A few weeks ago during a bout of nostalgia, we launched a new Spotify playlist called Blog Era Hits. That playlist and the songs and artists included (or missed) started a lot of conversations, and one of those was with Tim Larew. Tim is an artist manager, writer, and blog founder, and we decided it was time (once again) to look back at the music blog era.

This is not about me, but I’ve had countless conversations about this subject in the past few months, and almost everyone that participated in that era has a different version of the same story, so I’m going to share mine.

The blog era was the wild west of music distribution and discovery. There was no standardization of music release timing or “best practices” that artists and management were pressured to adhere to; everything was powered by instinct, especially if you had not already fully “made it.” If you were an A-list artist signed to a major label in the early 2010s, your music would go live on iTunes at midnight, Monday night into Tuesday, and in CD form (remember those?) in stores like Best Buy and Target at 10 am Tuesday morning. If you were unlucky, a single or two—sometimes even the whole album—would leak somewhere on the internet a day, or two days, or a week before it was set to release. 

One of the biggest albums of the 2010s, Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, surfaced in zip file form and spread like wildfire online several days before the official drop, prompting K.Dot to reactively record and upload the beautiful, frantic “The Heart Pt. 3,” featuring his label-mates Ab-Soul and Jay Rock, to Soundcloud in the tiny window between the leak and the project release date. I was 21 years old at the time, a wide-eyed blogger myself, and when I pressed play on that song and heard, “Even when my album leak, fans still buy it for proof,” goosebumps blanketed my body. As one of those fans, I was instantly mobilized. When Kendrick ended the song with the question, “Will you let hip-hop die on October 22nd?” I mentally cried out, “No! I will not!” My friend Goodwin and I drove around NYC on October 20th playing the leak, stunned at the masterpiece we were hearing, then I walked to the Best Buy by my place in Boston the morning of the 22nd and proudly purchased my physical copy, proving my then-favorite artist right.

I bring up that example for two reasons: 

1) An artist like Kendrick did have somewhat of a standard release schedule when it came to his album. Physical CDs were released in stores on a predetermined day of the week, much like the majority of new music today comes out on midnight Thursday into Friday. Aside from that, there were no rules. With “The Heart Part 3,” someone on Kendrick’s immediate team, or maybe even he himself, pressed “publish” on Soundcloud and served it up to the world, instantly. There was no middle man. We knew and felt that as fans; that was part of the experience.

2) In 2012, the height of the blog era, narrative mattered more for artists than it does today. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City in itself was a masterfully composed story–both the album itself and everything around it. “Swimming Pools” didn’t need to sit at the top of Rap Caviar on its release day for hype to build or for streams to be automatically generated. It just happened. Kendrick and TDE were their own marketing and distribution, and the music and story reeled everyone in. When Kendrick responded to the GKMC leak by pouring his soul, his real-time feelings into “The Heart Part 3,” he spoke directly to fans and the writers he knew would be listening rabidly, racing to translate the story he was sharing. Kendrick, the artist, never lost control of the narrative and was able to let listeners peek behind the curtain in real-time. His album leaked—something that could have been devastating—but his verge-of-tears delivery on “The Heart” corralled his audience and implored upon them the importance of financially supporting his art, not just listening. Without that moment, without blogs and Soundcloud as focal platforms, what happens to the magic? What happens to the album? Do we even care about the story? Or do we just want the songs?

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