Gorkana Insight & Analysis Team
Jo Kendall, deputy editor of Prog magazine, on knitting together the extremities of music, the magazine's makeover and why PRs need to do a regular sweep of newsstands.
Firstly, tell us a bit about Prog.
Prog magazine is trying to situate itself so that it's bringing progressive music (also known as prog) to people that want to hear it; this is music that hasn't been covered in a long time. The editor Jerry Ewing spotted a gap in the market and we decided that we wanted to find bands and give them a platform. In general, you get historical pieces about the genre in other magazines, but they had no reason to take it further. We're knitting the extremities of music together and packaging it in a proper way.
What is your remit?
I’m the production editor and the deputy editor. When content comes in, I read it and spell check it - I get the raw material, make sure it makes sense, put it onto the page, check the designs from top to bottom and then send it through to Jerry. It is a small team, (we only have three fulltime members of staff; an editor, an art editor and myself), so I also come up with marketing ideas, feature ideas, commission people, organise shoots, re-designs, staffing and finance. I also have to write web stories, organise competitions, and liaise with the cartoonists.
Who is the typical Prog reader?
We've done some market research; our readers are mainly older men with disposable incomes. It's someone who's been reading Classic Rock, or who hasn't read anything [of a musical inclination] since the 70s and is without direction. Prog is guiding people and exposing artists to the people that they need to be exposed to. They are usually people returning to music because there is a guide for them. What's more, they're back on it with a vengeance. There is so much for them out there now.
The magazine had a makeover in March - talk us through the changes and the key sections of the magazine.
We realised we could move away from the fonts and layouts used in our parent magazine, Classic Rock, so we looked for something that was retro and futuristic at the same time and was capturing something totally unique. We’ve also had Pete Fowler, who does the artwork from Super Furry Animals, doing some art for us. The readers were positive about it. In the magazine we have news, the columnists, ‘The Albums That Built Prog’ and the reviews sections - new albums and reissues, in addition to the live reviews. There is also the quiz at the back where it is fun to see how knowledgeable people really are. It’s about giving people ebb and flow and structure. Want to absorb yourself in something? You’ve got the features. You want to buy new stuff? Have a browse of the reviews. You want to have a laugh? Look at my captions. Lots of little bits and pieces, so it's easy to navigate through.
Which bits of the mag are the most PRable?
We need to know about new releases, tours and news. We still have a problem with bands coming through; we have to read about them in inappropriate places like the Islington Gazette. We’ll then have to ask the PR why we haven’t got hold of this band. In my opinion, PRs need to do a regular sweep of newsstands and find out what is out there. What’s more, PRs need to know who they are writing in to; if they take the time to find out who we are, not asking who the editor is (for example), that really helps. We also need PRs of new bands to look for us. If PRs think sensibly, and have an understanding of the magazine, then we have homes for things in Prog.
What is the best way for a PR to contact you?
Via email. Telephone is a little more tricky. We are always open to tea and cakes. If you’re an unrepresented band, get some proper product to Jerry, the editor, a nice press release and some good photos (because as a magazine, we have to have photos); downloads are problematic. You can also contact me, and for reviews there’s also Grant (Moon, reviews ed) as well. We are busy, but we do get to back to everyone. What’s more, we play everything to everyone in the office [which is shared by other music magazines] so everyone gets a listen. It usually catches someone’s ear.
What makes the perfect Prog news story?
Well ideally it’s a very popular artist doing something unique and special. News is weird in our world; the internet will usually break stories, but people are still excited when we comment on things. Our news stories are more feature-like, so we tell more of the news piece's context; we’ll, for example, go into the hows and whys of an album’s creation. To be honest, people are happy with any news story right now, because it’s talking about prog, and it’s getting the genre out there. There are also ‘non’ news stories, which are the bread and butter of music magazines. These usually cover musicians releasing an album or touring. We’re waiting for the scene to broaden, and then they’ll be more exciting things.
A new Prog website launched in April – how different is it to the magazine?
The website (www.progrockmag.com), like the music scene, is still in its early stages. There’s not a lot of rolling prog news and we can’t put features on the website, per se. We can put stuff up that’s run as fun things like the feature My Record Collection and we can talk to people with great progressive music collections. We also integrated Top of the Progs (a chart for progressive music) - Play.com got involved with that; we tell them what we're reviewing and they incorporate that into their figures. It adds some more infrastructure to the scene; it gives people direction, which is what smaller genres of music need. What’s more, it gives a sense of community. Facebook has taken off massively for us. People respond well on it, but we want to drive people towards the site. Twitter has worked very well as it connects people through hobbies and interests. You can lurk or you can join in.
Competitions are very popular in the magazine and online - what prize value do you want?
For the magazine we're hoping for something of the value of around £150 to £200. And also we like items that you can’t put a price on, like signed CDs and merchandise.
You have a long list of contributors - how do you work with them?
Everyone has a spot in the magazine and people tend to get in touch about what they want to write about. Jerry generates features ideas; we then think of who is the most appropriate. We also like get a load of new blood through. We trawl people’s work on blogs and get in touch with potential contributors via Twitter. We’re small enough so we’re not totally scrutinised and we can get people involved and give them projects to do. Writing culture seems to be dying off and we’re trying to breathe life into it.
And finally, what's the most unusual thing ever received from a PR?
We’ve had a few tins of biscuits and some nice German biscuits. Not very unusual but nice nonetheless!
Jo was speaking to Gorkana's David Keevill