For years now Eden and I have attempted different strategies for taking our extensive and passionate community of readers, musicians, and people involved in the music industry as a whole and opening up channels of direct communication, both between us and our readership and between readers themselves. Most of those attempts haven’t gone very far. However, with so many people around the world forced to remain indoors and seeking refuge and comfort online amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided that now was a perfect time to give it another go.
So a couple of weeks ago we created a community Facebook group specifically to encourage readers to interact with each other and ourselves, and it’s been going great! People are starting all sorts of great discussions, both music-related and not, and it’s been fantastic getting to hear from the people who follow us about all sorts of topics. As terrible as Facebook is overall, their Groups structure is probably one of its few redeeming qualities. If you haven’t joined yet, definitely do so and join the community!
One of the cooler aspects of this group is that it specifically allows us a direct link to our readers in a more intimate and personal way than we can achieve elsewhere. In the spirit of that, I ran our first ever AMA session there recently. We got a bunch of interesting questions and had some great back-and-forths. I intend to run these once a month and post an edited and condensed version of them here, but if you want to get in on the action yourselves you’ll need to join!
This month we covered topics ranging from the worst and best personal aspects of running Heavy Blog, our opinions on self-promotion and pay-to-play social media promotion, and overrated albums. Hope you enjoy, and see you next month!
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Nick Cusworth: Come at us, cowards.
Arka Sengupta asks: What is the procedure for Exclusively Premiering a track on Heavy Blog Is Heavy? As in… what do you guys do once someone sends a request?
Nick Cusworth: So, I don’t know if what we do is TOO different from how most places operate except for the fact that because we are entirely volunteer-run editors don’t really act as “assignment editors” in the traditional sense. What will happen is that either a band or PR (usually PR) will contact us with an offer. If it’s either a band we’re already familiar with or think it would fit within the kind of stuff we post about, we will then pass it along to the rest of our staff (or specific staff members depending on the genre) and ask if anyone wants to take it on and write something about it.
That’s really about it. Occasionally things fall through just because we don’t have anyone on-hand who is able to write it up or because the timeframe that PR wants the premiere to go up is too tight, but most of the time if it’s something we dig it’ll happen.
Brendon Williams asks: What’s been the most difficult aspect of running HBIH over the years? What are the worst and best things about being involved with HBIH that you all might not have expected prior to being on the team?
Kyle Gaddo: The first one? Actually keeping up with it. In today’s online age, morale is often dictated by site traffic and when site traffic wanes it can feel kind of personal. It’s a passion project and to think that nobody’s caring about what we love can hurt in a very particular way.
The latter, for me personally, has been the friendships I’ve made being involved. I mean, I expected to make a friend here and there, but to end up knowing so many world-class musicians and becoming a part of their personal narrative in some form or another? That’s wild to me.
Nick Cusworth: I’d love to hear Eden and Scott’s thoughts on this as well, but here’s mine.
In terms of what’s difficult, it’s really just been figuring out how to keep something like this alive and viable through massive changes in how the public receives, consumes, and shares information. By and large we really try not to get too caught up in predicting what tools and platforms will benefit us the most, but we do want to feel that our message and content is getting out there because if all we’re doing at the end of the day is shouting into the void, what’s the point?
I think the other thing that has been difficult is that literally none of us who have run this at any point came in really knowing what the hell we were doing other than just being guided by our passion and wanting to share it with others. So it’s been a ton of learning over the years about how to manage groups, what sort of content is out there in the world that we like and admire, and how can we bring that sort of mentality into what we do to deliver something we can be proud of.
The worst thing about being involved in HBIH is a bit of a double-edged sword, which is how I listen to music. I listen to WAY more music overall in terms of variety and just sheer number of releases than I did prior to getting involved, but it’s also come with a constant pressure to listen to what’s new and move onto the next thing rather than necessarily just enjoy things. I used to obsess over albums and deep listen to them daily for weeks on end, and now it’s very rare that I do that because I have way more things I feel I *should* be listening to. So I love how it’s exposed me to so many incredible things I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise, but it’s definitely changed my relationship with music in a way that isn’t 100% positive.
The best thing is hands-down the community. No question. The lifelong friends I’ve made through here on staff and the many connections and friends I’ve made with artists and fans. Like, Eden and I started talking to each other in 2014, and by fall 2017 he was flying from Israel to NYC to be the best man at my wedding, and at least half a dozen other people in attendance were blog folks. That’s just the kind of thing you can’t place a value on.
Noyan Tkgz: I’d like to add that the technical struggles of wordpress being awful to work with and having one of the largest wordpress blogs in the world out there has been pretty challenging
Scott Murphy: I joined Heavy Blog in college (in 2012, I believe) with the simple desire to periodically write reviews. I love music and I love writing, so it seemed like a perfect fit. About eight years later, I now touch virtually every part of running the blog – banners, formatting/proofreading, scheduling, and (of course) writing.
Being as involved as I have in running a music blog has helped me evolve significantly as both a writer and music fan. Compared to 2012, it’s hard to convey just how much I’ve refined and expanded my tastes. I enjoy a broader array of music, and more importantly, can succinctly and accurately convey why I enjoy (or don’t enjoy) an album.
On a personal note, I’ve met a diverse group of people I never would have crossed paths with otherwise, many of whom I’ve met up with once or several times in person. Of course, a lot has changed in my life over the last eight years, and finding the time to manage everything remains my biggest challenge. I used to write multiple deep dives a year but haven’t written one in quite some time. I used to write closer to 5-10 new bands for every Death’s Door or Kvlt Kolvmn roundup, whereas now I’m covering two or three on average.
It’s always been a labor of love, but the “labor” end of the equation has become more significant as I’ve started my career, met my fiancé, and started actively planning for the next big milestones in my life. But I still love the Blog and devote a ton of time to it, something I plan to continue as long as I can manage if(and probably longer still after that point).
Eden Kupermintz: I joined the blog in 2014 when I was facing what was the hardest year of my life. I had just gotten out of an 11 year long relationship. I was extremely depressed. I wrote in to the blog on a whim, just recommending an Israeli band I liked and Gunnar/Jimmy I believe reached out to the rest of them and added me as a member. Jimmy had his first kid and was starting to not be able to keep devoting the time the blog needed so I started filling in the gaps, finally stepping up to officially become an editor.
That saved my life. Instead of just crying, not showering, not sleeping (I was still doing that just not only that), I wrote about six posts a day. That’s not a typo: I would write up news and reviews. Other helped but there were very few actively contributing back then. It literally saved my life; I started feeling self worth from seeing bands react to my posts, from seeing readers react. I reached some really dark places twice or three times and the blog literally saved me from doing something I would regret. That’s my favorite thing about the blog, I guess: it affirmed who I was and my self worth and it still does wonders in helping me feel good about myself.
The other thing which kept me alive were the people I met. I would literally do anything for Nick, Kyle, Simon, Scott, Noyan, Jonathan, the lot of them. They’re some of the most intelligent, caring, and smart people I’ve met and I honestly often sit and grab my hands in disbelief that I get to work with them and know then. It’s absolutely incredible. They’re some of my best friends on the planet and I know them only thanks to the blog.
The last thing I love about the blog is being able to connect readers and bands. When a reader writes that they found a new favorite band from a post of mine, I have a high that lasts weeks. I know how much bands can mean to a person, because they mean that to me, so knowing I gave that to someone…it’s an amazing feeling. Same thing with bands: when artists approach me to tell me I nailed the meaning of a track, when they tell me I’ve helped their sales, when they’re moved by something I wrote about their music, I just can’t express how much that means to me. I’ve always regretted not sticking with the piano and actually making music (although I’m in a band today!) and that’s my small way to feel like I’ve added more of one of the most incredible things in existence: music.
As for the bad stuff, the folks above me pretty much said it all. But for me, there’s an added dimension of what I do for the blog specifically (and what Nick does as well) and that’s think about the future and the vision for the place. From 2014-2016, it was nonstop work and I didn’t have to wonder whether I was doing enough (although I still was). These last few years we’re sort of stabilized and now I freak out on a weekly basis that I’m not pushing the envelope enough, that I’m stagnating as a writer, that we’re stagnating as a blog. It’s a hard feeling because there’s not much I can do to relieve it; no matter how much I do (and you can ask the people here how much that is), I still feel like it’s not enough. It’s one of the main things I’m trying to resolve with myself and it manifests especially with the blog.
Karlo Doroc: Worst things: 1) temporarily losing passion for and feeling burned out about music, something i love so much.
2) not being able to truly enjoy a record until the year after its release, as in the release year each listen is accompanied by thoughts and analysis of how it stacks up against everything else
3) feeling guilty for not contributing more and taking some of the burden off of the editors that keep this thing afloat
Best things: 1) making great friends around the world
2) belonging to a community that love what you love as much as you do. having dozens of recommendations on any mood or sound you’re searching for only a keystroke away
3) having the opportunity to write about something you’re so passionate about
Greg Pittz asks: Why is the best Rosetta album “a determinism of morality”?
David Zeidler: I came to Quintessential Ephemera as my first Rosetta album, and they had kind of shifted their style for that record, and it holds a very dear place in my heart as the Rosetta I fell for. But in exploring the rest of their records A Determinism of Morality is definitely understandable as someone’s pick for their best album. There’s also dope stuff from Galilean Satellites and Wake/Lift, as well as their other albums. I dunno, not many bands have as solid a track record over the last decade and a half as Rosetta does, so I just enjoy them across the board
Greg Pittz: I like QE a lot too, but ADOM stands above sonically and creatively.
David Zeidler: Yeah, I like them both pretty equally. Front to back ADOM is probably a better album, but fuck, “Untitled” I, II, III and V are unstoppable
Jonas Abrahamsson: It’s actually objectively The Galilean Satellites, but you were close I guess.
Eden Kupermintz: Am I allowed to choose EPs? Because their latest one is my favorite right now.
Greg Pittz: hmmm….. I’ll allow it. “Flies to Flame” rules, and so do all of their singles
Jonas Abrahamsson asks: What’s your stance on incessant self promotion?
Nick Cusworth: pls listen to my soundcloud
For real though, I try not to judge too harshly because it’s so difficult to actually stand out and get noticed. The only times it really bugs me is when people clearly add your personal social accounts just so they can spam you with links and requests. Thankfully that hasn’t happened to me too often because most people have enough sense not to do it, but when it happens it’s pretty much an automatic ignore and unfriend.
Eden Kupermintz: My stance is that we should blame the system which makes us not only self-promote, but identify our sense of self with how well our “brand” is doing AKA capitalism. People can be insanely annoying about it but there’s also an immense amount of pressure being worked on us to constantly do it, so I try to not be too harsh on them.
The personal account is also something I relate to: it’s my little piece of the internet and my personality where I don’t feel those pressures (or at least, they are very reduced) so I don’t take kindly to that being violated.
Nick Von Nick asks: I’m a writer and musician by trade – can I write for you?
Nick Cusworth: If you want to write for us we have a system for this! Send us an email ([email protected]) with a writing sample and the kind of things you like to cover. Just keep in mind that this is 100% volunteer-run and literally none of us are making money off of this, so if you’re doing it it’s because you just love doing it and want an outlet for it.
Arka Sengupta asks: What’s your take on YouTube music aggregator channels charging money from lesser known bands to upload their albums/EPs/Singles?
Nick Cusworth: Hmm, honestly it’s not something I have much knowledge of or experience with, so I don’t know if I have a particularly strong opinion. I know this is pretty common practice though on Youtube and Spotify with “influencer” playlists and all, and in general I have a pretty strong stance against “pay to play” scenarios
I’ll add that it’s already difficult enough for bands to get attention and make any sort of money from their art, and while I get that these people are providing a type of promotional service, the actual “labor” that they’re doing seems to be extremely minimal compared to the kinds of rates I’ve seen floated around for these sorts of things. So in my mind this is just yet another case of profiteering and how capitalism only serves to benefit those who actively take advantage of others.
Jonas Abrahamsson asks: The most overrated album in the past 5 years?
Karlo Doroc: Both Fear Inoculum and Magma
Nick Cusworth: Using our annual industry lists as a guide, I think I’ve gotta go with either the last Code Orange album [Forever] or most recent Ghost album [Prequelle]. Both had praise lavished upon them critically and popularly for being “subversive” in different ways, but to me they just took old sounds (standard fare nu-metal with the former and 80s hair metal/theatrical prog rock with the latter) and didn’t really do much else with them. Code Orange is definitely not my thing in general, but I really enjoyed everything Ghost did prior to Prequelle, so if I had to pick one I guess I’d go with that.
Tagging in Eden for the Magma rant.
Karlo Doroc: Those were my honourable mentions
Eden Kupermintz: Just read my Magma review