Jordan Baker - Pastepunk
1. What is your name/publication/title?
Jordan A. Baker, Editor/Owner of Pastepunk
2. When did you start up? What was your intent in starting a webzine?
Pastepunk started in October 1998 when I was a freshman at the University of Maryland. The original idea behind the site was to create a webzine in a similar format to Maximum Rock N Roll (MRR) with columns, interviews, scene reports, reviews and ads. It never quite worked out that way, but as the site grew in its early years it covered the Long Island (where I grew up) and DC punk and hardcore scenes with great detail. Coverage went ‘national’ around 2001. I was motivated to the start the site during my first semester of college because I found myself to be a somewhat lonely straight-edge kid learning the ropes of a new scene while being surrounded by a stereotypical college drinking environment. I was looking for an escape, an outlet and hoping to find a comfort zone.
3. In the time you've been publishing, what do you feel has been the biggest change in the music scene/industry? How has this impacted your reporting of it?
It’s hard to believe that when Pastepunk first started the MP3 barely existed on a commercial scale and word “blog” hadn’t been coined yet. The changeover to digital downloads, streams, niche vinyl-oriented labels and the advent of social media is something on a magnitude that sometimes leaves me speechless. (doesn’t happen often!). The gatekeeper has been slayed, but it’s not altogether clear that bands looking to earn a living wage from their music are any better off, and the financial risks/rewards of running a label seem even more acute . The sheer overload of new music has had a profound effect on own my internal struggle to keep Pastepunk active. When someone can subscribe to a service like Rdio or Spotify for $5 a month and have access to some 18-20 million songs, the role of a webzine or a blog is to become a shepherd and it can be a constant struggle to break through the noise. The other major change for me has been witnessing how much more effort bands and labels must go through to market themselves. The expectations are enormous, compounded through each tweet, Facebook post or Tumblr page. Everything is “now, now, now”... I know that’s not endemic to just the music world, but it’s all consuming.
4. Do you think the decline in sales of print-based music magazines is partly due to the rise of webzines? Do you think webzines themselves are now dropping off in favour of something newer?
I would pin the decimation of the print industry on the internet in general, not just webzines. The internet has been a grand time-consuming monster and has fundamentally changed how people consume their entertainment. The entire distribution network for print publications is a shell of itself and financially, it makes little sense to start or maintain a print publication if you’re below a particular readership/subscriber threshold, and even then, some of the more popular magazines like Alternative Press, Revolver and Outburn seem like they get thinner and thinner by the month. The only print music magazines that I still read are specialty publications like The Big Takeover, which only comes out a few times a year and comes crammed with 200 pages of incredible content, or Razorcake, which is the still kickin’ ‘from the ashes’ offshoot of the late, great Flipside. A print zine can still exist, but I think only very rare contexts, such as the long-dormant zine Rumpshaker returning for its 6th issue, which turned out be more like a book of long-germinating material, than a traditional new-content magazine. There’s a different audience involved with a project like that. I still subscribe to Alternative Press (have been a regular reader since 1995), but I relate to it less and less. It’s a weird deal when the only thing that largely excites you in a magazine are its retrospective, historical and flashback pieces.
I think webzines themselves are on the downslope as well. It takes an enormous amount of time and effort to maintain a daily site and there’s very little advertising money available to support sites anymore. We went entirely ad-free in January 2011 - officially putting ourselves back into the hobby category with no real obligations to anyone else. With the whole music overload thing, there’s simply too much information. We’re a fairly small presence on the web, and every weekday is at least another 200 or so press emails. How can anyone stay on top on things? News is old online in three days. I know that I have experienced more than a few moments where I felt like I could accomplish whatever I wanted with Pastepunk through our Twitter account and not bother with the rest of the site. A final aspect is that bands and labels are taking on greater roles in creating content, assembling bigger and better album trailers, more elaborate promotions, and much like professional sports teams, “controlling the message”. It can be hard to compete...
5. In terms of your readers, do they show any preference for any specific types of content? Do they favour multimedia features (mp3s, podcasts, videos, etc) or more traditional content types?
We’re sort of an odd duck I would say among webzines since Pastepunk is now in the elder stage of “posting whatever the hell we want whenever we get around to it.” Outside of our contributing writer James Hepplewhite, it’s just me, and I’m a full-time attorney for a federal agency and married father of two young boys. If our readers show any preference for anything, I’m not sure I would even notice. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve kept blinders on and have mostly resisted forays into creatig my own multimedia content. My philosophy for at least the past five years has been to just write about stuff I like or find funny. It’s all editorial commentary more or less, mostly light-hearted, but occasionally withering, in the context of the cloistered independent music community. I am immensely grateful for the ability to embed content such as YouTube videos or Bandcamp/Soundcloud streams. I’ve always been a person who has been driven to tell others what I am listening to or find worthwhile and there’s no better way to do that than put that content right in front of the reader.
6. How have online commenting systems developed since you've been publishing? Have you taken any steps to “manage” the community of fans posting on your site?
Pastepunk has never really embraced a commenting community. For almost a decade we didn’t have any comments on the site and tried to direct readers to become members on our Mods Under Protest message board, which has had a close-knit group of people for a long, long time. Unlike Punknews or Absolutepunk we’ve never been an objective news site, we’ve been a pure fanzine and so I am not surprised we never grew a large community aspect. I’ve always presented our content as a ‘take it or leave it’ kind of thing, and while I obviously value the opinion of our readers, I never wished that element would become part of Pastepunk’s identity. Just this year we added Twitter and Facebook integration in our posts and the Twitter aspect has helped drive extra traffic to the site and grown the Twitter account. I want to note that some of my favorite Pastepunk-related interactions occur over Twitter and Facebook now - the real-time personal feedback from when content goes live has a thrilling appeal.
7. What do you think the future is for web publishing? Do you have any plans to cater for users on different platforms (mobile devices, social networks, apps like Spotify)? Would you ever consider experimenting with print?
I wish I had a thoughtful answer about the future of web publishing, but I try hard not to think far ahead about these things. I do know that there is still a viable market for the written word and that people crave high-quality writing and media content. If you’re a sports fan, one can look no farther than the immediate success of the long-form journalism site Grantland in seeing the demand for top-notch sports/pop-culture journalism. The musical jungle is only getting denser and publications will be there to help chop through the thicket. As great as the music recommendation engines and algorithms are in the online music world and social media context, there has to be some human validation, and word of mouth only goes so far, especially now that we are in a world built around our own silos of interest. People will still crave a commercially unbiased opinion. What Spotify is doing with artist and label focused apps is pretty interesting and I see this model spreading elsewhere, where publications can help take their curator role to the next logical destination. One of the neat new innovations to spring recently came from Bandcamp’s Discoverinator, which allows you to sort through “best selling”, “newly added”, and “artist-recommended” categories (and then sorted by genre). The “artist-recommended” tab is most compelling to me because it it seems innate that we would trust the crowdsourced judgment of a wide variety of artists. I have spent a lot of time cruising through that section and finding new music to enjoy. As for print - I’ll always have my accordion folder full of MRR, Punk Planet, Law of Inertia, and Flipside zines to page through when I feel like revisiting my teenage years.
8. Anything you’d like to add?
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this discussion. Pastepunk turns 14 in just a couple of months and I cannot overstate what it’s like to have a hobby for so long that has been so fulfilling, both privately and publicly. Life features a never-ending soundtrack and every day we’re just looking around for the right playlist.