Thursday, 7 May 2020

Five years of cool music and things...

Five years!

This little blog of mine has existed for five years today. I'd hoped to arrange a gig or something to come together to celebrate but the world had other ideas. A birthday in lockdown wasn't quite what I had in mind for the blog but I'm trying to make the best of it. If you don't have time to read this whole post (more rambling from me... surely not?!) the short version is that if you've read anything that I've written over the years, or listened to any of my recommendations, you're great and you've got my endless gratitude. I've honestly surprised myself sticking at it for this long, I sort of fell into blogging accidentally and I still don't entirely believe that all of the page views aren't somehow spambots.

So if you're a real person and you really read the blog: thanks!

If you're a spambot, welcome, and thanks: you make my view count look great!

(Skip to the end for an exciting thing...!)

I should probably first explain... if you're reading this and you glance across to the post archive, you might notice that there are posts dating back to late 2012.

The blog is kind of like royalty with two birthdays. Back then, a very basic version of the site you're on today existed over on Tumblr. I had a personal Tumblr account (for sharing Doctor Who and Sherlock content, mostly) and made a page where I could share music that I enjoyed. I'd realised I was getting a kick out of recommending music to my school friends, and was spending a lot of time online - it made sense to combine the two! I think the URL on Tumblr cycled through some song lyrics and something like 'just good tunes' before I settled on coolmusicandthings. I'm not sure if somebody suggested it, of if I (very unimaginatively) came up with it. And I'm not entirely sure what the 'things' are, still. I've often thought about rebranding and renaming the blog over the years but every time I do, I've found that I can't bring myself to. Most music blog names don't make complete sense, right? And I'd started to build an identity and community around the name and it didn't feel worth the hassle of changing it.

With my Tumblr page, I'm pretty sure that I felt like I was the absolute zenith of music news. In reality, I was just sharing new music videos and sessions from the artists that I loved and there was very little writing involved. The music did the talking. But I'd started something, and started myself along the path of becoming... less a music reviewer, more a professional music fan. And sometime fangirl.

Towards the end of my first year at university in Oxford, just a few weeks after the inimitable Noah and the Whale had announced that they were parting ways, I took myself to see a show in Camden headlined by Matt Owens and the Delusional Vanity Project, Matt being the bassist of NATW. It was essentially a club night, their set was quite late and it was really rowdy, and I was out of my depth. Having only ever seen NATW playing a support set in an arena I was suddenly a few metres from three members of the band, as Tom Hobden and Michael Petulla, the band's violinist and drummer, were part of Matt's band. Being quite a relaxed show I found the opportunity to introduce myself to the guys outside. Getting a little caught up in the moment, I casually informed Matt that I had a music blog and he handed me a copy of his solo album to review.

In the film adaptation of the history of the blog, this is the point where time would stop and the narrator points out that this was the precise moment that kickstarted me into turning the blog into the site that it is today. I remember very vividly deciding that if people might be interested in my writing, I should make a go of it. So the next day in my flat in Oxford, I started plotting a relaunch of the blog. Maybe I was in it for the free CDs.

I spent a few days setting up my account on Blogger, which I'd used a little in the past for school projects, designed a layout and purchased a URL so that I might seem a little bit professional. I decided to copy across all of my existing posts (about 100) from Tumblr and backdated them all (hence the posts going back to 2012 on this site). The older posts aren't great, but they were part of the story, where it had all started, and it was a little less daunting then starting entirely from scratch.

Once the site was ready, I headed to my Facebook page on 7th May 2015 and announced... 

EXCITING NEWS! I've decided to relaunch my music blog 'cool music and things' over on blogger (bought a domain and everything).
I originally set up the blog a couple of years ago as I found myself constantly recommending music to everyone I know and it allowed me to do this on a bigger scale. I've moved across most of the old posts, and will be trying to update it regularly with recommendations, reviews and the like.  
I really want to make something of this, to grow my audience and mostly to share the music that I love with as many people as I can.
After that first gig, I saw Matt and the other NATW guys at a few small-ish shows for various projects they were working on. They were always super welcoming, letting me hang out with them as I was usually at the shows alone. I probably didn't realise at the time that the blog had essentially been my way in, a foot in the door to hanging out with some of my favourite musicians as if that was something I was completely used to. (It happens more and more and is still crazy.) To have those guys be early 'fans' of the blog and encouraging me to write more was an honour and made me feel like it was something that I should carry on with. They were proper music people, after all.

It took about ten months to reach the first real milestone on the site. Ten thousand page views. I remember that completely blowing my mind. It's such a big number?! A few months later, the page reached twenty thousand. Things were growing. As I write this post, the view count is gradually trickling towards one hundred and fifty thousand. I've come to realise that statistics are probably skewed quite a bit, I'll probably never understand how, but either that or I'm particularly famous in the Middle East. It's still a really big number though, so I'm taking the win.

I set up social media accounts so that I could share the posts once I'd written them, and started to forge a little community around the site. Again, I try not to worry too much about followers and likes (to be honest - most of the likes on the Facebook page are friends who have probably forgotten me begging them to like it in the early days) but it's lovely to have a little patch of the internet where I can talk to likeminded people and ramble about how great music is.

I made an email address for the blog early on so that people could submit music for me to write about. Currently, I get somewhere around 120 submissions a week. I listen to everything (albeit sometimes not for very long) and it's a genuinely a privilege to hear so much new music. Even if it is massively overwhelming most of the time. With just me writing posts and only a handful of posts each week, the majority of submissions don't make it onto the blog - so you've got to conclude that those that do have made it through some tough competition. I've made some really exciting discoveries in that inbox - BE GOOD and Fil Bo Riva are examples of a couple of artists I first found through press releases and completely adore now. The blog remains as much a discovery tool for myself as anything.

It's essentially all an elaborate attempt for me to find new music to listen to, and I've been lucky to have been sent lots of exciting streams over the years of unreleased albums. Sneak previews of albums from Bombay Bicycle Club, Public Service Broadcasting, Jack Savoretti, Geowulf, Benedict Benjamin and lots more. The best perks. Big imposter syndrome kicks in when I get to listen to those. Without doubt, one of the most exciting albums to find its way into my inbox was last February, when the new Bear's Den record arrived around two months before it was due to be released. Usually, an album will sit in my inbox and I'll procrastinate listening and reviewing, but this was different.

The band are a huge favourite of mine, and the album arrived into my inbox when I was going through a difficult time. If you know me personally or followed the blog then, you'll probably know that around that time, I lost a job I loved when the HMV store I worked at closed suddenly. It was a really crap time, suddenly losing the day-to-day companionship of my colleagues and wanting desperately to help them. It felt like a period of grief. I was fighting to get the decision overturned, suddenly finding myself as some kind of spokesperson for my colleagues as I spoke to local news outlets. Music helped, as it so often does. I wasn't writing much on the blog at the time as all my energy was going into applying for jobs and campaigning, but the new Bear's Den album arrived and I listened a lot, and it helped. As much as I wanted to thank the band for that, it was also testament to one of my favourite (shhh!) PR agencies, Stay Loose. Knowing what had happened, Ellie offered me guest list to any of their upcoming shows, knowing how much I loved escaping to gigs.

I don't think I'd ever anticipated making friends through the blog when I first started rambling on Tumblr, but I really have, between all the PR people, artists, labels and fellow music fans. The blog is far cooler than I am and that helps.

Another of the perks of running the blog is getting offered tickets to some pretty cool shows and festivals in exchange for a post rambling about them. The idea of being on the guest list for a show at  the actual Royal Albert Hall a couple of years back (Nick Mulvey - dreamy) is a little bewildering. Getting asked "which publication are you with?" at Citadel Festival last year and having to offer up the name of my little 'publication' will forever go down as a highlight of blogging.

Alright. I've probably rambled far more than enough! Essentially, I consider this blog to be my little corner of the internet where I can attempt to put my English degree to good use and spread the word, and a lot of love, for my favourite artists.

With so many submissions, I've been asked about other people writing for the blog at times - one of my favourite things is when PR emails refer to "the team" or an artist replies to a social media post with "thanks guys!" I like the idea that this seems such a well oiled machine that it must be a group of people. While it would probably help get more content out, I selfishly want to keep hold of the blog. With every bit of content being written by me, I've got the freedom to make everything personal. Posts will usually reference where I discovered the artists or a gig that I've seen them at. I like to think that its a kind of USP, a bit of personality shining through the writing. The blog essentially reads as a stream of consciousness thread about my favourite music. It's basically my diary.

Aaaaaand. Thing incoming! Before all of this, as I mentioned above, I'd started dreaming up a gig to celebrate the blog's birthday. I'd pretty much already been to the gig in my head... some of my favourite artists in one of my favourite venues, raising money for charity. Obviously those plans were scuppered but I'm still hopeful that after all of this is over I might get to organise something. CMAT club nights, anybody... watch this space? But for now! If you're on Youtube, you probably want to subscribe to this channel

It's still a slight work in progress as most of this is new to me, but I decided that I still wanted to do something to celebrate the blog's anniversary and to bring together some of the artists that I love - and blog about - most. A few of my favourite musicians kindly agreed to help (all wildly overwhelming if I'm honest) and over the next week or two (or more, like I said - work in progress) I'll be uploading exclusive content to the channel, mostly in the form of home recordings. I'll be uploading the first video later today - it's superb and I'm really excited to share it with you!

In exchange for the videos, it would mean the world if I could draw your attention and your support to the #SaveOurVenues campaign from the Music Venue Trust. Without sufficient support, hundreds of grassroots venues in the UK, many of which already faced pressures before the pandemic, face the risk of never re-opening. The MVT has set up a nationwide campaign offering support to these venues. Look to your local venues (MVT has a handy map on their site) and offer them a helping hand if you can.

Personally, I'm pinning all the love and support I can muster (and asking for you to do the same, if you can) onto Omeara. Opening in 2016, it's a reasonably new venue, part of a lovely community in London Bridge with adjoining eateries and a gallery area adjacent to the gig space. It's quickly become one of my favourite places to see live music, a really gorgeous room which is intimate without feeling too small. It's hosted debut London shows from the likes of Maggie Rogers, Dermot Kennedy and Sam Fender.

Founder Ben Lovett (keyboardist of Mumford & Sons and co-founder of the Communion Music label - which I sometimes feel like this blog is essentially a fan blog for as I adore so much of their output) says on their fundraising page:

Your donations will be used to help us take care of people. For us, people are everything - it's people on the stage singing their hearts out, it's people in the pit singing back to them, it's people at the door keeping you safe and it's people behind the bar keeping you refreshed. We are grateful for the support from the government but the current schemes are contributive rather than wholesale in their support and we are burning through cash reserves at an alarming rate. 
Depending on when we can reopen, currently slated as June, and whether we can prevent the closure of our venue, everything above the amount we need will be donated to the Music Venue Trust GMV Crisis Fund to protect other venues just like ours, right across the country. There will be no surplus or profit retained by Omeara and we believe in supporting all venues as much as we possibly can. It's more people looking after people hoping to give people an amazing experience again one day. 
We all thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the support.

You can support OMEARA here and it'll mean the world to me if you do. Consider it your birthday gift to the blog.

Check out the Music Venue Trust site here to view their main fundraiser and find a venue local to you - I'd love it if you let me know on Twitter if you donate to a venue!

Well: here's to 5 more years of blogging!!

Thanks a million for all the support. Means the world.

Meg x

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