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|Rock in a Hard Place:
Shreds from a continuing Interview
with Editor Doug Van Pelt by Gord Wilson.
DVP: The economy took a bad turn about three years ago. At the same time, I think there was some sort of guru or think tank that came along and said, "Print is dying, print is dead. Magazines and books are going to go the way of the electronic reader and yada yada yada. Trust me, people. Don't spend your marketing dollars on print ads. Go online. Print is the dinosaur. Print is dead. Print is gone."
And I think all the Christian record companies in Nashville brought this invisible guru to their meetings, and they all drank the Kool-Aid, because pretty soon, four or five different record companies that used to always do an ad in HM--that all changed. When before we could count on two or three ads from the big Nashville labels, they were suddenly gone overnight. So our ad budgets and income shrank, and that's what caused HM's hardship.
GW: I hate that guru guy.
DVP: That guru guy is a banana. That's what he is.
GW: I'm sure it's also related to the cost of paper, things going to China, postal fees going up, and all the other things that hit magazines.
DVP: In February 2011 I sent out a press release to our readers and advertisers that HM is going from bimonthly, which is every two months, to quarterly, which is four times a year. That's a big move to try to keep print alive.
GW: But you also do have a lot more online at http://www.hmmag.com and all that.
DVP: We send out an e-mewsletter once a week. You can sign up for it free on our website. We have trivia questions and give away prizes. We have 8,000 subscribers to that. One thing I've found out is that people who read the print magazine, the people who get the e-newsletter, and the people who post comments on our website are all three different people. Different personalities are drawn to the different formats.
GW: I was looking at a review of Body Piercing Saved My Life, which I haven't read. Someone reviewed it on Amazon and said, "This made me want to read Doug's book, Rock Stars on God. So you must have something in there.
DVP: The guy who wrote the book is a really neat guy named Andrew Beaujon, who is a regular freelancer for Spin magazine and newspapers in the northeast. He didn't quite get the whole worship phenomenon, the way it's become a genre in Christian music in the last decade. And so, through a course of e-mails, he kind of said, "OK, so explain worship to me". I did my best to do so, I was very open and vulnerable, and covered charismatic worship, and this and that, and lo and behold, when I finally got the book, I saw that he used our e-mail discourse to show how he finally came to understand what worship was.
GW: Do you like the book?
DVP: Yeah, I love it. I think it's a great book. Highly recommend it. It's kind of an outsider's perspective on the Christian music scene. I always love that because you need an outsider to come in and look around and see things from a different angle than you see everyday. Because we're blind to stuff. So I love that angle, and appreciate that whenever I can get it, even if it's negative. But this one turned out great. I think it's a fantastic read. I was shown a ton of favor by just helping the reporter and doing an interview with him and whatnot.
GW: As a writer and editor, I really like physical books and print magazines. I still think there's a big audience for them. What's up with your book(s)?
DVP: I've got way too much on my plate. There are volumes two and three of the Rock Stars series coming. I've got a novel I've written that's in the can. I've got a children's book. I've actually got three book deals waiting to get published. I hope my novel can become a major motion picture. I've got a lot of hopes for that thing.
GW: What's up with HM ?
DVP: We've got 23 issues of the podcast, which is usually an hour long, and features music and songs in their entirety, and interviews. It's available free. One of our big projects is a new app where you'll be able to read the magazine, every issue, on the iPhone and iPad and Android and other new platforms. I'm launching a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the HM app, with some great deals on advertising.
GW: So advertisers better jump in now while you're sweetening the deal.
DVP: I'm rolling out a new concept, "The Whole Kitchen Sink". If someone buys a print ad of any size, they're going to get everything we offer thrown in free: the e-mail blast advertising, the podcast, the banner ads. They can have a spot they've prepared or we'll play a song or interview. We have a Twitter thing where we tweet a link, and we manage comments on the Facebook page. We have a text messaging service with subscribers set up, and we have 4,000 people on Facebook. All that with the lowest priced ad we offer, $135 for an eighth page, business card size ad, which is great for bands.
GW: Seems like a pretty good deal. I love reading HM, and if I had a band....
© copyright 2011 by Gord Wilson.
That was then;
This is now:
Vol. 1, Issue #5
Below: HM #108
|Rock Stars on God
Rock Stars on God: 20 Artists Speak Their Minds About Faith, by Doug Van Pelt, Relevant Books. Reviewed by Gord Wilson.(This is a slightly revised version of a review that ran in HM magazine, issue #108, July/August 2004).
In the '80s, when everyone knew that God was dead, one band for some reason didn't: Stryper. One fan didn't know it either: Doug Van Pelt. He started a magazine in his basement called Heaven's Metal and put Stryper on the cover. Twenty years and hundreds of bands later, Heaven's Metal goes by HM, which stands for "Hard Music," with thousands of subscribers to that shared amnesia.
HM always retained three things: an independent, underground feel; a rabidly loyal fanbase; and the metal. While other music magazines were trotting out their latest fashionable models, HM was always the musical muscle car. It was a place for metalheads and motorheads on the fringes of culture, misfits from the mainstream and deviants who never minded the bollocks and said the heck with changing trends. And Doug was never happier than lying under that car with a wrench in his hand.
Thanks to the damnableness of niche marketing, that all changed. It may be good for search engines, but it also means that those who most defy labels-- like Bono of U2 and Doug of HM-- are the first ones forced to wear them. Guitar World called HM "The Bible of Christian Rock." Really? That's a good thing? But who's going to buy "The Muscle Car of Metal Music Magazines?" While it's an open question which circle of hell niche marketers will occupy, I pray that HM never "makes it" and Doug never stops tinkering with his car.
Stryper sang their beliefs loud and clear, and so does Doug. His editorials could have been written by Billy Graham. But HM has always been more about questions than answers. What do you think is going on? What are you going to do about it?
Critics, when not patronizing, dismissed HM as stupid or irrelevant, the groupthink of like-minded fanatics. After all, Doug was singing to the choir. But there was one place in the magazine that charge wouldn't hold. For his "So and So Says" column, Doug interviewed famous rockers in a style that would now be called "in your face," but which punk singers probably found informal and relaxing.
Rock Stars on God collects twenty of the best interviews with rockers from Gens X, Y, and Z, including Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, Bad Religion, Static X, and Social Distortion, along with Boomers Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Kiss and Alice Cooper. The questions are not obvious, the answers by no means canned. Godsmack respects Doug's style as an interviewer; and there are places where it seems like Henry Rollins might clock him (like he did my friend Mike-- Mike's claim to fame). Different folks, different strokes.
"We are the first generation raised without God," writes Doug Coupland in Life After God. If Rock Stars on God is any indication, it's also a generation out to find Him. (Alert readers will note that the book title cleverly plays off of Mike Knott's song, "Rock Stars on Heroin").
HM Magazine Subscription
Left: The 100th HM issue!
Middle: We're not worthy!
Bottom: Link to HM Home
Read reviews of HM on Amazon:
The Only Magazine That Matters by Gord Wilson November 23, 2002 -(This is a slightly revised version of the original Amazon Review).
Once upon a time a Texas kid named Doug Van Pelt got an interview with an upcoming, young metal band called Stryper, and xeroxed a fanzine in his basement. That was Heaven's Metal. Now HM stands for Holy Mackerel--I mean, Hard Music. It's not just metal any more.
After Stryper pioneered the way, a lot of other great bands rushed down the trail--so many Doug had to make a bigger magazine to hold them all. After Doug pioneered the way, a lot of other great magazines rushed down the trail. A lot of great writers started writing about a lot of great bands. With so much to listen to, and so much to read, fans were in heaven.
But then it got hard. Some false prophet declared the end of print, and famine fell upon many 'zines. Doug walked sadly through the graveyard, strewn with once-proud writers, past the gravestones that bore the once-proud names: Swordbearer, White Throne, Harvest Rock Syndicate, Notebored, Counter Culture. Stricken to his soul, he looked up to heaven and cried out, "I am but one soul; what can I do?" Turning, he began to gather up the wretched writers, carrying them one by one to the shelter of his Texas home.
Today, the broken writers have been nursed back to health, and Doug lets them express their writing addiction in his magazine. There--did I do good, Doug? Can I go back to the kennel now?
RadRockers describes itself as "the boneyard of CCM" (but they mean gospel rock). "RadRockers caters to progressive musical tastes-- offering the widest selection of cool independent, underground and import radical CDs. We do not compete with your local store. We take over where they leave off. If they say it's "out of print" or can't get it, then check RadRockers.com."
RadRockers is where all those great albums go when they disappear off the face of the earth. Some very rare ones go up in price, but most of them go down, and sometimes you can get great deals from RadRockers. They run both a website and send out an e-letter. the On the site the CDs are grouped by price, or you can search under the last name of the artist or the name of the band. It also helps to make notes where you found a particular CD or search for it again.
The plus on the site is that it has a lot more info on the CDs. You can actually read reviews of every CD they sell. You can also get their e-mail letter which every so often shows up in your in box and lists all the new specials. This is one of the few e-mail updates I get, and one I look forward to, since it gives you some idea of where to start browsing on the site. RadRockers is doing a great service for everyone who loves great music and mourns that all those CDs have such a short shelf life in the stores.
One way to find out more about some of the bands and albums at RadRockers is in Mark Allan Powell's Encyclopedia of CCM (which includes a searchable database CD). I have a review of this book in the Books/Amazon Reviews section for anyone who is interested, and it's in the Living Dog Store under "A Reading Dog" in "Art and Media". Many of these bands and CDs also get write ups, reviews and interviews in HM magazine (see my review above).
Clicking the Amazon link enables you to get a subscription to HM through Amazon (nd read reviews of HM). This is good is you're going to get other stuff from Amazon anyway, but it may take as long as four months to start a subscription, so if you want to give HM as a gift, order it about six months before (no one will object to getting such a great magazine before their birthday). If you want your subscription quicker, click on the magazine picture to go to the HM website and sign up there. You'll want to check out their great website anyway, which has lots of stuff that's not in the magazine.