Hello and welcome to this week’s final installment of our Blogger Spotlight series. Keeping with our theme of trying new things, this time around we’re interviewing two people in a single post! Before we get to that however, I want to remind everyone that we’re always seeking recommendations for future editions of this column. If you know of a site or writer who would be perfect for this series, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story.
Lueda Alia and Nick Stetina are two people I have never met, but their names are likely on the radar of every blogger and record label in North America (and beyond). Since launching Made Of Chalk these two have been forging new territory in the ever-growing realm of video news coverage, and in doing so placed themselves on the forefront of the digital journalism evolution. They’re not the biggest site in the game just yet, but they’re growing faster than most with no signs of slowing anytime soon, and we’re thrilled to share their journey(s) with you this afternoon.
If you would like to stay informed on everything Lueda and Nick are creating, be sure you bookmark and frequent Made Of Chalk. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.
H: For those unaware, please state your name, the site you work for, and your role at said site:
L: Lueda Alia. I’m the CEO of Made of Chalk, and I’m an editor on AbsolutePunk net as well.
N: Nick Stetina. I am VP of Made of Chalk and head the Chalk TV series.
H: I think you’re out first Canadian to be spotlighted! Do you recall the first time you fell in love with music?
L: Way to make a girl feel flattered eh! Thank you! I really appreciate you taking the time to feature us. Anyway, I fell in love with music when I was really young. My earliest memories revolve around Pet Shop Boys, Madonna and Michael Jackson. I used to dance to their music whenever I got the chance; for some reason, their music induced an euphoric-like state for me. My passion for music only grew stronger, and I eventually started to play the piano at age 7.
N: For the record, she really says “eh”. It’s real.
H: Made Of Chalk is a relatively new site, but you have been writing and networking within music for several years. How did you get your start?
L: Believe it or not, it all began on the forums of AbsolutePunk. I’ve been visiting the site since October 2002, and I was always a forum regular. I eventually got to know Jason a bit more in 2005, and I became a moderator. Shortly after, he noticed that I would always nag about how there wasn’t enough “indie” music coverage on the site — I began to listen to indie music pretty heavily toward the end of 2003, and I could tell that it was only a matter of time before that kind of music became “it,” if you will. Jason offered to make me an editor so that I could cover indie music since many forum regulars had started to get into that music, and so that AP could attract a new and different demographic. While intimidated at first, I eventually accepted (fact: I only accepted when he simply changed my account to “staff” without my knowledge!); the decision to become involved AP.net changed my life, and it eventually led me to where I am at now: a career in the music industry. I’m beyond thankful for the opportunity I received, not only because of where it led me, but because the experience on the site taught me to never give up because hard work does pay off (as you can imagine, AP readers weren’t exactly into the sort of coverage I was providing!). I have also met so many incredible people throughout this journey, and that’s also something that I’ll always be thankful for.
N: Eda and I had built a friendship over music in the AP.net community. In the summer of 2012 I had decided I wanted to start doing in-studio sessions for bands on tour coming through Chicagoland. I mentioned this to Eda and she revealed that she had intentions to create a new music website. It became pretty obvious that joining forces was a no brainer!
H: Speaking of the site you oversee, what inspired you to create a new site?
L: After working on AP.net for 7 years, I felt as though I had done all I could for the site in terms of indie coverage. I began toying with the idea of having my own multi-media website, which would focus on indie music (fun fact: MoC was meant to be an AP.net sister site originally).
H: As far as I know, this is the first site you’ve ran. When did you realize you desired a leadership role, and how has your approach to writing changed now that you’ve taken on new responsibilities?
L: Besides being an editor on AP.net, I was also heavily involved with running and managing the site. That experience taught me the ins and outs of running a site, if you will, so I felt confident enough that I could run my own, separate, team also. The biggest challenge I’ve faced is not having enough time to be a “writer” and promote music the way I used to, because I am also taking care of everything else that happens in the background. Thankfully, I’ve had an amazing team (Hi Nick and Gina!) behind me who have helped manage and coordinate the website with me. It’s worked out pretty well so far!
H: There are more and more music sites by the day it seems. What does Made Of Chalk offer readers that they cannot find elsewhere on the web?
L: You couldn’t be more right. Now that I’ve started to work as a publicist also, I became aware of the ridiculous amounts of music blogs out there. It’s actually mind blowing to me, to be honest, but in a good way. It’s amazing to see how many people are passionate about music. Anyway, while MoC offers the traditional editorial coverage (i.e. reviews, interviews, news posts, etc), what truly makes us stand out is our Chalk TV. Our videos are pretty incredible, and they are unique in the sense that not many sites offer that sort of coverage. Because of that, we have finally found our niche, and we plan to launch MoC v.2 pretty soon! Plenty of blogs cover everything there is to cover, so we want to stand out by focusing on our biggest asset. We’ll also be rolling out some great features and playlists with the new version of the site, so stay tuned!
N: I’m going to answer this more in terms of media…there’s some really great publications that run video series’ of in-studio sessions and/or backstage acoustic performances with bands. While we’ve done a few of these, and focusing on in-studio videos was actually our initial intention, we found ourselves falling into filming bands actual performance at shows. This proved to be more conducive to bands busy tour schedules, and I think it actually worked out for the best since this naturally led us to producing the type of videos you see less of. There’s not a lot of full fledged, multi-cam videos with mixed multi-track audio produced on a regular basis from any of the major online music publications. One instance where you do see it is big festivals, which use giant camera cranes, stream the whole thing to YouTube, etc. That’s great and all, but I think there’s something kind of charming about placing videographers directly in front of the stage at small shows, providing a “point of view” experience from the concert goers perspective.
H: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing artists today?
L: Standing out and getting people’s attention. The internet has made it possible for literally anyone’s music to be heard, so there’s more of a challenge for artists to stand out now.
N: Cutting through the mass of emerging artists to simply be heard. The question of whether the listener decides they like your music or not is nonexistent if they never hear it.
H: Chalk TV offers a variety of high quality video content. Do you have any plans to expand this section of the site moving forward? How important is original video content to a site like MOC?
L: Absolutely. Chalk TV will be the focus of the site in our next version of the site. The quality of the videos is incredible, and they need to be seen. We’ve actually started to premiere a lot of these videos on other outlets — in fact, one of our videos was premiered by Brooklyn Vegan today, and it was also picked up by MTV Iggy. So things are looking pretty great for Chalk TV at the moment, and we are incredibly excited!
N: Definitely. I think we’ve seen some natural growth in our videos from when we first started. We’ve gone from just two cameras to an average of three to four. There were shows early on when we couldn’t even get a board feed for audio and only had one room mic, and now we routinely get multi-track audio to later mix/master. Moving forward, we’ll continue to look for opportunities to make our videos better. I have an idea for a kind of “hybrid” video series that I’d like to debut in the next few months. Hopefully, it’s this kind of original content that contributes to more people trusting Made of Chalk as a source for unique, well done videos of their favorite bands.
H: Where do you go to discover new music?
L: … in my Inbox. Yay press releases! I don’t have the need to go digging for new music like I used to anymore, but I’m always happy when people/friends recommend bands to me. I usually trust their opinion, so it’s exciting to get recommendations!
N: While I consult some websites, I approach it in a rather manual process by pillaging new releases on Tuesday. I’ll sample a song from as many new albums as possible, and if I like it, I’ll throw it in a playlist for releases that month. Using Spotify, each song serves as kind of a bookmark to revisit that album later.
H: Speaking of music discovery, you probably receive a lot of submissions from talent vying for a spot on your news feed. What advice can you offer young artists hoping to stand out in your inbox?
L: I think a description of the music in the subject would definitely catch my attention. It also helps if the artist takes on a personal tone in the email, and explains why they want to be covered on the site or why they would be a good fit.
N: This is pretty typical, but personalizing it so it doesn’t feel like a blast to every known publication helps.
H: When it comes to receiving music for review and feature consideration, which services do you prefer and why?
L: Spotify is not available in Canada, so I’m a bit old fashioned in the sense that I like to download music that I can add on my iPod. I do not mind streams, however, but I generally prefer downloads. I think it all depends on where the album is being streamed.
N: I’m not just sucking up, I swear, but Haulix’s interface is awesome. I like being able to view all available promos on one page, organized by record label/agency. Streaming and downloading has always worked seamlessly for me. The integrated “Submit Review Link” next to the media player is pretty brilliant as well.
H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
L: Oh…. I don’t know if I want to answer this. The simple answer, however, would be: I think the system needs to change pretty drastically. If it was up to me, I would make sure that more focus is put on the artists. I’ve spoken with various bands I’m close to, and so many of them hardly get to see any of the money that’s being made through their music; it’s so disheartening.
N: I’m a planner. If it was up to me, all sessions would be solidified two months ahead of time, but this general feeling towards solidifying tour press is not widely reciprocated, haha.
H: In addition to blogging, you’ve also stepped into the world of Publicity through your work with Noisy Ghost. What attracted you to the world of PR in the first place?
L: I wanted to help artists I love in a bigger way. I would often get involved in campaigns by doing more than just covering bands as a writer, so it felt natural to go in this direction. I love being involved with campaigns. It’s amazing to get the opportunity to get creative with the artist.
H: Writing about music is one thing, but writing about music while being paid to promote other music is another. Do you worry PR will create a conflict of interest with your work? How do you keep things separate?
L: Absolutely not. I keep things separate by not directly promoting my artists on the outlets I write for. I think many people in the industry are often involved with various projects that could create a conflict of interest. But we make it happen, and it’s fun!
H: Before we let you go, can you tell us a bit about what you have planned in the months ahead?
L: More Chalk TV (everywhere!), more features and playlists, and more TV coverage in general.. because who doesn’t love TV shows?!? I think editorials on current TV shows and such will be awesome.
N: New web design based on our experiences in the past 7 months. Also, that new “hybrid” video series I mentioned earlier. To my knowledge, this hasn’t been done before!