Last week marked two years since I left my job as editor in chief of Spin to begin work on the magazine that eventually became known as Tracks. It had already been several years since John Rollins—publisher to my editor at Spin and Vibe, where we were both part of the launch team—and I started kicking around the idea of a music magazine aimed at a more mature, more sophisticated audience than any of the existing titles.
I’ve found myself thinking a lot recently about that time and that decision to plunge into the madness of creating a new magazine. We’re at an interesting phase in Tracks’s development right now: finished with the fear of whether we can get the thing started and beginning the fear of how we can keep it going. We had some pretty serious meetings last week with our investor, trying to sketch out the financing for the remainder of the year. The two issues we’ve put out into the world have done well—tons of great press, lots of attention, pretty strong ad sales. The second issue, the one that’s out now, has the only cover story that Norah Jones agreed to do to promote her new album, which sold a million copies its first week and still sits at No.1 on the charts five weeks later.
But what we told everyone—our investors, our publishing partner, our staff—going into this venture was that we would need some time and some patience. As a small, independent launch, we weren’t going to come out with our guns blazing, our cover festooned on phone booths and on passing buses. Nor would that even make sense for us, if we could do it. We’re trying to reach an audience that feels pretty alienated from the music media, one that will need time to find and connect with Tracks. As I’ve said a thousand times, the projects that we point to as the examples of the way I envision the growing size of our readership—Norah’s first record, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, the Buena Vista Social Club album—weren’t big, explosive first-week blockbusters; they were things that people discovered, told each other about, that grew from month to month and ended up with millions of sales over a year’s time, not over a week or two.
The hardest part, though, is remembering to have that patience ourselves. I need to think back a full year: My baby was just born; we had only raised a small amount of cash from friends-and-family-type investors; we hadn’t yet met the backer who would get us up and running, and knew that if we didn’t get an issue out by year’s end, we were probably sunk. The economy was still in the sewer (did I mention that the week we first took out our business plan searching for investment was the week the United States invaded Iraq?), and still—even at that point—I had no doubts that this was a sound idea, an empty space in the market, a territory where there was great writing to be done. That certainty has never wavered. And the best part of the response we’ve gotten (as much of a challenge as it is to get folks to lay their money down, whether as investors or advertisers), is that no one—seriously, no one—has said that this a dumb idea, or that they don’t get it, or that it can’t work. So right now it’s all about just putting one foot in front of the other, keeping our heads down and cranking out the work, trying to stay in the game. The anxiety won’t disappear, but we can’t let it be too much of a distraction right now.
Look, it could be worse. This morning I had breakfast with a friend who works at MTV and another friend who works in music marketing, who recently left a major label that’s a sinking ship. I do believe that the chaotic state of the record business will ultimately lead to somewhere exciting, that precisely because it’s the Wild West out there, with no rules and no sense of direction, this is when interesting and innovative things can happen. Still, my sympathy goes to anyone working in that part of the business.
We need to crank a bunch of pages through today. Not sure when I’ll see first layout of a cover—wrote some halfway decent cover billings yesterday to start to play with, which is always rough for me. But I can’t stick around late because I’ll be going to see Neil Young at Radio City tonight (haven’t missed a Neil tour since high school) and then getting ready to leave for Austin early tomorrow.
I guess I owe a temporary apology to the publicist I was complaining about yesterday. As of last night, this person claims they can offer us a five-minute (yes, you read that right) photo shoot with our cover subject on Friday, which is insanely late and prolongs the horror of this issue, but which I’ll take and scramble to make work, because it will help flesh this story out. But I’ll believe it when it happens.