I learned lots of things over the past decade during my time in the German music industry and one essential aspect is that a certain level of ‘i’m quitting this thing’ appears to be a natural emotion that occurs every few years but is usually ignored until the next positive moment or project comes along. Of course, there are a few people who struggle to look for that new high point and end up being way too cynical (something I always tried to avoid). But usually this weird dysfunctional and precarious microcosm manages to somehow keep you busy and motivated in some form. Ten years ago, I was willing to give up quite quickly, following my first unpaid internship for an online music medium. I mean, I enjoyed it, I was good at that job and I somehow ended up running the entire editorial staff but a few weird people and frustrating financial moments lead me to believe I should return to a job in education or something. I went on a sailing trip in May 2012 to get my head free and to take a break from the daily music rat race, ready for whatever was destined to happ next. Well, and one week after I came back I wrote my first record review for NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION and haven’t stopped writing for this blog ever since. Well, until now … so, please consider this article a personal, slightly nostalgic and probably also quite narcissistic reflection on the path that lead me to the point where I’m ready to move on. Buckle up for a trip down memory lane, girls and boys.

The golden years

Ten years might not feel like a huge range of time but if you consider the speed of modern day digitalization the year 2012 really felt quite different than 2022, especially for the music industry. When I joined the blogosphere even small and mid-sized music blogs like NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION were essential players in the game and important gatekeepers when it came to the establishment of the ‘next big thing’. Pitchfork, Stereogum, Clash & Co. were still the hip counterparts to the established print-focussed music media outlets that were still worshipped like gods by the majority of promoters (some say that’s still the case). Spotify freshly started in Germany but was quite a niche and back then I also remember YouTube fighting a long lasting copyright dispute with the majority of labels here in Germany which meant their music videos weren’t really present on the platform but it was a good time for lots of copycats that quickly vanished again into the void once that dispute was settled around 2016 (anybody remembering dailymotion and tape.tv???). On top of it, the social media game was still in its more innocent not-society-destroying days – we had Facebook and Twitter and that was it. And on top of it, Zuckerberg and Co. hadn’t fucked up the algorithm yet which means your followers could actually see what you were posting … without paying for it. Well, it was a simpler time and for a while it was quite good.

When I joined NBHAP, a project founded by Robert Helbig back in 2010, I did it for fun and my love for new music, good bands and that almost manic missionary desire to spread the word about that. The first, let’s say four, years were the imperial “gold rush” phase as I would call it. Well, obviously not in an economical way because NBHAP was always a pro bono thing. But in terms of growth and reputation the first years were quite exciting. We got our first 10.000 Facebook followers in a few months I remember and considering the fact that I was unemployed for the first year and I was lacking a proper job perspective I put lots of heart, passion and enthusiasm into the project and helped taking it to the next level. That’s not a narcissistic thesis, Robert told me that back then, especially as I was interested to broaden the musical horizon of the blog which was originally rooted in the field of post-rock, post hardcore, emo and dark wave. Haha, we’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

My first time at Flow Festival in 2014 was quite memorable

I remember asking for festival accreditations back then for me and a bunch of other writers and didn’t expect to hear anything back but it turned out nobody disagreed with us and we got invited to lots of events. Suddenly I was interviewing The National‘s Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner at Hurricane festival. On that same day I remember hanging out backstage in a tent with members of Editors and Bloc Party as we were all watching the Arctic Monkeys perform on a huge screen. Needless to say, that was quite a moment for a little indie kid that lived the whole ‘Class of 2005’ life a few years earlier. And that was only the first year. Things accelerated a bit when first Rob and later I moved to Berlin in 2013 because we thought that’s a natural thing to do when you want to make it big in the music industry, right? I got myself a full-time job AND continued to contribute to NBHAP on a daily routine. To this day I have no idea how I managed to do that without suffering a stroke. I was close to a burnout a few times so I decided to head for a part-time-job which left me with barely any money at the end of the months but a bit more time to live the big blogger high life.

Those years between 2013 and 2016 were quite interesting because they introduced me to lots of people in Berlin but also beyond and I got to know the industry a bit better. However, I always had the tendency to keep a natural distance compared to the way many other players in the field tend to interact. My role ‘forced’ me to get better at networking, although I was never a proper “butt kisser” and natural born “show-off”. But the introverted music nerd in me managed to wrestle with the public figure and got used to it. My first visits to Reeperbahn Festival or the Eurosonic in Groningen were quite exciting and really fun happenings.

Usually, this is the part where people tend to head for extensive name dropping but I’m not really a fan of that.

If you’re reading this: You all remember who you are, you remember the times drunken me crossed your path and hopefully your memory is a bit better than mine.

During that time NBHAP flourished with lots of new team members from all over Europe and we ventured into interesting fields – from brand marketing, to fashion, to events. There might have been a few odd sponsorship moments back then but … well, next to all the connections it was nice to also make a bit cash eventually. NBHAP financed me my first laptop in late 2014 and that was quite a thing. Of course, Rob and me had big ideas over the years, always envisioned NBHAP to become Europe’s cooler and more profound answer to Pitchfork. There are various reasons why that didn’t happen and next to a clear vision money might have been a big one.

Speaking with beloved artists like Editors was always a joy (Photo by Annett Bonkowski)

Times of stagnation

Needless to say, we ignored a few lucrative financial opportunities over the years; mainly because we were quite idealistic and while that definitely helped the brand NBHAP to keep its reputation and stay independent it automatically reduced the blog to a luxurious side-project status. During the middle of the past decade I struggled regularly with the contradiction, the blog’s ambitions and the harsh reality of the economic system. Just like the overall media transformation was happening we struggled to find a proper way of financing this whole thing. I was lacking proper marketing skills and so was Rob who then also lacked of general motivation and decided to leave the blog behind and venture out to a new chapter in his life while also passing the torch over to me. We constantly had team member changes over the years but that was a significant one and so where a few others that happened during that time. I felt a bit left alone and slightly resigned during that time, I got to say, but as stubborn as I was I simply continued to do the daily blog business, probably because I was already far too deep into the whole game, haha. That was also the time when I became a freelancer. More by accident since I was kicked out of my former job – but well, it was destined to happen, I guess.

But I don’t want to bother you with my personal biography here because it should be about the blog and not about me although the era around 2016/2017 might have been the moment something shifted. Somehow the whole thing became accidentally more centred around myself while I would have always preferred to see this as a team effort. During that time lots of things changed – one by one traditional print music magazines like Intro, NME and Spex went bankrupt, Spotify got more power, Facebook declined and changed its algorithm to the worse while Instagram became the hottest new thing in Social Media as well. Society shifted as well on so many levels and in retrospect it’s quite impressive how loaded and intense the second half of the 2010s was – Brexit, Trump, MeToo, Black Lives Matter, climate crisis, – you name it. The world was and is changing faster and faster, just take a look at Eastern Europe right now. In a time like this catching up felt like an even tougher thing to do. Luckily, NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION managed to remain a reliable source for good music, regular quality content and all the stuff you’ve come to love about it if you decided to follow it.

Still, I couldn’t help but to sense a certain level of stagnation that slowly creeped it’s way into my everyday routine. We still had great ideas like our Palms & Circumstances YouTube (and live) show as well as a handful of new content ideas like our beloved Daily Tunes or the Ahead Sessions on Instagram but I started wondering what the next logical move might be and how we could actually achieve it. I mean, not just in a financial way. I’ve actually stepped away from the idea of turning this into my full-time job (although it often felt like one) around 2017 and realized that it might be better to not force that idea and by doing that I felt an enormous amount of relief from any professional pressure. Still, I understand that it doesn’t make things easier when you want to give all involved people a perspective. Not everybody can be in such a privileged position like mine where my own agency allowed me to do this and cross-finance the project. Every economics playbook would have screamed “Oh, hell no!” by then.

So, NBHAP became a routine that worked and managed to stick around, I made an arrangement with myself to simply stay on the same level.

In late 2019 I had an ambitious crowdfunding plan for the blog’s 10th anniversary that was already in early planning stages when Covid hit the planet. In case you were wondering: It would have been a vinyl featuring exclusive material by some of our most loved artists and I actually already had a great list of contributors, artwork and distribution ideas … but well, once the pandemic hit it felt a bit weird to do a crowdfunding project “for fun” while many artists were facing an existential crisis and had to step up similar projects with may more importance, right? Like many things over the past two years I postponed the idea – which also would have worked as a blueprint for a bigger, more regular crowdfunding campaign – to 2021 and then scrapped it entirely. The whole crowdfunding issue was the professional Mount Everest I actually failed to climb.

Passing the torch… ehm, blog (Collage by Laura Kleber)

Reaching a natural conclusion

See, it’s easy these days to blame Covid for everything (those of you who’ve been reading my mailout know that I’m quite good at that) and we will never know if things would have turned out differently. What we all learned over the past two years is the fact that the pandemic worked as a catalyst for already existing problems, one that pushes already thought thoughts a bit further and make you re-evaluate things in your life. So, no, I’m not leaving NBHAP because of sudden realizations thanks to Covid; it was always meant to happen eventually, I guess. However, I think the global crisis helped to shape the whole timing of that departure. I’ve came to the decision many months ago, it instantly felt right back then and it still does now as I am writing these lines. I feel like I’ve given the project everything I could have given to it. It succeeded all my expectations a few years ago and I realized that I’m lacking of energy, motivation and maybe also a clear vision to make these necessary next steps.

In the ever-changing digital landscape of the post-pandemic world NBHAP really needs such a new vision and an alternative approach … way different than the one I’ve been following for the past decade. I constantly keep saying stuff like “the old rules don’t apply anymore” when it comes to society and environmental subjects, so it’s logical to also adapt this philosophy when it comes to a music blog which definitely needs to look different in 2022 than it did in 2012. I can’t and won’t be the one to make these decisions anymore – but I’m trusting Liv Toerkell and Andreas Peters – who will take over as new leaders of the blog along with a bunch of old and new contributors – to make these important decisions in a hopefully satisfying way.

The “new NBHAP” isn’t trying to catch up with the algorithms, it’s not even trying to follow the Pitchfork path, it frees itself from the daily release wheel, it returns to its actual roots, it will embrace its original ‘quality over quantity’ approach and will shape a true community around all of this in a better and more profound way than I could ever do. Me leaving might not be the worst thing to happen to this thing after all, right?

There will be a cut, obviously. A few topics and artists might vanish with me for good but it’s a different musical environment anyway so I think it’s also about damn time that this will get a fair representation here. In retrospect, music blogging might be as easy and difficult as it was one decade ago. Sure, a few benefits are gone. We’re no longer the big gate keepers and the number one source for music consumers, we got algorithms and social media bubbles as competitors but that also gives a little music blog like ours the freedom to become something else, to exist without the pressure of keeping up with the machines and the speed of a hopelessly oversaturated society. I’m still rooting for NBHAP and following a decent well-deserved break I might also return to contribute in some form. That shouldn’t surprise anyone considering the track record of my previous ‘I’m quitting the industry’ attempts. I will stick around in the industry anyway, focussing on new adventures with my agency but also my new love of bringing more sustainability to the music industry, for example by fighting with Music Declares Emergency. The passion to support good music is still there but now I’d like to mix it with a good cause.

The whole industry is in worse shape than it was before the pandemic and it needs fundamental societal and professional changes to give artists a fair perspective for the future. We have to address a few urgent political questions in the future; they might not be pleasant but they are necessary to make the whole situation a bit better for everyone.

The world is not apolitical anymore and so is music and culture. The past weeks painfully reminded us of that and we can hopefully also show that more on the blog in the future.

Well, and hopefully I can play a small part in making that happen. It’s what motivates me the most these days. At the beginning of this article I told you about my fear of getting too cynical and too fed-up with everything and maybe that’s the whole point of change in the end: to get out of your comfort zone, shake up your habitual way of life and allow yourself to grow as a person. Well, isn’t that what life is about in the end?

I can’t recall the countless things I learned at NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION over the past ten years. Running this blog shaped me in a way I can’t express in a fitting way, it helped me to become the person I am today on a professional and personal level. Honestly, there aren’t enough words of gratitude to write here to equal the memories in my head. I thank each and everybody who worked with me on NBHAP over the past years, every author that contributed to the vision, every label, promoter, artist, loyal supporter and friend who believed in this as much as I did. Music has the power to make our lives essentially better. I’ve been living this attitude for the past 30 years and I’m not interested in stopping right now, so I’m happy to meet a few of you again along the journey that lies ahead of us. I’ll see you on the other side.

Following his resignation Norman will still continue his regular mailout This Mess Called Music where he’ll be sharing personal thoughts and opinions on musical and societal topics while also remaining active on Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.

All relevant links can be found right here.