Blogger Spotlight: Brad Michelson (From The Garage)

Hello once again and welcome to the latest edition of Haulix Blogger Spotlight. This week we’re focusing our efforts on highlighting those who are just starting to make their voices known in digital journalism, and today’s talent certainly unlike any we’ve featured before. If you or someone you know would like to be featured in an upcoming column, please do not hesitate to email james@haulix.com and share your story.

People begin writing about music for a variety of reasons, but one we’ve come across far more often than the rest is the simple desire to help expose regional talent to a larger audience. Such motivations have been the foundation of countless magazines and websites, including the one we’re going to learn about today, and if you ask me it’s the most pure way to get into journalism today. People who follow this desire to essentially become free marketing tools for artists are selfless individuals who have dedicated their own time and skills to further the dreams of people they may never know on a personal level solely because they believe in the art those individuals create. The reward for such efforts is usually very little, but still thousands continue to write each day. Today we’re telling the story of one such individual, and his name is Brad Michelson.

Growing up in Vancouver, Brad Michelson realized at an early age that there were no regional outlets for artists in his area to promote their activities online. He took it upon himself to make a change in his scene, and in 2008 launch the site From The Garage. Through photos, video, and editorial work Brad showcases the best acts Vancouver has to offer, as well as a variety of international talent (whenever they happen to stop in his area), and we’re excited to share his journey with you this afternoon.

Every time I start to feel like the stories we feature are becoming oddly repetitive, someone like Brad Michaelson comes along and turns the whole process on its head. His views on music and approach to branding his business are different from essentially everyone we have featured to date, and judging from the success he’s found already there’s something to be learned from his efforts. You can stay up-to-date with everything Brad is working on by bookmarking From The Garage. If you have any additional questions or comments, feel free to add them at the end of this post.

H: For those unaware, please state your name, the site you work for, and your role at said site:

BM: My name is Brad Michelson and I run FromTheGarage.net.

H: To what or whom do you attribute your interest in music?

BM: Blink 182 was the band that really sparked my interest in music. I wasn’t ever really that into music before then. One of my friends introduced me to Enema Of The State and Take Off Your Pants And Jacket when I was about 11. I didn’t really understand the music but it was fun and catchy. After falling in love with those records, my life basically revolved around music.

H: Most people enjoy music, but not everyone decides to start a zine. What attracted you to the world of entertainment journalism?

BM: When I was in the eleventh grade, I realized I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Some of my friends were into science. Some were good at math. I somehow discovered that I liked to write, so I decided to start writing about music. I began writing for a small youth publication in my home province of BC called YouThink. Later that year, after meeting someone I looked up to in the Canadian music journalism world, I decided that starting a website and putting up music-related content was something I wanted to do. This was before YouTube really took off, so whoever wanted to do that kind of stuff still had a bit of a monopoly over content for their local scenes. It kind of just took off from there.

H: Where does the name From The Garage originate?

BM: I played in a couple crappy bands in high school, and we played a battle of the bands show at one point called Out Of The Garage. I remember looking at one of the posters I had left over for the show and thinking it had a ring to it. I’m horrible at coming up with names for things, so I changed it to From The Garage kind of went with it. Don’t even ask what my bands were called.

H: There are a growing number of sites competing for attention in alternative music blogging. What is it about the content offered by your site that sets you apart?

BM: Well at the time I was really pushing FTG there weren’t a lot of other music blogs around Vancouver. Vancouver Is Awesome wasn’t out yet, Miss 604 was just starting I think, and as far as I knew at the time, not a lot of blogs were covering local music outside of the Theory Of A Dead Man scene. I think the first interview I did for FTG was with Hey Ocean, and they had been around for a couple years. This was right before they got popular, which was great. It was tapping into that BC and Canadian indie music scenes before people really knew what to call it. So if I have to say there was one thing FTG was good at was that I was able to identify which bands were going to be getting attention soon, and get content on those acts while they were in Vancouver.

H: You focus more on multimedia (photo, video) features than news posts. Was this always the case?

BM: Well I started FTG with the idea of it being a blog-type site in a zine format. Most of the content was video based. Back then I did video interviews and video reviews, but I eventually grew to hate being on camera, so I ended up moving, like most people do now, into taking photos and filming bands play live.

H: There is very little advertising on your site, if any. Do you have plans to monetize in the future? If so, how do you plan to approach it?

BM: Nope, FTG hasn’t really gone into advertising. I was able to keep the running costs of the site pretty low so it was and is still manageable. In an older version of the site, when it was still tolerable for people to do this, I used to have Google ads. I think I got about $100 over the course of two and a half years from that.

H: Your social network presence is very light. How do you promote your work?

BM: It’s kind of interesting, actually. The views on FTG content come from social platforms outside of the actual site. I host all of our content on things like Flickr, YouTube, and Tumblr. So most of our traffic is generated from social media platforms, from people looking for specific content or getting referred to specific content from other websites curating the work. The internet is an amazing thing.

H: Where do you look when hoping to discover new music?

BM: That’s a good question. When I was in high school, I was one of those kids who always got their new music from music blogs. They barely exist anymore since Blogspot started taking them down for piracy issues. Basically, people would post a band, a small description, three bands they sounded like, and then a link to download an album. I would spend a ton of time learning about a bunch of weird and diverse genres from all over the place. Now I get a lot of referrals from friends. I get a lot of press releases in my inbox during the week so sometimes I discover new bands from there. But my favourite place to find new music is just by going to see bands play live. There’s nothing like falling in love with a band with your eyes and ears.

H: What are some of the biggest mistakes you see young artists make when attempting to promote themselves online?

BM: Promoting small artists is a very tricky thing. I think one of the biggest mistakes that new bands make is taking themselves too seriously too quickly without backing that confidence up with hard work. That means if they’re over-hyping themselves, they better make damn good music or put on an awesome live performance. But writing and playing are very different than promoting. Yes, one needs the other, but whoever is decided to be the networking member of the band needs to know how to shake hands and who not to piss off. The music business is fickle but it’s navigable.

H: When it comes to receiving music for feature consideration, which services do you prefer and why?

BM: I think that Bandcamp has been the best service for streaming, buying, and downloading music since it launched. Not only is it free for artists to use, but they added physical merch sale capabilities last year that basically make it what MySpace and Big Cartel did for bands mixed into one. The design also fits with the minimalist aesthetic that almost all successful websites use nowadays. On top of that, it’s really easy to use regardless of whether you’re selling your music or giving it away for free.

H: How do you feel about music piracy? Can it be prevented?

BM: I’m a serial music pirate. I don’t remember the last time I payed for an album. I get funny looks from some people when I say that, but the reality is that there is no incentive for me not to at this point. The way I justify it is that if a band I really like comes into town, I have no problem spending $60 on a few pieces of merch. Not only is that money going directly to the artist, but it’s always nice to have physical mementos from your favourite artists. I’d like to see more people take that philosophy.

H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

BM: That’s a pretty tough question, mostly because the industry is in a transitional period where it doesn’t quite know how to make money and it’s still kind of clinging on old practices to scrape pennies together. What kind of industry is this if artists as big as Rihanna have to pay for a high-budget music video out of pocket in the hopes of actually making money off of record sales? That model clearly isn’t working anymore and it would be interesting to see what comes out of the ashes once it dies. As a consumer, I’m optimistic.

H: What is your ultimate career goal?

BM: If you asked me that two years ago I would have had a completely different answer to this, but at this point in my life I don’t really know. I do a bunch of different things now. Aside from my arts writing, I also do some political and international news reporting. I still shoot a lot of concerts, sometimes getting photos published in some cool magazines. I broke into the PR industry last year after starting SpotColour Entertainment (http://www.spotcolour.ca) with my cousin. We represent a handful of cool bands out of BC right now. And on top of that I’ve also been doing some social media community management and development work. So, to answer your question, I have no idea.

H: Before we let you go, can you tell us a bit about what you have planned in the months ahead?

BM: Well, I moved to New York at the beginning of July in the hope of finding greener pastures. I’ve been working a bunch of different jobs at various companies and I’m just working towards finding what I want to start doing for a career. So, after signing a one-year lease over here, I’ll be spending the next 12 months figuring those things out.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.