The Honest Broker Turns 18 (Months)—Here Are Our 18 Most Popular Articles
We grew up so fast!
The Honest Broker turns 18 today—18 months to be specific. But it still feels like adulthood. And in the fast-moving world of alternative media, maybe it is.
The last year-and-a-half has been a whirlwind ride for me, and I owe a laurel and hearty handshake to each of you. (Be forewarned: I make bad and obscure jokes). So many have joined me here on Substack, far more than I anticipated at the outset, and a meaningful number of you now support my work with a paid subscription.
When I launched The Honest Broker I decided to put my total focus on it—turning down other freelance opportunities coming my way. Given that I started out with zero subscribers, that took quite a leap of faith. But my trust has been amply rewarded. We now have 35,000 total subscribers, and are adding close to 100 more each day.
Even more surprising (to me, at least) is that readership is accelerating. If you work in music or journalism, you expect the opposite—things fall apart, sooner rather than later, and we slouch toward another pitiless gig in the freelancing desert. Maybe we’re reversing the trend here.
Because most readers have signed on in the last few months, many have missed the most popular articles on The Honest Broker. So I’m sharing links to our ‘greatest hits’ below—the 18 most popular postings since our launch on April 21, 2021.
We have published 214 articles here during those 18 months. So this represents the top 8%, more or less.
They’re ranked below in order of page views, starting with the most widely-read article.
When you reach 18 you usually stop growing. Somehow I don’t think that will be the case here at The Honest Broker. My thanks again to all of you—and especially the paid subscribers—for your support.
The Honest Broker is a reader-supported guide to music, books, and culture. Both free and paid subscriptions are available.
If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.
The 18 Most Popular Articles on The Honest Broker
Is Old Music Killing New Music? (1/19/22)
This article took off like gangbusters. It was widely discussed and debated—and boosted further after it was licensed and republished by The Atlantic. Even without including readers from The Atlantic, this still was the most popular article on The Honest Broker since inception. The main argument, namely that the music industry (and fans) are increasingly fixated on the past, clearly resonated with a lot you. By the way, the trends highlighted here have only become more pronounced in the intervening months.
I’ve discussed the decline of the counterculture in several recent interviews, and I probably need to write more about this topic. It’s a rich subject for inquiry and explains much of the stagnancy in mainstream culture today. In the meantime this piece at least defines the problem and highlights some of the symptoms. This article, too, enjoyed a second life after initial publication, getting covered in the NY Times and elsewhere.
Where Did the Long Tail Go? (6/6/22)
Here I dissect and debunk the promised utopia of long-tail culture, which was supposed to spur a renaissance of alternative arts and perspectives. Some readers may notice that this failed promise is linked to the counterculture problem defined in the above article. This is also a topic I plan to address again, because a different kind of long tail might be emerging in our culture. I can’t spell it all out here, but I’ll soon describe a vibrant uprising of alternative culture that is very different from the Amazon and Netflix models that initially spurred the Long Tail theory.
Some people got confused by the term ‘fake artists’—assuming that I was attacking cover bands. (Sad but true, huge arguments take place daily among people who only read the headlines. That’s revealing in its own right.) But as the article makes clear, the problem here has nothing to do with musicians, rather with huge Hindenburg-sized companies that seem to be manipulating the playlist system in order to avoid paying royalties. This issue still deserves investigative reporting from entertainment media outlets. In the meantime, you can get the dirty details in my article.
This article updates the numbers on declining demand for new music, and it isn’t a pretty story unless you’re an 80-year-old rock star with a publishing catalogue to sell. I have a hunch that I’ll be covering this issue again too—in some ways it’s the defining problem in our current music culture. And we are only in the beginning stages, I fear, of this backward-looking mindset in the music business.
How I Became the Honest Broker (5/26/21)
Here’s the origin story behind my Substack, and it reads like an espionage tale. (Well, some people have told me that.) But the details shared here include more than my wannabe 007 anecdotes—this memoir also provides the clearest description I’ve ever given of my mission (impossible or otherwise) and core values as a music writer. A number of people have applied the ‘Honest Broker’ model described here to their own vocations.
Record labels relying on TikTok are just a symptom of a larger problem—namely their laziness and/or inability to build the next generation of music stars. But this may also turn out to be a tipping point. I will definitely have more to say about TikTok in the near future.
12 Predictions for the Future of Music (10/14/21)
I used to make a living doing forecasting and trend analysis in Silicon Valley, and (much to my surprise) these skills are now useful in writing about music and culture. Part of the reason is that Silicon Valley technology plays such a dominant role in digital age arts and entertainment. I’d like to see that change, but it’s more likely that most of these predictions will come true.
This is another list article, but a very highbrow one dealing with some fairly dense scholarly topics, and hence completely unsuitable for the Buzzfeed crowd. So I was surprised by how many people enjoyed it. The positive response to these kinds of articles contributes to my optimism about the next phase of the web—which (as I’ve written here) may be far less dumbed-down and clickbait-ish.
Why Netflix Will Falter (2/7/22)
This was a controversial article when I published it 8 months ago, but in the aftermath, Netflix reported declining user numbers and saw its share price fall more than 100 points. The company is now looking to insert advertising into movies and shows as a new revenue source. Let’s see how that turns out.
The Tragedy of Eva Cassidy (11/2/21)
I published this essay on the 25th anniversary of Eva Cassidy’s death (at just age 33). I knew she still had many fans who cherished her work, and the response to this sad tale made that all the more clear. But it also helped introduce her music to a new generation.
Sure, I think my new book is a big deal, but the reasons why I’m publishing it on Substack are also important. Not long ago I wouldn’t have considered publishing a book online, but in the cultural environment of 2022, this not only became feasible but absolutely the obvious thing to do. At least that’s my wager. So I took some care in explaining why this is a bigger issue than just Ted’s book, and maybe a sign of things to come on the web.
Here was another pleasant surprise. This is one of the most daring pieces of music writing I’ve ever published—and violates almost every rule of the NY media paradigm. But readers embraced my gnarly Frank Zappa essay with enthusiasm. It tempts me to be gnarly again in the future.
This is another rule-breaking article completely unsuited for legacy media, but found a receptive home at The Honest Broker. Can you imagine me getting away with the quiz below in a mainstream newspaper? But this is how I’d teach literature if anyone was ever brave (or foolish) enough to put me in front of a classroom of students.
My 10 Rules for Public Speaking (8/11/22)
At the outset, I promised that The Honest Broker would focus on music and other arts, but I sometimes have lapses. On a given day I’m liable to write about anything from job burnout to parenting advice. Some readers tell me they even prefer these kinds of articles. Here’s a case in point: At a distant day in my past I trained people for public speaking and many readers enjoyed hearing about the techniques I taught.
I’d wanted to write this article for a long time—and I would have done so even without Queen Elizabeth’s recent death. But the passing of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch provided a suitably majestic occasion. It’s such a charming story and offers interesting insights into both a Duke and a Queen.
How Did Elevators Lose Their Music (8/5/22)
I’m interested in all the unconventional ways that music is disseminated. (For examples, take a look at this and this.) Every now and again, readers share my interest. In this instance, many gave me useful information on the gradual disappearance of music from elevators. Even more telling, the songs have often been replaced with screens featuring advertising.
How a Doctor Killed the Baroque Era (7/12/22)
You can’t say we don’t cover a lot of ground at The Honest Broker. Just above we were listening to elevator music in New York skyscrapers, and here we’re digging into the end of the Baroque era. Or, more specifically, we’re investigating the deaths of Bach and Handel—who both made the mistake of consulting the same quack doctor in the final days of their lives.
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