The one-two punch of declining ad sales and digital downloads has bloodied the noses of music magazines and their record-label advertisers. In times of trouble, Wu-Tang Financial says “You gotta diversify,” and that’s exactly how the magazines are coping.
Vice Records, an offshoot of culture and music publication Vice magazine, now releases music from Bloc Party, the Streets, and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The Fader magazine’s Fader Label has released albums by hip-hop poet and emcee Saul Williams and UK rock band Editors. Filter magazine’s Filter US Recordings boasts a low-key, impressive roster that includes Icelandic indie darlings Sigur Rós.
But reporting objectively on their own bands comes down to a gentlemen’s agreement, according to company heads. “Vice tries to keep each identity separate,” says Alan Shore, former TVT A&R man turned general manager of Vice Recordings. “The magazine rarely covers Vice artists.”
Alan Sartirana, a publisher of Filter, concurs. “The only perk is free ads in the magazine,” he says. “It’s never like we blatantly cover our own artists. That’s never an issue.”
Instead, Sartirana and others push their acts into the pages of their friendly competitors. Vice’s Bloc Party recently made it into Filter, and five other Vice artists made The Fader‘s cover. Fader Label in turn will release a seven-inch featuring a song from Vice’s own Black Lips.
People should consider Filter and the others much more than magazines, says Saul Williams, who is good friends with folks at The Fader, which put out his most recent self-titled release, and also boasts a film division. “The people who run The Fader magazine are actually record execs,” Williams says. “Rob Stone was the A&R that signed Biggie, and John Cohen, the other half of The Fader, was the A&R that signed Jeff Buckley. The reason why Fader has its affinity towards music is because it’s run by people that were in the music industry that escaped it because they didn’t like it that much. Then, with the burgeoning of all this independent shit, they decided they could start a label.”
Shore of Vice says A&R has become these magazines’ strength. “I really care about the people at Filter and Fader,” he says. “They’re all people that really care about good music. Magazines are going through a hard time, and so is the record business. It would be nice if both areas can grow together.”
For the moment, at least, it’s all a big love fest. The magazines say they’re in it more for the music than any income the records might bring. “We put out music just because we like it, not what sells,” Sartirana says. “We’re not about that. We’re about providing an outlet for good music.”
But while these publications are indeed putting out some exceptional records with the help of experienced people, the indie ethos they project may not last forever. Williams says he is all for the label spinoffs, but cautions that commercial success changes things: “Once any artist they put out experiences a huge amount of success, before they know it they’re more on the executive side than they ever bargained for. It’s all inevitable if we put our energy in that direction.
“Fuckin’ Jimmy Iovine, who runs Interscope and puts out the Black Eyed Peas and all this shit, used to produce Patti Smith albums,” he continues. “He used to be very cool at one point.”
If the indie-label magazines can manage to keep their cool, so much the better.