Saturday, 2 January 2021

end of year reflections (hello 2021!)

Happy New Year, folks! I had intended to write and share this as a sort of 'end of year' reflection for the blog, but time ran away before I finished it... so it's a little late, but time is relative, right? I find myself furloughed (again) and with a lot of extra time on my hands, so I wanted to write a post celebrating some of the not-so-bad points of 2020. 

This blog has been a glorious escape for me this year. I'm not sure how I'd have filled all of the extra time at home without it! I love the artists that I feature here and my heart has been breaking for those who are struggling because of the mess that the past year has brought. Before indulging in some self-praise (forgive me) let me encourage you, if you're able, to support your favourite artists. Grab something from their merch stores, download their album via Bandcamp (Bandcamp Fridays are sticking around for the first half of 2021!) and stream their music to your heart's content. Go go go!

Now for some slightly self-indulgent reflections, mind-boggling stats and the like… 

In Feburary 2019, I lost my job when our HMV store closed. I wrote about it here. I had a lot of spare time thrust upon me and yet, it felt strange not to use that time to apply for new jobs and I struggled to be productive when it came to the blog. It's always been a hobby, a not-particularly-lucrative side-hustle that takes up the majority of my spare time. When all of your time is suddenly spared, it's hard to know how to use it... 

At a similar time in 2020, offering up an unwanted dose of déjà vu, I was put on furlough for the first time as the bookstore I work in closed for three weeks. Well... almost. Three months later, having barely left the house except to walk around our local nature reserve, I felt incredibly anxious about returning to the shop, and felt something akin to grief about the idea of leaving the blog behind. While the situation was far from ideal, I had known that my job was waiting for me once it was safe to return, and I've been able to spend some guilt-free time working on the site exclusively. It's always existed alongside jobs or my degree, so to have so much time for it was sort of inspiring.

At the time, I wrote on the blog - 

“With retail stores looking set to reopen in a few days in England, it looks as if all the extra time I’ve had for the blog will soon reduce dramatically [...] I’ve never had so much time for the blog and it’s been a genuinely lovely thing to see the blog grow more in the last month than it has in years. In a time where connection is so precious, the blog and the people who support it have come to mean even more than before.” 

I returned to work for a few months, fitting in the blog on days off and in the evenings, as I always have, then got placed back onto furlough in November. Through a period of about five weeks I went from annual leave, to furlough, to two weeks of isolation with a positive test in our house. We stayed put, and the blog, and music more generally, wrapped me in its warm embrace once more. I spent as much time as I could over those few weeks (well... not so much in the mornings) working on it. Particularly when we were isolating, it felt great to have something productive to do. Or to berate myself for not doing. 

In May, the blog celebrated an anniversary. While I originally started writing under the name coolmusicandthings on Tumblr back in 2012, the first real commitment to blogging came when I got myself the URL and moved everything onto the site you're on today, in May 2015. Five years! Five years of spending so much of my time writing posts promoting the artists and music that I love, new and old, with genuinely heartfelt personal recommendations. I wrote about this more at the time here but it felt wild to reach this anniversary. The blog is like a diary of my personal musical discovery. I scroll through it occasionally and years later I'm still a little like... wait, I wrote all this?! From a young age I wanted to write (I think fiction back in primary school, and later some kind of local journalism) and I've created a place to do just that. If people read it or not is sort of secondary.... yet, they do. 

You do. I think. I hope? Well, that, or the stats are lying to me. With all of those spare hours on my hands, the blog has been more active on social media and things have grown far more than in previous years. It recently hit 200,000 all-time page views, and had just short of double the views in 2020 than in 2019. For me that's huge. After the recent isolation, Twitter analytics (I love stats!) showed that profile visits were up around 700% vs the previous 28 days. It's gratifying to know that time put into the blog reflects back as growth, and I feel invigorated to achieve even more growth this year. Recent milestones online included 600 Facebook likes, 550 Instagram followers and 650 Twitter followers. The insta following doubled in the last year?! For a while, these accounts were just full of friends and family that I'd invited/begged to follow them, and it seems more and more that actual strangers are here for the ride too now. Hello!

More followers means more submissions, and there seem to be a LOT of people wanting a slice of the action now, and it's constantly growing. Weekly submissions almost doubled this year, from around 120 when I checked at the start of the year and around 210 recently. Considering that the blog is just me and that I (usually) have a full time job and aim to post about 5 times a week, 200 weekly submissions is kind of crazy. 

For the 'anniversary' I'd started to make big plans (in my head, mostly) - I was hoping to organise some kind of charity gig, with a line-up of a few of my favourite artists, in one of my favourite venues. Luckily, nothing was planned so nothing had to be cancelled, but I hope that I'm able to organise something along those lines in the future. Club nights, anybody? I still wanted to recognise the anniversary and asked a bunch of my favourite artists and friends of the blog if they might want to record a little session for a new Youtube channel I was thinking of setting up for the blog. To my utter amazement, many obliged. A few videos never materialised but I had no desire to put pressure on anybody while so much was going on in the world. I ended up sharing 6 magnificent videos from a bunch of talented souls. 

A month later, one of my genuine favourite human beings, Sam Beeton, sent in a video. He was one of the first people that I saw playing live; in fact, the opening act at the first gig that I'd actively chosen to go to and travelled out of my city for, and I haven't seen him play since late 2013. He didn't just send in a video, but he'd created an entire short film, with a new track (his first 'release' in years) performed within it. Take the blog away and I am essentially just a fangirl at heart, trying to support artists whose music brings me joy. This was a highlight of the year. Tears were indeed shed. 

Another of the artists to send in a video (no short film... but he's forgiven) is White Tail Falls (AKA The Hoosiers' frontman Irwin Sparkes). It would be remiss not to ramble (I do little else) about Irwin in a round-up of my musical year. At the start of 2020 (before... stuff) he asked if I would like to premiere the video for his solo track Disintegrate. A billion times yes! In June, we did an interview which (no bias at all) is probably my favourite on the blog, ever. The detail and honesty with which he approached it blew me away. Irwin has always been really supportive of the blog, and this year, with the release of his debut solo record, felt like the pinnacle of that. I've spent much of the year falling in love with Age of Entitlement, so much so that I recently named it my album of the year

I also shared interviews with Hailaker and Pêtr Aleksänder back in May, and most recently, with Novo Amor. I love sharing them but have never braved anything but an email interview (sending a bunch of questions, receiving answers, and posting them.) Maybe 2021 will bring with it a little bit of courage to jump on a phone call (or... Zoom?) with some artists? I certainly want to share some more interviews this year, they're always some of my favourite features. 

I've been re-furloughed as of a few days before Christmas. It's a strange time. I have a baby niece who I haven't been able to meet yet because of the restrictions. We've had a kitchen installation drag out over almost a year and have had the contents of our kitchen scattered in boxes across the house (and no wallpaper, flooring, or, most recently, ceiling, in there.) I didn't feel particularly festive this year and it's been a weird couple of weeks. Being furloughed three times and our store having been closed so long, knowing how treacherous a time it is for all retailers at the moment (unless you're Bezos, obviously) isn't a particularly cheering feeling. And yet, with the blog, I feel a sense of... calm? 

I really love this site. And I love the community of people that I've managed to grow around it. Things have escalated a bit this year. I've been forced into having more time for it, and while I couldn't get to shows and interact with fans and artists in person, I feel like I've connected with more people through the blog than ever before. Running the blog at some points this year has felt like a full time job in itself (entirely pressure that I load onto myself) yet it's really just quite a demanding hobby. I feel privileged to have an audience of sorts, though. As we pass into the new year, I feel inspired and determined to keep up with the blog, to keep it growing, and to find new and exciting opportunities within the industry. Helping out with PR, on social media, with data entry, writing for other sites, maybe? At the moment, everything depends on spare time around my job but with furlough, who knows... 

Here's to a year of brilliant music, of reaching more milestones, more rambling, more interviews, of wearing-a-god-damn-mask, of vaccines, of The Vaccines (!) and of new opportunities. We got this. 

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