Weeping Elvis: Tell me more about how you started Alternative Press magazine and a few challenges you had to overcome.
Mike Shea: I used to be a little Goth ‘new-waver’ kid (back in 1985 when I graduated high school) and a friend of mine pulled me into the deeper punk-rock world of Cleveland. Getting to know a bunch of kids my age, I realized that all the different communities didn’t have anything that unified them. It’s like the old school punk didn’t like the new-wave MTV kids and skaters didn’t like the metal dudes and everybody wanted to know roughly the same information but there was nothing in town that was doing that. We had a couple of sporadic fanzines but they were in their own little cliques. I came down with Mono — I got misdiagnosed when I was attending college — getting these electrical charges shooting down my right arm. The doctor (initially) thought I pulled a muscle but I actually got that through mono. I couldn’t use my arm because of the atrophy and the doctor told me I couldn’t use my arm for two weeks. I had to go to PT to get my arm back — it was my dominant writing hand. I wanted to write — if I ever got my dominant hand back — and I was going to Kentucky State. I wanted to be a film maker but they shut down the film school. So, I was sitting in my radio classes, which were all that was left, thinking, “Why am I doing this?” I wanted to do something with writing so I decided to started a fanzine and try to connect all these communities because I thought this would be a cool and unique way to connect the communities. Before you know it, kids from around the region, then around Ohio, then around the Midwest wanted to write for us and do scene reports so there was a collective agreement that all of us misfits kids were into this music that was underground and alternative. The name came from being an ‘alternative’ to the other press, not necessarily meaning alternative music. We were all just misfits and that’s what we were doing. We created this fanzine for fans of ‘misfit music’ (no pun intended).
How has the dramatic shift to the internet to gather information on bands impacted Alternative Press?
Mike Shea: It made it a lot easier to get information in general. What we’re doing is the same thing that Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times are all going through. We’re all grandfathered in because we’re all established media brands, which is awesome and gives you a giant leg up over someone who decides to start a website. To start a website these days you have to have a gimmick. To go back to old school entertainment, you need something that’s going to keep people coming back. Buzzfeed has its gimmick, Huffington Post has its gimmick, but they’ve all tried to branch over to become legitimate news organizations and some of them do it and some of them can’t. I don’t know if TMZ will ever be legitimate but it will always be a fashion site. It replaced celebrity tabloids without all the lies.
For us, it’s made it a lot easier to get information and to connect with musicians and find music just like any music fan but, on the other hand, it makes it more difficult at times because you’re now competing with other sources for information. For us, back in the day, all of the print magazines had their own regions or markets or demo’s that we controlled: everyone had their own pocket. Then you have overseas press and they have their own little stuff. The Internet has wiped out those portions and caused everyone to fight in the same cage together. So now when a band is going to launch a new record they’re not only getting hit up by traditional sites (or media brands) that now have websites that are desperate for content.
So, now, Rolling Stone suddenly cares about our community because they need visitors. You also have people who run other sites who never cared about our music and need our content too so they’re going to start writing about it now, even though they never really supported our music in the past. So, the Internet really made all of us media brands start to get into some battles and there’s an interesting debate going on in labels with their managers where they’ll say “we’re going to give Noisey this exclusive track off of Epitaph Records because it’s going to get hundreds of thousands of plays and things like that.” What we found out is if we give this track to Noisey, for example, and they’ll get a couple hundred shares on twitter and Facebook. If they go back to their established base like us (AP) and other music sites that typically cover this stuff, they’ll get thousands of plays and shares. So they’re starting to think, “What is the benefit of us continuing to give exclusives to these much larger sites that just want to cover this stuff because they need to fill space?” They’re basically 24 hour news channels that need content instead of sticking with where we were and reversing that. It’s an interesting debate that’s going on and I’m very interested to see how all this is going to turn out in the end.
What are your favorite legends that have influenced you in the music industry?
Mike Shea: Oh boy, I’m going to date myself here, man… when I got into bands I was a Goth kid so I listened to Bauhaus, Wolfgang Press, New Order, Test Department, Throbbing Gristle… So those are the kind of bands that got me in this mix. All those bands formed me when I was a kid. Somebody said to me the other day they expected me to be a skater dude.
Tell me about the Alternative Press Music Awards. What your vision is for its future?
Mike Shea: My goal for next year is to get through this year. It’s a very big show on its first year. The APMAs are a very expensive, outdoor event. We’ve got something like 80 artists showing up and doing something on stage which is my fault because I wanted this event to be similar to the Oscars. The goal of the show is to bring us all together just to celebrate. The awards are great and important but it’s really about all of us in the community coming together and celebrating. We all do it partially throughout the year with Warped Tour and SXSW but we don’t have a place where we can all hang out for a day or two — that’s what I wanted to create. So the goal was to get some bands that are not touring and get them to come out so that way you’ve got artists that fans haven’t seen in six or eight months. We took it to the next level and got bands that weren’t even touring and at home mowing the grass being typical musicians at home who wanted to see their friends because, well, they’re all coming. We’ve got other musicians coming out of the studio to come hang out and it’s going to be a huge party. We have to get through this year and figure out what we did right and wrong and then figure out what we want to change.