Monday, September 20, 2010

Music Monday-Blurt Magazine Shows Print Media Isn't Dead

Blurt Magazine proves that a wealth of experience in music and journalism can direct a solid vision to the future, even when the industries themselves say otherwise. Blurt Editor, Fred Mills, says it best in this week's Music Monday when he shares how Blurt has been able to succeed while still fostering developing talent.



GLG: How long has Blurt been operating?

BLURT: 2 years, 4 mos: May 2008 to the present is the tenure thus far of Blurt-online. We have concurrently published 9 issues of Blurt magazine (5 digital format, + 4 print ; the 4th print edition hits newsstands mid-September 2010).

GLG: What makes Blurt different from other websites?

BLURT: By way of background, we are a companion website and magazine. Our intention all along has been not to abandon the magazine format – hence creating a companion digital, downloading magazine back in 2008 to accompany the launch of Blurt-online, which in turn led to the realization that our audience still craved something physical they could hold, cuddle, or otherwise use to sop up grease spills with. As a result, in the spring of 2009, after 5 digital issues of Blurt, we picked up where we had left off in our previous incarnation (Harp magazine, which folded in March 2008) and went the print route again while maintaining the twinned digital presence (as the downloadable mag + website).
Our editorial brain trust has, collectively, decades of experience in the music industry and in music journalism. I (Fred Mills, the editor) have been writing about music since the late ‘70s; founder and creative director Scott Crawford started and successfully operated Harp magazine prior to starting Blurt; publisher Stephen Judge runs Second Motion Records and was a key member of the Yep Roc team; and senior Editor Randy Harward, associate editor Andy Tennille and contributing editor A.D. Amorosi all are veteran journalists. (Each one of us lives in different cities, by the way.) And we’ve got a rotating staff of contributors currently numbering around 40 different individuals located all over North America and in England. As a result, I think we’ve got a perspective that a more centralized operation comprising younger/less experienced writers and editors can’t possibly muster.
Content-wise, I think we distinguish ourselves with, well, our content. Each day we publish a minimum of one new, in-depth top-of-page feature and four album reviews – 5 features and 20 reviews a week, plus (typically) several book, DVD and concert reviews and new entries from our bloggers (the latter range from established artists like Otep, James McMurtry, Martin Bisi, Coco Hames of The Ettes and Greg Laswell to industry insiders like Kate Bradley, John Moore, Scott Dudelson and Carl Hanni to our video game maven Aaron Burgess). Combine that with a daily newscrawl of anywhere from 6-15 fresh clips (and an accompanying Twitter feed) each 24 hour period and it’s a pretty unique mix of traditional music coverage and in-the-moment Web 2.0 coverage. Here are some random stats: since starting up, Blurt has published 700 full-length features, 2400 CD reviews, 270 concert reviews, 114 DVD reviews and 116 book reviews. Not to toot our horn too loudly, but that’s a lot of editorial content. And our focus is solidly on good, thoughtful, well-written pieces — as opposed to joining the race to post poorly-sourced, so-called “breaking news” in an ever-tightening noose of hyperlinks and links-back-to-hyperlinks, like most websites tend to do.
All that said, it’s worth nothing that Blurt is currently in the process of a website redesign that most likely will take place in stages. In 2010 it is, admittedly, difficult to come up with new twists, digitally speaking, so while in going forward we’ll have a far more robust approach to multimedia, blogs and social networking elements than we have thus far, by focusing on our core strength – interesting content – we hope to distinguish ourselves from all the other bells-and-whistles destinations. Per above comments about what the audience craves, we still think that folks enjoy settling in and reading something that has substance and heft, and in fact just the other day I got an email from a reader thanking us for frequently printing reviews that ran 1000 words or more rather than the 125-word McNugget reviews that seem to have become the norm. (Hey USA Today, thanks a lot.) Factor in our willingness to dig really deep into the musical spectrum and not discriminate against this or that artist purely on the basis of whether they have been awarded a badge of cool among the hipster elite, and you can see how Blurt does stand out in the crowd. For proof, check our recent coverage, which has included Teenage Fanclub, Alejandro Escovedo, The Melvins, The Wedding Present, Arthur Lee/Love, These United States, the Argentinian Cumbia Scene, Elvis Presley and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Pretty diverse shit.

GLG: Do you think Blurt has a specific musical niche?

BLURT: Increasingly, we are wary of niches as they can be terminally limiting. We’d rather be known for being open to most styles and willing to embrace new ones. Our focus to date has frequently been indie rock and Americana, with a smattering of other genres thrown in; and both comedy and politics has been part of our mix from day one. Yet during any given week at the website, or across any given issue of the print edition, we can be flummoxed by the reader response to specific stories: an indie-rock buzzband that is tearing up the blogs might generate zero traffic even while an artist outside our typical purview (recent stories on Alice In Chains and Warren Cuccurullo come to mind) does gangbusters for us. And our most heavily trafficked section of Blurt-online is, hands down, metal goddess Otep’s “Battle Ready” blog – the stats just go through the roof when she posts a new entry (http://blurt-online.com/blogs/author/70 ). Go figure. This may all be apropos of nothing, but the suggestion is that readers are looking for something, anything, that is not only outside the mainstream, but outside the alternative-to-the-mainstream, given the glut of the latter’s coverage across the web by every blogger with a laptop. This doesn’t mean we aspire to be so broad-based in our coverage that we dive into every genre imaginable purely to ensure that every possible demographic is served, from mainstream to underground, without any sense of discrimination; Blender magazine tried that, and look where Blender is now (gone). My gut feeling — considering that our writing staff ranges in age from 22 to 68 — is that indie rock, punk, psychedelia and Americana will remain among our core strengths, but that you’ll also see ramped-up coverage of prog, experimental and electronic, underground hip-hop and world music artists, plus even more politics and comedy, at Blurt.

GLG: What albums are you looking forward to coming out?

BLURT: Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Crocodiles – Sleep Forever (Fat Possum)
Bruce Springsteen – Darkness box (Columbia/Legacy)
Underworld – Barking (Cooking Vinyl)
Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot)
Posies – Blood Candy (Ryko)
Tricky – Mixed Race (Domino)
Syl Johnson – Complete Mythology box (Numero Group)
Toubab Krewe – TK2 (NatGeo Music)
Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge)

GLG: How does Blurt support independent music and what’s important about doing so?

BLURT: Most likely 90% of our coverage falls under the general term “independent”; yet given that how nowadays an indie label is just as likely to become ossified and release drek as is a major label, we pretty much make our selections on the basis of the individual merits of the music and the artists who make it. We encourage artists not affiliated with large labels or publicity firms to send us their music and press releases directly as we still take pride in discovering and exposing deserving unknowns to feature at Blurt alongside buzz-worthy up-and-comers and established entities. We also have a program, now nearing the two-year mark, with Sonicbids called “Blurt’s Best Kept Secret” in which approximately every six weeks we select an under-the-radar independent band or solo performer from among our Sonicbids submissions to be featured extensively at Blurt-online – in our News section, in our biweekly newsletter, and as part of a full feature/interview. (We just featured our 12th Best Kept Secret, Boston rocker Alice Austin, and prior to that it was Phoenix garage-punks The Rebel Set, both self-releasing and –promoting grassroots artists.)
All of this is done within certain parameters, of course. With promotional receipts sometimes numbering monthly in the 800-1000 range, even after factoring in the quarterly print magazine Blurt can only reasonably cover about 150 - 175 artists or releases per month. And we also have to be mindful about selecting artists that will drive web traffic and/or generate newsstand sales, so those with proven track records and are affiliated with labels or p.r. firms whose operating styles are simpatico with ours are an essential part of our game plan.
It’s important to support independent music for one simple reason: the indie sector is where the best and the brightest and the most motivated reside, and they deserve to have a shot at making an honest living as artists. Amanda Palmer recently told Blurt that with the blockbuster system finally crumbling, it’s all turning into a working class music economy. So we need to nurture and encourage these individuals so they’ll continue to create music – of all genres and disciplines. They are the ones, after all, who inspire and thrill the rest of us.

GLG: Do you think online publications are taking precedence over print magazine? What kind of effect do you think that has on bands?

BLURT: If you’d asked that a year and a half ago I might have answered the first part firmly in the affirmative. Now, I’m not so sure. Blurt started as an all-digital undertaking, as noted above, combining the in-the-moment and interactive features of a website with the old-school aesthetic of a downloadable magazine. Yet for all the noise at the time about how print was going the way of the dinosaurs and that digital was the wave of the future, there still seemed to be an odd degree of resistance towards applying a traditional music journalism approach to the digital milieu, and literally within a few months we had tons of people asking us when, if ever, we might publish a print edition of Blurt. (Point of fact, there were several labels and p.r. firms who very clearly regarded Blurt-online as a lesser, second-tier undertaking and it wasn’t until we finally did move into print, with issue #6, that they began to take us seriously. We have long memories, and we appreciate those folks who have consistently helped us get the Blurt name out there; it’s unfortunate but true that there will always be labels and publicists who want media outlets to provide coverage and help THEM out but aren’t willing to reciprocate in kind.)
So it’s a tough call. I think the best way to look at it is that the two beasts can coexist peacefully and even feed off one another given some sensible decision making and realistic strategies. Music lovers appear to want the best of both worlds, so there’s no reason why they can’t get the immediacy and the bells and whistles of online alongside the traditional journalistic and aesthetic (both visual and tactile) values of print. And for bands, this simply means that the savvy ones will learn how to synch with both; there shouldn’t be any cognitive dissonance, in other words, in tapping the resources of an online publication (say, using as entry points the publication’s social networking platforms) while also aspiring towards a full-color two-page feature spread in a print magazine. And if the website and magazine happen to be created and maintained by the same people, as Blurt is, then you’ve got even greater potential there to tap.

GLG: What blogs/magazines do you read other than your own?

BLURT: Magazines: Wired, Wax Poetics, Mojo, Uncut, Big Takeover, PC World, Vanity Fair, Stomp & Stammer, LEGO Brickmaster

Blogs: Perfect Sound Forever, Blues.About.com, Stereogum, Huffington Post, The Onion, NME.com, The Big O, Daily Swarm, Pitchfork, Pop Matters

GLG: What has been your most definitive moment since you started (or started at) Blurt?

BLURT: (1) At the very dawn of Blurt, Alejandro Escovedo videotaped a series of short interview clips for our website (they are still viewable at our video kiosk), and in one of them he talked about how much he had loved our predecessor Harp and how he was rooting for us. You could say that “defined” us — confirmed in our minds that we were doing something worthwhile, and that we had a sense of who the important artists were. Ever since, Alejandro has been the unofficial Patron Saint of Blurt.
(2) Publishing our annual April Fools Day selection of bogus news items and being dumbfounded at how many otherwise sane, thinking people actually swallow the bait. This year our “Early Kurt Cobain Demos Unearthed At Yard Sale” hoax even got picked up, unchallenged, and republished by such mainstream media as Spin online and L.A.’s KROQ-FM. That was pretty awesome, to realize that a small, extremely silly newsclip posted on our site could take on a massively larger life of its own: to this day, the Cobain item still gets tons of hits. (Check out the original clip and then the subsequent story: and prepare to be, uh, nonplused: http://blurt-online.com/news/view/3565/ ; http://blurt-online.com/features/view/599/ )

GLG: If you could interview any musician/band (dead or alive) who would it be?

BLURT: Keith Moon (late drummer for The Who)

GLG: If you could be in any band (of all time), who would you rock with?

BLURT: The Butthole Surfers

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