, whether interviews, features on music, album reviews etc. Their website just seem like it’s begging for clicks.
Harmless Noise: Hah, I dunno what I could tell you, really. Maybe that I was there for years and pitching articles to them all the way through my internship to no avail. Then I posted an overview of ‘underground’ (in retrospect it wasn’t really that underground) music in Ireland and the internet exploded and BAM, suddenly the HP ears pricked up and they published it in mag.
Nialler9: I’ve heard they don’t like me anyway. whoever “they” are. HP is a business. At this point,the love of music is a secondary concern.
Harmless Noise: I definitely think it’s an island within itself. I have these dreams of galloping back in there on a white charger and ‘rescuing’ it from itself. . but I don’t think they even realise they need rescuing. Ah they probably think of you the way the dinosaurs thought of mammals before the comet hit: never gonna last!
TPOE: There are some good writers there, don’t get me wrong, I just wish they did more for Irish muisc, instead of a feature on a shitty indie band like Bastille every month. And that sex column.
Harmless Noise: I just think it’s a shame because to have an enduring print music magazine in Ireland would be a wonderful thing. But is that model working for *anyone* in the world at all any more? Not really. But they have a legacy that’s interesting and important in its own right and could do wonders with a real serious overhaul. A fortnightly mag just hasn’t got a chance to stay relevant at all. That ship’s sailed.
Nialler9: hence why the thing, or the last time i looked at it, was heavy on the advertorial.
Harmless Noise: And I think that as numbers dwindled, rather than tracing the reasons for that they started compromising on the artistic/creative side and focused instead on how to make enough money to keep it as it was. So much in the way of ads.
TPOE: It’s annoying. I wish it was better.
Harmless Noise: flawed plan. But you know, I will always, always appreciate what they did for me. they really took a chance on me and gave me a truly incredible opportunity and I worked my arse off to make the most of it!
Nialler9: it’s largely irrelevant to the new music conversation these days. Print is a different beast though
TPOE: Anyway… I won’t keep ye too much longer. I know, Niall, that your taste in music has changed since you started the blog – you’ve said you’re less into indie and guitar music. What about you Nay? And, along with that, who are the new bands that are exciting you?
Harmless Noise: I would say that I am now into a far greater variety of music than I ever was before I got into blogging.
Rather than less into the particular tastes of that time.
Niall Byrne: I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately. With guitar music, because I’ve heard so much of it over the years, it’s become harder to impress me. I think this happens though when you get older in general. A good song is a good song though. My taste has always been eclectic I guess but I’m most excited by things on the electronic end these days.
Harmless Noise: Well I’m mad about The #1s at the moment. They’ve just stuck in my head for weeks. I think Girls Names and Altar of Plagues made the two BEST albums of the year. There have been loads of good ones but those are really, really great. There’s so much more variety in terms of electronic production these days as well, while previously the only stuff you’d really get into would be pretty big-name acts.
Nialler9: New bands wise. Ships’ new single is incredibly good and I can’t wait for them to release it. Lisa O’Neill’s album is brilliant. She’s really grown into herself.
TPOE: I don’t really like the album. It’s her voice – it grates with me.
Nialler9: I Am The Cosmos too. Really amazing album for me.
Harmless Noise: And this is one the ways that our blogs are so different. There’s just so much music to cover and we cross over, but there’s a lot left to focus on exclusively to our own tastes. Yeah I do like that one [Lisa O’Neill] a lot, myself.
TPOE: That’s a case where I chose to ignore rather than criticise, Lisa O’Neill. I think I’m in the minority too, because the reviews have been wholly positive.
Harmless Noise: Shit we still have Solar Bears and Lasertom left over even after all of those. That’d get you big hits tho Eoghan!
Nialler9: The new Katharine Phillippa EP too
Harmless Noise: I listened to that when you tweeted it, was amazed. I don’t even know where to start without gushing.
Nialler9: With Lisa, her voice isn’t for you. I didn’t like her first album at all. But Ilove this one. I just think she’s found her voice as an artist
TPOE: Oh yeah, just about the crossover on our sites, does it matter if one of us has featured a song already that the other hasn’t?
Like, there’s no real competition between us, is there?
Harmless Noise: Hah, you realise that now? Your first ever tweet to me, as @Stripeyjumper, was “Are you jealous of @Nialler9? I sort of scoffed and went, bitch, pleasE!
Harmless Noise: lol, it’s cool
Harmless Noise: I think there’s healthy competition but it’s never anything that’s actually contentious
Harmless Noise: like we’ve had our snappy moments and stuff. but never any bad blood, ever. It’s a really supportive atmosphere to blog in, while we can keep our own distance and nurture our individuality.
Nialler9: It’s all good. We all do our own things. Some times it crosses over. The way I look at it is: if we all posted the same thing, people would want to press play on whatever that is, I hope.
TPOE: Like, there’s no ‘race to be first’, is there?
Harmless Noise: I’ll admit I get a little glean of pleasure if I have something that I think is a bit special and know that the other blogs haven’t picked up on it. But in actual racing…I just couldn’t be arsed, to be honest. It’s not about that at all.
TPOE: That’s true. Sometimes if I see both of you have blogged about a band/song already I sometimes leave it because I feel I don’t really have anything to add. And I think you have to add something to the conversation… Rather than regurgitate…
Harmless Noise: I do that myself, all the time.
Nialler9: Thankfully, that firsties thing has died down a bit I feel. Mostly because of the volume of things coming through – you’re bound to miss things. It’s cool – reconcile with that and post when you’re ready. Some people only check blogs once a week, once a month etc. This is what we do so we feel bad for not mentioning something within a few days sometimes but you got to remind yourself that good art is timeless and the good shit will still be there tomorrow.
Harmless Noise: So and so has it covered. It’s like I said, I look out for new stuff and mightn’t be that interested in posting something if I know other blogs are gonna be all over it. Or I might leave it til ‘Lasties’. When the initial fuss has died down.
TPOE: ‘Lasties’ would be a good name for a round-up piece about music that you missed out on, or don’t feel is good enough to warrant a post on its own…
Blogging has helped me become a much better writer than I ever hoped I’d be – Harmless Noise
The blog has already brought me so much in terms of other work so I’ve been lucky – Nialler9
Nialler9: I’d like to ask a Q before I go. what’s the future for what we’re doing? We’ve all been presenting gigs in the real world. What would you like to do in future?
TPOE: I work in journalism and I really enjoy that still. I like doing the music thing on the side. I’d be OK with that, I think. Like, bands aren’t making money for their music, so I don’t think there’s much other money to go around for other people. Music journalism was the dream, but there are so few (paid) avenues that I just don’t think it’s an option.
Harmless Noise: I’m working really hard on my own writing projects – blogging has helped me become a much better writer than I ever hoped I’d be – so that I can find a balance towards making a living at what I’m good at, and being able to continue doing what I love too. I’d like to be able to make money to have cameras and video equipment as well as being able to continue putting on gigs, so that it could all consolidate in a full realisation of all the potential that documenting the scene through music blogging holds…have a full multimedia site with images, live sessions, gig videos, documentaries, hell, if I could even hire more writers and expand, I’d be so happy. I miss being a photographer as well, y’see. Photos were a really fun part of my first blog.
Nialler9: Of course.
TPOE: Et toi, Niall?
Nialler9: Ultimately, there’s no great plan. I’d love to continue to do what I do and be compensated through advertising etc. The blog has already brought me so much in terms of other work so I’ve been lucky. I definitely enjoy the curator and DJ aspects of what I’ve been doing lately and those have been more fruitful in the last year. I think using my site as a representation of my skills is one aspect of it which is becoming more useful in the real-world of money, jobs and career.
TPOE: Urgh, the real world. I like how we’re all still positive about our own blogs. I think that’s good. It’s also a good place to end, yes?
TPOE: Anybody want to add anything?
Harmless Noise: It’s just a lovely thing to be able to do. I’m always really grateful and appreciative of how rewarding it is, once you stick with it.