When Andy Pemberton came to New York in 2001 to help launch Dennis Publishing’s new music mag, Blender, he says he felt that the music mags on the market were tired and arduous. He couldn’t understand how music writers could take something that he thought was “the most fun thing” and make it tedious. And so, with Blender, which combines the beer and babes sensibility of Dennis's best-known title, Maxim, with the glamour, glitter, and bling of popular music, he set out to create a music monthly that stretches those boundaries. Nearly half a million readers later, he spoke to mediabistro.com about his editorial style and the future of the music business.
Birthdate: March 5, 1969
First section of the Sunday Times: Front page
How did you get into music writing and editing?
I've loved music since age 11. I was the music editor of my student paper, and at age 18 I started freelancing for the Daily Telegraph. That was my first paid assignment. I wrote a think piece about Kylie Minogue, defending her to the hilt.
Who are some of your favorite music writers?
I like a lot of English writers. There's Adrian Devoy, a feature writer. He's a very funny, slick writer, and his copy almost reads itself. Danny Eccleston is another quality writer. I like Lester Bangs, but he was sort of a one-off. He's not part of the larger publication scene and that's sort of his point. When people say, "I like Lester Bangs," you always groan and think, "Well, OK." Otherwise, as far as music is concerned, I really like most of the writers we publish at Blender.
What is Blender's editorial mission, and how does that mission separate Blender from other magazines?
Primarily, we have a massive review section, and that is a palpable difference. We review between 150 and 200 CDs per issue, which is a great deal more than our competitors. It's about 25 or 30 in Rolling Stone, so that’s the obvious difference. Also, we like to take music seriously, but we don't like to take the musicians particularly seriously. We have fun with them because music and writing are supposed to be fun. We expect bands to do stuff with us, like going out and spending $848, or going on a double date with us. There's a whole list of things that we expect them to participate in with us. We'll roll them a ball, and hope they roll it back to us. Last year we set up a double date with the Russian pop stars TatU, and they were horrible, the worst date ever, absolutely nasty behavior. But it's punk rock, and I think that's the idea.
Entering a market with established names like Rolling Stone and Spin, what did you feel was missing, why did you feel there was a place for Blender?
It was my personal feeling that the existing magazines didn't reflect the emotions one experiences when listening to music, the enjoyment and thrill of pop music. I thought that they were lifeless and overly studious and they were just sort of trashing the pleasure of listening and reading. I thought it was extraordinary that you could take something that was probably the best fun in the world and make it seem so boring. That was really the massive difference; it's not boring, it's fun.
Have competing magazines responded to the success of Blender?
It is fair to admit that Rolling Stone has changed. They've got a British editor now, and a British art director. Plus the front section is more lively, and they review more albums. I'll be the first to admit that.
Do you have the same target audience as other Dennis Publishing mags, like Maxim and Stuff?
Well, we do have women subscribers, though some women do read Maxim. Still, Blender is largely aimed at men, because men buy more records than women. Generally, we aim at men in their twenties, and, though it is the same age demographic as Maxim, our readership is fundamentally different from the Maxim readership.
How do you adequately cover all of the types of music your readers enjoy?
Our motto is, "We are the white hot center of pop," so we cover what's popular and exciting. In that way, it's quite easy to determine editorial content. Also, we think that our readers are open to all types of music, so we want to cover everything.
So you cover acts like 'N Sync and Britney Spears along with The Strokes and 50 Cent?
Definitely. Britney Spears is going to be our next cover, though we tend not to cover boy bands—that and country are the only two genres we really don’t cover. But we would do a piece on Justin Timberlake.
Our readers fit generally into two groups. The 18-to-24-year-olds like one kind of band and then the 25-plus group likes a different kind of band. There are few artists that bridge that gap. Eminem is one good example. We are not a lifestyle magazine, like Maxim. You could live in Timbuktu, but as long as you can read English, you'll get something out of Blender. We don’t assume anything about our readers except that they have an interest in music.
There's a new music magazine, Tracks, which is marketed to an older listening audience. Does this magazine affect you?
It is a totally different audience; however, we do cover album reissues. Before us, no other magazines did that. We like to maintain a wider presence, but I think that it would also be a good idea to do a Mojo-like magazine in America.
Do you think that the Internet is inhibiting the sale of CDs?
People don't want this stuff for free. There are a few people in colleges and stuff who get a thrill out of downloading stuff illegally, but most people will pay 60 cents for a song they download. It's only 60 cents, and most people are more than happy to pay for it. Before record labels endorsed music licensing, people were downloading music for free because there were no other options. It was a great piece of technology. I mean iTunes is successful, and that seems to be the way things are going, record companies are finally realizing that they can be involved in websites that charge for tunes and still be financially viable. Regardless, the CD will still exist, just in reduced circumstances. It will perhaps be similar to movies. You can experience a movie in a variety of formats—at the cinema, on DVD, or VHS.
Does this ability to get individual songs off of the Internet ruin the concept of the album?
If you make a good album, I will buy the album, and if you make a good song, I'll buy the song. If you make a lousy album, I won't buy it. What I mean is that many albums are not albums, but a collection of songs, and many times only one or two of those songs are decent. Fortunately, the market has found a way to give people what they really want, which is good music. So, in a way, the idea of the album was dying because it was being exploited by the record companies. Also, the consumers were also being taken advantage of because they had to buy the whole album for two tracks. On the other hand, a really great album will always sell a lot of records because it is a good item. People want a permanent item. The digital camera is a great product but people want a physical paper copy, they want this thing in their hand. You can store media on your hard drive, but it's just not the same.
Do you anticipate that digital music will change Blender's content? Do album reviews mean the same thing when people are only picking and choosing which songs they’re buying?
Definitely in the future, but currently we’re taking a wait-and-see position. Again, I'm not totally convinced that the CD will vanish, certainly not in terms of personal demand. So it’s wait and see.
David S. Hirschman is the news editor of mediabistro.com and a freelance writer and editor. You can subscribe to Blender here.