Tuesday, October 24, 2006

IMing With The Stars: Brian Raftery, editor of Idolator--part I

Idolator has made some serious waves in just a few months on the job with its snarky news stories, jabs at bloggers, and irreverent takes on music news. Much like sister/parent site Gawker, Idolator carries with it a love it/hate it vibe, and I get the feeling that the editors wouldn't have it any other way. After all, controversy generates hits like Cold War Kids MP3s! But seriously, I "sat down" for an iChat with Brian Raftery, editor of Idolator to talk about some stuff. Raftery has worked for GQ, SPIN, EW, and more, so he comes with a strong publishing pedigree to the online world. We discuss this, the Wire, Gerard's identity, choosing magazine covers, the new My Chemical Romance record (he likes it...and he's not the only one!), and more in this edition of IMing With The Stars! Here's part I:

Me: hello
Brian: hey there
Me: good time?
Me: bad time?
Brian: yeah, why not?
Me: cool
Me: okay…questions
Brian: my wireless is a little spotty today, so if it knocks out, it's not like I got angry and left
Me: cool
Me: So...why Idolator? Does the world need another music site?
Me: and why leave the mild-mannered world of magazine editing?
Brian: yep. well, it needs a *good* music site.
Brian: zing!
Brian: i keed.
Brian: but the real reason why i wanted to do it
Brian: was because there are a lot of great sites, but they all have their own niches, followings, obsessions. which is great, but i think there's a need for a more general-overview music site.
Brian: for people who don't spend all day reading 3,000 blogs.
Me: a clearinghouse, perhaps?
Me: I mean, there are blogs that do that, too
Me: what about the Fork or Tiny Mix Tapes or the like?
Me: snarky news stories, etc.
Brian: Well, I think even both of those sites are very interested in indie-rock as a main pursuit.
Me: yeah
Me: sure
Brian: weirdly, i think the best magazine-world example
Brian: would be blender
Me: really?
Brian: yep. whatever people think of the magazine, they can get away with rap, hip-hop, pop, alt-rock, classic rock, reissues.
Me: yeah, I see that
Brian: they haven't niched themselves into a corner.
Me: but so does Rolling Stone, right? Or SPIN?
Me: Blender has good review writers, for sure
Me: I think people forget that
Brian: Well, yeah...I mean Christgau, Powers, Douglas Wolk all review stuff for them
Me: yeah
Brian: As for Rolling Stone and Spin
Me: but overall their tone is completely superficial to me
Brian: blender's tone?
Me: yeah
Me: and that's not a bad thing
Me: just not for me
Me: I like that catalog review section in the back, though they were way off on the Kinks
Me: Kinda Kinks one star?!
Brian: ha! well, the music-writer world will never agree on the kinks
Me: after Muswell Hillbillies I am out and you are kidding yourself if you think any of that crap is even close to good!
that's my take
Brian: "come dancing" is a great karaoke song.
Me: Ouch...you got me!
Me: Rolling Stone and SPIN, though--sidetrack!
Brian: oh yeah: rolling stone's music coverage has been beefed up in the last few years, but it's more of a lifestyle/entertainment/politics mag, whereas blender is pretty much all music.
Brian: as for spin...it's a tricky one
Brian: spin, i think, covers the alt-rock world and subcultures better than any other mag.
Me: ultragrrrl drives me crazy
Brian: their problem, i think, is that it's hard to tell what "the kids" are into anymore, and whether said kids are worth following
Me: in a bad way
Brian: well, she's not there anymore.
Me: really?
Me: she was gone and then she was back
Me: and now she's gone?
Brian: no, she hasn't worked there regularly in over a year, but
Me: I don't understand that SPIN party section
Brian: pemberton, i think, brought her in. she certainly doesn't have a recurring column or anything
Brian: the party section's a mess. and i say that as an unapologetic spin booster
Me: I thought Sia was taking it in an interesting direction, but I got that year end list and it was all My Chemical Romance vs. Fall Out Boy
Me: so a major disconnect between the readers and the writers
Me: I am a SPIN supporter, too.
Brian: yeah, the disconnect is there, but I think MCR is basically going to win all of those people over on this album
Me: Of the big 3 (Paste, Harp, etc. excepted--I mean RS, Blender, SPIN), SPIN covers our artists the most
Me: they take the most chances
Me: I mean, they reviewed Paul Duncan and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone for us
Me: MCR is good?
Brian: new one is pretty good. i wish that guy would stop some of his vocal tics, but the songs are good
Me: I have never gotten one review in Blender!
Me: Are you just saying that?
Me: c'mon
Me: are you doing one of those writer "let
Me: oops
Brian: i'm listening to it now!
Brian: fourth time today.
Me: "let's pretend that System of a Down is good" things
Me: I hate that crap
Brian: well, that "everybody going to the party" song was great! didn't like much more by them
Me: WHY cover the Red Hot Chili Peppers and even act like they make a difference now?
Brian: me, i generally like what i like
Brian: but man, I guarantee you this:
Me: everyone at big mags bemoaning the state of the industry and then they kowtow to the LCD
Me: an Idolator guarantee?
Me: I like it
Brian: the red hot chili peppers probably sold more in one week than most of the paste/harp/magnet bands sell in a year..so that's the coverage
Me: sure
Brian: in the end, big magazines have to sell every month
Me: yeah
Me: I understand that
Me: but take a few chances
Me: and Panic! at the Disco is not taking a chance
Me: I think EW and SPIN do the most
Brian: true, but there's a trick that most magazines need to do. take a Brian: look at some of those spins from the '80s
Me: I loved that mag then
Me: I grew up with it
Brian: you'll see david lee roth, michael hutchence on the cover
Me: yeah
Me: madonna, too
Brian: they would put big stars on the cover, and them--bam!--a 3,000-word piece on nick cave on the inside
Me: and then the Pooh Sticks and GBV and Sonic Youth on the inside
Me: Totally true
Brian: yep. and that's the best way to make these things work. the problem is that there are very few big, big artists who are also really cool these days
Me: haha
Me: I agree
Brian: really! i mean, who would put on the cover of spin?
Brian: or blender?
Me: Radiohead ain't even that big anymore
Me: Beck maybe?
Me: it's tough
Me: think about the Beatles
Me: top with fans, critics, press, everybody
Me: same with the Stones
Me: U2 has come close
Me: REM for a time
Me: but, yeah, in the rock world--it's problematic right now
Brian: think about how small that big-star pool is
Brian: and then consider: 12 issues a year!
Me: now I'm depressed
Brian: i'm not defending panic at the disco, but it's hard
Me: oh yeah
Brian: the truth is, magazines need to get ready to become smaller
Me: I understand that decision
Brian: just like everyone else in the biz!
Brian: but yeah, panic at the disco just sucks as a band and as a youth movement
Me: it's the equivalent of Sigue Sigue Sputnik to me, but they had Moroder!
Brian: ha!
Brian: better haircuts, too
Me: and Moogs!
Brian: ha
Me: think about the Monkees--man, they were a killer fake band
Me: our real bands seem more fake than them
Brian: well, they had carole king/etc writing for them!
Me: Porpoise Song is one of the greats
Me: hey, what was your MCR guarantee a while back?
Brian: one of the best music-movie moments ever. i love that opening of head!
Brian: oh, and the guarantee was about chili peppers outselling
Me: oh yeah
Me: you are probably right
Brian: but i do like most of this MCR record
Me: although Harp cover star Tom Petty has sold a couple of records in his day!
Me: that's good to know.
Brian: that record is pretty good

Part II tomorrow!

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