Dirty Linen is Dead, Long Live Driftwood Magazine!
Like most people in the music business, I found myself shocked and surprised by the sudden death of Dirty Linen. A venerated publication for folk/roots/world music, Dirty Linen was where I learned of many great new bands or musical movements. And then one day it was gone. I searched around and managed to find a blog called Dirty Nelson that told some of the story, and then just recently I heard that a brand-new online publication, Driftwood Magazine, was being formed from the ashes of Dirty Linen! I jumped on the line and sent off some questions to find out the scoop.
Editor Jack Hunter has the vision behind Driftwood Magazine, the publication designed to bring Dirty Linen’s ethos into a digital world. With some previous experience in the publication industry and as a freelance editor, he’s taken on the task of editing the posts and article and keeping a steady stream of content flowing. He’s joined in this venture by copy editor Jon Patton, the son-in-law of Dirty Linen’s editor and a folk musician himself. I interviewed both Jack and Jon a few weeks ago to get an idea of their plans for Driftwood and their vision.
Hearth Music: Tell me about yourself. What’s your background in the music and your interest in the music?
Jack Hunter: I’m just an old newspaper guy. I read Dirty Linen for years, and wrote some reviews that would have appeared after the January issue if the magazine had continued publishing, but other than having grown up in the right era, I don’t have a “background” in the music per se. I just like the material they covered, and I wanted to help out the music (and some friends).
HM: What’s the vision of Driftwood Music Magazine? What will you be reporting on in the music world? What will the focus be?
JH: My vision is to continue what Dirty Linen did: cover the best folk and world music available. The magazine was dearly loved by its readers in a way that very few publications are. We can’t replace it, but I can sure do my best to try and live up to reader expectations.
We will publish primarily CD reviews and artist profiles. I have been keeping items for a newsfeed, much like the one Dirty Linen used to have, and from that we will garner article ideas for the writers scattered throughout the country. I’ve also given many of the writers extra leeway both for length and content during the initial stages. I want to see what the writers are best at. After all, I’ve only worked with them now for a few weeks. They’ve known themselves their whole lives.
HM: Is this the first online magazine that you’ve created? What was the inspiration?
JH: This is indeed my first online magazine. I used to run a little community newspaper. I said the wrong thing about the banker who was our primary financier and that ended badly. I suppose that’s one benefit to running on a $0 budget. No one can take your funding away.
The inspiration came from Jon [Patton]. He’s Paul Hartman’s son in law, so he knew early on that the Hartmans were leaving Dirty Linen. We’ve been e-mail penpals for about three years now. I freelance edit, and I met Jon when he worked full time for one of the companies I got work from. We had a similar sense of humor, I think. And he was overly impressed with my bonafides. He told me he had been looking to start a blog for a while but that he needed someone who was better at the “business” side of things. I’ve now gotten a crash course in what it means to run a music magazine, and a much more traumatic crash course in all the online things (even “simple” stuff like Google Docs and WordPress). But I’ve also learned how much good music there is on the planet.
HM: Will you be focusing on new music releases or any and all music?
JH: We’re focusing primarily on new album releases. That builds readership. You can’t just revisit the same artists over and over again. But we will continue to revisit classic recordings and legendary performers, like the article on Darroll Adams we’re running on our first day. We’ll also publish show reviews when possible.
HM: How will Driftwood Magazine be influenced by Dirty Linen? Will it replace Dirty Linen, or absorb Dirty Linen’s content and add its own content?
Jon Patton: Most of the writing staff currently reviewing albums for us wrote for Dirty Linen in the past. I was a writing student in college, and I’m a musician, so I brought on board a few of my own friends and colleagues. The influence in the material reviewed and covered is huge. The main differences as I see them are:
(a) The theme of the magazine is a little different. We can’t make jokes about laundry anymore. Jack’s apparently decided to go with a nautical theme. We’ll see how that goes over and whether any of us can stop him if it doesn’t.
(b) A rolling publication schedule. Our goal is at least one post a day, mainly reviews, with certain types of articles always appearing on certain days. Jack decides on the content and scheduling, though, so I can’t say much more about that.
(c) We’ll slightly expand the genres we cover.
HM: Are you planning long features like Dirty Linen and No Depression used to do? As in interviews, original photographs, and original subjects?
Jack Hunter: We have some feature articles that former Dirty Linen writers sent. We even have some original photographs for those articles, like the ones in the Derroll Adams article — and Derroll Adams photos are pretty rare. Once the dust settles, we will start planning more feature article subjects. We will also publish feature reviews, which will have more multimedia content than the short reviews.
HM: How do you plan to connect the very separate worlds of rock, alternative, indie, roots and world music?
JH: Jon wanted to cover a lot more genres, but we agreed on the compromise that it had to have at least one foot in the music world that Dirty Linen covered. I explained that extremely popular artists already got the attention they deserved or desired. Our job is to tell the world about what they miss out on if they only listen to Top 40 radio. Jon has a rant about “folk” music that I’ve personally heard go on for over an hour. It seems plausible he might feel rather strongly about this subject.
Jon Patton: I might have a more expansive definition of “folk music” than my parents’ generation typically does. (Not to generalize or anything.) At some point we have to realize as a culture that bands like The Beatles, Nirvana, and REM have been absorbed into the folk tradition, just because their songs have been around for so long and they get played in bars all the time by musicians who self-identify as “folk.” Pavement was covered by Nickel Creek. Hayseed Dixie (the bluegrass AC/DC cover band) exists. Techno music is all based on a single 6-second drum beat — is that really so different from folk singers reusing the lyric “Moses stood on the Red Sea shore/Smote the water with a two-by-four”? There’s too much to say here; I could write a book.
HM: Why no hip-hop? How strict will that rule be?
Jack Hunter: I’ve heard K’naan’s album “Troubadour” and I would have reviewed something like that in a heartbeat, because it has a significant world music component. We just have to hope that artists like that will pitch their CDs to the venues that review world music. But we wouldn’t review something like Kanye West, for the same reason we probably wouldn’t review Lady Gaga. Whatever folk or world music component they would have in their music is buried beneath a mile of pop. We have to remain true to our vision. If we advertise that we review hard rock, punk, hip-hop, and or pop “under certain circumstances,” no one will read the part in quotes. They’ll just send us more music than we can screen.
Jon Patton, Copy Editor
HM: Do you think that published magazines have a future, or are we looking at a future comprised mainly of blogs?
Jon Patton: Print media will become more consolidated and perhaps more populist in the short run. Eventually global resource pressure will force print media to exist only on the local level for information that is not timely — like poetry chapbooks printed on paper recycled from library copies of the works of Shakespeare.
I used to edit for a very prominent science journal that had one of the shortest times to press in the world for a print journal. It still wasn’t fast enough. Music will eventually all be downloaded rather than burned to these little plastic discs. The media that reports about it will have to follow suit just to keep up.
I won’t lament the loss of the print publishing industry except in that it makes advertising more difficult and thus makes it impossible for to make a living at it and specialize.
Jack Hunter: God, I hope so. Honestly, I don’t know how much longer print material will last, but I like to curl up on the couch with a good book or read the paper in bed. Blogs are very democratic. But I don’t think they will replace print material. You still need editors.
A quick look at the first week of Driftwood Magazine shows a polished, confident publication that’s coming out the gate swinging. A feature review of Solas’ new album is well done, there’s a truly excellent article/interview with punk hillbilly musician William Elliot Whitmore, and a masterful retrospective on songwriter Derroll Adams. This is the kind of writing that’s all too absent in music blogs and used to be the domain of print publications (who pay their writers). As more and more print publications are either struggling to remain afloat (SingOut! Magazine), or have given up print and gone to straight online (No Depression), this means that some of our best music journalists are finding themselves out of work or struggling. Which brings me to the question of “How did this happen to Dirty Linen?” I asked Paul Hartman, Dirty Linen’s editor for the story:
Paul Hartman, Dirty Linen’s Editor
HM: What happened with Dirty Linen? I haven’t been able to figure out the story and I think a lot of people are asking what happened?
Paul Hartman: In 2007 Dirty Linen merged with Visionation, publisher of Blues Revue magazine and blueswax.com and folkwax.com. Sue and I came to the conclusion that we just couldn’t continue as a 2-person operation (of course we had lots of part-time help including writers and photographers, but we were the only full-time employees). But Visionation had severe financial problems — we didn’t get paid, our health insurance was cancelled, and there was no money to pay the printer to get magazines printed and shipped. Sue and I were forced to leave. I don’t know what Visionation’s plans are with respect to resuming publication. So far there has been no public announcements from Visionation that I know of.
[Note: I asked Visionation for a comment on this story, but did not receive a response.]
The real question throughout all of this, however, is how to make an online publication financially sustainable. Even No Depression struggles with this problem and relies very heavily on volunteer help for keeping content current and filtering the blog posts from the community. We are currently in a transition period for the music industry. Everyone assumes that digital music sales, digital publications, and digital radio will replace all the old models, but no one knows when. So as the old models collapse around us, we’re suddenly finding that new models aren’t filling the void. Digital sales of music haven’t been able to compensate for the drop in physical sales, and online advertising isn’t able to sustain publications the same way print advertising did. As Paul Hartman says:
PH: People expect online publications to be free. It’s difficult to pay a staff if there’s no revenue coming in. Relying 100% on advertising is hard. Will people like Woodward & Bernstein of the Washington Post in the 1970s be around in 5 years to do long-term investigative reporting?”
So here’s a toast to the online publications that are paving the way for the future of music journalism. Let’s keep talking and keep thinking about how we can build new careers in a digital world, and how these publications can become or remain financially sustainable. Because a change is gonna come and we’d best be prepared.