Q+A: James Welch & Brandon Geist, Revolver
Revolver Magazine, a leader in the former print world of heavy music has reinvented itself as a media brand residing in DUMBO. We sat down with Brandon Geist, Chief Content Officer, and James Welch, VP of Business Development to learn more.
Let's start with your backgrounds and how you each ended up at Revolver.
Brandon Geist: I have worked at Revolver now for almost 15 years. I was with the original incarnation of Revolver for 10 years, then I left to run Rolling Stone’s website. But when the opportunity to go back to Revolver, reclaim it, and make it into what I always felt it could be fell out of the sky, it was too exciting to pass up. I left Rolling Stone to join this whole thing and here we are. I have always been a heavy music fan, but frankly, music was always just a fun thing outside of work. It was a release. My first job out of college was in book publishing; I was a big nerd. I fell into music journalism through circumstance when I started writing on the side for Revolver and eventually was hired as a low-level editor and rose through the ranks over the years.
Being able to take something you love that starts as a 'non-work' thing and make it your work is sort of everyone's dream–in theory. Then you live it and realize it can get a little messy, but it's pretty cool. I can't complain. Any content in print, on our website or on our social media channels runs through me. My '2018 new digital title' would be Chief Content Officer.
James Welch: Like Brandon, I have been a lifelong music fan. My past fifteen years have been mainly advertising, primarily in social media, but I started off in traditional advertising. I have run accounts like General Motors and big business stuff before this but when you get a chance to work on something you really love it is hard to pass up.
What is the personality of your team? How would you describe the work flow?
BG: Organized chaos. (laughs)
JW: We call it 'Church and State' as a joke. As a business, Brandon has control over everything creative and we try to separate that from the business side of things. Not that they don't overlap sometimes, but we don't want to interfere with the creative process. There is a whole team of creative folks–writers, photographers, videographers, editors–all working together. Then we have a business team run by our CEO and myself, and that's a lot of building out and executing advertising campaigns. It is the business-y stuff that goes on in the background of running a company.
We are a essentially a start-up even though the brand is about twenty years old. That is why we have chosen WeWork. We didn't want a giant office. There are about ten of us here on a daily basis and there are about twenty of us scattered around. It takes a village.
What is the dynamic of the two sides- creative and business here at Revolver?
BG: We are always talking and keeping up with things. We are also on slack so lots of good GIFs going around. Having been through the Rolling Stone scenario, there is that separation of 'Church and State' but there is a lot of branded content and collaboration between the two groups.
JW: It is an ongoing daily thing. In essence, we could work remotely from home but working here together there is so much going on with artists, tours, album releases everyday. We all get different pieces of information and it comes together here in the office a lot better.
How does WeWork influence your team?
BG: I think it helps in terms of the late nights you have to pull. The facility has a lot going on. You can pop out and realize there is a happy hour going on. It makes it a little more pleasant when we are really putting the hours.
JW: There are definitely folks here that we have built a mini community with. It is kind of like in school when you have friends that you would say to everyday. It makes it fun to come to work. We are kind of part of a small team but you feel like you're part of something bigger when you're here.
BG: It is pretty fun to have all of the different people around, we have started a video series called 'Secret Metalheads'. It is a phrase we have been using that stems from this idea we have noticed which is there are metalheads everywhere and they are never the people you expect them to be.
Something about working in this WeWork shared environment is meeting a lot of secret metalheads. We have people even just walking by our office and checking out what we are doing and seeing Revolver and they get really excited.
JW: I was talking to Renee, our barista (at WeWork) and she was like "Oh I love your magazine!" I was a little surprised because she is this tiny, well dressed woman and you wouldn't expect that. So now we talk about it all of the time. There is a guy at the desk downstairs who is also really into it and we always talk about the shows he has been to. It's a lot of fun.
We want the issues we are making now to be what people lay out on their coffee tables for months at a time to be displayed.
James Welch, Vice President of Business Development, Revolver
As a company, what are some of the biggest changes that Revolver has experienced in the last year?
JM: We bought the brand from the previous owners last April, formed the company, and moved in here in May.
BG: Yeah we bought it in April then relaunched it in September and we have built an entire new brand identity from the logo, down. New logo, entirely new editorial direction, redesigned the magazine, built an entire new website...
JW: Everything in the magazine, the trim size, paper, font- just everything was completely redone.
BG: Yeah it was an absolute, massive undertaking essentially. We had to completely tear down what had existed for fifteen years to rebuild it up into what we all think is a much better version. The biggest hurdle for me was what a lot of people have also said. You get to the relaunch point after doing all of this work and it should be this huge celebratory moment but then you actually realize it is just the beginning. All of the work you have put in you have to put in everyday. The awesome website you made needs to be fed everyday, every hour. Now you have to make this constantly and turn it all into a sustainable operation.
JW: Yeah it is great but it is a lot of work. It would be like sitting down to watch the first episode of Mad Men and realized "Wow that is great!" and then realizing there are like eight seasons and hundreds of episodes and it is never going to stop.
BG: It has definitely been super exciting. Having worked in a lot of places that do print, sometimes you get into a backwards workflow where digital takes the secondary role. You have this institutional system that values print more- inevitably. It is partly because (for example at Rolling Stone) you have editors who have been there for twenty plus years and print leads the charts. One of the things we have been able to do here is flip the script a little bit and really be a 'digital-first, still does print' magazine. The magazine really acts as a curated 'best of' version of the website as opposed to the reverse. I think being able to flip the workflow and the philosophy in that way is pretty unique.
JW: We are bimonthly which gives the creative team a lot more freedom to pick and choose. We want the issues we are making now to be what people lay out on their coffee tables for months at a time to be displayed. It is turning less into a periodical and more of a permanent record of what was great in heavy music and culture in that period of time.
We want to reach those 'Secret Metalheads' who maybe love the music but don't wear a Slayer t-shirt everyday.
Brandon Geist, Revovler
Do you think you will reach more of the 'Secret Metalheads' with that approach?
BG: Absolutely. That is definitely one of the missions. Heavy music in some ways in its own accord tends to operate in its own bubble. Metal can feel a little elitist and exclusionary. If you're not part of the club you can't find an entry point. We want to treat it more of a lifestyle rather than just a music scene. That is why we feature stories on top chefs and NASA scientists who are metal heads and why Slayer's music inspired someone to go into science or how the music is an attitude and a lifestyle, not just albums and shows. We will cover hip hop artists if there is a way that their story dovetails with what we are doing.
Our definition of what heavy music means is much broader than any other 'rock' or 'metal' media brand out there because we cover goth, dark wave, indie rock, hip hop and whatever we think falls under the Revolver umbrella. We want to reach those 'Secret Metalheads' who maybe love the music but don't wear a Slayer t-shirt everyday.
JW: That idea is echoed in the people that started our business. Our CEO, Rick is a former Wall Street guy, Skip is a Hollywood film producer, I myself am an advertising guy living in New York working on a family... we are the living examples of the doctors and lawyers and athletes that we want to reach who subscribe to the music and attitude of heavy music but don't have to wear it on their sleeve. That was the opportunity we looked at when we started the company.
How do you feel about being in DUMBO as a media company?
BG: I find it a much more exciting place, you can feel the energy here. Where I was before (at Rolling Stone) we were in Midtown. The difference in energy level and vibe, couldn't be greater. People in DUMBO feel excited about their work. That is really contagious.
JW: We certainly aren't the forerunners here. I think I went to a job interview at HUGE around twelve years ago and I remember taking the subway with MapQuest directions- this was before smart phones and I kept thinking "Where the hell am I? What is this place?" Now you come over and it's this whole neighborhood with something always going on and great bars and restaurants. You definitely feel plugged into the community rather than just the machine that is in Manhattan.
Finally, what are your favorite spots in DUMBO?
BG: Probably Love & Dough. Almost everyday I have to resist the desire and temptation to eat there.
JW: When it is warm out I love the food truck lot and the vendors under the Archway.