What Johnny Cash Teaches Us About Blogging

What Johnny Cash Teaches Us About Blogging

The cover version has always been a popular musical trend, yet covering someone else’s song is not unique to music. Bloggers frequently ‘cover’ another blog post, presenting the same thoughts and conclusions as a way of entering or continuing the online conversation.

It might seem odd to talk about blogging in these terms, but the analogy is sound. You read a blog post that raises a particularly interesting issue or idea and then blog the same thought on your own site. Sometimes the original blogger is name-checked and linked for having inspired your post – sometimes not.

What I’m talking about is not plagiarism — that is far worse. What I mean by a cover version is presenting information or ideas that are already commonly available.

For example; Top Ten Tips for Bloggers is a very popular style of post where the contained information is usually generic and well-known to all except newcomers. It’s a cover version of a popular blogging hit.

Why a Cover Version?

There are numerous reasons why a blogger may do a cover version and most bloggers will write cover versions of one kind or another at some point.

Every blogger starts out trying to find their voice. Often, a blogger will start with posts echoing other popular blogs — after all, what works for the big names should work for them, right? New blogs start off with the same lists or the same observations that can be found on hundreds of other sites. Most bloggers soon graduate into developing their own observations instead of reheating those found throughout the blogosphere, but that isn’t always the case.

If a popular topic does the rounds of the blogs, one way to get into the conversation is to post your own version of the story. I see posts like this every day, many merely rehashing the same points and issues already made popular elsewhere.

This may work in attracting some attention and links. Maybe someone by tapping into a popular topic, you’ll gain traffic even if the information is repeated elsewhere. Maybe by echoing the sentiments, you will be seen as supportive of a particular view or ideal. Maybe it will just get you noticed.

But the cover versions that are really successful go further. This is where we get to Johnny Cash. Go on. Have a listen before reading on. It is his wonderful and essential cover version of Hurt, originally written and performed by Nine Inch Nails.

Adding Your Voice

On my way into work this morning, the random shuffle of my ipod served up this Johnny Cash track. Gotta love that voice.

It is a wonderful cover, with Cash’s distinctive voice lending a wonderful tone to Trent Reznor’s lyrics. Cash makes no attempt to emulate the Nine Inch Nails version, instead creating a fresh sound that is uniquely his.He also uses the song to comment on his own career as discussed in a recent post at Rock Your Day. The song becomes his in a way most cover versions never achieve.

Yet, we are often presented with cover versions that fail to add any individual style or voice. When you do come across a blog post that inspires you to raise the same subject in your own post, consider how you will add your own individuality to the song. Will your particular voice come shining through? Does your perspective add a new dimension to the information delivered in the first post? Do you have something original to add?

Stars in Their Eyes

In Australia, because of our distance from the rest of the world, we have a roaring industry of covers bands. These bands impersonate the big acts of the day, performing all their hits and replicating their stage shows. Therefore there is a U2 Show, The Red Hot Chili Peppers Show, probably even a Johnny Cash show. Each band tries as much as possible to present the particular sound and on-stage antics of the original performer. Therefore, these covers offer nothing new or original to the audience. They will always fall short of the goal, never really replacing the artist the audience would much rather see.

These bands want to be someone else and are therefore always doomed to fail in winning individual success. They are deeply linked to the popularity of someone else’s work. Your blog should be able to stand by itself, not propped up on the ideas of others.

The best test is to consider if a reader could read both posts and consider each to have added value. I haven’t deleted the Nine Inch Nails version of Hurt from my iPod just because I have the Johnny Cash rendition. I enjoy them both for different reasons.

Is your blog merely a covers band, serving up the paraphrased greatest hits and ideas from other blogs and websites to an audience that would rather be reading the original? Or is your blog a Johnny Cash, adding a distinctive voice that takes a standard classic and completely reinterprets it into a fresh sound?


  1. Great post Jonathan. My friend Gala (galadarling.com) has a spate of copycat sites following her around the web…yet unsurprisingly, none of them have nearly the traffic her original site does. Flattering as imitation is, if you’ve got nothing new to say – don’t blog at all.
    Love that Johnny Cash NIN cover!

  2. How right you are! Great post and very inspiring. The Johnny Cash video clip brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for that…

  3. There’s definitely a lot of unneeded filler on the net, we should try not to add to it! Great post.

  4. Cool post. When I started reading the article and thought I knew where you were headed, I expected something to do with all the musicians who have covered Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” but you threw a clever twist in Johnny’s cover of NIN.
    Ever hear Johnny Cash’s cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” ???

  5. No, not heard the Rusty Cage cover. And Ring of Fire also makes the point well. Heaps of versions, but only a few worth noting.
    I love it when musicians of different genres cover each oher – like Cash covering NIN – because you are more likely to get something interesting out of the mix.

  6. Excellent analogy. I didn’t even know this was a cover of NIN, it fits Cash so well. I’ve been a long-time fan of his.
    Very interesting perspective. Not just for new bloggers, but also for veterans. Nicely done.

  7. I really like this perspective on blog writing. Trying to make your readers say, “I never looked at it like that before. That’s fresh and exciting.” Great post.