AMA is Heavy Blog’s monthly community Q&A column, where readers ask questions across the gamut, and we are legally required by the universal laws of “AMA” to answer them! These are edited and excerpted transcripts. To see full transcripts and participate in future conversations, join the Heavy Blog Facebook Community Group!
We’re here again, answering questions! This month our community members were particularly interested in how we do certain blog things, from seeking out music to cover, to writing reviews, to how we keep ourselves from completely burning out. Also something about sausage. I’m still not clear what was going on there to be honest.
As always, thanks to our community for the great conversations, and we’ll be back next month!
. . .
Brad asks: Does having to write reviews for albums change the way you listen to music?
Noyan: Not really for me. In my case how I listen to music informs how I write reviews. Like the review is a natural expression of my thoughts when listening. I inherently have a mindset where I try to deconstruct things so maybe it’s right for analysis to begin with.
Brad: I would be afraid that over analyzing things might lead to a boredom with something. That might just be me though.
Noyan: I wouldn’t call it over analyzing. I’d say it’s more giving something the respect it is due. There’s an infinite amount of music out there and I have a finite amount of time so looking more deeply into things really helps me understand why I like something and why maybe something is alright but doesn’t have the same longevity. Using that I can then inform my search for future things. I think self actualization of one’s taste is a key component of a healthy relationship with art. And if something doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny I don’t really have time for it. I still jam things that I don’t super love, but analysis helps me focus my attention
Jimmy Rowe: Since starting the blog in 2009, I’ve come to find that the long term practice of music critique and analysis has raised and altered my appreciation of music substantially. It keeps me interested, intrigued, and invested. I’ve started almost exclusively listening to albums from front to back and giving music more of a chance to grow and I actively seek qualities in a work that can be challenging and allow it to grow on me if possible. If there’s something I don’t like, I’ve put more thought into why that’s the case and go from there.
Overall I would definitely say that over time, working on this site has strengthened my relationship with music and changed the way I think about and consume it.
Scott Murphy: Not necessarily on a review-by-review basis, but definitely overall. Writing about music for the last 8 years has shaped the way I listen to every album I check out. I can’t turn off that analytical part of my listening habits, which I view as a good thing. I’m glad that writing regular reviews has pushed me to check out new genres and dig further into the ones I already listen to. It’s made me a better reviewer and listener and greatly expanded my taste. In that sense, I don’t necessarily think differently when I’m listening to an album for fun versus for a review. The only difference is I’ll spend more time with an album I’m writing about than an album I’m just checking out.
Jonathan Adams: It definitely changes the way I think about music as I’m listening to it. Aspects like mixing and production in particular get a lot more critical thought when I’m reviewing a record, whereas a casual listen may not facilitate as much in-depth analysis into the bones of what makes an album work (or not). But honestly the biggest difference is the amount of time I dedicate to listening to records I’m reviewing. Review records definitely get a fairly hefty block of dedicated listening, though the mediums through which I listen to them don’t deviate far from how I consume music normally.
Eden Kupermintz: Chiming in here to mostly agree with what was said above but also add that this is something I actively engage with and try to turn off from time to time. It’s not necessarily the act of reviewing albums themselves but rather the templates we use to think about albums we review (which is just how brains work) that I find creeping in when I’m listening to stuff I’m not reviewing either. Like, I’ll catch myself trying to put into words why a certain album is the way it is but then realize I don’t have to and I can try to let the album make its own categories. If that makes sense.
Nicolás asks: Where do you look for new releases to review them?
Noyan: Back in the day, I used to follow a bunch of blogspot sites that were genre specific, they all died off. Nowadays for tech death I go to /r/technicaldeathmetal, I follow basically every label on YouTube so I see everything new they put out, and honestly the HB community is very helpful too.
Jimmy Rowe: Once you get to a certain level, bands and publicists reach out to you so it’s easy to become spoiled because the new releases often find us. However due to the sheer volume of emails and wide range of quality out there, we come to appreciate how certain labels or PR companies curate their roster and for me, they’ve gotten the first look. I know if I see Willowtip Records or Earsplit PR (for example) in the inbox I go in expecting a certain level of quality that speaks to me.
Outside of that, like Noyan said, Reddit and the HB community are great
Noyan: Yeah at this point for me it’s not “how to I find things” and it’s more “how do I filter down to the things I care [about].” Also Apple Music’s weekly personalized new release thing sometimes catches things I missed especially from smaller artist I follow but don’t have a big media presence
Nicolás: Jimmy Rowe BTW, how many mails you can get about it weekly?
Jimmy Rowe: How could I forget Bandcamp? That’s an incredible resource as well. When I’m in a rut, I pull up a genre and start sampling.
Nicolás Vallak I can tell you we’ve gotten at least 70 between midnight and noon today EST. There will surely be even more from noon to midnight.
Speaking on emails and filtering content delivered to us, Eden Kupermintz has made some efforts in automating the process in the past and he could probably elaborate more.
Noyan: Even in my personal email which is no longer anywhere public I get dozens daily
Nicolás: Jimmy Rowe is funny, cuz time ago when my former band released the last ep, we haven’t contacted anyone, and I was sooo amazingly surprised to read Eden’s review.
I’m sure I’ll keep away from sending those annoying mails lol
Jimmy Rowe: Nicolás Vallak don’t let it stop you! In the early days Deafheaven got where they were because they reached out directly to blogs without PR. I remember the guitarist sending us their demo in a band camp link.
Jordan Jerabek: Bandcamp, group chats, Twitter, in that order.
Scott Murphy: Bandcamp and Rate Your Music are essential for my listening habits. For a more passive source of new music, I follow a number of music sites, too many to list here. Finally, though a lot of what hits my blog email doesn’t interest me enough to write a review, there have been some fantastic albums I’ve only discovered from a band, label, or PR contacting me directly. For me, I think the key is to keep as many varied channels open as possible to maximize the number of new releases that cross your path.
Nick Cusworth: It’s a combo of promo emails for albums we’re already anticipating, promo emails for albums we might not be aware of but from people/labels we trust, the occasional cold email from folks addressed specifically to one of us, and then independent searching through community groups, recommendation engines, and Bandcamp.
Personally, for Post Rock Post I still make a point in going through Bandcamp’s post-rock tag every once in a while just to see if there’s anything that might be going under the radar for all of us. I’ve found some really great stuff that way that, in turn, we’ve helped bring to a much wider audience.
Jonathan Adams: The blog and my personal inbox are both treasure troves and fiendish hellscapes for finding new music. I use them both frequently. While having some ties to PR helps, I do just as much searching on Bandcamp and through other music sites and publications (mainly for track premieres, which give me a feel for whether or not I might enjoy a full record) as I do our emails. Honestly, groups like this one and the Heavy Blog community in general have helped broaden my horizons immensely. Surrounding yourself with other people who love music as much as you do is one of the best ways to track down great records.
Eden Kupermintz: I’ve actually made a video detailing my workflow and how I manage to stay on top of so many releases. Not to brag, but on top of the blog’s main inbox, the Heavy Blog community, and the other sources described here, I get about 200 emails a day to my personal inbox. Around 90% of that is new music? Of course I don’t listen to all of it but I’ve built a flow made up of several tools to help me:
1) Get a hold of all the music sent to me.
2) Keep recommendations fresh and make sure I check them out eventually.
3) Seek out new music by myself.
Tom asks: I‘d like to know if anybody ever was at Euroblast Festival in cologne, germany? Usually end of sept / start of oct… Eden Kupermintz you should definitely check it out 😜
Jimmy Rowe: I’ve wanted to go to Euroblast for years. Heavy Blog has sent me to Maryland Deathfest, Post Fest, and the final Dillinger shows. But I’ve never been able to make a trip overseas. I’m sure over the years SOMEONE who has written for us regularly has been?
Simon Clark: I’ve been to EB in 14, 16 & 18, so I had at least pencilled in a trip over this year, too. Last two times, I went by train. It was very civilised.
Tom: Yeah i recognize your face, you are suggested to be my facebook friend regularly, as both of us “know” a lot of the same people 😊
Eden Kupermintz: It’s been on my list for a while now but honestly, the bands which usually play it aren’t bands I’d fly over for. I mean, there are always two or three names which I’d love to see and a lot of names which would be nice to see but never something that really grabbed me. Nothing personal though, I’m sure the festival is great and I’m sure I’ll make it there at some point!
Chris asks: Is it difficult to review / do news about people you’ve had personal disagreements with/dislike for whatever reason or do you try to pass along to another staff member as to not affect anything (I say this considering many people are very vocal about their opinions online)
Scott Murphy: Honestly, it’s difficult for me to separate those interactions from a person’s music. It’s kind of like first impressions in any real-life situation; if you meet someone and they’re obnoxious or say something that offends you, how likely are you to hang out again or connect with them the next time you see them in a group setting?
There have been a few instances where I’ve either reviewed or was going to review an album, but then a comment from or interaction with the artists left a sour taste in my mouth. I obviously don’t want to name anyone specifically, but there was a band I reviewed positively only to find out one of the members had left a nasty, unwarranted comment on one of our previous posts. As much as I loved their music, it’s difficult for me to forget about that interaction, and I haven’t listened to anything from them since.
Nick Cusworth: Thankfully we stopped covering most news items years ago, so that isn’t as much of a concern these days. For reviews it definitely does cause an issue though. There are definitely a group of artists we keep on a “grey list” where we don’t specifically say that we will not cover them, but we don’t go out of our way to promote and write up unless someone from staff specifically reaches out and says they want to write up something about them.
There are no hard and fast rules here when it comes to matters of “disagreement,” though really anything having to do with questionable opinions or ties to white supremacy, homo/transphobia, sexual violence, and the like is a pretty surefire way to land on our shit list.
Scott Murphy: To echo Nick and add to my answer, obviously any bigoted lyrics or comments from an artist a non-starter for me as well.
Chris: Ahh yeah I’d expect the lyrics and views portion was just curious about the random online interactions that could rub ya wrong, thanks for answering my dudes
Nick Cusworth: Yeah, I mean, once again it really depends on the context, but someone being kind of a jerk online or in an online interaction with them is likely not going to be enough that we wouldn’t cover them anymore. It might tamp down some of the excitement we’d otherwise have about their music overall, but you can’t do much to prevent that.
Jonathan Adams: Thankfully, most of my interpersonal interactions with musicians, bands, and other contributors to the space of the musical world we occupy have been positive. There have been a few hiccups over the past few years, but overall my beefs tend not to rest with the people I’ve interacted with through the blog but rather the ideas being perpetrated in certain sectors of the metal community in particular. Which is a long way of saying NSBM can fuck off.
Jimmy Rowe: I know this is only vaguely related but the discussion got me thinking. I know that a big speed bump for me as Heavy Blog grew was the double edged sword of befriending musicians I had reviewed or covered in the past that I had been a fan of.
On the surface it seems that anyone would take the opportunity to meet and be friends with musicians of which you’ve been a big fan. It’s surreal at first, becoming friendly with a musician that you’ve followed for a while. It’s kind of enchanting and validating! Hey I’m friends with the guy on this album! Crazy!
But what if your friend releases an album that you don’t think is very good? Do you decline to cover them suddenly? Do you lie in order to preserve the friendship (I haven’t done this btw but the urge is there)? Do you risk the relationship by giving them a bad review?
It’s a difficult decision to make. I’ve both declined to give reviews to people I admire because the project wasn’t good without saying as much. I’ve also published honest reviews where I can FEEL that changed the relationship after the fact. Nowadays if I’m friends with the person and I don’t like it I’ll decline to handle it personally.
It’s hard to remain objective after you cross that boundary. But the temptation to befriend a world class musician is a great one and has many pros and cons. Perhaps ethically it’s best to keep boundaries sometimes.
I don’t have the answers. I work in mental health and I wouldn’t do therapy with a family member or a longtime friend. Obviously the stakes are much lower here, but it’s a difficult ethical dilemma sometimes, for sure.
Michael asks: I imagine this question will resonate with many of us, and wasn’t sure if it had been asked yet. Like several of us, I help run a blog that occasionally requires energy/resources I don’t always have, and find myself bending over backwards for “the cause.” Do you have any tips on making the most of all the time you spend working for something you love, even when it doesn’t necessarily pay? Do you ever have trouble explaining to loved ones why you spend so much time doing it? (Full Disclosure: I do, for the second question at least 😂 )
Nick Cusworth: Hoo boy, from one voluntary blogger to another, I. feel. your. pain. I cannot tell you the number of conversations Eden and I have had over the years where we’ve been an inch close to saying “Fuck it, we’re tired, let’s shut this thing down.” And it never has anything to do with what we’re getting out of it or whether we feel what we’re doing is meaningful or important to a range of folks. It solely has to do with the fact that we’re tired and burnt out on keeping this place running and don’t see a way to keep it sustainable while juggling the rest of our lives.
I think the best advice I can give to you or anyone in this kind of thankless position is this: make sure that whatever you are getting out of it – be it personal satisfaction, connections to the music you’re writing about or the community it lives in, creative outlet, etc. – is equal to or at least proportional to the energy, time, and resources you’re putting in. And if it’s not, then don’t be afraid to admit it and alter what you’re doing to bring that back into alignment.
Here’s a secret that we haven’t been super good at keeping because we like to generally be transparent: most of the changes in what we post and how we post to Heavy Blog over the past 5 or however many years have come first and foremost in an attempt to keep our sanity and make keeping this thing around and alive sustainable. We have to get creative sometimes and think about ways that we can maximize the efficacy of what we put out there, and a lot of that time those goals go hand-in-hand in bringing up the general quality of the content we do put out there, but at the end of the day, it usually comes down to whether these changes will make our lives just a little bit easier in the long run.
As for your second question, man, I think so much of that is just being lucky and surrounding yourself with the right people. All of the partners of the editorial crew here have been nothing but supportive about our work throughout (even if sometimes it requires some not-so-gentle nudging to remind us that we don’t need to work ourselves to the bone). I really can’t imagine what I’d do if my wife felt differently and wasn’t as supportive as she is. Heavy Blog is part of our family though, and she knows that it is an integral part of who I am and respects how important it is to me.
Michael: Nick Cusworth thank you so much for this epic and sage response! couldn’t agree more. I’m not sure if they ended up doing it, but that YouTube channel Pensado’s Place mentioned at one point that they were going to do a spouses episode for that exact reason.🤘❤️🙏
Nick Cusworth: Haha, and this is why we have our Genre Genesis column that’s written by our SOs (which is a good self-reminder that I need to send out the prompt for the next column, d’oh!)!
Jimmy Rowe: This is a major area of guilt for me. I started the blog in 2009 when I was in college. I graduated in 2013 and got a job in social work. After that, life circumstances ramped up considerably and I just didn’t have the time anymore. I got married in 2014. I had kids in 2015 and 2016. I also started grad school in 2016.
In the midst of all this I had to toss the keys to Eden or close the site entirely. I feel like I’ve left the guys a huge burden. But without them the site and community wouldn’t be where it is today. Every now and then we have the talk about if it’s sustainable as we age and have to reckon with families and work. The work here doesn’t pay and thrives on volunteerism and passion for music and it certainly isn’t for everyone all the time.
Eden Kupermintz: This is a huge one. It’s no secret by now that the fuel which kept me going, which motivated me to even pick up the mantle of running the blog to begin with was mental illness. The depression and anxiety I was experiencing in 2014-15 demanded an outlet and the blog was one of those outlets. But then I got better and that kind of faded away and thus you have 2016, when the blog made the huge switch away from news and towards more deep dives and reviews. As Nick alluded to above, that shift had some “strategical” ideas behind it (as the internet was coming to grips with how Facebook had basically killed all indie work online) but it was mostly about the question: “how do we keep going?”
The answer to that is really complex and not something I’m sure I can put into words but one of the quotes that most influenced me was, ironically, from a site which shut down: Steel for Brains. That site had probably the best interviews in the metal journalism sphere, really deep and clever stuff, and was run by one guy. When he shut it down to focus on his family, he left a really long post and a part of it really stood up to me: “it’s not about hits. It’s not about views. It’s about a body of work you can look back on and be proud”.
We could have gotten way more views by sticking to news and doing clickbait. We’re still making decisions that move us away from really big numbers. But god damn, when I look back at the last six years and all the amazing content I a) wrote and b) helped publish, my heart just swells with pride. We’ve published some really good things on the blog and we will continue doing so; that, for me is at the root cause of all of this.
Lastly, like Nick said, I’m lucky to have a spouse that is EXTREMELY supportive of the blog and all the work I do. I don’t deserve her.
Caroline asks: What’s one feature you’ve always wanted to run on the site but that’s never come to fruition for whatever reason?
Noyan: I did a 3 hour long audio interview with the drummer of psycroptic but the file got corrupted
Nick Cusworth: There have definitely been a few cool ideas here and there that we’ve wanted to pursue and things just never worked out. On a personal note, probably the biggest one for me was a few years ago when I was still actively producing video content for the blog. I was in conversations with So Hideous about this show they wanted to do in a cathedral with a string section and everything, and the idea I had was to film that in addition to a small show they did at ABC No Rio (RIP), do some interviews, and put together a short doc feature about them and the dichotomy that these two shows represented in their sound, in heavy music like theirs, and for smaller bands like theirs that were right on the cusp of receiving wider attention.
I got some incredible footage and great interviews from the ABC No Rio show, but sadly the bigger show never came into fruition, and the project just never really came together after that. If I had really wanted to I still probably could have turned what I had into something with a little reframing and maybe some additional content, but it just fell by the wayside over time.
Jimmy Rowe: I wanted to do something similar to Genre Genesis, but with our parents. I wanted it to be called Parental Advisory. This was before the REACTS genre got big online.
Eden Kupermintz: Yeah, I had an idea once after [former Heavy Blog photographer/writer] Will [France] published his tour diary with After the Burial on the site (still one of the best things to have ever run on the blog) to do more photography stuff alongside deep dives. Like, send out our photogs to key points, like Philly, Bay Area, London, stuff like that and do full feature exposees on musical scenes, alongside photography.
Nick Cusworth: That was another one I was thinking about! We were talking about trying to do something like that in Denver and hit up some venues and bands there, but that was right around the time Jon’s life was going into hyperdrive (not surprisingly also around the time he was taking on more duties as an editor and actively managing/shaping our genre columns), and it just wasn’t going to be feasible anytime soon.
Scott Murphy: I started writing a Half-Life (our discography retrospective series) for Scott Walker after he passed away, but I ran into two issues. First, his output before he went avant-garde is extremely hit or miss, and the good albums (Scott 1-4) sound pretty similar. Most people care only about his new stuff these days, but it would have felt weird leaving out most of his discography in a retrospective post. Second, and maybe more importantly, his albums from Climate of Hunter onward are extremely bizarre and often unsettling. I wasn’t sure if I would have bandwidth or, frankly, the ability to fill analyze/understand what he was attempting to accomplish. Many of his lyrics are surreal and difficult to pin a specific message to. Plus I worried his discography might be too esoteric and I’d put in all this work for minimal views. Obviously I don’t write solely for readership, but it would be difficult not to feel disappointed when I put the time and effort needed to do the post justice only to have no one read it.
Jimmy Rowe: Oh I was supposed to collaborate with a band detailing their concept album’s story but after agreeing to do the piece they stopped correspondence. Maybe I’ll finish it one day for the album’s anniversary!
Simon Handmaker: had a really really cool interview with mike scheidt where we just talked about death metal and transcendental philosophy, and then i had to do a factory reset on my phone the next day
Brady asks: Given the quality of your written material, I don’t think it’s a necessity in any shape or form (which potentially answers my own question) but I’m curious to hear if doing video/film pieces for HBIH have been considered? I’m sure considerations for logistics and costs have to be made, just curious if it’s been floated.
Nick Cusworth: So by trade I am a video professional, and for a number of years concurrent with doing stuff for Heavy Blog I was also working freelance, which meant that I had a fair amount of time on my hands much of the time. I made a concerted effort for a while to really create a distinctive video production profile for us and did put up a lot of video content on our now-dormant Youtube channel.
Most of what I did was film multicam live sets at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, and I had started to branch out into producing other things like interview pieces, playthrough vids, etc (see also my response to Caroline’s question about features that never saw the light of day for a bigger feature I was hoping to produce). People were really receptive, and we were racking up a lot of views and notoriety for a lot of it.
The fundamental problem was though that producing high-quality video like this takes an incredible amount of effort, energy, and time. When I was earlier in my freelance career and actively hungry for projects to show off my skills and capabilities, it made more sense to do all of this stuff for free. Eventually it got to the point though where I realized I was lugging 50lbs of equipment on subways, killing my back by using shoulder cam rigs for hours on end, and spending hours and hours editing footage for really not all that much in return materially. I got completely burnt out, and worse, I was feeling extremely jaded about working as a freelance videographer/editor in NYC in general. The amount of exploitation that goes on and the competition for getting any sort of gigs or steady work was gruesome, and it was absolutely wreaking havoc on my mental health.
So at some point 3 or so years ago I decided I was done. I do miss it occasionally, and I wish it could’ve been more feasible for me to do that kind of work in a sustainable fashion, but overall I am much happier keeping a solid divide between my professional work and my Heavy Blog work. Nowadays I do more photo work for the blog, which exercises my creative muscles in other ways I really enjoy.
Brendan asks: When making a sausage sandwich (traditional hotdog or any such derivative thereof, and ignoring the sandwich debate), at what point do you add the onions? Before the sausage, after the sausage but before the sauce/mustard, or after the sausage and the sauce/mustard? Please respond.
Jonathan Adams: After the sausage, before the sauce. Gotta permeate, my dude.
Brady: After sausage, pre-sauce. Anything else is senseless violence
Brendan: Why not a base level of onions, held in place by the gravity of the sausage?
Brady: Nah, part of the art of eating said sandwich is the ability to mop it up onions and all. A true test of agility.
Brady: Officer? Yeah this guy, over here ^
Karlo Doroc: Snag, then onion, then sauce out of habit. Not opposed to onion, then snag, then sauce. Anything other than sauce last is a travesty i don’t even want to consider
Eden Kupermintz: Onion first, meat, sauce. Objective fact from god.
Brendan: This is where you say “actually the jews invented the sausage” or something to just really hit it home
Brady: *pulls up chair*
*sausage flavoured popcorn*
Eden Kupermintz: If you do sausage first, just say you don’t like onion, that’s OK. Just say you want the sauce to drown out the onion.
Brady: I can taste the onion more on top of the sausage tho
Eden Kupermintz: no because the sauce smothers it. When you put the onion on bottom, you get the perfect balance: you taste the sauce first and then crunch into the onion. When you put the onion on top, you’re just eating onion soggy with sauce.
Brendan: Brady explain the mechanism for this, considering you would eat it with the bun side first exposed to your tongue, presumably
Eden Kupermintz: I hope Nick puts this thread verbatim in the post [NARRATOR: “He did.”]
Brady: I can’t, it’s just what happens in my mouth! I’ve tried all these iterations and this is the only one that works for me
Matt MacLennan: Sauce, onions, meat, onions, sauce
Need to get that bread coagulated with K and M
Brendan I can understand why you would be angry, but don’t take any heed of me. My people boil offal in more offal as a national dinner delight.
Brendan: the only sauce based things permitted first on the bread are pesto, passata/tomato paste, or hummus
Eden Kupermintz: Yeah, I have long given up being shocked by anything Matt does. This is just the tip of the sauce soaked iceberg.
Matt MacLennan: That’s my secret. I’m always simmering.
Karlo Doroc: It is a dilemma. Do you want the greasy onion juices soaking into the bread or the greasy snag juices? Which is more flavourful? It’s a tough call, unlike the daily banning of Matt from the blog
Eden Kupermintz: It’s not a tough call Karlo, stop being a sausage centrist
I can’t believe I ate a steak with you.
Matt MacLennan: Sausage Centrist – New false goregrind from Australia
Karlo Doroc: > accuses others of being sausage centrists
> puts his sausage in the centre
I thought they taught logic in the school of bullshit philosophy
Matt it’s just a recording of people falling down staircases after slipping on fallen onion, must be why onion on top is BANNED in our country (i’m not even joking)
Matt MacLennan: I love that some of our national stereotypes are adhered to so militantly.
You lot really do take your BBQ meats seriously.
Eden Kupermintz: they do teach logic, bullshit logic
Brady: Not the wurst thread ive seen
Karlo Doroc: it is now