It didn’t take long. By the end of 2005, Sputnikmusic was seeing exponential growth in its userbase.
It was technically a new website, but Sputnik didn’t face the hardships that most new domains have – namely, lack of viewership – thanks to its origins in the MX forums. And although the vast majority of the forum users would come to abandon the site in its infancy, the number of views they lent early Sputnik reviews allowed them to pop up within the first pages of Google searches for music reviews. A further boon for the website was the fact that it was founded before the demise of MXtabs and was therefore linked on each individual MXtabs page (Guitar, Bass, and Drums).
Sputnikmusic’s major appeal came from its focus on the userbase, another holdover from its time as a subforum populated by members of MXtabs. Except for the site’s design, layout, and general coding (which was run by Jeremy Ferwerda [mx]), MXtabs was run by the users. They created the tabs and posted them on the site, which could then be rated and critiqued by other users (with a 5-star rating system and a link to “Correct This Tab”). Sputnikmusic was meant to follow this same format, but there was more of a learning curve for the new members. An amateur guitar player who posted a guitar tab on MXtabs was a lot different than someone posting a music review, purporting to be a “critic” with at least some knowledge of music and the music industry. Guitar tabs were viewed under the assumption that very few of them were 100% correct; you tried to find the best one to learn from, accepting that there would probably be errors somewhere along the way. And if you found one that was egregiously wrong, you simply searched for another one.
Sputnikmusic was an entirely new world. Although it was founded on the same principles as MXtabs, the end result was wildly different. While a tablature site is meant for learning, it is built on the assumption that there is a lot of trial and error involved in the tabs. Music review sites, however, feature writings by authors who, whether they intend to or not, will be seen as somewhat of an authority, someone who knows what they’re talking about. Add to this the fact that one of the primary features of Sputnik was the fact that users could comment on reviews and, similar to the tabs on MX, vote “yes” or “no” in response to “Was this review well-written?”, and it quickly became a perfect environment for disputes and immature jabs.
But amazingly, that didn’t happen. The general atmosphere of Sputnikmusic was one of respect and constructive criticism. Of course, bad reviews were posted often and the criticism given wasn’t always the nicest, but most of the authors were willing to learn from their mistakes. There was the feeling that all of the users were leaning how to properly critique music together; the general understanding was that no one sprang into the void of Sputnik fully formed and ready to write an amazing review. Early reviews were predominantly written on a track-by-track basis; that is, reviewers wrote a description of each individual track, supplemented by an intro and conclusion. However, within a few months people were writing reviews that were much more professional and akin to an essay, with an intro, body, and conclusion, containing research and conclusive statements. The evolution of the writing of Sputnik’s userbase was really quite amazing in its quickness; it had a sort of urgency to it. You got the sense that these kids (because they really were kids – 14, 15, 16 year olds with a blooming love for music and a yearning to learn more) were genuinely disappointed with themselves if they wrote a bad review, that they very much wanted to become better writers.
For most of the writers, practice made perfect, and Sputnik would make a huge leap toward professionalism and legitimacy with the founding of the Sputnikmusic staff in July of 2006…