“Shhhh-it!”: Idolator’s Super-Secret Music Interview Series Is Online

Nov 20th, 2008 // 5 Comments

Every week in the “Shhhh-it!” AnonIMous Super-Secret Music-Biz Interview Series (S-I!AS-SM-BIS for, uh, short) we interview a grizzled music industry veteran via the controlled chaos of instant messaging. This week we bring you Sledge, the editor and proprietor of a long-running music Webzine. Online music zines, particularly the ones that have been around a while, sit in a precarious position, balanced between the huge sites like Pitchfork and the teeming blog masses. Some big ones, like Stylus and Splendid, have gone belly-up in the past few years. We asked Sledge–who was very affable–about the pressure to get “bloggier” or more like Pitchfork, whether digital servicing of media works for them, problems with publicists, and suggestions for writing an effective press release:

StumpyPete1975: what suggestions would you offer to bands or publicists doing promoting to you?
Sledge: well, one suggestion is: if you’re writing a press release, don’t make it a full-length review.
Sledge: simple and straightforward is the best.
StumpyPete1975: like a few grafs?
StumpyPete1975: what should it contain?
Sledge: in my mind, just the pertinent info regarding a release. not how the album should make us feel
Sledge: it just seems disingenuous that the publicist can LOVE every band they’re promoting

More insights after the jump!



StumpyPete1975: what’s it like to run a music website in a world of blogs?
Sledge: we get called “a blog” all the time
StumpyPete1975: and you most definitely aren’t
Sledge: it doesn’t offend me as much as it offends the staff
Sledge: i just i don’t care so much the distinctions between magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc
StumpyPete1975: why is that?
Sledge: we just do what we do, and how people want to define us doesn’t really matter that much to me. it doesn’t change much on our end.
Sledge: we’re not trying to BE anything, necessarily. we’re just writing.
StumpyPete1975: so you don’t feel the need to get “bloggier?”
StumpyPete1975: more comments?
Sledge: hah, well. if that means incorporating more multimedia, i wouldn’t mind being bloggier
StumpyPete1975: more “hey, check out this free mp3?
Sledge: THAT we don’t want to do
Sledge: we’ve” tried to stay away from “hey, a new video! hey a new song!” we get offers with exclusives all the time, but it’s way too promotional for us
StumpyPete1975: yeah?
Sledge: ugh, and contests…
StumpyPete1975: you don’t feel the need to be on something first?
Sledge: there is a need, but the need is usually more transparent. as in, being first gets you hits and exposure, which is great but it’s not something we want to center the site on
StumpyPete1975: so you don’t feel the need to compete with, say, Pitchfork or Stereogum?
Sledge: i do, in a sense. they have their own worlds, though, and those worlds make complete sense for them. we’re trying harder to champion critique than be a buyer’s guide
Sledge: in my opinion, some sites try too hard to emulate Pitchfork. they’re very good at what they do, and they definitely have the resources to achieve their goals.
StumpyPete1975: what do you think the goals of a music website should be?
Sledge: to harbor your own vision and see it through
StumpyPete1975: if you can’t compete with Pitchfork and you don’t want to be bloggy
StumpyPete1975: where do you see what you do? what do you offer?
Sledge: i try not to contextualize the site too much, as we just do what we do. getting a response is great, but people read our site for different reasons, despite how often i try to hammer more adventurous music and/or emphasize critique over publicity.
StumpyPete1975: do you struggle with writers just wanting to write disses?
StumpyPete1975: or just wanting to write sycophantic reviews of their favorites?
Sledge: sometimes reviews can be a bit too surface-y for my tastes, i suppose. but that happens with my writing too — some music lends itself better to description than analysis/forming connections/contexualizing, etc
StumpyPete1975: but can you expect more from writers without a lot of compensation?
StumpyPete1975: that must be hard, right?
Sledge: as in, money?
StumpyPete1975: yeah money? cds? etc.
StumpyPete1975: it’s hard to control people you don’t pay much, right?
Sledge: whether or not money is involved, i expect writers to offer insightful critiques, bottom line. that said, it can be difficult to get writers to stay on deadline 100% of the time. luckily we have a staff who are very dedicated and enthusiastic about what they do. it shows in their applications.
Sledge: that’s why resumes say very little to me
Sledge: experience is a great thing, but it’s not the overriding factor. obviously.
StumpyPete1975: you would rather get the kid with passion then the established writer?
Sledge: it’s hard to compare the two in a generalized fashion like this, but i can say this: i’m more willing to hire a kid WHO CAN WRITE (without formal training of any kind) and seems enthusiastic than a heavily experienced kid who can ALSO write, but seems to be going through the motions to add to their resume
StumpyPete1975: aha
StumpyPete1975: publicists
StumpyPete1975: what is one thing they don’t get?
Sledge: i can only choose one thing?
StumpyPete1975: haha
StumpyPete1975: go for more if need be
Sledge: just kidding, publicists get a lot of shit, and i’ve befriended a lot of them
StumpyPete1975: but what consistently ticks you off?
Sledge: sometimes i’m saddened by the fact that some of our amazing writers aren’t raking in the big dough, while some publicists writing one-sheets get paid decently (though, not great, of course)
StumpyPete1975: we never made that much, trust me
Sledge: it’s funny too when i’ve already responded to whether or not XX is going to get a review, but they’ll ask a week later.
StumpyPete1975: yeah
Sledge: or when they are obivously copy-pasting something, and they forget to change the name at the top of the email
StumpyPete1975: eesh
StumpyPete1975: uh, never, uh, done that one!
Sledge: haha
Sledge: they have a lot of people to deal with though, and i understand the mistakes
StumpyPete1975: after the blogs hit it got out of control
StumpyPete1975: I added 500 people to my lists at least!
Sledge: the best is when they say “Are you going to cover XX for your webzine, YY?” But the YY is some other zine.
Sledge: i also wish we’d have fair access to the “breaking news.” i understand though why they’d want to have, say, Pitchfork break a story
StumpyPete1975: what suggestions would you offer to bands or publicists doing promoting to you?
Sledge: well, one suggestion is: if you’re writing a press release, don’t make it a full-length review.
Sledge: simple and straightforward is the best.
StumpyPete1975: like a few grafs?
StumpyPete1975: what should it contain?
Sledge: in my mind, just the pertinent info regarding a release. not how the album should make us feel
Sledge: it just seems disingenuous that the publicist can LOVE every band they’re promoting
StumpyPete1975: but we DO
StumpyPete1975: (kidding)
Sledge: though, i know some publicists who do really love their artists, so this isn’t a sweeping criticism
StumpyPete1975: listen, mostly, I looked at it like this
StumpyPete1975: do you love the music?
Sledge: but you were the most disingenuous! (kidding)
StumpyPete1975: haha
StumpyPete1975: do you like the people?
StumpyPete1975: do you think they accomplish their goals? that’s important
StumpyPete1975: are they legitimate…also, is it something the office is behind?
StumpyPete1975: if everyone else was into it, I was
StumpyPete1975: but, yeah, nobody is on point for every single thing
Sledge: that’s a good approach as a publicist, definitely
Sledge: it’s not all about aesthetics
StumpyPete1975: well, listen, not every band is my cup of tea
StumpyPete1975: but some are good at what they do
StumpyPete1975: if we did it just for the money
StumpyPete1975: sheesh
StumpyPete1975: you should see some of the stuff we filtered out!
StumpyPete1975: the bands with the most money were almost always the worst
StumpyPete1975: seriously, GruveShroom wants to pay you 5000 dollars a month
Sledge: why do you think that is?
StumpyPete1975: man, I wish I knew
StumpyPete1975: anyway
StumpyPete1975: back to you
StumpyPete1975: let’s talk about breaking news?
StumpyPete1975: what IS news in the Pitchfork and blog world?
StumpyPete1975: I see a lot of Not News
Sledge: like tracklistings?
StumpyPete1975: OH GAWD thank you
StumpyPete1975: like, I understand with, say, a Wilco or Radiohead
Sledge: i mean, news can be ridiculous outside of Pitchfork and the blog world. our/their non-news isn’t an anomaly.
StumpyPete1975: that is true
Sledge: think of all the Palin stuff
StumpyPete1975: yeah
Sledge: it sickens me what constitutes news for platforms as big as what CNN has.
Sledge: but i do agree that it’s hard to justify a tracklisting news story
Sledge: i guess there’s only so much you can talk about in the music world
StumpyPete1975: yeah, that’s true
StumpyPete1975: but people could do a lot more talking about actual music itself or the business end of stuff
Sledge: yeah, i completely agree with that
Sledge: i’m a little shocked how little reporting there is of the industry
Sledge: everyone is so afraid to get political
Sledge: it’s more hard to balance what you should do: get political and risk alienating those who don’t give a shit about politics or your advertisers, or get political because you’re lucky enough to have a platform
StumpyPete1975: I think you go with the latter
StumpyPete1975: not to pile on pitchfork –
StumpyPete1975: but this kind of story
StumpyPete1975: a guy ALMOST leaves a band that people already care less about this year except it’s not true
Sledge: ha, yeah, we stay out of those sorta stories
StumpyPete1975: well, was the internet really abuzz? and if so, why?
StumpyPete1975: maybe that’s because of my not caring about Wolf Parade at all but, man
Sledge: I don’t mean to pick on P4k either
Sledge: but i think Pitchfork likes to be kind of an authoritative voice. so, if people have any lingering questions about the rumor, they can get final confirmation from p4k. they’re great at that, i think
StumpyPete1975: yeah, absolutely
Sledge: in a way, we NEED someone with the power to get the final answer
StumpyPete1975: good point
Sledge: they do sometimes report rumors though
StumpyPete1975: we do, too
StumpyPete1975: I don’t mean to pile on
Sledge: no, it’s okay. it’s good to talk about p4k like this
StumpyPete1975: how have they changed or informed what you do?
Sledge: they do get too much shit in my opinion — they’ve opened up a lot of doors for zines like ours
Sledge: starting p4k in 1995(?) tremendously helped pave the way for independent music journalism
StumpyPete1975: do you think you’d be around without it?
Sledge: i’m more of a materialist, so i think if there was no p4k, there’d be something else in its place
StumpyPete1975: what happened to some of the others?
StumpyPete1975: stylus? Splendid?
StumpyPete1975: why do you think they failed, beyond money? why did they not connect?
Sledge: i think they did connect, though, especially stylus. dont’ want to presume too much, but you know, running a zine is a full-time gig, especially when you’re on the scale that those sites were operating on
Sledge: you can only handle it for so long without questioning whether or not it’s “worth” it
StumpyPete1975: so you think it was more of a question of fatigue
Sledge: i think that’s part of it
Sledge: anything that goes under probably goes under for various, multi-faceted reasons
StumpyPete1975: how do you deal with that?
StumpyPete1975: getting writers in on time?
StumpyPete1975: mailing packages out?
Sledge: it’s nasty, actually
Sledge: i rarely get to write anymore because i have so many non-writing duties
Sledge: not that i should complain. i’m completely happy with my life
Sledge: but it’s tough work. i get a lot of shit from friends and family for sitting in my PJs all day.
StumpyPete1975: haha
StumpyPete1975: I am not wearing pants right now
StumpyPete1975: only boxers
Sledge: can you send a pic?
StumpyPete1975: on the way
Sledge: our writers are feeling the effects of the economy, that’s for sure
StumpyPete1975: has digital delivery of content helped keep costs down?
Sledge: yeah, it’s helped to some degree. though, some publicists insist on sending us BOTH digital and physical
Sledge: i’m all for digital servicing. not all of our writers feel the same though, which is understandable.
StumpyPete1975: well, listen, we tried
StumpyPete1975: we tried to switch digital
StumpyPete1975: and everybody threw a hissy fit
StumpyPete1975: including a bunch of blogs
StumpyPete1975: the entitlement really reared its head
StumpyPete1975: “I have 200 readers a day — I DESERVE a copy”
StumpyPete1975: I understand with print
StumpyPete1975: but with an online site?
StumpyPete1975: I was taken aback by the backlash
StumpyPete1975: and the artists often suffered there
Sledge: yeah, i might be alone on that. not sure. i LOVE digital servicing though — convenient, low-cost, eco-friendly
Sledge: if they’re writing reviews for the commodity, so be it. but i know a lot of our writers couldn’t give a shit if they had the physical or not.
Sledge: it is a nice ‘perk’ i guess. but i get annoyed when i see i have 20 packages waiting to be opened
StumpyPete1975: how has the blog world affected your job?
StumpyPete1975: when you started they weren’t a thing, right?
Sledge: right.
Sledge: when the blog world started becoming its own “thing,” i didn’t see any problem with it, really. but as time went on, i did see that publicists were aiming to control the content of those blogs, and i think they’ve succeeded to this day.
Sledge: i can’t say we’re not affected by this either, but we’re very conscious about discerning between publicity and critique, despite how often they overlap (and despite the arguments that there isn’t too much difference)
Sledge: on a positive note, they’ve pushed publications to be more timely w/ their stories. though, i think that’s the natural dynamic of a webzine
StumpyPete1975: yeah
StumpyPete1975: I hope that the release date obsession fades away, even for print
Sledge: oh, so you mean organizing content based on release dates?
StumpyPete1975: I think they will never compete
Sledge: i agree
StumpyPete1975: so they should quit worrying
StumpyPete1975: and just print engaging, DEEP content
StumpyPete1975: something the web, no offense, doesn’t always excel at
Sledge: the world is so dynamic and constantly changing, it’s silly to plan content months in advance
Sledge: yeah, it’s shocking to me sometimes how little thoughtful content there is in the web world
Sledge: i think we’ve published some pretty deep analyses over the past year, and some really great ones coming up, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get a whole lot of attention, especially if readers just want to be updated on the new thang
StumpyPete1975: yeah
StumpyPete1975: I wrote a long thing about videogames recently that I was proud of, and it got WAY less views than when I wrote about Katy Perry riding a dildo.
Sledge: haha
Sledge: i think this runs throughout the entire journalism field though
Sledge: that said, i wish there was more intriguing music stuff to read on the web
StumpyPete1975: you might be right about that
StumpyPete1975: that’s why P4k stays big
StumpyPete1975: they offer a LOT of content
Sledge: yeah, definitely
StumpyPete1975: interviews and features every day
StumpyPete1975: five reviews
Sledge: they have great resources and connections, and of course some solid writers
Sledge: they have a lot of pressure to find the next big artist
StumpyPete1975: does it ever get frustrating that you “find the next big artist” in your mind and less people care?
Sledge: i wouldn’t expect the artists i love to necessarily have a broad appeal
Sledge: the adventurous musicians don’t appeal to the casual music listener
Sledge: that said, i wish they all made enough money to sustain themselves through their music
Sledge: but i wish the same for so many people; friends, family, writers, etc
Sledge: anyway, finding the next big thing i don’t think is a very admirable goal
StumpyPete1975: why not?
Sledge: i guess it depends on the intent of why you want to find the next big thing. i hate to read about the next big thing, and then a publication sorta apologize for saying they were the next big thing when their proper LP ends up “sucking”
Sledge: it’s a vicious cycle, and it’s why cliches like “Finally, an album that lives up to its hype.”
Sledge: and why writers always lament that their year-end list doesn’t have a strong #1
Sledge: i’m like, ‘but that’s great!’

Are you a grizzled music industry veteran that wants to go anonIMous with us? Email us at tipsATidolatorDOTcom.

  1. Maura Johnston

    there is so much stuff that i co-sign in this interview that i almost feel like i have to say ‘this wasn’t an interview with me.’

  2. Al Shipley

    Haha yeah there was much to agree with here, especially re: publicists. I really do tire of the hard sell and the flowery faux-review press releases. They should just present the facts as straight as possible, and maybe even come out and say “here’s why you should write about this, or why you might be interested in this.”

  3. jt.ramsay

    I know a lot of people miss big stories about bands, but I’d love to know what kind of readership Pitchfork’s daily feature gets. Remember when it used to be above the fold?

  4. Lucas Jensen

    @Al Shipley: I understand this, but as a publicist, it’s hard not to sell people on the music, particularly with smaller bands that might not have a press kit or story yet. Nothing wrong with succinctness, of course, but I find that I like to read at least some description of the music.

  5. Hi! Just thought I’d chime in. I thoroughly loved your post. Keep up the great work.

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