An Interview with an MP3 Blogger

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by: Nancy Baym

Unbeknownst to most of the world, Sweden has the world’s third largest record market, sliding in just behind the US and the UK. Sweden also has one of the world’s most fertile music scenes, giving rise to thousands of bands playing every genre there is: death metal, hardcore punk, mainstream arena rock and dance music, indie pop, prog, folk, electronica, jazz, twee.

They have hip hop and Americana. I kid you not. Sweden even has its own (overrated) YouTube phenomenon: I’m From Barcelona got an absurd number of hits for the so-dry-it-makes-my-lips-chap video (at least I hope it’s dry — see the YouTube comments for other interpretations) for “We’re from Barcelona.” Videos of festival goers spontaneously breaking into the song’s chorus and covers of the song done by robots have surfaced on the web recently as well.

I’ve fallen for dozens of Swedish bands in the last few years (almost all of whom sing in English), and seeing as how I live in the middle of the contintental US, it’s all been through the internet. In pursuing Swedish music fandom, I find myself spread across a lot of inter-related sites. One I visit at least once a week is an mp3 blog started in early 2005 called Swedesplease. It’s written by Craig Bonell, who lives about as close to Sweden as I do.

MP3 blogs are increasingly important to the circulation of music. Like many fans of music below the radar, I rely on them, and I’m grateful to those who keep them going. I also see them as a move toward more individualized, less cohesive online fandom. They inherently privilege the voices of those who write the blogs over those of readers who, although they could build their own interactive communities through the comments sections (as happens in many political blogs), rarely do.

Swedesplease offers a great vantage point for exploring these issues. Craig Bonell recently took time out from scouring the internet looking for new music with which to delight his readers (fans?) to speak with me about Swedesplease. Here’s what he had to say:

What motivated you to start Swedesplease? What motivates you to keep doing it?

My regular blog is Songs:Illinois. In the course of writing that blog I would continually stumble upon Swedish acts that were not being covered in the press. So after a discussion with the rock journalist Greg Kot in which I said that so many genres are underserved by mp3 blogs I decided to start Swedesplease. It was easy to start but is hard to keep going.

Do you have any sense of who’s reading your blog? What kind of feedback do you get from them?

I get all kinds of feedback. It’s a little skewed because the people with an incentive to write me are the bands, labels and pr people. So I do get a lot of emails both personal and bulk from that group. I also just get the random Swedish music fan, some in Sweden and some expats living in the States. The other big block of readership are other bloggers. That number could be rather high since there seems to be 10,000 other mp3 blogs.

How do you find all those bands and mp3s to post? What are the sources feeding your own Swedish music fandom?

How I find all the music to feature is top secret although it revolves around checking MySpace, label websites, band websites and recommendations from fans. More so than any other country, Swedish bands are often in other side projects, so a post about say Thomas Denver Johnson could result in three or four related posts as well as related follow-up posts. Bands who claim to be fans of the blog often submit their music. As do fans of particular blogs. In fact some of my most popular posts resulted from fans submitting music (Jose Gonzales live for instance).

How has your blog generally been received by artists in the Swedish scene? Any stories you could tell of interactions with artists?

It has been well received. Bands and labels seem generally thrilled to get the attention. One of my most championed artists has been Hello Saferide. At the very beginning of her “career” she cited me as the start of her music being an internet sensation. She has since received all kinds of praise, critical success and courtship from major labels here in the States. In a bizarre kind of twist she actually interviewed me for her radio show that she does on P3 (Swedish national radio?). So in that case the fandom was reversed.

The most common reaction I get from artists about the blog is when they ask how I find all this great Swedish music and yet they live in the country and are part of the scene and haven’t heard of it before.

What role do you think a blog like yours plays in making the Swedish music scene more accessible outside of Sweden?

I hate to sound conceited but what other way can the Swedish scene be learned about if not on mp3 blogs. I suppose you could somehow subscribe to Swedish music magazines but that’d be hard, you could try to listen to Swedish radio online but I’m not sure if that’s possible or you could try to follow the scene through the mainstream press (but it’d be such a small sliver of coverage). So while I’m biased I think that mp3 blogs focusing on Swedish music are the best way to learn about the Swedish scene.

Like most mp3 blogs, yours seems to have a lot of people using it, yet very few comments and very little discussion amongst the readers. What do you think about that?

Comments on blogs is a big issue. Everyone would like some but in general no one gets any. Aside from Stereogum, Fluxblog and a couple of the other big ones, comments are few and far between and typically they get comments only when they write about Tom Cruise not Thom Yorke! I guess what I’m saying on Swedesplease and Songs:Illinois is not that controversial and thus doesn’t stir up the need to comment. Generally people read about the band and then download the music to listen to later so even if they wanted to comment on the music they haven’t had time to digest it yet. Inevitably I get comments only when I make a factual or grammatical mistake (of which there are many).

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