Continuing our popular [behind the scenes] features on various industry people: This month Kinger chats with Metal journalist Chad Bowar about all things Metal and his daily activities.
Tell us about your position with the Heavy Metal division @ About.com please.
About.com has hundreds of sites in all sorts of topics. There are several music sites, and I’m in charge of the heavy metal section.
How did you land that and was it’s surprising that they wanted a dedicated Metal editor or web presence; since they are a part of the New York Times Company etc.
About.com has been around for more than fifteen years and has had a few owners. The heavy metal section is at least a decade old and I have been the editor since 2005. I was writing for a different web site at the time (along with some print publications), saw the job posting and applied. After going through a testing and training period, I was selected to be the editor.
What do you like best about your job there?
I have a lot of freedom in terms of content. I decide who and what we cover, which allows us to showcase both unknown and extremely well-known metal artists.
The site offers a lot of Heavy metal news, reviews – how many people work there with you or do you have freelancers who submit the reviews and or material you post?
In the beginning it was just me writing all the content. A few years into it I brought aboard some contributing writers, which have steadily increased. Right now we are up to about ten writers and me. We have a team of extremely talented and dedicated writers, and I’m very proud to work with them.
I see you use Twitter to promote various things, how has that affected the Metal industry or music scene or in general?
Social media in general has dramatically changed how things are promoted. A well-known band can post something on Facebook or tweet to their million plus followers and it is instantly read by a vast number of people. Communication is now direct and instantaneous. It also provides a great avenue for interaction that wasn’t there in the past.
Congrats on having almost 10K followers. How long did it take to build that audience?
A few years. The number of Twitter followers has grown steadily. People just find us, I find and follow people who follow back, and it is promoted in our weekly newsletter. It’s been a bit more challenging to build Facebook fans, but continue to work on it. Feel free to follow us on both platforms. We’re on Facebook, and @aboutheavymetal on Twitter.
Tell us about your custom Twitter profile page background. It says: “Need, Know, Accomplish.” I like that.
It’s the same background as all About.com Twitter pages.
Can you believe what was happening with singer Randy Blythe overseas? That is a popular topic in Social Media lately. Yikes!
It has got a lot of attention in the metal and music press, but the mainstream media has pretty much ignored it except for some outlets near Blythe’s home in Virginia. It’s a scary situation, and from the outside it seems he is getting a raw deal. The justice system in other countries can be far different from ours in the U.S.
What do you think of the strength and renewed popularity of Metal in 2012! I mean all the 80’s bands are back and there is such a plethora of younger bands as well!
Metal has never gone away, and seems to be thriving more than ever in 2012. Nostalgia is driving a lot of the ‘80s hair band revival, and it’s cool to see bands like Poison still able to draw a crowd. The biggest names in the genre like Metallica and Iron Maiden are still making relevant new music, and there’s a giant crop of young talented bands. The future of metal music is bright, but the state of the music industry is another story.
I see you are based in Charlotte, NC – how is life there and is there a strong music scene there perhaps?
Charlotte is a great city. The climate is good and we’re close to both the coast and the mountains. We get our fair share of big name concerts, although our proximity to Raleigh and Atlanta means we don’t get them all. There’s a good local music scene as well.
Chime in on the internet downloading and the future of music or CD sales. I read somewhere that there has only been one single artist to sell a million copies thus far in 2012! That is amazing to me, but I am an old dog from the 80’s as well. But the industry has certainly changed in the last decade!
The whole music industry has been in a free fall the past few years. Illegal downloading has accelerated the decline. Labels are struggling and artists aren’t making any money on album sales. I think you’ll see more and more well-known bands abandon record labels and release albums on their own. Getting distribution is easy, and by using social media and contracting a publicist they’ll be able to get the word out. Even if they don’t sell as many copies, their profits will be higher because they keep a higher percentage of each album or download sold.
Describe a typical work day for you.
- I get up at 3:30am to go to my radio job.
- I’m usually home by 11am. I grab lunch and do some writing for About.com
- some Loudwire assignments
- then back to About.com after that.
- I usually stop for the day around 5
- then eat dinner and do whatever.
- I check email constantly
- …am in bed by about 9pm.
You’ve interviewed hundreds of bands over the years – Who was your favorite interview subject or band over the years and why?
I always enjoy interviewing Rob Halford of Judas Priest. He’s a great guy, very down to earth, and tells interesting stories. I’ve spoken with him several times and it’s always a great interview.
Who was the worst…and why?
It was a fill-in hair band singer who was releasing a solo album several years ago. He was just unpleasant and didn’t seem interested in speaking with me. Recently I had another awful interview with an up and coming singer who gave such short and worthless answers I couldn’t even publish it. I thought it might be me, but I spoke with another writer who had the same experience with her.
I like your weekly Retro Recommendation; that might be how I found you. Who’s idea was that? Thanks for that. It gives the younger fans something to hear and research and discover some of the great music in the “Heyday of Metal” (i.e. 80’s).
It has been a Friday staple of the site for the past few years. Dan Marsicano writes that feature, and sometimes I’m amazed at the obscure stuff he comes up with. It’s an awesome way to rediscover older releases you might have forgotten about or missed the first time around.
I see you recently interviewed Metal Blade CEO Brian Slagel for their Anniv. Can you believe it’s been three decades?! Who are your all time favorite bands on Metal Blade?
My top five Metal Blade bands past and present would be (in no particular order):
- Amon Amarth
- Fates Warning
How many digital press releases do you get weekly? I have hundreds of emails from PR companies in my inbox and I cannot possibly read all of them. What’s your method for digging through all that “news”?
I receive dozens per day. We don’t really do news posts, since that niche is covered well by sites like Blabbermouth and Brave Words. I look for the album release emails, since our release calendar page is extremely popular. I put a ton of work into that calendar.
Do you still accept old-fashioned/old school printed press releases?
I would accept them, but nobody sends them!
Do you still like the 80’s music best or are you a fan of any modern metal, extreme metal or other micro-genres?
I still love the music from my youth, but also enjoy a lot of modern stuff. My tastes are pretty eclectic when it comes to genres. It’s more about the band than the style, but I would say thrash, traditional, progressive, power, folk and melodic death metal are genres I tend to like. I’m not as much of a fan of grindcore, metalcore, black metal or brutal death metal, but there are certainly bands within those styles that I like.
Speaking of genres, it used to be easier for writers when describing a bands sound. A band was either Hard Rock or Heavy Metal [laughs]. Then came Power Metal, Speed, Thrash and Death. That’s where I stopped with the genres in the late 80’s. It got to be ridiculous after that! Thoughts?
The sub-genres have gotten out of control. New wave of this, post that, it’s getting hard to keep up. Genre titles are used to categorize bands, but so many of them cross multiple genres that it doesn’t always work.
I liken the Metal blogosphere to the old tape trading days and all the fanzines that were being put together all over the world! This is great…What blogs do you like?
I don’t have as much time as I’d like to read other sites, but there are a few that I enjoy. Angry Metal Guy, Blistering.com and Hellbound are a few that come to mind.
My favorite rag was always Metal Forces! They are posting old reviews and interviews from the past on their site.
RIP (and Lonn) was cool too…miss that one.
As a teenager I read all the magazines I could get my hands on. I subscribed to Rolling Stone, and always purchased RIP, Circus and Hit Parader. Probably should have held onto them, they might have been worth some money now!
Do you think Revolver [“The World’s Loudest Rock Magazine”] and Decibel [“America's only monthly extreme music magazine”] can hang with Kerrang! And Metal Hammer?
Decibel is my favorite metal magazine. I’m also a big fan of Metal Hammer and Terrorizer. Revolver is definitely more commercial, but they have some good stuff as well. I don’t read Kerrang!
It seems readers are always obsessed with lists – esp. die-hard Metal fans (who you know are “some of the most passionate people around, who aren’t afraid to make their opinions known”). It seems those must be really popular on the site?
Without a doubt. Lists are some of the most popular pieces of content on the site. It’s always fun putting them together and then seeing readers weigh in on them.
What advice would you give to any aspiring writers or reviewers out there? The publishing and world of journalism has changed through the years as well.
When it comes to writing reviews, too many reviewers miss the point. It’s not about being cute and clever and using your thesaurus to come up with obscure phrases and references. Tell us what the music sounds like and what your opinion of it is. I read too many reviews that look like a creative writing project and are extremely well written, but don’t say anything. People don’t read reviews for their literary value, they want to garner useful information from them. Develop a style and voice, but give the readers what they want.
When it comes to places to write, they are almost unlimited. Just start writing. Submit a review to a metal site and see if they want to publish it. If not, start your own blog. Build some experience that way. You may draw your own following and not want to write for somebody else. You may aspire to write for one of the larger metal sites (like ours) or a magazine. Just be warned that there’s little to no money to be made writing about metal.
Are you into reading any music/band books or Kindle e-books?
I read and review as many music books as possible. Most of them are hard copies, but a few have been sent to me in digital format, which is fine. Some of the best music books I’ve read recently include Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries by Jon Kristiansen, Crazy Train by Joel McIver, No Sleep Til Sudbury by Brent Jensen and Dirty Deeds by Mark Evans.
Are you able to fully support yourself by writing/editing for the site?
Not even close! Metal writing is a passion, but not enough to make a living. My “real job” is in radio, which I’ve been doing for more than twenty-five years. It’s not a traditional nine to five gig, which gives me the time and freedom for writing. There are people who make their living writing about metal and hard rock, but not many.
What are some of the magazines or places you contribute too?
Right now Loudwire is about the only other place I’m writing for in addition to About.com. Over the years I’ve written for magazines such as:
- Hails and Horns
- And several that are unfortunately no longer in existence
What’s a pet peeve of yours as far as other journalists or metal writers when you read their interviews?
Doing interviews can be daunting, and preparation and research is vital. That’s always a good first step, and allows the conversation to go in many different directions. Don’t be afraid to stray from your list of questions, and make sure to actually listen to their answers instead of thinking about your next question.
As far as pet peeves, my main one is when interviewers inject themselves into the conversation and make it as much about them as the artist. When I read an interview where the questions are longer than the answers, it’s not going to be a good one. The readers want to know about the artist, not the interviewer.
Do you download your music now or still buy CD’s?
I’m lucky enough to get pretty much all metal releases for free. Most of them are digital downloads, but a few labels still send real CDs for review. I buy stuff in other genres, and it depends on the price. If a download is cheaper, I’ll do that instead of the CD, or vice-versa. I have so many CDs it’s ridiculous, so I should be doing only digital to save space!
Hats off to you for being involved in Metal for the past 25 years…any last parting words?
Thanks for the interview Curt. Always a pleasure.
Chad is a longtime music journalist specializing in heavy metal and residing in Charlotte, North Carolina. Though he may appear to be an accountant, looks can be deceiving.
Chad has been involved in metal for over twenty-five years. He writes or has written for several national music publications including Outburn, Hails and Horns, AMP, Lollipop, Loud Fast Rules and more. He’s done hundreds of interviews over the years with members of bands such as Judas Priest, Metallica, Cannibal Corpse, Queensryche, Sepultura, In Flames and more.
In addition, Chad has covered events like Ozzfest, Warped Tour and the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival. He’s also worked in radio for the past two decades at stations all over the country.