How To Start A Music Magazine
Words: Everett True
Sit around in an office in King’s Reach Tower for six months, playing video games. Endlessly sort through other magazines, looking at typefaces, covers, logos, feature ideas and photo captions. Get drunk. Think up spurious ideas for visual pages that will draw the reader in (“Fetish of the Month” anyone?). Become controller of Sim City so effectively you never want to go near the game again. Look at more magazines. Compile wish-lists of contributors that – for the first and last time in your life – you’re able to employ because you’re actually offering money, even if it’s below industry standards. Fool yourself into believing that mainstream music consumers want to read magazines – and start lining up your cover stars (Sting, Sheryl Crow, Meredith Brooks, Courtney Love, The Spice Girls). Drink some more. Get into taxis with members of Banarama. Argue belatedly that mainstream music magazines – even as far back as 1997 – are unable to survive without ‘free’ cover-mounted CDs (a lesson that Uncut, for one, took to heart). Look on aghast as your former music title turns to mush. A year later, play Killdozer’s version of ‘American Pie’ at FULL VOLUME several times the morning you have to announce to your staff that they’re being laid-off and – because of IPC Magazine’s policy of only employing freelancers – they’ll be receiving no financial compensation.
Drink. Drink. Drink some more. Argue briefly and successfully with your publisher – he’s years younger and way more radical than you anyway – that it’ll increase ad rates exponentially to include a pull-out music section each month. Commission the entire run in one hung-over morning, based round themes because that way you don’t need to think so much. “Excellent!” someone remarks. Excellent it is then. Immediately target Americans with a sense-of-humour failure (95 per cent of them). Be offered gun protection by a concerned hip-hop artist. Have newspaper threatened with closure by a slighted ‘grunge’ musician. Write columns that don’t even bother using your own words. The idea is: entertain.
Receive phone call late from photographer friend, telling you he’s pissed off with corporate music title. Sympathise, while thinking it’s a common complaint, one that no one acts upon. Have secret meetings with ex-Loaded types aiming to start up pop culture version of Private Eye: satire, just as 9/11 wipes out any potential investors. Become hacked off with earning money via the dot.com boom – writing reviews of the same CD under seven different names for seven different places. Photographer friend insists: furthermore says he wants to begin his own title and that you’re going to edit it. Fucking great. Just what I want. Tell him all he needs is an ads manager and a designer – “and we can make up the rest”. Photographer friend disagrees and starts creating magazine anyway – on the most expensive paper around. Six weeks later, find ads manager (of a kind) and designer, and publish first issue (funded out of one email I sent to the 100 contacts in my address book asking if they’d like to support a new music magazine: we raise £5,000 upfront). Decide to count down from first issue and stop at issue one. Assemble team of contributors – writers, photographers, illustrators – mostly drawn from IPU allies, Riot Grrrl spin-offs and the web. Bloggers before such a term existed. Motivation? Passion. Love for music. Keep the roaring silence at bay. Entertainment. Soul. Make it as difficult as possible to buy copies (standard response to “we can’t find it” was “tough shit”). First issue contains a 9,000-word article on Mogwai written by five different people. The issue with Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the front – yes, it was their first cover – contains 15 pages on the band, a physical fight and around 20 different writers on the one band. Still waiting for recognition of genius from mainstream, which will never come. Or perhaps when one of us dies.
Expect to go to Australia. Don’t. To great surprise, discover a community of misfits, music lovers and the ambitious has grown up around previous magazine. Decide shouldn’t quit. Decide want to make money for a change (previous two years, survived on less than the dole). Decide have a point to proof – how it’s possible to create a great magazine, fuelled by enthusiasm, intelligence and style, no outside funding, and still sell make money. Gather publisher, designer and editor around me, plus absolutely indispensable interns. Spend year futilely trying to gain funding, speaking to other publishers. Within two years, manage to fill all primary goals – go monthly, get offices in London, pay core team of staff (very) minimal wage, get international distribution – without compromising content (except perhaps to drop in size the media section). Argue vociferously against cover-mounted CDs. Bring in new staff, acquire experienced ads man, drop out of editorial decisions to allow team full rein. Attend festival in Sweden on the day of the London bombings. Interview Cat Power with young son in tow. Meet Ronnie Spector. Have a great time at End Of The Road. Invent antifolk and no one notices. Feel isolated from brilliance of editorial team. Eventually – five years on – move to Australia. Plan B keeps going, a welcome fuck you to my input. (The last three years had little to do with me, everything to do with Frances Morgan, Louis Pattison, kicking_k and the gang.) Magazine closes.
Resolve never to start a magazine again, despite being courted by Arts QLD.