Image credit: OTH
We chat to Owner and Founder of On The House, one of the many blogs taking over music press.
The music press world is changing and the old guard are losing their influence. This is true for traditional press across the board but it’s particularly evident in music press. The 80’s and 90’s saw a boom of music publications, such as Q Magazine and NME, both of which now don’t exist (in print). Although, NME has adapted and remained relevant through its website, others are lining up to follow in the footsteps of Q Magazine.
This is where the change is happening, online, a place that is filled to the brim with music blogs and indie publications. Each one teamed by hard working, dedicated and passionate people (a lot of the time one or two people). They’re often working the same hours as a full time publisher house, handling content, maintenance, emails, social media and most of the time (if not all) they’re doing it for free or for very small amount.
Yet arguably their content is just as good as other, more established outlets. In fact, not being bound to a ethos or company sway they are reporting the most honest and truthful music journalism out there. It’s looking more and more likely that blogs are the future of music press and the industry is changing to adapt to that. PR now emails the same high profile bands to bloggers, traditional and new media now have the same access and in some cases the same reach. It’s an exciting development that signifies a wave of change.
With all this in mind we wanted to chat to various blog editors and owners to get their insight, chat about how it works and how it helps artists. Kicking things off is the ever hard working and passionate Marcus Osborne, Founder of On The House. A community reviewing site that boasts 70+ curators that review music from all around the world and in a wide variety if genres.
Thanks again for taking the time to chat Marcus, how have you been?
Marcus: It’s a pleasure, thank you for giving me the opportunity! I’ve been good, although I think I’ve worked harder in the last year than I have in my entire life rebuilding OTH & working full time, alongside this pandemic going on in the background – it’s a weird time for me haha. All good stuff though!
So, explain to us what On The House is and how it works?
Marcus: To put it simply, we are a “Community Music Reviewing” website. This a concept we created around 4 years ago after rebuilding the On The House brand from a traditional music reviewing website and started asking all of our cool new industry friends to guest review for us. We had the idea of a light-touch social media style website, where artists can create and manage their own profiles independently and reviewers, who are music industry professionals, would review the artists and give feedback that can be used in their EPKs & for general artist development. We host weekly prize giveaways for any reviewers who contribute that week and put on a little live streamed party for everyone as we draw the names!
In the first 3 years, we amassed over 70+ guest reviewers and 650+ artists just from self-promotion alone. But now we have a new website, launched in early February, that functions exactly how we intended from the start. Which includes the option for artists to ‘reveal’ a reviewers contact details, to get in touch via a ‘reviewer reply’ system and even review & connect with other artists on the website!
On The House Music CIC is devoted to supporting grassroots artists, so by having a free profile on our website, artists are in the firing line for multiple music reviews from reputable sources that they can use to build their credibility. Artists also have the chance to have their first ever physical pressings released by On The House Records (selected by our reviewers and all releases are hand-signed), to play Attitude Festival, or one of our showcase & networking events (also selected by our reviewers) or even feature in our print based mag On The House Magazine which is distributed to social music spaces across the UK!
I could go on for much longer, but it’d probably be easier to post a link now, wouldn’t it?
How and why did you decide to start OTH?
Marcus: So we actually started as a normal reviewing platform, but only reviewed music that was up for free download – this was back in 2013 and I was just getting to grips with local music in general and wanted to be more involved. Obviously, this died hard and fast when Spotify became popular and led me to stop for a year around 2015/2016 to rethink what I wanted to do with the brand. In the same time, I had toured loads in my own bands and met more people who showed an active interest to support their music scene further but just didn’t know where to start.
Then I had a lightbulb moment and started working on the new concept – I haven’t stopped since!
How does OTH help artists?
Marcus: On the surface, any artist can get a free profile on our website and have their music reviewed by the people who are building the music industry itself as we speak – there’s no more valuable advice than that!
Oh, and we also release local music records, magazines, put on events and curate stages at other events. The only catch is that you need to have an On The House artist profile to be selected for any of our projects! But when it takes just 2 minutes to sign up, who wouldn’t?!
Why do you feel blogs are becoming more popular and being viewed as legit as traditional music press?
Marcus: I think it comes from something that has been the core premise for how & why On The House has the capability to succeed if approached correctly. Our motto has always been; “A review is just an opinion, it’s only valid if you respect the source” and I think this applies to this scenario.
“With traditional large music press becoming watered down and samey, the only thing they are good for is promotion these days – not honest critique”Marcus Osborne – On The House
With traditional large music press becoming watered down and samey, the only thing they are good for is promotion these days – not honest critique. People are turning to smaller blogs for some transparency, because small blogs don’t pander to the artists because they have no reason to, and tend not to have hundreds of writers with conflicting musical opinions. Once you get to know the writer’s tastes and interests, you can actively use their opinion to help gauge if you think you’ll like something. After all, that’s the whole point of a review, isn’t it?
What separates music blogs from magazines such as NME and Classic Rock?
Marcus: Engagement, passion and practice. Paid writers will write what you pay them to write and don’t really have a lot of say if their boss tells them to cater an article a certain way. On the other hand, bloggers and music enthusiasts will write what they genuinely feel with no outside influence because they are the boss. When you are a smaller artist, bloggers are so important to help you whilst honing your craft. Don’t blow your load on your first release, small bloggers are there for you to learn how to interact with these types of publications, so you are prepared for bigger interactions in the future. Some chances can be lost and can be incredibly hard to recover, I’m still paying for mistakes I made 10 years ago in some ways haha!
Why do you feel that traditional print music journalism has been failing in recent years?
Marcus: I think it’s just not as easy to access or convenient for the consumer. Why pay for a magazine for every month when you could just read it online for free? The only thing that sells nowadays is exclusivity, so magazines that are still thriving tend to have something exclusive about the purchase that makes buying the physical edition more worthwhile. That’s why we catered On The House Magazine strictly to artist advice and support which is exclusive to the magazine itself and cannot be found anywhere online. Not to mention, our magazine has pull out posters, vouchers, discounts on local businesses and also a free gift with each issue, so there’s plenty of reasons to grab a copy!
There’s also the ecological concerns of effectively ‘wasting paper’, alongside the financial costs of print magazines compared to online media, which can’t be churned out as quickly or as detailed as they would like it to be due to printing restrictions.
Do you feel the quality of writing has decreased?
Marcus: I think writing has gotten so mind-numbingly boring for writers that they don’t put their full effort in anymore. Or they are restricted in some form either by quotas, timeframes or even linguistic boundaries that decreases their writing quality.
Of course, we all need to study the English Language to be able to understand and write it. But the way we are taught how to write doesn’t reflect how we are as individuals or how we speak – not like it used to. Readers need to connect with a piece of writing, but if you’re following every rule in the book, you’ll be coming across like a Google Translate robot that just ate a thesaurus and readers can’t relate to that. Unfortunately, a lot of reviewers fall into this perfectionist trap which ultimately ruins the fluidity of the piece. People get so caught up in making sure something ‘sounds correct’ because of social pressures that they can’t express themselves in their own tone of voice, which then makes the writer focus on minor details that don’t matter to the average reader rather than just saying what they want to say.
“Also, transparency is desired in today’s culture more than anything, which is why being a ‘faceless’ writer doesn’t really cut it anymore”Marcus Osborne – On The House
Also, transparency is desired in today’s culture more than anything, which is why being a ‘faceless’ writer doesn’t really cut it anymore. They literally created a whole genre of rap music that celebrates crimes committed by rappers because it’s genuine, albeit graphic and unlawful. These are murderers singing about how they want to murder people, but the public are lapping it up because they just want to see something authentic for once. The fake news era has made everyone a sceptic of everything, so when something genuine comes along they latch to it before its tainted like everything else.
In the age of text-based conversation, we have started to attribute a ‘tone of voice’ to our friends status updates, online conversations and posts across the web. Some people may write in all capitals because they are an intense person, or in all lower case lettering, without any punctuation for a satirical effect. So when you are exposed to this meta-evolution of language, but then are expecting writers to try and connect with an audience using a written language that they don’t ever use or see unless its for professional piece (as well as expecting them to use words they don’t really understand to impress readers who also don’t understand them) just makes everyone confused and uninterested.
Do you feel a music blog can exist online as well as in print?
Marcus: I do, but again that comes back to exclusivity. People want to feel special. So if you are an online blog planning to release a physical magazine, you need to do something to make those customers feel valued. Otherwise there’s no real point in releasing something physical, unless of course it’s an anniversary, special or limited run of something specific, which then can be marketed differently.
Can blogs compete with established music magazines?
Marcus: They are and they will most likely win for all the reasons stated in my last few answers. A faceless journalist for a big outlet may get you national coverage, but if that outlet’s readers are growing up in a culture that values authenticity, writing paid articles that have been handed to you by a PR company doesn’t really scream ‘honest opinion’.
What is the attraction of blogs for writers and the artists themselves?
Marcus: For writers, it’s a chance to openly and freely express their opinions without manipulation. For artists, they provide an honest critique that is easily accessible.
Lastly, how do you feel blogs will develop as time goes on and do you think there is a next step?
Marcus: I have this feeling we will see worlds collide very soon. Take everything I’ve said into account and then mix that with the fame-hungry influencer and the susceptible young supporters that idolise them. It’s only a matter of time until traditional media is pushed aside to make way for these new, relevant and more charismatic writers who write using their own style that is digestible for a their audience – not an English teacher.