CULTURE MUSICEditors Talk: The Past, Present, and Future of Mixmag
By Michael Greene
Since 1983 Mixmag has been one of the world’s biggest dance music and club culture media brands. Initially starting as a “DJ newsletter”, in the UK, Mixmag quickly transitioned into a global publication at one point reaching a circulation of 70,000 copies in the 90’s.
In this exclusive C-Heads feature, we sat down with the current U.S. CEO, Rebecca Jolly, and Editor, Nick Decosemo, to learn more about the current state of the music scene, the print industry, and the past, present, and future of Mixmag
Mike: As a major publication in electronic music, where do you see the future of music journalism headed?
Nick: Wow, let’s go from 0 to 100 straight away! From our personal experience I guess obviously MixMag’s journey has been: we were launched in 1983 and we started as a subscription fanzine for mobile dj’s in a completely different era and then over time with the acid house explosion starting in the U.K., and becoming this massive phenomenon, MixMag became like the in house magazine for that scene, and kind of grown and documented it all the way through the stage of it’s growth. But we were a magazine print entity you know? When I joined in 2007 we were still pretty much just a magazine, did things like events and selling cd’s and stuff like that, but we didn’t have a massive digital presence so I suppose the biggest change for us is how we transitioned from being just a print entity to being like a, well we had to transition the business from not going out of business, cause so many magazines did and also we had to become a rounded 360 degree entity that does digital and events and now all kinds of different stuff so I suppose the first thing would be fragmentation to a degree so it’s not just enough to produce a magazine and print it and sell it and sell advertisements.. this is just a tougher tougher and kind of almost unsustainable model. So you kind of need to be everywhere and do everything if that makes sense.
Rebecca: The consumption of media has changed, like people used to just plan and write your kind of articles and people would wait for it to come out and now people want it everyday and every morning, every minute, it’s about adapting to that because it changes the way the editorial is formed. It’s been a kind of adaption process.
Nick: Yeah and being really fluent and maneuverable I guess because you have to react you know if you look at previous history of media, print media didn’t really change for like 200 years. Photos went from black and white to color it was pretty static but now there’s a new development like every single week so you have to be able really fleet of foot and work around that. I think the other big change also is back in the day the media outlets had the big circulation where they had the big audience so artists had to go to the magazine, tv station, or radio or whatever to be heard, where as now lots of artists have an audience that actually dwarfs a lot of the media organizations, so you have to kind of think why would they want to work with a media organization if they can just talk directly to fans through their own facebook page or twitter or whatever. So you just have to think clever and got to work a lot harder, you got to be just clever about what you do. I think for us, what we’ve done and what we are lucky enough to have is kudos, credibility, and heritage, so even if artists on our cover have a million facebook followers or a social footprint that’s bigger than ours, there’s still only 12 artists that get to be on the cover of MixMag each year, and they love that.
Rebecca: No matter how much we talk about the fact that the print industry is going out of business, it still has so much value and for every dj it’s the ultimate credibility for them to be on the cover of the magazine and maybe the circulation of the actual print magazine has reduced over time, it’s still what everyone wants and what everyone wants to take home and show their mums, and that’s never going to die. I think moving forward, I reckon it’s just just going to be more of the same where people’s attention spans shorten and are so overwhelmed by how much of the media information they have I the evolution, while we maintain what he have before articles are going to get shorter, the volume is going to increase and it’s just going to continue. The distribution of people changes and they don’t come to the same places for their information as they get served in different ways and that’s what we need to move with
Nick: Yeah and I think the key word is curation as well so like Rebecca said there’s so much digital data smoke and their bombarded with all of these options, so you know for us one of our primary roles is to be that guide for people to take into the best stuff, do the incisive, or make them laugh about something or whatever really, and kind of be the filter you know? I think that’s going to be big, the curation aspect of it, that’s an important thing for everybody.
Mike: How do you adapt to the actual individual interest – there’s so many people out there, so many different genre’s, the music scene is so saturated. How do you guys adapt to the individual in order to stay relevant?
Nick: You know what, I think you do it almost by ignoring them if that makes sense…
Rebecca: You have to stay true with what MixMag is and people will kind of explore everything else around it and kind of come back to that, we just keep telling the story and the evolution of electronic music and it’s always there and it’s always evolving.
Nick: I think you’re right, when you have infinite choice to stand out, you have to stand for something ]? As our editorial team, we got a very focused idea on what we think is good and what works and I think you just have to stay true to that, and over time the people will come to you, as long as you’re doing quality stuff and you hold your ground, you do stuff that you believe in. I think that in this world of infinite choice, you can lose your way.. we use all the techniques and tactics to stay true to your core values.
Rebecca: We’ve grouped and discussed whether we kind of embraced a broader field of music or whether we kind of go down an EDM path as it were or whether we try and pass down it wider, and the decision always comes back to the fact that “no this is what we know, and this is what we do “, and we shaped the history of this music scene really, and we will continue to do so and I think staying true to it and it kind of retains it.
Mike: Originally starting strictly as “direct to DJ’s” and not for the general population, how do you think you evolved into being for the everyday person?
Nick: Different members of our audience consume us in different ways, so the magazine for an example is almost like a trade magazine because it’s a very good well designed well written trade magazine, but in many ways it’s like people actually go out and spend money on buying the magazine or either dj’s themselves or aspiring dj’s or promoters, or someone who has got a really pretty strong interest in it, where previously you would have people on the side who were just casual clubbers who wanted to go out and enjoy the scene and they would buy MixMag to see if there picture was in it where as now, if you want to see pictures of people at clubs you go on instagram. The print aspect is die hard, prosumer is the wanky marketing term, and our wider audience we communicate digitally with. We’ve got 4 million views on our website a month among our 600,000 facebook followers and that is the more kind of consumer facings, slightly more passive and not so deep in it as all aspiring dj’s. Our facebook audience is remarkably different than our twitter audience, and our sound cloud page is the biggest non-artist page with an audience of about 1.4 million followers.
Rebecca: Apart from the website, our biggest audience now is the video network audience, our Youtube audience “MixMagTv” and that’s where all our die hard fans to our passive fans go, and everyone is watching the live streams we do and all the content we produce, whether it’s someone tuning in to watch every single episode or someone using it as a background soundtrack to their night out or get ready, that’s where we noticed 50 million people so far have watched our live streams since we started the lab recently the last couple of years so that’s actually a different kind of audience all together so you don’t want to necessarily read about everything what’s going on but enjoy the music and artists we select.
Mike: Do you think that’s where it’s all gonna go? Direct to video or direct to youtube?
Rebecca: I think it’s going to grow, and the balance will shift towards that but like I said before that the balance will be the percentage orproportion of video for sure.
Nick: I mean different people like different things for sure and some people like the funny quirky stuff and some people like the more polemic, in depth pieces, and some people just want to go on our soundcloud and find what new tunes are coming out, we have a really well curated soundcloud page. We just launched a spotify radio show and with two of our star staff members from London and it’s fantastic and we’re really gotten behind it, and then some people like to sit on the toilet and read the magazine as well.
Rebecca: It’s just the fact we use to have a singular focus which was creating the magazine and now we have so many and an increasing number of channels that our biggest challenge for opportunities is just making sure we have the right content for the right media for those channels, and it seems to be working so far. It’s the evolution of the content and editorial side of it.
Mike: How do you stay relevant across country to country, being an international publication with all these social channels – you have the print publication, the videos, how do you determine what will be relevant?
Rebecca: That’s definitely a challenge and I mean what we’ve in historically we licensed MixMag in different countries so we do have in key countries so we had that international component, but the U.S is obviously the most key market for us outside of where we started in Europe and that’s why to do that and to do that effectively we’ve had to build a team here and physically move there. We’re building an editorial team on the west coast and the east coast so you can actually serve that relevant content to people. Our social channels are still global and as we evolve we might end up having to change that, but right now it works and I think focusing on Europe and the U.S and we just kind of moved and opened the lab in Sydney, obviously they are English speaking countries so it work. Even something we encountered in the last month, we’ve grown here and need to increase the volume across our channels and everything we’re putting out and figure out with content is most relevant for people and how to target everyone without overdoing it on the most relevant media.
Nick: I think what I can add to that is that, firstly we only employ people that get it, so every member of the team gets it – if you cut them they’ll bleed beats, living and breathing dance floor machines. For our franchises they’re all extremely vetted and we have our brand guidelines. A lot of the stuff we do is global content, even if you’re writing about a cool grime club in London, there is a kid in LA that wants to hear about that so we really do exist in this global village, so that’s kind of what it is. You just monitor stuff and listen to local sensitivity’s and work out what’s going to work originally.
Rebecca: I think the more we can tell the global story, the world is tiny these days so it’s actually really relevant for people to be reading what’s happening in France and New York and vice versa but I think that’s our job to tell the global and take it to the global, and I think as long as we’re doing that in a relevant way it is appealing to everyone.
Nick: It’s a global community – from when I started going out clubbing, back in the steam and cart days (laughs), you really felt like you were part of this community along with everyone. You were doing this cool slightly maverick thing and really felt apart of something. and now with communications and the web it is genuinely a global community. We’re bringing together these wonderful fans and communities into lifestyle, and they’ll connect whether they live in Capetown or California or London.
Rebecca: It’s cool now cause we can write about Capetown or India and people will read it and travel there and it is really is relevant. It’s amazing.
Nick: A lot of people use our live streams for parties as well. They’ll sit and get drunk and dance which is amazing!
Mike: Where do you think blogs come to play among this kind of world of publications? I feel that especially now because of Instagram and Facebook, the magazine world is also saturated just like there are thousands of music genres now…
Rebecca: I definitely think it makes things harder and for also someone like us who’s been around for 33 years I think we all still have a place in that and I think it’s very easy entities to come and go, but I think we’re in a very fortunate position and we have that longevity and heritage and we have that proven reason and history to be around, and a well respected voice, and we’ve been like that for so long. I think it’s brilliant that people can have platforms to speak how they want, and I think we can live alongside that in a good way.
Nick: I think it’s like anything, the cream will always rise to the top, and there are some terrible blogs and then there are some amazing blogs, Pitchfork was a blog when it started! I think there’s a lot of crap equally, but if something’s really good it will prove itself. I think to have that credibility, it works really well for us, but that’s the 33 years of hard work and building a brand, and being solid of doing good work and rising to the top for those reasons. If you’re not good you won’t have good quality stuff and you won’t have an audience.
Mike: What do you think the importance of a blog is and how do you think those lines are blurred between the actual blog verses publication?
Nick: There are so many blogs that started out as one man shows and were really good one person shows to that extent, and over time it’s good to have that robust critique and people talking about stuff, but ultimately it’s just comes back to quality.
Rebecca: There’s so much noise out there and everyone has an opinion but how do you cut through that? How do people figure out where to go for what and I think that’s great to have this landscape where we are in a great position for authority and kind of broaden our sections around that.
Nick: It’s a great recruiting ground for new talent. I’m not dismissive of any of it, you know, there’s good and there’s bad.
Mike: Going from the blog world to an actual publication, you need a lot of money, changing gears a bit, where blogs can run on strictly ads and back in the day you guys did probably run on strictly ads, but now you know the world’s changing and there’s digital. Brands throw events every week, so how do you guys float among all of this?
Rebecca: We still sell the print magazine and there’s ad revenue that comes with both the digital and online publications. It’s actually interesting the evolution and how you finance a business like this. Whether it can be something dismissed as overly commercial, we work with a lot of brands and the reason that they work with us is that they come to us for a really credible authentic connection to the audience and we only work with brands that we feel really understand the values and give us the freedom to do what we want to do. We;re working on Smirnoff with these labs and they haven’t tried to change it or corporatize it and there an amazing brand in that they know we’re going to do this great. They facilitate some of the work we do and that’s somewhat the evolution of it, working with brands. We’ll create an event and distribute through our channels, and live stream, etc. We’re not a media agency but we can kind of function in that way. We’re experts in the electronic music scene where we can offer a lot to find the perfect audience. It’s a really great opportunity for us to keep revenue flowing and because of that we can continue the events, the lives streams, etc, etc. We’ve come a long way with brands and have learned how to do it right where you don’t alienate the audience and let them think they’re being bought by a brand. I think we’ve done it right thus far where brands don’t attempt to control us and allow everything to flow.
Mike: You mentioned Smirnoff as more corporate, what do you think of yourselves as?
Rebecca: We’re a business but we’re definitely not corporate… far from corporate (laughs). We have more of an understanding working with more corporate companies and that’s why brands want to work with us, they need the people who are out on the streets and in the clubs and in front of these audiences, who work with music all of the time. We’ve adapted to be able to speak their language. We still have the freedom to do it how we want to do it and we don’t have to confirm to regulations. We run this as passion and brands see that.
Mike: Going back a few years, in the early 2000’s, you guys had a record label?
Nick: Yeah I mean not so much, but we have and still released a bunch of cover CD’s
Rebecca: That was one of the first things I remember about Mixmag! When I was at university everyone had the cover CD and would wait to get them. I’d walk down the halls and everyone would be playing the tracks and it’s actually one of those things that stuck in your mind, because they are so iconic.
Nick: This is pre-soundcloud and pretty internet so it’s less of a commodity now, but it was a real asset and we recently stopped doing the Cd’s because nobody has CD’s anymore. We replaced it with a snazzy little download card and it’s quite cooler and a collectible thing. The artist on the cover always creates the mix. When Mixmag first launched it use to come with a tape called the MegaMix which was like a cassette tape, and then Mixmag also did the very first legal compilation CD’s. We used to sell them and was called the Mixmag Live series. Now a lot of our CD’s are cover mixes and go through iTunes and are sold through outlets as that. We have a label in that aspect but we aren’t trying to sign artists. We’re staying agnostic.
Mike: Cool, any last things to add?
Rebecca: We’ve always been here and have covered what’s gone on in the scene. It’s great that we now have a presence here in the states and we’re really exciting for how things are coming along so far as it’s all coming full circle.