In a brand new segment here at Mind Equals Blown, titled Inside the Industry, we’ll be bringing you exclusive interviews from various types of hardworking people who have found success in the music industry. From magazine owners to website gurus to record labels, PR firms and more, we’ve got them all.
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Angela Mastrogiacomo, the owner of Infectious Magazine and Muddy Paw PR, in which we discussed how both companies got started and built from the ground up, her advice for aspiring music journalists, what makes a great PR campaign for bands, and much more.
MEB: In the past, you’ve stated that much of the inspiration for starting Infectious Magazine came from seeing/interviewing a band called The Coming Weak when they were on tour with Anberlin in 2009, while you were still in college. Was it a long-time dream of yours to run your own music-based magazine or did something about that show spark a newfound interest?
Angela: I always knew that I wanted to write, though I’ve never known in what capacity. Seeing The Coming Weak that night was completely serendipitous, and was the entire inspiration behind Infectious. I had never dreamed of running my own music-based magazine up until that point. But something about that band just clicked for me, and before I knew it my head was racing with ideas. It hasn’t stopped since.
Can you talk a little bit about the initial steps you took to build your staff and your audience? How did you go about spreading the word to both readers and artists?
Ah, this is going back a while! I will say I was a pretty slow learner, probably because I’ve always been a little stubborn and strong willed. I really thought in those first few years that I could do it all on my own, and the thought of bringing on a team terrified me. In the early days, I did everything by myself. News, album reviews, features, etc. It was exhausting, and I got to the point where I realized I had to have help, or I was going to fail. So, I did the very scary thing of placing internship ads around the web and I was lucky enough to find a flood of interested candidates. I can’t thank those people enough, especially in the early days because there were a lot of changes happening and it was a little chaotic.
As for building my audience, I had to learn everything from scratch. I didn’t understand Google Analytics, I had no idea about sites like Mention or Hootsuite, so it took me a long time to figure it all out. I also didn’t know anyone else in the industry, so I had no one to ask. It was a lot of research into things like Facebook EdgeRank, Google Analytics (I’m still learning new things about that one!), and a lot of Googling things like “How to increase readers.” It sounds silly, but in a way I’m grateful for the experience because I think having to learn everything from scratch ended up being really beneficial.
Do you ever find it difficult balancing both Infectious and Muddy Paw in your daily routine or do they generally work hand in hand?
It’s difficult. We’re getting more help with Infectious and just brought on someone to help with feature editing, which will be a huge help. Generally, I’m able to manage it, but there are those days where I get busy with Muddy Paw, turn around and have a ton of unanswered emails. So it’s like a mini anxiety attack each day, haha, but it’s a really good problem to have.
You have plenty of unique features – “Bands’ Bands” and “The Musician’s Closet”, both of which show a willingness to cater to readers of all ages – but what do you feel is the #1 characteristic that makes Infectious stand out from its competitors?
Thank you, I appreciate that! That’s a good question. You know, I really wanted it to be our interviews, because we do a lot of our interviews in video format, and I think we really ask great questions, not typical of what you see on a lot of popular sites. But as I’ve gotten older I’m finding that maybe the reason a lot of sites dumb down their questions is because their audience prefers those kind of questions. That’s not something I’m willing to do, and I take a lot of pride in the questions we ask. There’s nothing better than hearing a band that does a zillion interviews tell me “Hey, that was a really good interview, great questions.” So at this point, I think it’s our features. We’ve started running a lot of different features, including interviews with music industry professionals, how to articles, and various guest blogs related to the industry. I think ultimately, there’s a lot of really good advice on our blog from all walks of life, and I think having those different voices is a real asset.
A small but distinctive detail about Infectious is that you end all your news articles and album reviews with a link to “purchase a CD here.” With the way the music industry is going these days, do you think the time is coming when you’ll be forced to change that to “purchase the mp3 album” or even “purchase a record”? Or will CDs stick around for a while yet?
Unfortunately I think we’re already coming up on that. There’s a lot of times we have to include the word “digitally” or “via iTunes” because physical copies just don’t exist anymore. I understand it, I’m embracing it, but I have a tendency to hang on to the nostalgia of the past, and so I can’t quite let go of CDs yet. I think there will come a time when CDs are a novelty, kind of like tapes. I don’t think there will be a revival surge like with vinyl, but I think it will become a novelty item in say, 30-50 years.
You have a dream opportunity to sponsor the “Infectious Magazine Summer 2014 Tour” and get to choose four bands for it. Which bands would you pick and why?
That would be amazing! Anberlin for sure, The Coming Weak if they’d reunite for it, Frank Turner of course and as a fourth….that’s so tough. I think I’d like to have one hardworking, talented band from each city play the opening slot each night. It seems only right given how we started.
What are the main goals for Infectious, both for 2014 and the long-term future?
Well, we just introduced pop back into the site, so our goal for 2014 is just to keep experimenting, trying new things, and growing our audience and growing our team. Long-term, I would really like to get to the point where we can print one sheets to distribute around town on a monthly basis with the top stories/interviews, and just continue to grow and expand. I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished, but I’ll never be ready to just sit back and stop trying new things.
We already know the heartwarming story of how Muddy Paw PR got its name, but where did you get the inspiration to start a Public Relations firm in the first place?
Like Infectious, it was kind of just being in the right place at the right time. I’d been toying with the idea for a little bit, but didn’t think anything of it. Then, one of my friends had a band that was starting to get some traction in Australia and somehow we ended up discussing PR, and I offered to give it a whirl. I figured I better test out any skills I thought I had before committing to a business. It went pretty well and I decided to open my own company. Like Infectious, there was a lot I had to teach myself, but this time I felt like I had a bit of an edge because for the past five years I’ve been on the receiving end of press releases and because of that, I feel I have a strong grasp on what does and doesn’t work when submitting to blogs.
What is the best and worst thing a client can do when trying to get your attention about forming a PR deal?
The worst thing they can do is act entitled or straight up insult me (which has happened). The best thing they can do is show how hardworking and passionate they are. When I see that excitement coming from them, I can’t help but catch it. If you’re not excited about your music, no one else is going to be either.
Muddy Paw has recently joined forces with alternative rockers Only on Weekends and championed Illinois singer/songwriter Vinnie Hines. What other bands/artists have been on your radar that the world should know about?
Yeah, they’re awesome! We just signed a few new bands, Calamity Jane (pop-punk) Crocodile (pop-rock) and Aziza & The Cure (A tinge of classical meets the Dirty Projectors), all incredible people and musicians. I personally can’t get enough of our clients’ music. On a non-client related note, I’ve been a longtime fan of The Born Ruffians and Swedish singer-songwriter, Charlotte Eriksson AKA The Glass Child. I’ve never met any one person who is as talented, humble, inspirational and genuine as Charlotte.
Most artists recognize the ever-growing importance of connecting through social media in the 21st century, but what do you feel is the most underrated/neglected part of a great PR campaign?
Social media is a big one. We offer social media packages for this reason. If a band isn’t frequenting their social media, that can be problematic. Besides that, realistic expectations and effort on the artist’s end are two things that can really make or break a campaign. Bands seem to think that they’re going to be on Billboard the day after signing a campaign and as much as I wish it was that easy, it just isn’t. It’s important artists have realistic goals and expectations, and also that they realize PR doesn’t translate to album sales or Facebook likes. Along the same lines, artist cooperation is essential. We can get you a placement, interview, etc., but if you then take ages to get those answers/material back to us, or don’t then promote that coverage, it hinders the campaign and hurts that relationship. Remember, long after we’re no longer working together, you may want to reach back out to that same blog for coverage of your new release. But if you took three weeks to get them what they needed and/or didn’t then promote their coverage of you, odds are they won’t be interested in helping you again.
Through the constantly growing popularity and success of both Infectious and Muddy Paw, you’ve shown what can be achieved through pure drive, dedication, positivity and professionalism. What advice do you have for young journalists out there who are hoping to carve out careers in the music industry?
That means a lot, thank you so much. The number one piece of advice I have is to network. People threw around this word a lot when I was in college and as a naturally anti-social person I kind of dismissed it. Years later, I’m realizing just how important networking is, and I wish I’d started a lot sooner because not only could I have grown the businesses a lot faster had I not been so stubborn about asking for help, and had I known where to turn, but you’ll meet some amazing people. I’ve made great friends in this industry, and had amazing experiences. I can only imagine how many more I’d have if I hadn’t been so afraid to get out there and with everyone I can.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how is Sawyer doing this week?
Ha! He’s well, thank you! He twisted his ankle last week so he’s been indoors a little more than he’d like while healing, but he still tries to herd me around the house when he’s bored (ah, border collies) and is learning some new tricks and meeting new friends. Why, just this past weekend he went on a yard sale hunt!