Thursday, January 11, 2007

Featured Feed: The Bluegrass Blog

Periodically Festival Preview will turn the spotlight its content feeds, focusing on one of the genre experts whose blogs fuel the FP content engine. We recently sat down with Brance Gillihan of The Bluegrass Blog to learn about trends in the music and about the impact his and co-editor Jon Lawless's blog has made in the bluegrass community.

When the Bluegrass Blog began publishing in 2005, very few musicians or industry people in the bluegrass community had any idea what a blog was. Two main magazines serve the bluegrass market and a few web discussion forums had come along, but the idea of daily news and commentary was something that was new in the closely knit bluegrass world.

Neither Gillihan, a recording engineer, nor Lawless, a publisher of music instructional materials, had experience in journalism, but they both had some computer expertise and a deep love for the music.

Coming from within the community, the bloggers chose to tread lightly concerning unauthorized news and gratuitous opinion. Initially, they also strictly limited the ability of readers to post their own comments out of concern over flaming and rumor-mongering.

Gillihan said he and Lawless saw it as part of their role to be a publication of record. While they run information about new recording projects or band personnel changes before the news is officiailly released, they typically get solid confirmation before publishing.

That may set them apart from blogs in other subjects areas where bloggers push the boundary of reporting standards and readily mix news and opinion.

In the early days of the Bluegrass Blog, Gillihan and Lawless had to do a lot of digging to come up with news to post. Now The Bluegrass Blog is well enough established that most genre musicians and PR people know to send them news.

By now it has developed into a very active blog, with an average of about five new posts every weekday and a couple on weekend days. According to Gillihan, the blog is getting read by up to 1500 unique readers a day, with consistent traffic throughout the work week and half as much on weekends.

The readership includes industry professionals and average fans, but Gillihan said the core is what he would call "non-professional artists," bluegrass musicians who still have a day job.

In another measure of its influence in the community, The Bluegrass Blog has eased the restrictions on commenting and is now a forum for active discussions and guest postings. As an example, there was recently a vociferous debate among commenters about the propriety of concert taping.

Meanwhile, The Bluegrass Blog has begun to make an impact on the existing bluegrass media market. Like print media in many markets, the two principle bluegrass magazines have dabbled with the Internet but not really embraced it, probably out of fear of compromising their advertising and subscription business model. Now that The Bluegrass Blog is taking advertising and growing its readership, one wonders if the magazines are beginning to worry a bit.

Gillihan said he has seen a rise in interest and savviness about the Internet from musicians and industry business people. For the last several years he has moderated panels and hosted mentor session about the Internet during the annual IBMA convention. Several years ago, those sessions were sparsely attended but at the last convention people were standing in the halls trying to get in, he said.

"About all that some of them know is that they need a MySpace page," Gillihan said with a laugh, since he believes the MySpace momentum has topped out.

Despite overlap from categories such as Americana and folk, Gillihan and Lawless remain fairly pure about covering bluegrass. He says they will report on news that doesn't involve a banjo, but that the core of their readership comes from the traditional end of bluegrass.

"I'm a Del McCoury kind of guy and I am never going to abandon that for the fringier stuff," Gillihan said.

On the other hand, he notes that the founders of bluegrass, Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs, were musical innovators and that it is intrinsic to the music to evolve. Pointing to Chris Thile as an example, he said there are many new directions being explored and that there is also a great deal of cross pollination with other genres, such as the bluegrass influence in the jam band scene.

One of the most encouraging trends that he sees is the emergence of a new generation of musicians, including very young musicians like the Lovell Sisters who play well not just on the level of control and mastery but also in tastefulness. "They are playing good music and it makes me wish I was there when I was that age," he said.

Gillihan sees evidence of that in his personal life as well. As a youth leader at his church, he finds that most of the young people he mentors are into mainstream pop music, but his influence has brought some of them around to an interest in authentic bluegrass as well.

1 comment:

LannyBluegrass in AZ. said...

The Bluegrass Blog is my everyday source for everything Bluegrass. I really enjoy the information Brance and John put out daily and especialy the links to further info. Keep up the great work.Some day you will get the credit you deserve for bringing bluegrass to a much larger audiance.