Music’s most exciting magazines are put together on a shoestring and given away in shops. Nadia Khomami meets the people behind the titles
There’s a piece in the Observer this morning about free music magazines, which a few weeks back I gave a couple of quotes about DIY for. That’s great - I’ve never really felt the medium was especially underground, but there’s a wider audience that will hear about titles that are away from the established old guard. As I’m constantly reminded, you have to build the brand. You can’t complain when somebody wants to cover the world you exist in. And (bar the title - fanzines(?) - whoever wrote that I’d love to have a chat to…) it’s generally a nice piece that I believe genuinely comes from a good place.
However, there’s one line that doesn’t describe the DIY I know. Not the quotes from my peers, obviously - they’re wise and sage people who know their stuff and speak sense - but one almost throw away aside doesn’t represent the publication my team and I work day in day out at putting together.
Now - and bear with me here - I love ‘zines more than most. Hell, I started a publication named after a bis song - how couldn’t I? They’re almost always brave, honest and inventive, often look brilliant and are born with a passion that it’s impossible not to admire. However, I think there is a difference between a ‘zine and magazine, and certainly what we (and in my eyes, some of the others mentioned) produce is a magazine. If I was to give it up tomorrow, another editor would be appointed to take my place - and most likely it wouldn’t be me anointing my own successor. While current reviews editor Emma and I founded DIY, it isn’t just ours anymore. It’s a title that will continue until the day it can no longer afford to, with or without us. We have a central London office we turn up to before ten in the morning and leave after six at night. The last thing I did on Friday was work on a presentation for a media partnership with a major festival. We have to think about brands as well as brands, and square that circle as best we can.
Obviously we have a lot of ‘zine ethics going on beneath the surface (if it all came tumbling down you can be sure we’d be using our DIY callings the next month to put out something, in whatever way we could), but we do not see ourselves as in any way different in outlook, execution or ambition to our long established newsstand siblings. We just don’t charge - mostly because the distribution model looked a ball ache and the cross over would have been a nightmare for the long established website our print edition grew from. In 2011 when we started printing words and pictures on dead trees a free model simply made the most sense.
But that’s all in a word. You can argue that one until the cows come home, and really it doesn’t matter one jot. There are pure blood ‘zines that would put any traditional ‘magazine’ to shame. Both are brilliant and as time goes the line will become increasingly blurred. No. It’s this line which doesn’t describe DIY.
Indeed, though most of these magazines’ websites look good, most don’t bother with extra online content, and those that do – Fly, DIY and Crack – have nowhere near as much as mainstream publications.
With the greatest of respect, no. That’s just not right.
DIY’s website isn’t a poor relation of our print magazine, or our DIY Weekly tablet publication either. It’s sat at the top table. It has to be - for the first nine years it was the only thing we did. To suggest it doesn’t go toe to toe for copy with ‘mainstream’ publications’ online offerings is both ludicrously wrong and (almost certainly unintentionally, I concede) a flat out insult to those who have edited our online arm down the years.
From Emma, Karis and a cast of often under credited, brilliant people who sparked us in the early days, through to Viki (the true engine of DIY to this day; one of the best in the industry who constantly makes me look like a ham-fisted idiot in comparison), to current incumbent and all star blog boy superhero Jamie - none of them should look at their traditional peers and deserve to be told they’d come up short. Everyone who has worked in the DIY bunker has literally given their lives to the cause - slaving every hour they can and over thinking in those they can’t. They’ve, to a woman and man, given more than I could or should have ever asked. Each of them has grown up as part of our publication’s rich and tumultuous tradition of never, ever saying a major publishing house’s money is a reason we shouldn’t match or better them. We always have, and we’re damn proud of it.
Yes, it’s a labour of love, but it’s also our profession. A couple of us might have started as hobbyists in our late teens, but that was a long time ago and certainly isn’t the case now. If you’re trying to tell me our news editor Sarah or art director Louise wouldn’t be a prized asset to a Bauer or IPC, then I’ll see you outside in five minutes, ‘mate’. Any magazine in the world would be lucky to have any one of my team, past or present. When the deadline has arrived they’ve never once let me down, however ridiculous my mad ideas and outlandish demands have become.
And that describes the rest of our online peers (who honestly, are more relevant that some print titles these days) too. Are you going to tell me any of them are poorer websites than some of the newsstand print titles? Really?! From where I sit they’re usually able to be better targeted and more generous with their copy. Rarely would I call them less professional, either. That’s no taint on the established names - the lack of red tape is a god send - but not one of them should be seen as a small endeavour. Every one of the poor bastards that dared start something with bigger ambitions than a blog beholden to their own whims and motivation will say the same. In their opinion, they’ve no intention of being anything but the most ambitious title full stop. Their big ideas will plague their dreams until they make them reality. Aiming for the stars would be far, far too low. Egos may occasionally bristle between titles, sure. No doubt we all have different ideas of what a good magazine - be it in print, online or somewhere inbetween - should be (as we should). Regardless, they deserve as much if not more respect for what they achieve, day in, day out.
The full quote I gave to the piece explains it best. In print, it’s shortened.
‘We’ve never been ones for being lo-fi for the sake of it – we’re a bedroom blog started in skipped uni lectures.’ – Stephen Ackroyd, editor
But completely unedited (so excuse the clunky structure)
‘The mag was the natural progression of what we’d done online for nearly a decade. We’ve never been ones for being lo-fi for the sake of it - we’re a bedroom blog started in skipped Uni lectures that aimed high and grew into a fully fledged music magazine printing 40,000 copies a month and distributing copies nationwide (and beyond). We aim to be big, colourful and brash rather than overly worried about being cool, niche or pretentious. Bad jokes and a belief that personalities are what makes bands great, rather than standoffish appreciation, sit at the centre of everything we do. We cover big acts and small acts, major label and underground buzz bands - we’re simply looking for things that will make our readers excited about music.’
Little? It’s all about perspective. I think we’re positively huge.