Sputnikmusic was founded five and a half years ago – so long ago that the vast majority of people who posted in 2005 are no longer around. This multi-part feature is for those of you who have an interest in the site’s history but weren’t around in its younger days. You’ll find that, despite popular opinion, the professionalism vs. userbase/more features vs. more journalistic integrity debate has been raging for five years now.
The Early Days
Before there was Sputnikmusic, there was MXtabs. Started way back in 1999 by Jeremy Ferwerda, MXtabs was one of the foremost music tablature sites on the Internet. Over the course of six years, thousands of guitar, bass, and drum tabs were added to the MXtabs database, all created and submitted by users of the site. In addition to tabs, the site also had a flourishing forum section. Within that section was a subforum for music reviews, where music lovers and aspiring writers could submit reviews for their favorite albums. That forum was the fetus from which Sputnikmusic would grow into a screaming toddler, which would grow into a moody pre-teen, which would grow into a pimply teenager, which would grow into a ???.
In 2005, the MPA (Music Publishers’ Association) realized that they could make a bunch of money by suing tab sites, presumably because the president of the company still had some negative feelings about being a man named Lauren Keiser. In 2006, the company released a statement in which they professed that they would be willing to work with sites who hosted only MPA approved, authorized tabs for which the songwriters would receive royalties. Faced with the prospect of a world where the only guitar tablature available would be from bands like Nickelback and The Eagles, the Internet tab community made their overwhelming negative response heard. Rather than waiting to be slapped with a cease-and-desist order, Jeremy Ferwerda decided to shut down MXtabs of his own volition, while a site run by Communists is still up and running to this day. A few years back, MXtabs reopened in a new form under new ownership, and it is now a laughable tab site that nobody uses because the MPA stole its balls.
But before all of that happened, the music review subforum had grown large enough to warrant its own separate website, so on January 14, 2005, he started Sputnikmusic, labelled as a sister site of MXtabs that was “an online community for people who are obsessed with music,” where you could “rate your music, write your own music reviews, discuss albums, and create a musical profile.” All of the existing reviews from the MX subforum were ported over to the review site, many of which still exist today. Sputnikmusic retained the integrity of the user-centric review subforum while taking advantage of the larger, more convenient website format. Reviews were no longer simple threads in a forum. There were separate pages for every band, and users slowly but surely started filling the Sputnik database with band discographies and reviews for as many albums as they could, even going so far as to undertake a massive project to review every single entry on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of all Time list.
Early site features included a spot on the front page for a featured album review, a list of “top reviewers” at the bottom of the front page, and separate pages for a few different genres. It was a spartan skeleton of a site, but it was established early enough in the game to have room to grow into a legitimate source of music criticism (more on that later). The site’s look changed gradually over time both in design and features. A section for recent comments was quickly added, as was an expanded section for featured albums and a chart that listed the top albums of the week. The top reviewers list was based on the approval rating of the users, calculated from the number of “yes” and “no” votes their reviews received in answer to the question, “Was this review well-written?” However, by November of 2005, the list was no longer on the front page, although individual approval ratings could still be found in user profiles.
Yes, by the end of 2005, Sputnikmusic had already started to do away with its more banal features and started to move toward a more professional atmosphere, a move that caused contention right from the start and continues to do so today…