Friday, 5 September 2014

Insider Interview #1 - Printed Press/Media with Albert Mudrian (Editor-In-Chief at Decibel Magazine)


(Decibel Magazine #120 Oct 2014 Cover)

This marks the first interview in what I'm hoping will be a series of several interviews, with key people from across the music industry who are helping to shape metal, hardcore and all-round heavy music. The purpose of the interviews is to give people a bit of an insight into the industry and hopefully, provide some advice to those people who are in bands looking to move forwards.

This first interview deals with printed-press and media, which through the years has changed from the initial zines and tape trading of the early days right the way through to the digital magazines and social media that we have today. I was very lucky to be able to pinch a slot in Albert Mudrian's very busy diary, to ask him a few questions about his career to date as well as how print media has grown and how social media has changed. He was also kind enough to share his insight to provide advice and words of encouragement for bands.

For those unaware, Decibel Magazine has just celebrated it's tenth anniversary and as well as producing one of the most popular magazines around, it dedicates itself to the whole heavy metal spectrum, sponsoring tours and providing music to the masses via it's Flexi Disc series.

TNIO - First of all, can you please give a little background about the history of Decibel magazine and also tell me about your role?

AM - I started writing “professionally” about extreme metal in the summer of 1996. I worked at the distribution warehouse for a record chain called the Gallery of Sound, local to the Wilkes-Barre, PA area. The chain produced a free monthly newsprint magazine called Stereo-Type, which covered all types of popular music, including traditional heavy metal and extreme metal. I absolutely hated the way the “metal guy” on staff covered bands I loved like Paradise Lost, Cathedral and Carcass, so I complained to the chain owner who suggested I write a sample review which he would pass along to the magazine’s editor, Alex Mulcahy. I scribbled out reviews of Cannibal Corpse “Vile” and Dissection “Storm of the Light’s Bane” and turned them in. Alex got in touch and told me he dug what I wrote, so I starting writing more and more each month (and even earned $5 a review!). Over the next nine months or so, we became friends and he offered me a full-time job working on the magazine. I was 21 and still in college full-time, but I jumped at the chance. I think I made about $450 a month for the first year! Anyway, after about another year or so, Alex actually put me in charge of the magazine, which was growing, as we were developing multiple versions of the magazines throughout the U.S. I ran that the magazine until early 2004. 

For years leading up to that time, Alex and I discussed the idea of newsstand publication (the magazine we were publishing for the record stores was exclusively distributed at the retail locations of the stores). Anyway, I always felt like there wasn’t a magazine in the U.S. that covered extreme metal the way that I thought it should be covered (with an authoritative voice, a sense of history AND a sense of humor), so he green-lighted Decibel in the spring of 2004 and I have been running it for the past 10 years. I’m the editor in-chief, director of ad sales, director of marketing and promotions, curator of the Decibel Magazine Tour and curator of the Decibel Flexi Series. And probably a bunch of other tedious crap that you’re better off not knowing about. 

TNIO - Decibel is one of the US’s most prominent metal magazine’s. How have you seen the printed media industry and more importantly Decibel change since the prevalence of Social Media and how do you think that is effecting bands?

AM - I’ve seen a lot of magazines have their asses handed to them over the past decade. But I don’t think that’s the worst scenario. It’s pretty Darwinian, really. I think the market was pretty glutted when Decibel started, to be honest. I remember A LOT of crappy metal magazines on the newsstands back in our earlier days (ourselves included!). I’m not sure people have stopped reading print magazines, though, as we have grown every single year of our existence. It’s not like Facebook or Twitter killed metal journalism. If anything, social media allows us to connect with audience much more efficiently. We can instantly get feedback now (which we still ignore!) compared to the old days of just throwing your product out into the world and maybe getting a letter or email in response to an article. Plus, if you’re a savvy marketer, you can take all of those social media followers, get them a link to an item in your webstore, and you have an immediate revenue stream. 

TNIO - In terms of avenues for promotion and exposure, do you think there are now too many? I know that bands can never get enough exposure, especially when starting out, but with the ever increasing stream of blogs appearing on the Internet, do you think bands need to be more choosy about who they approach for coverage?

AM - I guess you could never have too much press. But look at it this way: Baby Metal is a thing, right? At least I know it’s a thing since I’ve seen news items on them on most of the major metal blogs, and I’ve seen numerous “friends” arguing about their relevance in various social media feeds. All of that said, I have not heard a single note of Baby Metal EVER! Honestly, I took one look at them, then considered the sources writing about them and immediately decided that “this is something I really don’t need to concern myself with or ever think about.” So, I guess what I’m saying is that you can have all of the coverage over all the metal mediums in the world, but if someone makes up their mind and decides that they don’t need to care about you (like I did with Baby Metal), I don’t know how much all of these vehicles really help. 

Also, I don’t know if “too many” of these sites is bad thing. I think the real problem is that some of these sites post every 30 minutes for 8 hours a day to keep the traffic rolling. Because when that happens, there is no vetting process AT ALL. They’re just trying to churn our “content” to keep their web numbers up. And no story is ever properly weighted of importance when you do that (like you can with a print magazine). With a blog, it’s just like “Here’s a thing. OK, here’s another thing!”

TNIO - From my experience of blogging over the last four years, there are lots of new bands below the surface looking for media exposure. How do you decide, as a magazine, which bands you want to feature? How to strike a balance between established names and new, unknown bands?

AM - It’s a combination of factors. Some of it comes down to personal taste. Some of it is born out of bands/records that staff writers are super high on/recommend. Sometimes it’s major releases that you can’t ignore (even if you want to). Sure, there is always the chance that something awesome sadly gets lost in the shuffle (because there are SO MANY releases out there these days), but you gotta do your best to just revisit some records if you see that your writers (or other writers you respect) are getting excited about something. So that stuff kinda sorts itself out over time. I think as long as you’re committed to giving everything a fair shake, then you’ll be able to find some of those diamonds in the rough, so to say. 

TNIO - What advice would you give to a band who wanted to gain more exposure in magazines like Decibel?

AM - Just concentrate on the music. No one cares about your press kit, how many followers you have or what real bands you’ve opened for (for free). Just continue to ply your craft, and record as many demos as possible before you decide to share what you’ve produced with the world. Once you actually have the tunes, someone (a manager, a label, a booking agent, a magazine, whoever) will step in and guide you through the rest of the bullshit you need to be doing as a band in 2014. 

TNIO - What would be your top three do’s and don’ts when approaching a magazine for coverage, for your band?

AM - DOS:
1. Send a link to a zipped MP3s (not WAVs or single MP3s) to download
2. Send one introductory email, and then one follow-up email
3. Be thrilled if we wanna write about you.

DONTS:
1 Ask me “how much does it cost for a review?”
2 Email me more than twice about a package you sent.
3 Send me an attachment more than 5M in size.


I want to take this opportunity to once again say a big thank you to Albert for taking to the time to answer my questions. I hope you've enjoyed reading.

Check out Decibel Magazine and subscribe via the following links:-

Decibel Website - http://www.decibelmagazine.com
Decibel Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/decibelmagazine/timeline

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