Walter Louis Cooper - Winter Gone For Seconds
Release Date: Never
Why are you here right now?
Take a second and think about the events of the day that brought you to this page at this exact moment.
If you arrived here to check out Walter Louis Cooper, then you took a chance on an artist you've never heard of before. I know you've never heard of Walter Louis Cooper because he doesn't exist. This isn't an album review -- it's a brief interruption to talk about how we navigate the Internet and how your clicks influence content creators.
I've been frustrated with music blogs/websites for years, thanks in large part to "click bait". If you're not familiar with this term, it basically boils down to a perfectly crafted, attention-grabbing headline that exists solely to garner as many page views as possible. An example of this would be: "Artist who is popular .... something vague ..... buzz word." The more the website posts about said artist, the more they get to piggyback on that popularity -- and never mind whether or not there's actually a valid reason to post about them. This isn't just happening in the world of music writing, it's everywhere (see every Yahoo! News headline).
Along with "click bait" is a movement toward mindlessness, or what I like to call "Unnecessary Opinion Content." This typically comes in the form of a list, and can best be seen on increasingly popular sites like Buzzfeed. Some of my favorite music websites, like Pigeons & Planes, have used this technique to greatly grow their readership. These lists started as topical fun -- when an album anniversary, band breakup, or anything relevant happened, websites would pounce on a list that ranked or summed up the moment through the prism of one person's opinion. What happens is the reader is forced to react to such an opinion. They feel the need to comment, disagree, agree...but in the end, none of it matters... it's all about the click.
For years, these two problems have kept me in a constant rage. I would lash out at the offending music blogs and their writers, sometimes good friends of mine. As I've continued to consider this problem it's become clear that my anger shouldn't be directed at the websites, but rather, at the reader. A blog should never attack readers -- we need them -- but the honest truth is that readers are failing music websites and many other art content sites across the web. My biggest mental hurdle is understanding what it takes to make a music website a business. We all know that their money comes from on-site advertisement and that ad sales go up as traffic increases. What I needed to do is put myself in their shoes and ask myself what I would do.
Let's imagine for a second that WLFY started selling ads. As we grow we begin to hire writers we think do great work in the world of music journalism. As the website begins to generate enough money to pay my rent and become my actual job, a huge amount of responsibility begins to pile up. Not only is my life directly influenced by how many people visit my website, but I have to worry about getting enough ad money to support the writers I respect. At the end of the day websites like Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, and Spin all have to pay the bills. This is where is gets tricky, with "independent" websites that are supposed to be the gate-keepers of alternative culture having to play the hit-grabbing game in order to simply survive. As much as I would love for it to be the other way around, readers dictate content... and that leads to "click-bait" and "Unnecessary Opinion Content".
This thought leads to the scariest and most real revelation of all. If WLFY's goal is to help out unknown and smaller independent musicians, then maybe we would serve them better by participating in mindless content in order to grow our readership. While most logical people can see that when a respected site churns out non-news items and inane lists, they're doing it to grow hits for advertising sales, it might also be a trade off for launching the unknown bands that the website actually cares about. With the increase of readers comes an increase of influence. I've viewed click bait culture as one of the most infuriating things about the Internet... but what if it's the only way for a writer to backdoor taste to the masses?
We should be ashamed that for many, this is what it's come to, and unfortunately, I don't see a quick, easy fix. Like illegal downloading, the death of the independent record store, and the many other hurdles facing the music industry, it can only get better if individuals decide become part of the solution. Our clicks are our votes. I know we all like to turn off our brains and melt away into entertainment, but we all need to get better at being aware of what we're doing on the Internet. Ask yourself why you're clicking before you support behavior that forces intelligent websites to water down their content in order to be able to compete for your page view.
In case you don't see this as a real problem, the way I do, consider this. For the last year I've playfully been gathering data by tracking posts of unknown artists on WLFY. After a week I would occasionally post a false "click bait" oriented twitter headline leading to the very same unknown artist post. The numbers were staggering. Each and every post surpassed its original page views by thousands of clicks. A post that had been up for a WEEK, gathered 2,000 more page views in TWO HOURS just because Kanye West or Lady Gaga was in the headline. Some might argue that this makes perfect sense -- those names have a bigger fan base, after all. The problem with this is that if bigger fan base = more hits, even with the "independent" reader crowd, then how does a music website survive without participating in "click bait" and other hit-grabbing techniques that compromise their integrity?
The answer is that they can't, and that's massively depressing. You won't be able to change any of this, and it's only going to get worse. But, you definitely can help out sites like WLFY and the hundreds more who aren't trying to be a business, the ones who work extremely hard for the sole purpose of sharing the art they think is of importance. You can also influence business music sites by sharing/clicking on the content that doesn't participate in manipulating the reader for hits. For example, Consequence of Sound has Aux. Out, and Pitchfork features some pretty amazing long form writing, too. These pieces that honestly seek to generate thought and analysis regardless of how many views they will bring are true works of music journalism. Read them. Share them. Thank the writers. Get active in voicing that this is the content that matters, because it truly does. It's important.
Constantly question your behavior as a reader. It's the only way things can get better.
Right now, you are here.
Where are you going next?