Friday, November 22, 2013

Laurence Donohue-Greene Interview - Funnls.

New York City Jazz Record managing editor Laurence Donohue-Greene (how’s that for a business title?) has been documenting the nightly jazz occurrences in New York in print since 2002.
Along with editorial director Andrey Henkin, he helps compile a monthly missive from the Big Apple that frequently features over fifty lengthy jazz CD reviews from dozens of contributors as well as live reviews, record label profiles and artist interviews.
It is an indispensable document for the world jazz community, not just New York. We spoke with Donohue-Greene by phone about what it takes to hit those monthly deadlines and how he has managed to stay happily profitable publishing a niche music newspaper.

How did you become the managing editor and part-owner of a jazz newspaper?
Editorial director Andrey Henkin and I were both jazz writers. Andrey and I started writing for a jazz blog for a few years, reviewing concerts and CDs. I came onto the kind of a backwards idea of going from website writing to newspaper writing. Why don’t we start a jazz paper in New York? If it’s going to fly in any city it’ll work in New York.
In January of 2002 we decided if we are going to do it, let’s do it by the summer. I was working at Blue Note Records and I knew they’d support us with some advertising. And I had worked at Newport Jazz Festival so chances were I could get advertising from them. We started in May of 2002. Both of us had little to no experience doing something like this.
I’ll never forget when we went to the printer to pick up our first issue. We looked at each other like “we did it!” and then we realized we have to do it next month as well. It was a huge accomplishment to put out the first issue. Now we’re about to put out #138.
Who is your audience?
Our hope is that anyone slightly interested in jazz is our audience. We try to keep it left, right and center. The best balance we can. We don’t expect anyone to read from the front cover to the back cover. Anyone with the slightest interest in jazz will pick up a paper. Every few pages will stick. Our goal is regardless of what your interest is, from avant garde to mainstream, there will always be something.
It’s a hell of a balancing act. In New York, it’s much easier than any other city. We co-ordinate our feature coverage on who is playing that month. We rely on musicians as much as anyone. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth with clubs. Sometimes they don’t want to get that information out too soon. The hardest part is having too many possibilities and features. Andrey and I had a rule that if we had run something on a musician at any point going back to our first issue we wouldn’t repeat because there are so many great musicians.
People like picking it up at the clubs. It’s always a treat to see someone reading the paper on the subway. It’s like the Village Voice for me. I could read it online but I don’t. As the human race we do a lot of sitting and waiting in our lives. I lived in Philadelphia for a time and I would check out the Village Voice to see what I was missing back in New York. It’s a reminder that New York still is the center of the jazz world.
You can point to anywhere on the map and there is a scene but New York not only has great musicians that live in the city but chances are if you are a jazz musician, at some point you’ll be coming through the city to play. I go out two to three times a week and I‘ll see a few shows each night. There’s a jazz festival every night in New York.
The paper has managed to pay every contributor. How did you manage to do that with a free specialty paper?
We started a profit-sharing plan. We created a point system basically establishing a dollar value per point with a bi-annual payment. If we have a slow ad month, we cover it ourselves. A cd review is worth one point, a feature two or three, same with photographs.
We add up the points in a six month period and take the money out of the bank. We started that a few years into the project. We even went back and paid back issues to the very first issue. We’ve been fortunate that the dollar value per point has grown with each six month period. It takes a lot of patience from contributors but it’s realistic. Otherwise we might be digging a hole we can’t get out of.
Andrey is very good with figures. It was his idea of how this system would work. Every six months he sends me the breakdown. This is the x amount of dollars we can take out of the bank at this time. It’s a genius idea. It works out really well. When we stared the publication, I ran into someone who basically did the same as us for decades. I asked him, ”If you had any advice, what would it be?” He said “the only piece of advice I can give you is never pay your writers.” I thought that was not fair. We’re able to have a clear conscience. Without the contributors, there is no newspaper.

How do you pay for all of this?
Advertising and subscribers. We don’t make a hell of a lot of money from subscribers. There are a lot of subscribers even in New York where the paper is free. Some of them live a few blocks from drop-off locations but they want it as soon as possible in their mailboxes. We have a lot of international subscribers in Japan and throughout Europe. Advertising is our main source of income. We had a really good year last year.
This year we are matching that to my surprise. You don’t know what each month has in store and what interest there might be. We’ve created a niche for ourselves where if someone has something happening in New York, they’ll use us. We’re visible at all the clubs and the concert halls. We often hand out our papers. I feel positive looking into the future that If we can maintain the momentum, I foresee doing this for a much longer time.
This is your full-time gig. How many hours do you spend per day on the paper?
Too many. It’s non-stop. It’s basically eight in the morning until whenever. I easily spend 12 hours a day but it’s a labor of love. I’m making a living off of it. It’s not something you ever think about how many hours you’re putting into it. It gets to a certain threshold. If you start counting the hours, you might start second guessing yourself. It’s hard to put a number on it. If I’m not sitting in front of the computer, I’m sitting in a club listening to music or sitting on the subway going from one venue to another. It’s not a 9 to 5.

Where do you place New York City Jazz Record in the music industry?
I think the role of the paper is to offer coverage to musicians and record labels that aren’t getting that kind of coverage elsewhere. We take our cover stories very seriously. These are people that are well established and will stand the test of time. We try to keep that in mind. We’ll run reviews of significant artists that are being covered elsewhere but those are not our focus.
It’s ridiculous to try and cover these musicians that are all over the place. That said, if Chick Corea is having a great year, we’ll put him on our cover. Our hope is to turn readers onto musicians they haven’t heard of. Especially in New York. The whole reason of our features is to encourage readers to go out and support musicians in a live setting. That’s the way to experience this music. Check it out in the flesh. That’s the true litmus test.
What has been your most rewarding experience connected to the paper?
When Andrey and I started this paper, we were both working at least one full time job. As much time as we could put in, we would. It eventually became our exclusive full-time gig. This is the cliff we’re going to jump over and hope we land on our feet. That’s been the most rewarding thing. The great fringe benefit is hearing all this music every week.
There is definitely a level of respect that we have and continue to have. Most people who know who we are get a sense of that. Even if they just pick up a copy. It’s a different thing when you hold it in your hands. It’s nice to see that people appreciate the blood, sweat and tears we put into it. It is a labor of love. We feel fortunate to be able to do what we do. The mission for most people is hoping that what they do for a living is something they enjoy. And this is exactly that.

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