Anyone who’s ever tried to make a zine (or any artistic pursuit) profitable can probably relate to Three Imaginary Girls co-founder Liz Riley when she says her online publication will probably never become a for-profit endeavor. “There’s no money in indie rock,” she says. “It’s all fame and honor and glory.”
After eight years on the job, Three Imaginary Girls has become the largest, most well-respected independent music blog in Seattle, one that’s broken pop bands that live in their saccharine-sweet wheelhouse and spawned at least a couple of fawning imitators. At the same time, the site is no longer about three imaginary girls. Once the face of TIG, co-founder Dana Bos is currently pregnant with her second child and will be have a diminished presence on the site in the future, while a new generation of writers plays a central role in keeping the site going.
“Because it’s a labor of love, yes, it would be awesome for [TIG] to be our day jobs,” Bos says. “It would take on a whole new weight about it that we haven’t chosen to [add] yet.” When you’re not dependent on your writing to pay the rent, you can say and cover only what you like—which differentiates traditional media outlets from publications like TIG that tend to be advocates for the scene rather than critics and chroniclers of it. “We were far more documentarians than true critics at the beginning,” Bos explains. “We were just sort of documenting the joy of being out in Seattle’s vibrant music scene.”
That editorial policy has made the site less a music blog and more an inclusive, overwhelmingly positive online community that supports and encourage the artists it covers, and the new writers have stayed faithful to this idea: a music site on which writers post experiential reviews rather than definitive, overarching statements about bands.
Though TIG tends to stay positive, it’s become clear that readers take its contributors’ opinions seriously. Over the past eight years, TIG has helped plenty of bands break out—chiefly BOAT, a Seattle-based lo-fi pop band. BOAT frontman David Crane invited the ladies to one of the band’s first shows at the Beacon Pub, and though he half-expected them to hate it, he says “They were very positive.They actually helped us pick the running order of songs for our first homemade CD-Rs.” Later, TIG invited BOAT to play one of their site-sponsored shows, and even helped them book a show at the all-important South by Southwest Music Conference. “Having their support catapulted us to [the] great heights we are at now!” Crane says. “I would say without TIG…we might just be doing a residency at the Beacon Pub.”
Riley says the girls decided early on that the fact they may not like something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. “Some of my favorite bands other people really hate,” she says.
Their attitude has paved the way for like-minded music blogs in Seattle—like Sound on the Sound, active since August 2006. “Other than TIG, there really weren’t very many, or any, Seattle-centric music blogs [when we started Sound on the Sound],” says Abbey Simmons, who launched it with her best friend Josh Lovseth. “We saw a couple bands that just blew our minds, and we never read about them anywhere.”
Similar to TIG, their approach to music journalism tends to be positive. “We’re here to support people, and we’d really rather write about something that we really, really like than getting on our smug high horse about how crappy a band is,” Simmons says. “We just didn’t go for the Pitchfork model, I guess.”
TIG is unique, Simmons says, because they’ve been doing this for so long without pay: “It takes an incredible amount of dedication.” She notes that many of the music blogs that have cropped up in the past several years didn’t even last a year, let alone eight.
For TIG‘s Imaginary Winter Holiday Spectacular 2009—basically a heartier endorsement of bands already featured on the site, but with a twist—the staff is inviting people to share hilarious (read “embarrassing”) holiday stories with the crowd, with proceeds benefiting local nonprofit Solid Ground. This ties in with TIG‘s role as supporters of the music scene, focused on building a community rather than relentlessly critiquing it. “We don’t go out there to tear anybody a new one,” Riley says. “We’re all doing this for fun.”