If you’re one of those people who’s missed country music blogs like the 9513 or Engine 145 and wouldn’t mind reading an entire post about new blogs, this post may be for you. If you’re a country music fan who’s looking to get into writing, even if it’s just for fun, this post is definitely for you, too. Of course, non-country fans may also find something worthwhile here.
As a preface to this piece, I should mention that I wrote something similar to this around two years ago that has since been deleted. However, whereas that was a personal reflection on blogging, this is meant to be more of a guide for those looking to start a country music blog. The second preface to this piece is answering why I decided to write this. Ever since My Kind Of Country closed its doors at the end of June, I’ve noticed we’ve lost quite a few country music blogs this decade, including those aforementioned ones. Along with them, we’ve lost Country California, Country Perspective, Keep It Country Kids (on indefinite hiatus since 2016), and a whole slew of others.
On the bright side, I’ve also noticed several writers upstarting new projects. But while this post is designed to list a few pros and cons of music blogging as well as hand out a few tips, I’m in no way insinuating I’m a master at what I do. If you were to go to this website’s blogroll page, I’d gladly tell you that just about any of those websites are better than this one. I’m writing this because I’d love to see more country music blogs enter into the conversation, and I understand how hard it can be to get started.
On that note, if there’s anyone this post probably isn’t for, it’s those looking to start their own empires akin to, say, Rolling Stone, No Depression, or Wide Open Country. This also likely isn’t the piece you’re going to turn to if you hope to monetize your work. I’m mainly looking to reach those with little-to-no writing experience writing out of passion more than anything else. On that note, let’s get started!
1. Getting Started Is Easier Than Ever
Building a website seems like a challenging endeavor, and to be fair, it is. But if you’re looking to start a website to share your thoughts on music, you don’t need to be a master at coding in order to build something respectable. There are plenty of website platforms that enable people to host their own website in a matter of minutes. For example, if you have a Google account, you also have what’s known as a Blogger account. Simply sign into their website using your Google address and password, and you’ll be able to create a website! This platform is geared more toward simplicity, so if you’re aiming for something small and low-key, perhaps this is the best platform for you. Farce The Music uses Blogger. Wix is a platform that is gaining popularity, though, to be honest, I wouldn’t say it’s the best for blogging purposes. Still, if you’re big on design and how your website looks, Wix is easily one of the most visually appealing platforms to use. Weebly combines the simplicity of Blogger with the great design choices of Wix to create another easy-to-use platform, though as a warning, it’s the most limited platform when it comes to its free plan. I operate using WordPress, which is the most popular platform for blogs, though I will say it’s not the easiest to learn. With that said, once you get the hang of it, I’d say it’s the most blogger-friendly platform and boasts a ton of features to not only help your website stand out, but also to help you simply have fun designing your platform.
And again, these are all free platforms. No, not everything is free – items like a custom URL and email address aren’t cheap, but if you were to start a website right now using any of the above platforms, you’d have something. For example, if you used WordPress, your site might carry a URL of, say, “countrymusicreviews.wordpress.com,” with the additional name of the brand being a staple in every URL (in other words, there’s also “.weebly,” “.wixsite,” and .blogspot”). Until March, I operated as “themusicaldivide.wordpress.com,” and even now, my website functions pretty much exactly like it did before.
Basically, the barriers to entry when it comes to starting a website are much lower than they were five or ten years ago, and it’s more fun than frustrating to try it out. Also, you are not limited to just those platforms I mentioned. There are plenty to choose from, and the biggest hurdle is simply figuring out which one is best for you. On that note …
2. Decide What You Want Out Of Your Website
If you, the reader, read country music blogs such as this one, there are likely various features you enjoy – news pieces, reviews, opinion pieces, historical features, or something else entirely. While anyone is free to experiment with a style they like, especially as they start out, it’s helpful to define a clear brand image for yourself early on. This helps you to connect with a target audience and grow your platform much quicker.
For example, blogs such as this one, Country Universe, Kyle’s Korner, Country Exclusive, Highway Queens and more all engage mostly in music reviews, so we’re all trying to start those critical conversations. Of course, that’s not every average music consumer’s cup of tea. Farce The Music balances humor with reflections on the music industry courtesy of writers Trailer and Robert Dean, respectively. Other websites like Shore2Shore Country and a new website, String Thirty-Five, don’t review music, but rather write objective reflections and reports on the music industry. While news pieces are harder to write, especially when one is just starting out, other websites such as B-Sides And Badlands, Robert’s Country Opinion Blog, The Word, and Saving Country Music exist as websites that incorporate a little bit of everything in the mix. The key part is finding out what you enjoy reading, as a consumer.
Of course, to break it down even further, it also helps to identify which segment you want to focus on. Country music is divided more than ever, and while that creates problems in terms of uniting as one community, it also allows for more diverse perspectives. Perhaps you’re a disgruntled country music fan who wishes to champion artists you don’t hear on the radio, or perhaps you feel that mainstream country music is, indeed, worth the conversation (or both!). Perhaps you want to focus on the perils of women in the music industry like Highway Queens, or perhaps you want to share your perspective as an international country music fan like Country Music France. Maybe you don’t even want it to be just a music website, but rather a music website with Nintendo news thrown into the mix like Kyle’s Korner. Maybe you care about preserving country music tradition, or maybe you want to tear it down. The sky is the limit, really.
With that said, you don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel to create a valuable website. As I said before, plenty of websites operate under the same “formula,” but the ingredients are different. Your voice will always be different, and there’s no need to hide that.
With that said, growth is hard, especially when you’re just starting out. I’ve seen many websites fold after a few months because they haven’t gained the traction they were looking for. Again, that’s why defining your preferred segment is so important. But how do you reach that segment?
- Building a social media presence is key. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever else you prefer, having an additional place to share your work is incredibly helpful, even if it’s not absolutely essential. Find accounts that suit your interest and engage with them and their followers. Facebook is still the most popular social media network by far, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily best for you. Find the platform that bests suits your interests and engage with active followers wherever that may be. Also remember, too, your website is a social media platform! Engaging with people who comment on posts is a great way to make them feel welcome and to want to come back and read your work. One benefit to WordPress is that it can track where your web traffic is coming from (I repeat – for free!). For me, the bulk of my traffic stems from Twitter, so that’s where I’m the most active. Lastly, if you write about music, tagging the artists is often the best way to expand and grow, not only because they might see your piece and share it, but because their fans will see it as well. But don’t relentlessly nag users to view your work, and don’t continuously follow and then unfollow people – you want your work to speak for itself, and that’s one easy way for people to know you, but also ignore you.
- If blogging doesn’t work out, YouTube is a fantastic resource. Remember, it too is a social media platform, and considering SEO (search engine optimization) is a huge element of growth, it helps that YouTube is like its own mini-Google. What I mean by that is, with the addition of new country music channels like The Backroad or Grady Smith On Country (not necessarily new, but certainly growing), there are active country music fans on YouTube looking for information. And considering the comment sections are where the real magic happens (even if it’s not always good magic), perhaps that’s a better platform to suit your needs. Even if it’s not, simply engaging with fans there is another great way to get noticed.
- For blogs, Medium is an excellent social media platform to specifically share blog posts. Like YouTube, Medium has its own search function and a growing user base. Normally, one could write their own blog posts there and use that as their website, which is what Shore2Shore Country does. However, there’s also the possibility to copy and paste the headline of one your pieces and simply provide a link to your actual post in the body of the text.
- More content isn’t always good. While I would say blogs should have a consistent stream of content in order to maintain their readership base, that doesn’t mean posting just anything is always the correct choice. You always want your posts to be proofread, articulate and actually carry some meaning, if not to you than to your readers (preferably both, though). Think of it this way – if the Internet were to suddenly end tomorrow and you had no way to continue posting, are you proud of your website’s legacy? Or do you wish you had things differently? Quality always triumphs over quantity.
- Don’t get discouraged. Your work will not take off overnight, especially if you don’t put the effort in to promote it. Someone may land on one of your posts by happy accident, but it’s going to take a lot of them before people start to take notice. And if you’re just starting out, you won’t be the best writer in the world, trust me. This is what I was writing just four years ago, and I’d say I’ve only marginally improved. No, you don’t need to have taken any journalistic courses prior to starting a music blog, but understand that word choice and context matters, especially if you write about another person’s art. Always do your research and never publish a fact without sourcing it, and never publish something you think you might regret later. Remember, you’ll engage with people you don’t even know, so writing simply with the intention of only showing this to your closest friends and family isn’t always a smart idea. Again, though, this is just a recommendation rather than a requirement.
- With that said, focus more on having fun rather than trying to build an empire overnight. Think of it this way – even if you have, say, 20 followers after months of hard work on whatever social media platform you use, that’s a small room of people who think that what you’re doing is cool. In that case, it even makes five followers feel like you’re the king or queen of the world.
3. This Is A Community
If you engage with any country music blogger, you’ll likely become friends quickly since you have two mutual interests – music, and writing about music. With that said, there are a lot of music bloggers out there who cover at least some semblance of country music (if we were to expand that to include Americana bloggers, the list would be almost endless). Their websites may not always interest you, but understand that we’re all doing this out of a mutual passion for music, so be kind to one another on the Internet. If you’re still reading this post, it’s likely because you’re looking to write out of passion, so understand that fellow writers are your colleagues, not your competitors. Again, you don’t know who’s seeing what you’re posting, and words do matter. Instead, find the websites that do interest you and engage with those writers.
- This should go without saying, but always remember that you are always on an even level with your readers. You may gain access to some cool early releases or interviews with artists that the everyday person understandably wouldn’t get, but don’t adopt a “holier than thou” attitude. Ever. At the end of the day, no one cares what you think. I know, that contradicts what I said earlier, but what I mean here is, no writer is 100 percent perfect in any way. Mistakes happen, and no single writer can cover every area of interest (which, again, is why it’s important to figure out your preferred niche early on), and readers can always find another website that suits their interests better. Value the readership you have and stay humble.
4. Blogging Admittedly Has Its Downsides
As a music consumer, I’ve always loved reading country music websites and magazines like they were a second Bible. I never understood, however, just how much time went into crafting a post until I started writing. Between the time it takes to maintain a website and possibly deal with … unsatisfactory people on the Internet, it’s easy to get fatigued. I know, it sounds silly, especially when this is just a hobby, but it does happen. Preserving mental health always comes first and foremost, so it’s always OK to log off, take some time off and enjoy real life.
5. In The End, It’s All About Having Fun
There are several points I could expand upon, but since this is only meant to be a rough guide to country music blogging, I hope I haven’t made it sound too intimidating. Most of the downsides will only be downsides if you let them happen. As it stands, music blogging is an excellent way to sharpen your skills as a writer, thinker, and person, and speaking from experience, it never stops being fun. There’s no way we’ll ever fill the shoes of Brady and Brody Vercher, Juli Thanki, C.M. Wilcox, Paul W. Dennis, or any other other writers who helped paved the way for music bloggers, but I also don’t believe this community ever has to die, especially when a veteran like Kevin John Coyne of Country Universe keeps plugging away. There are a lot of wonderful blogs only a few years into their existence that I’d love to see grow, and if you’re reading this piece and have always wondered where to start your own outlet, I hope this provided some helpful tips.