Yes, I realize that it’s beyond pretentious of me to be writing this, but I see so many metal blogs popping up out of the woodwork and so many of them getting it wrong in one way or another that I decided it was time to dust off the old soapbox. Who am I to say what’s right and what’s wrong? Well, I’ve been doing THKD for almost five years now (and before that Sonic Frontiers(dot)net for two years); I get a pretty fair amount of page views per month for a blog that doesn’t recycle press releases, and people I consider fairly prominent in our little community have both publicly praised my work and trashed the living shit out of it. I’ve also been asked to write for a few other blogs (Invisible Oranges, Metal Bandcamp, Cryogenic Husk and a few I’ve respectfully turned down) and recently embarked on a series of collaborative posts with Last Rites. Surely I must be doing something right?
To clarify, my goal isn’t to encourage you would-be metal bloggers to mold your sites into THKD part II. What I am trying to do here is share some of the little things that have worked for me over the years and helped get THKD to the place it’s at today, which I’d like to think is a pretty darn good one. A lot of this stuff you’d think would be a no-brainer, but if I didn’t constantly see people doing/not doing these things, I wouldn’t waste my time including them. The following are some general guidelines I’ve tried to adhere to over the years (and most of which I’ve foolishly broken/learned the hard way at one time or another) in an effort to steer the good ship THKD towards the moderate level of success I’ve attained. So without further ado and in no particular order…
1. Looks are everything.
I shouldn’t have to tell you how important first impressions are, but there are a lot of ugly-ass blogs out there, so I guess I do. Before your potential reader reads a single word you’ve written, he/she’s going to be taking in the totality of your blog. If it looks like shit, chances are they’re not going to stick around to read those reviews you busted your ass writing. I’ve always tried to give THKD a simple, uncluttered look, because I don’t want a bunch of stuff distracting the reader from the writing, and because I want the blog to look professional rather than like the entire genre of heavy metal vomited all over it. A custom header from my pal Brandon Duncan, as well as some very pro-looking ads from my advertisers give it just the right amount of visual flair w/o giving readers a headache. Another great example of the “less is more” approach is the newly re-designed Last Rites, which also benefits from a refurbished logo courtesy Mr. Duncan.
2. Paragraphs: use ’em.
Paragraphs were invented for a reason. They break up text into easily digestible chunks, making whatever you’ve written more reader friendly. I can’t believe how many blogs present their reviews as one ginormous, unbroken block of text, which is probably one of my biggest pet peeves; it’s intimidating and impenetrable to the reader, but it also ties back into visual appeal. A text monolith dominating the entire page with no separations is just plain ugly to look at and that means no one’s going to bother with reading it. If you don’t know when to start a new paragraph, just think of it this way: new thought = new paragraph.
3. Check out other blogs.
Good writers are well read and good bloggers soak up the blogosphere in order to learn about their craft. Read/look at as many other blogs as you possibly can and figure out what’s working for them and what isn’t; you can easily apply this knowledge to your own endeavor. I have just as many “what not to do” metal blogs bookmarked as I do ones I actually like and read on a daily basis. For a list of blogs I read regularly (the good ones, anyway), check out the links section on THKD’s front page.
4. Build relationships.
This is one of my favorite parts of blogging. Get to know all the bands, label heads, PR peeps, designers and other writers you can. Don’t be afraid to shoot someone an e-mail, even if you think they might be “out of your league” (just remember, no matter how big or how small, the worst that can happen is they tell you to “fuck off”). The more contacts you have, the more access you’ll have to stuff to write about, and the more people you’ll have to help you out when you’re ready to take things up a notch and do an exclusive track/video premiere or album stream, get press/photo passes to a show or festival you want to cover, etc. But more than that, there’s a 100% chance you’ll meet some really cool people who end up becoming your friends for life, even if you never meet them in person. Interacting with these folks on a daily basis is one of the key things that makes this all worthwhile.
5. Emphasize quality.
If I had a dime for every time I’ve finished a review or article and then either deleted the entire thing and started over or abandoned the idea altogether because I decided it was complete shit, I’d be a very rich man. I like to post as regularly as possible, but I will never post something that I don’t stand behind 100% just so I can have some fresh content for that day/week/month. Bottom line: if you’re not happy with something, don’t force it and don’t post it; chances are if you think it’s crap your readers will too.
6. Interact with your readers as much as possible.
I have to admit I’ve been pretty bad at this the past few months, but one of the great things about writing for the internet is you get to interact directly with your audience via comment sections, social media, e-mail, etc. The more often you take time to acknowledge your readers, the more likely they are to make repeat visits, because they know their patronage is noticed and appreciated. Not only that, but you can learn a lot from your readers; there’s a very good chance someone on the other side of the world might know something you don’t, or have some insight/perspective on a given subject that you never would’ve thought of. You can also pick up on some valuable constructive criticism.
7. Keep it short ‘n’ sweet.
I know a very small handful of writers that are great at writing lengthy, verbose reviews and features, but the sad truth is, most of us aren’t. What’s more, most of your readers don’t want to read you droning on for over a thousand words about a forty minute metal album. It’s boring, it’s tedious and they could probably just go sample the damn thing for themselves in half the time it takes them to read your mammoth review. The idea is to get your readers excited about music and inspire thought and discussion, not put them to sleep by being overly wordy. Many writers fall into the trap of thinking every sentence they vomit out onto the keyboard is pure gold… don’t be one of them.
8. Buy a domain name.
Nothing screams “hobby blog” quite like having “.wordpress.com/.blogspot.com” in your web address. Buying a domain name is super cheap, and those few dollars a year buy you a world of professionalism. If you want to be taken seriously and not scoffed at as a weekend warrior, this is one of the first things you should do.
9. Deal with trolls swiftly and decisively.
If your blog attains any kind of notoriety, there is a 100% chance you will be trolled. While this can be amusing, a zero tolerance policy is recommended. Once you ban + publicly broadcast a few e-mail and IP addresses over social media, potential trolls will get the message. Most importantly when dealing with trolls, keep a thick skin; I’ve seen writers way more well known, who write for much larger publications than I, get their cages rattled by trolls. The minute you show weakness, you’re meat.
10. Be nice.
Take it from someone who’s made a complete ass of himself in comment sections more times than I care to admit; just be nice and keep your remarks constructive. Being nice is easy. Sure, there are at least a few writers/bloggers out there that have made a career for themselves out of being complete jackasses, but those are few and far between, and do you really want to be known as the guy/gal that if they were a flavor of ice cream they’d be pralines and dick (yes, I realize I talk a lot of smack on Twitter, but that’s what its for. ;) ) All of that said, don’t be a doormat and don’t be afraid to call people out on their shit when it’s justified.
11. Learn some journalism basics.
Even if you’re just going to write reviews, it’s still good to do things like copy editing, fact-checking and citing sources. Just because you’re a metal blogger doesn’t mean you shouldn’t act with a sense of responsibility and a desire to maintain journalistic standards. By doing a little research and learning the bare minimum of basics, you’ll instantly put a lot of distance between your site and the sites that publish fake photos of Tim Lambesis’ wife, and that’s something your readers will appreciate. You can pick up an Associated Press Stylebook for less than ten bucks on Amazon, so there’s really no excuse.
12. Act with integrity.
If there’s one thing the years have shown me, it’s that there are some truly vile people in the blogging game, people who have no respect whatsoever for journalism, the craft of writing, their readers or the bands they cover. This one’s easy, all you have to do is use a little common sense. For example, before you go writing publicly about your degrading, rapey incest fantasies, think about how you’d feel if someone wrote that about your sister, mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter, etc. I’m not saying you have to be ultra-PC at all times (this is coming from a guy that named his blog That’s How Kids Die, after all) and of course some of the music we cover is going to make people uncomfortable for one reason or another, but to encourage misogyny, racism, homophobia or any other type of abhorrent behavior through writing is beyond despicable.
That wraps it up for Metal Blogging 101. If you’ve made it this far, I hope you learned something. Please feel free to ask questions, tell me I’m full of shit or otherwise take me to task in the comments section below.