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Mystery score

Blogging Basics

This is a greatly-expanded version of a short presentation I gave at the annual conference of the Music Critics Association of North America in June, 2011. I was talking about building an audience, but wound up, really, talking about blogging/blogger basics. I apologize for the ugly formatting. You have no idea how much hand-editing of HTML is required when you copy & paste a Word document into the Blogger editor.


You are building a reputation and you are building (I hate this phrase but…) a personal brand. This is about some blogging basics and how to be a publicist for yourself. If you’re already well-known, for example if you write for a major newspaper and you’re widely read, that will automatically attract people.
  1. Write about what you love and are passionate about. Blogging is a personal medium. If you don't sounded interested and involved, why would anyone read you?
    • Use the blog to write about subjects you can't usually address in reviews. See, for example, Joshua Kosman's Magic Moments, or you can write about larger issues in music history and analysis, or orchestral governance, or how to listen to a concert, or about a favorite (or unfavorite) composer.
    • Think about whether there are non-musical subjects you also want to write about.
    • Think about how much you want to tell your audience about yourself. 
  2. Some subjects do attract readership more than others. Opera, death and gossip are big draws.
    • For opera, see Parterre Box (http://parterre.com) and Opera Chic (http://operachic.typepad.com/). Parterre Box gets in the 18,000 to 20,000 hits/day range when there's a good discussion on; Opera Chic routinely gets 30,000. (The bloggers published these figures; Anne Midgette passed them on to me.) 
    • The search term "Jerry Hadley" got an unusual number of hits to my blog during the 18 months or so after his death.
    • I had a big readership spike in the week around James Levine's resignation from the BSO. This loosely falls under gossip because I was picking up gossip on other blogs, mainly Parterre Box. 
    • Do you have sources you can quote anonymously? James Jorden does. Consider using yours judiciously.
  3. Post regularly - aim for a couple of times a week minimum. Too few and you'll look like a dabbler. (I’ve had more than 300 postings each of the last couple of years.) If you prefer writing once a month or once a week and you put it on something that looks like a blog, call it a weekly or monthly, to set reader expectations. My experience has been that posting leads to posting; writing makes it easy to write more.
  4. Be responsive to current musical events, locally and nationally. (This will help you post regularly.) Tie local events and news to national news. Is your local orchestra/chamber music series/big chorus having financial troubles? So is New York City Opera.
  5. Make sure people know you're blogging.
    • Email bloggers and writers you know. The news might become the subject of a posting at friends' blogs and you might get put on their blogroll/link list.
    • Heck, email your friends.
    • Put the news on your Facebook page if you have one. Consider whether to publish to Facebook as well as the blog itself.
    • Tweet the news if you have a Twitter account. (and then tweet each article)
    • Put the URL in your email .sig.
    • Put the URL in your brief bio on web articles and reviews.
    • Put the URL on your business cards.
    • If your print platform allows it, make sure there's a link to the blog in or around your articles & reviews there.
  6. Link to other bloggers, both in a sidebar and in your postings. Read their blogs and post comments. Get into cross-blog discussions if you can. Make your comments interesting and on topic, not just a way to get a link.
  7. Enable comments on your blog. Encourage people to email you.
    • The only reason not to enable comments is that you're Alex Ross and you would be overwhelmed by comment  volume.
    • Be willing to engage converse with your readers. Be professionally friendly about it.
    • Develop a thick skin. You will get criticism and sometimes nasty remarks. Take a deep breath before replying to those, or sleep on, or just don't respond. Other readers may call out someone who is being a jerk.
    • You'll have to decide whether to allow anonymous commenting and pseudonymous commenting. I allow pseudonymous, but not anonymous, commenting. I want to be able to associate each comment with an identity.
    • You'll have to decide whether to moderate comments. I do, in part to screen out abuse of commenters (abuse of me is allowed) and in part to catch spam comments.
    • I promise that you will get email or comments from performers you discuss. Give some thought to what and how much you want to say to them. Of course, sometimes it'll be a performer thanking you for complimenting his or her performance.
  8. Enable a web analytics program on the blog and learn to use it. This will tell you how people find you, where your readers are, what they read, what generates traffic.
    • The major blogging platforms (WordPress, TypePad, Blogger) all have analytics programs built in or installable as extensions or directly in your template.
    • Google Analytics is overkill for most blogging. It's designed to help organizations and businesses that use AdWords campaigns or who want to know about who is buying their goods, how their pages are navigated, etc. If you decide to use AdWords or Amazon Associates, you will want to learn Google Analytics.
  9. Make your blog good-looking and readable.
    • All of the major blogging platforms are easy to customize with their built in tools.
    • See my list of web site basics (http://irontongue.blogspot.com/p/web-site-basics.html). 
    • 10 or 12 point font, no white-on-black, no ransom notes, etc.
    • Hire a designer or consult someone with a good eye, if you need to.
  10. WordPress, TypePad, and Blogger all work well enough. 
    • For the basics, they're much like using a word processor with a lightweight editor.
    • They can all be customized.
    • There are free versions of all three platforms. You can pay for upgraded versions of WordPress and TypePad.
  11. Enable a full blog feed so that your audience can use a feed reader. Don't force them to visit your blog.
  12. Enable a mobile template for people viewing your blog on a mobile phone. On Blogger, this is on Dashboard > Settings > Email & Mobile.
  13. Set Google web alerts on your own name so that you know if you're being discussed elsewhere.
  14. Don't move your blog after it's established. See Alex Ross; he closed down The Rest is Noise for a move to The New Yorker's site....and moved back to The Rest is Noise within six months or so.
  15. Consider specializing in subject matter or format. See: parterre box (http://parterre.com), Opera Tattler (http://operatattler.typepad.com/), Detritus Review (http://detritusreview.blogspot.com/).
  16. Study blogs that do a good job with self-promotion and learn from them. 
    • See Parterre Box and About Last Night, for example, but note that Terry Teachout does overdo it at times. Try not to irritate your readers.
    • Parterre Box has all sorts of draws: guest reviewers, contests, blind items, the ever-popular Name That Regie Production postings.
  17. You can monetize your blog. Amazon has a program where you get a small cut of sales generated from a user session referred from your blog. Google AdSense places ads on your blog based on the content in your blog.
  18. There are lots of resources out there about the social and technical aspects of blogging. Yes, pick up a book on blogging or a blogging platform from the Dummies series - those are excellent introductions to technical subjects.