As a teenager, Mike Shea wanted an outlet to write about his favorite punk bands, because there was no publication that covered punk music at the time. Using an offset press, Alternative Press magazine was born, featuring music news, reviews, and pictures. The group distributed the first copies at punk rock concerts around Cleveland, handing it out for free. Today, Alternative Press is a powerful voice in the music industry, but it was not always smooth sailing.
Stop and start. The first issues of Alternative Press magazine caught on like wildfire. However, the advertisements they sold to fund the operation were too cheap and the magazine was free. There was not enough money coming in to keep the magazine afloat, so after only four issues, AP was in trouble. They turned to promoting and hosting live punk shows to raise capital. The shows were a hit, bringing in the much needed revenue to keep AP magazine going, but also garnered attention from bigger promoters in Cleveland. Shea says, “We were starting to book bands that they (local promoters) normally would have had, so they cross-voted against us, which means they book bigger shows the same night as you, or the day before or after. They killed us. We stopped the zine, we didn’t think it was going anywhere”. After seven issues, AP magazine was done.
The fans want what the fans want. After a year of not publishing, an assistant editor contacted Shea and asked how much it would cost to do an anniversary issue of Alternative Press. He offered to front the $700-800 printing costs and Shea scrambled to reach previous record companies and contacts to sell ads for the reunion issue. The response from all corners was overwhelming. Shea explains, “Over that year we were gone, the issues that had been distributed nationally through the record distributors, kids around the country had picked it up and fell in love with it. They were waiting for the next issue, so there was a lot of demand on the retail level for AP to come back.” Everyone from industry professionals to the bands they covered wanted in AP magazine. Shea stated that they made more money on the anniversary issue than all seven previous issues combined. Alternative Press magazine was back!
The times, they are a-changing. In the fast paced digital climate, we are often overwhelmed with information coming at us from all sides all the time. Shea cites a demographic study on digital books that found the younger audiences read more printed books than older groups. Alternative Press has discovered that kids today crave permanence and the right amount of information. Broad spectrum magazines are being replaced by digital news feeds, but highly specialized magazines will continue to do well. Shea points out that, “It is already becoming more like vinyl. It will be more expensive. It will be less available, but it will be better produced and more collectible”. There is a certain intimacy in Alternative Press that cannot be found in other print publications. Geared to the high school/early college crowd, readers keep issues for future reference and details that cannot be found on the abbreviated digital sources.
Divide and conquer. The AP Tour was an extension of the Alternative Press brand. The magazine was growing fast and a booking agent suggested a branded national tour. Featuring the best musicians around, the tour took off and is now a staple for music lovers across the nation. Always responsive to the readers, Alternative Press developed their own Alternative Press Music Awards. Shea acknowledges that there are numerous music award programs, but believes the APMAs fill a need in this particular community. He says, “The fan side of it is that they get to see all of their favorites in one place, one night, and they’re not feeling like a massive tour. So, they’re not coming out and doing the same songs they always do, in the same order, and wearing the same clothes. It’s a higher level of production than any of us are used to. Punk, pop-punk, metalcore, and everything has a very gritty, grimy vibe and style to it, from the music to the look”.By taking it up another level, AP is providing an Oscar-worthy show, while keeping it real. There are lights, cameras, and action, but it remains all ours. Shea recounts that people in the music industry would see each other occasionally at the larger tours, but never all at one time in one place. The APMA show in Cleveland is a chance for the music communities to be in the same place for a day or two, without being pulled in different directions. The relaxed atmosphere has been conducive to work, with much being accomplished over dinner and drinks. The APMAs have also become a chance to work out differences for musicians, who would not be able to resolve issues during the hectic schedules they keep.
Making a difference. Alternative Press has grown from humble beginnings to the paramount source in music through a shared desire to make a difference. What started as a voice for the punk music scene has transformed to a publication that remains relevant to music lovers, musicians, and industry professionals for thirty years. AP has made a difference by providing a connection for alternative music lovers and a spotlight for new bands coming up. They have consistently fulfilled the needs of a music community that was often dismissed or denigrated by mainstream music publications. Alternative Press has paved the way for new magazines, websites, artists and all related industries, setting the standards for music news and more. They continue to branch out with The AP Tour and will host the second annual Alternative Press Music Awards on July 22, 2015, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. See you there!