While the point of ‘State of the Nation’ has been to examine the ups and down of the Irish music scene at present, I could hardly leave out projects just because I’m part of them, could I? Aidan Cuffe has been running GoldenPlec as the most all encompassing of acts of love for the Irish music scene for 13 years. That’s expanded to include festival stages, links with the Irish Independent, some huge name interviews, and of course the very magazine that Stephen Byrne and I now head up. Unsurprisingly, the man has plenty to say about progress in Irish music, and his own role in it…
GoldenPlec is one of the biggest and certainly one of the most all-encompassing music sites in Ireland at this point. What were the key steps in getting there?
It’s not easy getting through as much stuff as we do, but getting from where we were 10-13 years ago when we started out to where we are now has been relentless hard work. For me personally it’s a daily sacrifice to keep the site up to date. Over the years we’ve built up some great relationships with bands, promoters, brands and PR and we couldn’t operate as we do without those relationships. We have a built up trust and in this industry, trust goes a big distance.
There’s a fine line between supporting a scene and the virtual version of standing around waving pom poms. How do you stay the right side of that?
Honesty is our only policy. I have no interest in telling a band they are great for the sake of it. Our writers are asked to purely write what they feel about the album, but to back it up with valid and constructive criticism or praise. If you can’t back up what you’re saying, don’t say it.
It’s actually a hard line to draw, everyone wants coverage and we’re one of the places where a lot of bands get a lot of coverage but album reviews are subjective, it might just be that the person reviewing it just didn’t like it. Sometimes I wish we were a blog and we only posted stuff we liked, because we would be able to be universally positive. It’s hard telling a band who have put blood and sweat into their work that the person who reviewed their material just didn’t like it, even the most constructive of criticism can be stinging and it’s hard seeing the dismay in their social posts or if you meet them in person.
What are the biggest good and bad sides of the Irish music scene right now?
Well Irish music probably couldn’t be in a better place. There is so much good stuff out there right now, the quality of releases Irish acts are producing is international quality and there is so many outlets for music in Ireland.
We’ve got great independent record stores, we have a thriving multi-genre scene with quality oozing out in all kinds of different types of music, where before there might have been a slight lean towards indie music we have everything from pop, rock, metal, folk and more all bursting through with great tracks.
Ham Sandwich hold the #1 spot right as I type. That to me isn’t just a great story, it’s a validation of the quality of their music that we’ve been banging on about for years. Sometimes you feel like a broken record talking about the same bands. We were supporting Kodaline when they were 21 Demands. They played a show in a local community centre in Swords way back when they were honing the sound that’s now pretty much a global phenomenon. 10 years ago Delorentos played a charity gig for us in the Sugar Club, we thought back then they were the business and now Ireland is properly taking notice.
I guess that’s the only bad side of Irish music. Sometimes we take a decade to realise as a nation we have world class music in our back garden. That’s why I love festival like Knockanstockan, Vantastival and BARE in the Woods and more. They have all the bands you’re going to be listening to in 5-10 years playing now, growing as artists and showing anyone who will listen why they deserve that place in your earbuds.
It’s obviously important to GoldenPlec to be a platform for writers and other content producers. How well do you think that works?
GoldenPlec is what it is. It started as a way to support Irish music, and evolved into that plus supporting literary skills and portfolio building of budding journalists as well as supporting Irish music photographers. Our team is volunteer but they work to their own remit. We try not to assign work unless they put themselves forward for it. This to me is the only way a volunteer site can really run.
If I assign someone work and expect it done, I should be paying that person. Especially if it’s not something they have a natural interest in. We have a loyal team but initially it was never intended to be like that. When we focused on being a platform for writers and photographers, the idea was for people to build portfolios and move forward towards getting paid work. That is still the goal but people become such good friends within the family of writers and photographers that the team has largely stayed the same for years. There’s an inherent loyalty, not only to the help, advise and opportunities we are able to provide them, but a loyalty built through friendships and creating fun content.
Can our system work better? Perhaps it can but over 13 years it has fine tuned into the behemoth it currently is that keeps content flowing through the doors. If we can change to improve, we have shown over the years we not only embrace those changes but charge headfirst into trying new things whenever we can. As long as it benefits the members of the team, I’m all for it.
GoldenPlec isn’t your job (though it must feel like it sometimes)… how do you fit it in to your life?
I literally don’t know any better. I know that might sound silly but I’ve spent 13 years doing this. Every day and night is filled with GoldenPlec work. Keeping events information up to date, trying to be the most comprehensive and support shows of all sizes, from PR driven events to the smallest shows. We want to be covering them all.
I have a fairly strongly built workflow, which allows me to be utterly efficient at what I do. Organising gig passes, album review content, interviews is all just working my inbox as efficiently as I can and tying interested team members to the key content. I try not to work much of this during my daytime job, but realistically the content that has a race condition with other sites, like the biggest show announcements might get pushed out quickly during the day, but largely it’s entirely dedicated evenings and weekends to process all the content on the site.
The above makes it sound like a solo show, that couldn’t be further from the truth, while I probably put 5-6 hours in a day on the site clearing out my inbox with new stuff every day, I have a team of brilliant content editors who sub our writers content and follow guidelines to ensure consistency and help keep the team of writers content constantly moving. We have great people like Ros Madigan who organises monthly showcases in the Workman’s Club, our festival presences and partnerships like our content partnership with the Independent.ie with exclusive content going both ways. We have people like David Dooley who designs our magazine and is responsible for the new logo and branding we have in place. Kieran Frost managing our photo section for years, Stephen Byrne and James Hendicott running our new magazine from the ground up, we are filled with talented people who pick projects where their talents and interests lie and not only run with the ideas but make them amazing.
What are the biggest mistakes bands make when submitting music? What should they do to get coverage?
Well the biggest issue I have is just a lack of clarity in emails. So many bands contact us with “the big story” of who they are and how the four of them met in an unusual location in a tiger enclosure in Denmark and resolved to make music together. Great story; too much for the busy inboxes of music sites. Leave the bio til last if you must include it.
I also get a lot of emails combining single releases with information about album launches, a tour, interview opportunities, and more in one huge email. Super informative, but I don’t have time to read it all. If I don’t, I can’t imagine other busy editors do either. Also think about the type of content coverage the site will need to do when you are mailing about everything the band is doing. Organising interviews, reviewing albums, doing photoshoots, posting tour news. These all take time to do and often are separate pieces of content, so your mail is actually asking for a lot of work to be done for your band.
If you want coverage for your tour, do a mailout and make it full and complete. Imagery, gig date, venue, ticket price, if it’s pay on door or pre-buy. If pre-buy what link do you have. If no link, name the provider.
If you’re sending an album in for review, don’t ask if they want to cover it and create email tennis, send it over and let them make the decision whether they cover it. No site will guarantee or promise coverage, but they will all try their best. Provide a download option if you can. If you don’t trust the site, why are you sending it to them.
Mention that you’re available for interviews, but don’t mail and mail until the site respond to say they will or won’t. If they want to organise something they will definitely get in touch.
Finally, include images that suit different dimensions. Some sites use square imagery, others use large landscape images. On GoldenPlec currently we use large landscapes and 90% of the images we receive have to be resized and cropped manually to work on our site and still don’t look ideal. If you provide something ideal or at least ask for the dimensions of images that might work on the site, you can help control your bands brand appearance on sites. That is the big key thing to say, your band is your brand, high quality images, well thought out email press releases, good social presences on the key social sites, a decent website with all your latest information, and a good source of quality imagery, bio, streams etc. Make yourself and your brand easy to find, use and execute at the highest quality.
Is it possible to say when you’ve helped a band out with coverage? How important are places like GP to the scene?
Impossible. There’s no one source of making a band, but sometimes getting written about on certain sites can help. Certain sites have a specific type or reader/listener and getting written about positively or sharing your content in these locations can be really key. I remember receiving The Cast Of Cheers album ‘Chariot’ before they made it a free release and remember firing an email to Nialler9 passing on the link, because I knew with his readership, it could be the making of The Cast Of Cheers and while I think they would have taken off regardless, I do genuinely believe that the coverage on the right blog (which definitely was Nialler9) helped push them in the earbuds of the right type of listener.
I know at GoldenPlec we’ve covered a lot of bands and we’ve gotten emails of thank you from bands who got picked up for festivals and events based on positive coverage from us. That’s great, and if we’ve helped any band achieve any of their goals we’re hitting our objective as a music site in Ireland.
Is the idea of a professional music writer or a professional music photographer a sustainable one in the long term in your view? How niche will it become?
It’s so hard these days, between Job Bridge taking internship writers across the board, unpaid internships and everywhere seems to expect content and photos for free. I think businesses have lost their value for these artworks and it’s sad to see. I know that some of our writers have gotten work based on the solid portfolio they built with our site. That said I know far too many good writers who haven’t.
Our photography team is one aspect of the site I’m so very proud of and the quality is fantastic. I really would love to see all of them hired permanently by PR companies and promoters because the quality of their work is consistently of the highest quality. Unfortunately most of these great writers and photographers are now accepting jobs in different roles that are not related to where you see professional skill and that makes me sad.
How niche will it become, well I guess as niche as business makes it, if big sites with massive followings all expect writers to write for free then we’ll see less people studying writing and the role of a paid journalist or contracted photographers will become less and less of a career choice. That is something I didn’t think I’d be saying a few years ago but this is how it seems to have changed over the last few years.
Let’s not name any names, but how much of the business is a little political?
Well I mean the whole industry operates on a scratch your back, scratch my back nature. Money rarely changes hands directly and it’s a given that by and large, GoldenPlec and other sites enjoy the good favour of many promoters, PRs and bands and without this good favour we couldn’t produce half the content we do. In fact, I’d go as far as to say we’d be an event listing site at the benefit of the shows and a review site after albums were released. Access to bands, interviews ahead of shows, albums before release, access to gigs, even a lot of sold out ones and invite only shows are the nature of building relationships.
There is always a line in the sand to be drawn on occasions, but to date in 13 years running this site I’ve yet to have a disagreement that couldn’t be resolved with a little explanation of position. As I don’t run the site as a job, I’ve no interest in it causing me heartache or getting involved in anything more than doing fun stuff and enjoying the fun side of running a music website.
GoldenPlec Magazine probably looks like a huge risk from the outside: print is collapsing, yet competition in GP’s niche is growing. What made you take the leap?
We’ve been talking about it for years and years. Every writer and photographer wants to see their work in print. To smell the lovely tangible nature that the interweb denies you. It’s a lovely feeling and something that as someone who isn’t a working journalist I’ve had the privelege of on occasion. Now GoldenPlec – as well as being an platform online for writers to build portfolios – is a platform for writers to be in print.
It’s another string to our teams’ bow to be printed in the magazine and it’s another education in word counts and having to cull their writing to fit a space. Something that online you don’t need to do as much but offline, any editor will need a hired writer to be capable of this and we want to make sure that what people learn at GoldenPlec, can translate into excelling in a journalistic position.
What would be a success for the site and the magazine in the future?
For me 1 page view or 1 reader, the site is a success. I only wanted GoldenPlec to be somewhere that Irish musicians, writers and photographers could go and find support. Support that doesn’t receive council funding to operate, support that has been here 13 years and is going nowhere and will for as long as I’m capable, be an outlets for Irish musicians of all sizes.
Obviously, the greater our readership, the greater our reach, the more people we can tell of the quality Irish musicians we come across daily. So the goal will always be to increase, grow and try beat last months totals. If we continue to do that, and watch members of our team accept paid work based on the quality of the work to put up on GoldenPlec, then I’ll have continued to do what I set out initially. The more people we help achieve their goals, the more satisfaction it gives me.
And given GP is covering so many bases, what next?
Sleep with any luck at some point! But we’re building more and more relationships, I’m trying to automate parts of what I do to free myself up to do other projects and extend ideas and functionality on the site.
We’ve got a great starting point, the site functionality is something I work on when I get the chance to make the site faster, snappier, more responsive and scale well, to offer functionality to make the site easier to navigate and enjoy and hopefully I can continue that trend of progress and improvement and who knows, maybe we can nab back a Web Award or two from the brilliant Nialler9. That’s a challenge I try to rise to each year and one I’ve got both eyes firmly on for October.
State of the Nation is a blog project for 2015 focused on telling the story of the Irish music scene through interviews with some of its major players. Interviews are published weekly, and you can find a full index of all published to date here.