Whether you’re a business owner, a freelancer, or a personal blogger, developing a unique voice on your site is never easy. One WordPress.com blog that has established its own unique identity in a short period of time is Bandcamp Daily, from music-discovery platform Bandcamp.
We recently chatted with J. Edward Keyes, Bandcamp’s editorial director, on how he and his team have built a site that matches their company’s spirit of serendipitous discovery and sense of community.
Brooklyn-based J. Edward Keyes has been a music journalist for over 20 years. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, SPIN, and Pitchfork (among many other publications).
Who do you see as Bandcamp Daily’s main audience?
We’re trying to engage any curious music listener. The defining mission of Bandcamp Daily is to highlight people who are making interesting, compelling music all over the world. So we’re here for people who want to discover music beyond the same five or six Big Names that seem to dominate the music news cycle.
Back in the days of record stores, the thing that excited me most was going through the stacks, finding something that I knew nothing about but had a cool cover or interesting title, buying it, and discovering a new artist or label that way. We’re operating by that same principle, emphasizing the joy in discovery. Our main goals are to introduce people to music they may not be familiar with, and to also provide context around why we think this music is important. If we do a piece on, say, Ethiopiyawi, an emerging genre that combines electronic music and Ethio-jazz, we’re going to provide cultural context around where this music comes from, its roots, and its current standard-bearers. This way, you not only discover a new genre, but you also learn about its origins.
An accidental visitor to Bandcamp Daily might take a while to realize that it’s a company’s main blog. The focus is squarely on the music. What led you to make that decision?
Bandcamp Daily grew out of Bandcamp’s existing company blog, on which there were both product-related posts as well as music posts. When we launched in June, our publishing schedule was a lot more aggressive than it had been in the past, so product posts are naturally dwarfed by the music posts. The whole goal of Bandcamp Daily is to spotlight artists who are making great music, and using Bandcamp to get that music out into the world; in that way, hopefully, we’re presenting Bandcamp as a viable platform for musicians, no matter where they’re located, without having to beg the point.
To me, one of the most exciting things about Bandcamp is the staggering range of artists and labels who use the site — so why not highlight that aspect of what we do?
It probably comes down to having a specific vision for what kind of site needs to exist in the world, and then figuring out if there are ways your business touches that.
What advice would you give to business owners whose niche might be less immediately engaging than music?
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I think it probably comes down to having a specific vision for what kind of site needs to exist in the world, and then figuring out if there are ways your business touches that. For us, with the Daily, it was never “let’s create a site to advertise Bandcamp.” It was more that we saw a hole in the music-writing world that we thought we could fill.
Tell us a bit about how your team goes about publishing in a coherent, consistent voice. This is something both group blogs and business sites sometimes struggle with.
I think the four editors at the Daily have a pretty clear sense about how a piece should read and should sound. Before we launched, we had multiple conversations about what we were looking for from stories, and we do have a defined “voice document” that we adhere to. But I think it mostly stems from a shared sensibility, and the way the editors talk to one another — we have a kind of unspoken consensus around what feels “right,” and if an early draft of a piece isn’t there, we’ll usually let one another know.
Another common challenge for site owners — whether for personal or corporate brands — is keeping a healthy publishing pace. You publish fresh posts frequently. How do you plan your editorial calendar?
Not sure you need an editorial calendar? Check out our primer on how to design a simple one for your site.
All of our editors come from the music-journalism world and are pretty seasoned, so keeping up the pace comes somewhat naturally to us. We book our calendar out about one to two months in advance, but leave room for last-minute adjustments, additions, or “surprise releases.” There are four of us, and we publish four features per day (plus a shorter “Album of the Day” piece), so that basically leaves every editor responsible for one feature a day.
That’s not to say it’s a cakewalk — the work is rigorous, and we’re constantly juggling. I’d say at any point during the day, any one of our editors is working on five or six different, somewhat discrete tasks: editing a story, responding to publicists, talking to writers, checking in with labels, gathering assets for upcoming pieces. We’re lucky in that there’s so much great music on Bandcamp, we’re never at a loss for things to cover.
Do you have any tips for business owners or bloggers who are still developing a consistent publishing schedule?
I think one thing that has been helpful for me, specifically, is breaking my day down into segments: I spend the morning editing, and don’t even look at email until late afternoon. I’ve even gone so far as to breaking my week down the same way: Monday and Tuesday are heavy editing days, Wednesday through Friday are heavy planning and emailing days.
Start with the kind of writing that comes naturally to you, but set clear goals on the kind of pieces you’d like to be publishing eventually.
For people who are just starting out, my first piece of advice would be to start slowly. You should have a big vision of where you want to end up, but for your first foray into editorial, I’d recommend a slow publication pace — maybe just one or two pieces per week — until you feel fully comfortable.
How much advance planning would you recommend for people mapping out their editorial calendars?
You may be a great planner with a strong sense of what you can accomplish, but there are always complications that spring up during a publishing cycle that you either didn’t anticipate, or didn’t know that you should have anticipated. Start with the kind of writing that comes naturally to you, but set clear goals on the kind of pieces you’d like to be publishing eventually. Once you have a month or so of publishing under your belt, you’ll have a better idea of just how long certain parts of the process take, and will be able to gauge how much more you think you can handle as you start to ramp up.
Look back over your work often: Which pieces worked? Which found an audience? Which pieces fizzled, and why? What kinds of things do you enjoy writing and editing? Who is your audience, and how well did you reach them? All of these are crucial first steps.
How do you promote your posts to cut through the noise?
We have a fantastic social media manager who handles that. But mostly what we try to do is to write lively, engaging social copy that’s designed to pique curiosity, even if the artist we’re writing about doesn’t have name recognition. So if we’re writing about someone who has collaborated with, say, Kendrick Lamar (which we have done, a few times), we’ll make sure to get that detail into the social promotion.
For newcomers to your site, what are some of the pieces you’re most proud of?
Some of my favorite things we’ve run on the Daily are Dean Van Nguyen’s incredible history of the Afrobeat band The Funkees; a piece on the intertwining histories of the blues and food from our senior editor Ally-Jane Grossan; an interview with Angel Olsen by our managing editor Jes Skolnik, and an interview with Jean Grae and Quelle Chris by our senior editor Marcus J. Moore.
As far as big responses from our audience: Jon Wiederhorn did a timeline history of post-metal that’s probably our most successful piece to date, closely followed by a piece by Casey Jarman on video game soundtrack composers.