music morsels The Band Mates Network October 2007

MUSIC CAREER MANEUVERS - Country Standard Time publisher/music journalist Jeffrey B. Remz
Strategies to maneuver your career path from the people with the know-how
by Mark E. Waterbury

Strangely enough when you consider what he is doing now, country music was basically non-existent while Jeffrey B. Remz was growing up in the Long Island burg of Belle Terre, unless you counted the campy TV show “Hee-Haw”. He actually found himself more drawn to rock music until his interest in music expanded as he matured. Obtaining a masters degree in journalism from Northwestern as well as an undergraduate degree in political science from Brandeis University, he soon started writing for several papers and magazines, some of which involved him in reviewing CDs. Jeffrey started to discover Nashville’s more rebellious personalities, like Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam and Nancy Griffith, leading him to delve into country music from a different angle. After moving to Massachusetts where he was a reporter for the daily newspaper Salem News, Jeffrey got the itch to start publishing a magazine on the side. Seeing that there were already independent magazines on rock and blues in the Boston area, Jeffrey turned his focus to country and launched Country Standard Time in 1992. In the fifteen years of its existence, the free magazine has seen its up and downs, but has survived due to Jeffrey’s tenacious work, and is a widely respected avenue for people to find out about country music on both the mainstream and indie avenues. Currently, Country Standard Time publishes 24,000 copies eight times a year and is distributed in many regional music store chains nationwide. Their web site version also has over 50,000 unique visitors per month.

MM: What was some of the work it took just to get Country Standard Time off the ground?

JR: For about the first three years, we were only regional. At first, it was a case of where to send it to. We had country music clubs, Western clothing stores, as well as regular music stores throughout New England. So it was mostly networking, finding out what was out there, and getting the ball rolling that way.

MM: Were you primarily doing everything yourself?

JR: I’ve always done the ad sales and the layout, but even with the first issue, I brought some writers on board. Of course, I also do the bulk of the writing. I really enjoy writing and will always continue to write as it is important to me to keep my hands in it. I enjoy meeting people, talking to musicians and listening to what they do. To me, it has always been a key reason as to why I wanted to do this and why I keep doing it.

MM: What work has it taken to keep the magazine going considering the varied music and financial climates of the past fifteen years?

JR: That answer is twofold. First, you have to keep your content fresh by keeping in tune with what is coming up. We get so many CDs from indie bands that no one ever heard of, and sometimes, it is tough to wade through all of them to see what sounds really good and review worthy. We have always been the type of publication that reviews everything from major label artists to people who released their own album, where if we think it is a good album, we will review it. So we have to keep abreast of that. On the financial end of course, it can be difficult when the dollars tighten up on the advertising end. We are a free magazine so we are advertising driven. With record sales going down, it translates into music publications having trouble as well. It is not easy out there for everyone, but one thing that has helped is our web site is very well-received. We have upgraded it several times and did a major overhaul last year. It has a very solid look to it; it is easy to maneuver, has plenty of info on it, and is updated frequently with news, concert reviews, CD reviews and blogs. We got it to where we want it and how we want it to look, so we are starting to get advertising on the site as well. It is definitely moving in the right direction and our visitation is increasing. It takes enormous effort, and it is very important to update frequently so people will want to come back and keep reading what is happening. So all in all, it is a tough financial climate, but with the web end since the concept of advertising on it is still somewhat new, people are hesitant, but are starting to become more aware of it as an advertising medium to reach a significant number of people quickly.

MM: Do you think that would be important for anyone who wants to publish a print publication, to have a mirror web edition as well?

JR: I think any magazine, or for that matter any today's day and age, people expect it. If you don’t have a web site, I don’t believe people would take you very seriously.

MM: You talked earlier of reviewing everything from major label to indie music from new bands. What are you looking for to review something from a new band, that may make it really stand out?

JR: First, of course, that it has to be country music in our case. That may seem obvious, but we get too much music that people seem to think fits what we write about and I just don’t hear it. I have to hear a country element to the song, and I am kind of sucker for honky tonk music. You can have folk music or rock music that lean towards country and we review them, but sometimes we have music that may just barely have a country element, and that does not fit what we are doing. And I want to hear something that is a little different and special. It has to be compelling so that it moves me where I want to find out more about it. If it’s mediocre or I receive a bad CD from an artist no one has heard of, what’s the point of dissing the musician and taking up the time of our readers? It doesn’t do anyone any good, and I think you have to call it like you hear it. You have to be real honest with readers or else you have no credibility, and that is paramount to me and is extremely important. So if we think something is bad from an indie artist, then that person should remain unknown.

MM: Should musicians also make sure that they know the publication real well before they submit music to qualify it a bit better?

JR: That definitely helps, and they should do their homework. That is one of the beauties of us having a web site - someone can go there and see what type of artist we cover. The caveat is someone who thinks they are not country music, but I listen to it and hear (country). So it is not an exact science. Somebody may think they don’t fit and I think they do, and visa-versa.

MM: Is there anything that people do when they pitch their music to you that makes you want to check out their music more, and conversely, are their things that they do that can get the door shut on them before they get their foot in there?

JR: One thing, if the people pitching are too aggressive - like wondering why I never respond to them. I think it is important to be respectful. I know people are just doing their jobs as I am doing my job. You try to be responsive to them even if it is not necessarily what they want to hear. Sometimes it is hard to respond to people telling them that you are not going to review something because you want to be respectful of people even if you don’t like the music. Another thing I don’t like is over-hyping. I don’t know how many times I hear, “you are just going to love it!” They don’t know that I am going to love it and most of them don’t really know my tastes. Or if I ask what the sound is like, and they tell me they can’t really describe the sound, I don’t think there is too much music that is so out and out original that that is how it needs to be described. They don’t need to say “artist X sounds like artist Y,” but they do need to give reference points. The other thing with indie artists that helps is myspace pages. They can post up to four songs there and that is a valuable tool. It is a little time consuming for me to check every band that I hear about, but I do spend time on myspace sometimes, am alerted to artists and get a sense of what they sound like, and that can be helpful. I really think it ought to be standard for a band to have a myspace page.

MM: So it is important to remember that your time is limited and you are busy, and it helps if they make it easier on you to access their music?

JR: Yeah, ultimately you have to hear their music and decide if it is good or not good, and that is not an exact science either. To make it easier on me, they don’t need over hyping. They don’t need half inch thick press kits to get their point across. A pet peeve I have is when I get press releases that say “legendary” or “unbelievable.” It’s like, OK, I have to take that right out of there because that is a bit too much, although I do sort of understand why they put that in there.

MM: From your perspective beyond getting their music into publications, what sort of general advice would you give to musicians?

JR: Many times I find that indie musicians need to be more diligent about what types of publications or radio stations they need to send their music to. It is not always so easy, they have to do their homework to find out who would be more apt to review or play their music. There are times one of my writers may tell me about a band, and I will check their myspace page and find it is something that interests me, so I request their CD. They can check out our web site then and see that we are legitimate and review indie artists. No promises that they will get reviewed, but it is a legitimate possibility. But then they have to be on top of it to send the CD out, and they don’t always do that. They are just hurting themselves then because there are not a zillion outlets out there where you can be reviewed, so they need to be on top of things. One example I can think of is an artist who is a really unknown. One of her albums was in the list of our top albums for that year. You would think she would have sent us her next album, and we never got it. To me that is just silly and makes absolutely no sense to me. If you had a publication review your album, or a radio station that played it, of course you are going to send them the next one. It does help to follow up, and you don’t have to be so apologetic about it. Another thing and I know it costs money, but it shows that a band or musician is serious, and that is if they are able to get out on the road. Go beyond their hometown and really do something out there that shows they are serious with their careers. That goes a long way with me as well as others in this business to show that they are serious, and you are more likely to get attention.
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