We caught up with Karl Johnson, head of Hard Of Hearing Music to chat about his blog, how music press is changing and much more!
In part one of this article series we caught up with Marcus from On The House, a reputable blog based in the South-West of England. They’re but one example of all the hard working, passionate and diverse bloggers who dominating the music press world. As mentioned previously, the music press world is changing, from PR to actual content creation. The old guard magazines such as Q and NME are now more and other traditional music prints are dwindling. For better or worse, blogs are taking over and the simple fact is that they are the future of music press.
One example of these hard working blogs is Hard Of Hearing Music, which is headed by the multi-talented and ever busy Karl Johnson. Based in London HOHM covers a range of artists through a variety of genres. It’s a slick looking music blog that is consistent with its quality coverage. We caught up with Karl to chat about why he started HOHM, how he feels the music press is changing and much more!
So, explain to us what Hard Of Hearing Music is and what it does?
Karl: It’s essentially a new music platform, with the aim of unearthing exciting new music. Hard Of Hearing has a small team of contributors that write reviews, conduct interviews, and organise larger features about issues that affect music and society. There’s a special excitement in finding a new artist with bags of potential and watching them develop release by release and being there every step of the way. We have a fortnightly radio show (Tuesdays 6-8 pm) on Boogaloo Radio in North London where we play new releases and invite bands in to chat and discuss their music and the industry on the whole.
When did you first start HOHM and what was the reason for it?
Karl: It was about 5 years ago when I moved to London. I was going to 4-5 gigs a week at different venues in an attempt to meet like-minded people and to discover a music community. Hard Of Hearing as a site was a way of keeping a log of all the bands I’d seen and had been enjoying, I love getting down to a gig early and soaking up the atmosphere of a venue, watching the opening band, and witnessing what the whole night has to offer in terms of curation from the promoter too.
How do you feel Hard of Hearing helps artists?
Karl: We’ve always tried to cover the band’s earliest releases, whether that’s an incredible Bandcamp demo, Spotify release, or a DIY music video. Our radio show on Boogaloo Radio enables us to give airtime to new artists we love and support their releases further, as well as getting artists in for interviews and sessions where possible. We started out putting on gigs at a 40 cap punk venue in Hackney called Blondies, bringing along friends to try to pack the place out, slowly a trickle of new music enthusiasts started showing up who were just as mad about new music as we were. We’d ask the bands we wrote about to play – it was an incredible experience and a perfect way to join the larger music community in London, which is often seen as overly industry-focused or ‘who you know’ orientated, but actually is mostly made up of people who just love music from all walks of life.
Why is it you feel blogs are becoming more popular and being viewed as a more legit music press format?
Karl: I think blogs have never been closer to the music itself than they are now. Also, you’ll find some of the most proficient and passionate music writers contributing to blogs even in comparison to the major UK music publications. It’s because blogs form relationships with the artist at an early stage. The idea of community is huge with blogs, often they operate within their local area and have an input into their local scene, rather than being anonymous and solely a digital presence. We don’t even need to use the term DIY anymore, the major labels have exploited the term for their
“I think blogs have never been closer to the music itself than they are now”Karl Johnson – HOHM
What do you feel separates music blogs from more established names such as NME?
Karl: Often locality, passion for the track they’re writing about, and writing that’s free from restraint separate great articles on blogs to major music press for me. The likelihood of a longevity relationship with major UK press can depend on so many things such as hype, a specific PR company, or a label is attached to a release. Often the song itself is the elephant in the room. With blogs having a closer and more personal relationship with the artist and track, I feel artists can grow an authentic relationship with a writer and a blog more easily from a grassroots standpoint. I suppose the other thing that separates the two is money.
Do you feel the increase in blogs and ease of starting one has lowered the quality of writing?
Karl: Not at all. People should be free to express themselves – if every music writer had to have a background in English literature or journalism it’d be a poor state of affairs. Skills can be developed and writing nurtured; for me, it’s a passion for music and importantly bravery to approach tabu topics and offer coverage and representation to more cultural issues that really break ground and turns heads.
“I feel artists can grow an authentic relationship with a writer and a blog more easily from a grassroots standpoint”Karl Johnson – HOHM
Why do you feel more artists are wanting to be featured in blogs?
Karl: I think party because of the regionality of it all, you can send your music to a bunch of blogs in each city and each corner of the country, which is good to grow a fanbase outside of your hometown. As merch and physical music sales are so important to artists, you can do a lot worse than attempting to get new fans in different places. It’s good to bear in mind as well that the people you are connecting with will often have
more than one project, it can connect you to live promoters, grassroots radio, labels, or other bands. News about really exciting music travels fast.
Why do you feel that traditional print journalism is failing?
Karl: I think it’s the idea that print journalism has been free for so long and at times has lacked a connection to the grassroots community. If it’s free and sitting in stacks on a sticky table in the pub with the face of the next major label star on it – jammed between pages of irrelevant advertisements – it will likely be used as a coaster. I personally think that a blog putting out a zine with a community connection to what they’re doing and writing about has so much more value to it. It’s kind of the same thing as free gigs on DICE, you ‘sell’ the tickets but is anyone going to show up?
Do you feel a blog can exist in print as well as online?
Karl: Absolutely, I think a print edition can compliment an online blog if done in the right way.
Lastly, how do you feel blogs will develop as time goes on and what’s the next logical step?
Karl: I think quality over quantity will be recognised as more important in the future. We’ve reached a moment with technology – especially with being stuck at home in the pandemic – whereby people are taking time out and screen time is being more limited as a consumer. The detriment to our mental health has become clear, we’ll have a heightened respect for the outdoors and human interaction come Spring, making more community-focused outlets and quality-conscious articles something to cherish.