The Bay Bridged, Longtime Local Music Site, Will Stop Publishing in October

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The Generationals at Phono del Sol.
The Generationals perform at Phono del Sol, the festival organized by The Bay Bridged, in 2016. (Paige K. Parsons)

The Bay Bridged announced Tuesday that it will cease operations on Oct. 1 after 15 years of supporting the Bay Area’s music scene with its blog, podcast and events.

“From all of us at The Bay Bridged, we want to thank all of the great local musicians we had the pleasure to work with, all of our tremendously creative staff and contributors, and all of the listeners who helped us champion Bay Area music,” wrote co-founder and board president Christian Cunningham in a statement.

Cunningham and his co-founder Ben Van Houten started the website as roommates in 2006, during an era when blogs began to outpace magazines and newspapers as the premiere destinations for music discovery. Early adopters of podcasting, Van Houten and Cunningham primarily used the website to host audio interviews with local artists, recorded in their apartment.

After its first year, The Bay Bridged began to feature writing, and eventually evolved into a destination for artist profiles, music video premieres and show reviews. The publication also threw concerts and events, and started running the popular Phono Del Sol festival in San Francisco in 2011. (KQED Arts & Culture published The Bay Bridged podcast between 2014 and 2018.)

“We started off as two people interviewing bands because we were best friends who just wanted to be a part of something else besides what we were doing in our careers,” Cunningham says in an interview, adding that he was a PhD candidate at UCSF when they started the project, and Van Houten had just graduated from law school.

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Over the years, The Bay Bridged went on to publish over 200 emerging writers, and developed a loyal following of omnivorous music fans eager for new sounds. The site often took chances on underground artists. Many of the acts they featured in the early stages of their careers⁠—including The Dodos, Thee Oh Sees and Rogue Wave⁠—rose to national acclaim, a testament to publication’s curatorial savvy.

“What we ended up becoming was a lot of bands’ first press opportunity,” says Cunningham. “For a lot of our writers, we’re their first time outside of school that gave them a few bylines that they could leverage to move on in their careers.”

Jody Amable, content director at The Bay Bridged, says that a drop in advertising revenue during the pandemic was the tipping point in the decision to discontinue the site. “Basically, blame COVID, just like every other music enterprise that has had to close its doors,” says Amable, who occasionally contributes to KQED Arts & Culture as a freelancer.

Amable says that The Bay Bridged was already having trouble retaining readership after Facebook changed its algorithm to “pivot to video” in 2015, deprioritizing articles in its feed. In subsequent years, music listeners started gravitating to curated Spotify playlists instead of blogs to find new artists. “It became a much bigger priority for us to try to game the algorithm, and that was a challenge for us to figure out how to stay visible on social media, especially as a small nonprofit,” she says.

Cunningham says these weren’t the only factors: he’s a father now and has a full-time career as a principal scientist at Genentech. Van Houten works for San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development as a business development manager in the nightlife and entertainment sector.

Most of the contributors have outside full-time jobs as well. And with artists and writers leaving the Bay Area to escape high rents, Cunningham couldn’t find a successor to take the reins, and decided it was time to make room for the next generation.

“While we had been waiting for someone to take over what we had done, we also started this because of our pure interest in trying to be part of a community. It hit us that we were able to create something we’re really proud of just from wanting to do it,” says Cunningham. “We hope this leave space for the next group to make what the community needs at that time.”

The Bay Bridged is only the latest local outlet to fold in recent years: a competitor bought and closed down The San Francisco Bay Guardian in 2014; Art Practical stopped publishing in 2020; and SFMOMA recently announced that it’s discontinuing its Open Space publication.

“From where we sit now, it’s very bittersweet for us personally⁠—most of us literally bled, there was lots of sweat, plenty of tears,” says Cunningham, referring to a hand injury that still affects him from the first Phono Del Sol show. “But what we became confident in is there’s always going to be a next generation and the next big idea someone’s gonna have. It’s not our story now. We’re closing our chapter. While we’re sad, we’re still so excited for what the future holds.”