Interview With A Blogger: Mike Bradford from The Recommender (UK)

recommend.jpgIn our newest interview series, Interview With A Blogger, Musformation attempts to get in the minds of music bloggers to find out
what makes them tick, how they look at music and how artists and
bloggers can better communicate.

Americans and Brits just can’t seem to escape each other.  Despite our competitive nature, the truth is we are constantly learning from and are influenced by one another and probably couldn’t live without our respective counterparts across the pond.    One UK blog we view as essential music reading is The Recommender.  Located out of Brighton, Mike Bradford and his team not only understand great music (and often know about it well before anyone else does), they also understand how the business has changed and have adapted accordingly.  We recently sat down with Mike for a very insightful interview that is a must-read for anyone submitting to blogs.    

1. There are a lot of new streaming music players right now.  Which one are
you guys using currently and why?

We use a Soundcloud player, with a Pro account. It’s a
fantastic player. It looks great, is easy to use, is getting taken up by lots
of other bloggers and it’s player is customizable (in Recommender colors etc).
Most importantly there’s three key factors that I particularly enjoy about
them; firstly, they’re very socially networked. Like bloggers they seem very
active on Twitter and are always happy to chat and share updates etc. Secondly
their service is exceptional. They are there when you need them. If anything
goes wrong they are onto it immediately. Any time I’ve had to ask a question
they respond thoroughly. Lastly, they have hooked up with the large blog
aggregator, Hype
. This means that if we want to blog about a track then we simply
have to search Soundcloud for that track and if it’s there we can share it on
our blog, using none of our own Soundcloud Pro account usage, but it still
registers and is recognised by the Hype Machine. This is key because Hype
Machine is possibly the largest driver of traffic to most blogs, so we need all
of the tracks we are sharing to appear on there every time.

2.What is the ideal way that you prefer to receive submissions from bands?

If, by ‘submissions’, you mean how they let us know about their band, then
quite frankly ‘short and sweet’ is probably the term that comes to mind. All we
really need is a quick hello and a Soundcloud or Myspace link. Lots of waffle
about how good they think they are, or which other bands they think they sound
like, is generally a waste of our time, as we always make our own mind up by
listening to the tracks on their Myspace. If we like them we will make note and
approach them for more details and mp3′s etc. If, by ‘submissions’, you mean
the mp3′s they send me, then we are happy to receive purely digital
submissions, as physical ones always have to get loaded onto our computer

Besides getting submissions from the site, where are you going these days to
hear about new music?

Our blog is very well networked, particularly on our Twitter,
where we speak daily with a batch of chatty bloggers, some are absolutely
massive, others are not so big, but all of us are hunting and sharing
constantly on there. What started out as a type of bloggers chat room, is now a
fantastic platform sharing. We obviously have an RSS feed and bookmark dozens
of bloggers, checking most of them daily. When those bloggers that we trust
recommend something we usually take note and give it some further investigation
etc. Otherwise, we are constantly hunting the common music-themed websites,
like Myspace accounts, clicking on ‘friend’ links to see similar bands,
checking on Hype Machine’s ‘popular’ chart, checking site, checking out NME and other online journalism. We guess that with us being so busy online and the number of
interactions with others it has all become about the organic, viral message
that gets around. We are happy to check link after link so long as we’ve
started at a trusted source. Of course we mustn’t forget that bloggers are real
people, so we are always discussing music with our peers and going to gigs,
reading traditional publications etc. The Recommender puts on monthly gigs in
our home town of Brighton, so there’s a lot of interaction with PR agents,
band’s managers and agents, other promoters, record labels etc. Most of what we
write about is actively located by us, rather than through being sent it.

Bloggers are busy people who usually have other jobs/hobbies and little time
for nonsense.  What can bands do to make your job easier?

That’s a really valid point, as although blogs such as ours are getting more
and more powerful, with our large readerships, we are always squeezing the
critiques around our day jobs. As The Recommender’s creator and main editor I
am fortunate that most of my income is still within the music world, so I never
actually leave the community, but we think that the best advice for bands is to
simply not waste our time. Waxing on about how amazing your band is, or listing
dozens of bands you think you ‘sound like’, is never going to help us or
encourage us that much. All bands think they are amazing and they all think they
sound a little bit like LCD Soundsystem, but sadly that’s rarely the case.
Remember that we get hundreds of similar emails each and every week, so the
best thing you can do is simply attach your Myspace link, Soundcloud link
and/or a credible referral/review. Due to the large amount of submissions, it
often takes a little time to get around to it, but The Recommender never
deletes a submission without checking it first, so we will check you out
eventually. Never only send your mp3, as we definitely want to hear it prior to
clogging up our music folder, so a Myspace or Soundcloud will do that. At the
fear of jamming up our Twitter feed, which is primarily used to communicate
interesting information, we could suggest you chat to us on there for a quicker
response. It doesn’t guarantee we will respond, but it tends to get our
attention more immediately and we love to chat, so a lot can be achieved, a lot
faster. Please note that if your email or your Tweet feels like spam, or feels
very generic, then it will possibly get ignored. Don’t write to us stating
“Dear blogger”. It’s lazy and impersonal. Although a team of people
write The Recommender, we are still real people. If nothing else, address it to
my name, Mike.

Running a music blog is a tough business – have you found a way to monetize it
or is it a labour of love?

It started as a labor of love and very much still is. It’s not a commercial
decision to keep it that way, as some of the best (looking) blogs we know have
adverts plastered all over them, but we personally don’t have advertising on
The Recommender…yet. The idea has been to raise the profile and the number of
visitors as high as we possibly can over the last few years by mainly being as
good as we can. Doors get opened as a consequence and it’s these that turn into
opportunities for earning money. Don’t get us wrong, the blog’s now at a
suitable stage to monetize it, but we are holding out in the short term as it’s
credibility is key and we earn our money in other ways, a lot of which came
about because of the blog’s success. For example, we now write for music
magazines, promote amazing gigs, we photograph bands, gain access to all sorts
of amazing events, and we have met many wonderful people in and around the
music industry, all on the back of the blog being known. We have also built up
many solid connections with other bloggers, being part of a serious network.
Collectively our weekly readership is in the millions. You can see the evidence
of this kind of powerful collective already being centralized with sites like Strangers
In Stereo
. The Recommender tries to put itself at the heart of these
fellow bloggers, who share our passion for new music.

6.Writing press releases is something most bands really struggle with.  Any
advice for them?  Things you want to see more of/less of?

As we mentioned in previous answers, less is more. Big flashy press releases
aren’t any more effective than simple one-liners. Quality is important, but we
respond just as well as to a link that simply allows us to hear the music. To
be fair there is often other information on press releases, including details
on tours, biographical info and singles/EPs/albums etc that are very useful, so
the amount of information can depend on what we are looking for. Being concise,
friendly and appropriate is generally positive. A lot of what arrives in our
busy inboxes is sadly irrelevant to our blog’s tastes. It helps if those people
that send us stuff actually get familiar with our blog first. Not all blogs are
the same. For example, we are actually more similar to The Guardian’s New Band Of The Day, as we
recommend new music, but by proxy this means that we’re unlikely to list a band
more than once on the blog. We can’t re-recommend something, so once we’ve had
your band on The Recommender, there’s not much point in letting us know about
each and every single and tour date as we’ve already covered you. There are
exceptions, as we have a regular post that we do called The Gig List that informs the people
of Brighton about any tours coming to this city from those bands The
Recommender likes . It’s all explained on our About Us
page, but sadly a lot of folk don’t read that prior to emailing those press

You’re located out of Brighton – how much does the blog affect/interact with
the scene there and the surrounding area?

Massively. Anyone that is anything to do with the Brighton music scene probably
knows our blog. It took a while but now our blog is respected and widely known.
As the editor and creator of the blog, I’m also known as a busy networker. I’ve
made sure that all the movers and shakers know me in Brighton. With it being so
close and easy to get to London, there’s plenty of folk who know us in the
capital too. Even after all this though, we get more visitors to the blog from
America than the UK. There are a couple of key things that have opened up
Brighton more than anything else; firstly, we are a contributor for The
Brighton Source
magazine, a local going out bible, that’s run for
over a decade and is exceptionally well respected/connected in this city.
Secondly, we also throw monthly parties at a venue in the centre of
Brighton, showcasing the bands that we write about on The Recommender. This
obviously gets us noticed, particularly among the other promoters in town. We
are now very much proudly part of their circles. Most recently we have been
asked to throw the largest after party on the launch day of Brighton’s
legendary Great
Escape Festival
, with five bands being showcased. It’s also worth
noting that we currently have other contributors to the blog, one of which is
the resident DJ at two of Brighton’s largest clubs. We also have a couple more
writers based in America, in Los Angeles and Austin. This particularly made the
SXSW festival more accessible and it has helped us make lots of useful
connections in the music industry over there. 

You listen to tons of music – what have you been really excited about as of
late and what do you look forward to in 2010?

How long have you got? Having voted in the BBC Poll for The
Sound Of 2010
, there’s a few on there that we agree will have a very
good year. Marina & The Diamonds, Ellie Goulding and Delphic have already
broken through, with Hurts lined up to be next, but, as you will see from The
Recommender’s archives they’ve all been known about on the blogs for ages. For
example, we first blogged about Marina and Ellie well over a year ago, and we
certainly weren’t the first. There’s a few established acts that have already
featured massively on our playlists this year, such as LCD Soundsystem,
Yeasayer and Hot Chip. As for 2010, and who knows perhaps 2011, we are closely
watching massive talents such as: The
Good Natured
, Fenech Soler, Velo,
, Jukebox Collective, Phantogram,
, The Tins. For some reason, the New York
borough of Brooklyn has been extra hot this year. We could go on for a very
long time, but one thing is sure, music scenes around the world are still
producing lots of fresh, amazing music.

The Recommender Blog