Blogger Spotlight: Heather Hawke (Decorated Youth Magazine)

Hello and welcome to a new week of music industry coverage and advice here on the Haulix blog. We have a couple crazy interviews in the days ahead, as well as an advice column you’ll want to bookmark for future reference. If you have any recommendations for future columns or features, please do not hesitate to email james@haulix.com and share your story.

So far in this series we have focused heavily on individuals who have already developed their own brand and dedicated online following, but this week we’re going to start out by focusing on someone who has only just begun their journey into the music industry. Though she not spent as much time as some of our other highlighted talents, the insight she has on what is happening right now with young minds and music is second-to-none, and we’re honored to share her story.

Heather Hawke, like many of today’s top bloggers, grew up on a steady diet of pop punk following a young introduction to Blink-182. She never wanted a career as a child, but when she reached an age where it became clear she would eventually need a job title she knew music was the only place for her. After months of networking and a few forays into others areas of the business that weren’t what she expected, Heather realized her love of photography and writing would best be served through her own efforts, and not long after Decorated Youth Magazine was born.

Today’s spotlight is more about getting your foot in the door of the industry than it is further building an established brand. Heather Hawke is fully aware of the vast landscape of competitors facing her publication, and yet she fearlessly forges ahead because deep down she knows she’s onto something special that people will take notice of in time. Her journey is one we can all learn from, and you can read about her adventure at the end of this post.

If you would like to learn more about Heather Hawke and her ongoing efforts to make music a better place, be sure you bookmark and frequent Decorated Youth Magazine. Additional questions or comments can be left below.

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

HH:My name is Heather Hawke I am the Founder/ Photographer/ Graphic Designer/ Writer & Editor of Decorated Youth Magazine.

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

HH:From as long as I can remember whenever my family and I would go on vacations we’d listen to music (which ranged from Metallica to 90’s pop music) every night before bed, which inevitably sparked my interest in music. Although, it wasn’t until middle school when a friend showed me Blink 182 that I dove headfirst into music and the pop punk scene. 

The years that followed I became infatuated with bands like New Found Glory, Green Day, Simple Plan, The All American Rejects, The Starting Line, Yellowcard, Motion City Soundtrack, Fall Out Boy, Jimmy Eat World, and The Early November. All those bands had a huge impact on the way I perceived music and ultimately the fact that it’s the only industry I see myself working in. 

H: Do you remember the first song you fell in love with?

HH:This is a really tough question because I’m not the type of person who falls in love with one song, I fall in love with entire albums. The first four albums that started my love for music were New Found Glory ‘Sticks and Stones’, Simple Plan ‘No Pads, No Helmets, Just Balls…’, and Blink 182’s ‘Enema Of The State’ and ‘Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.’

H: Where did the idea to launch your own site come from? Did you write anywhere else before stepping out on your own?

HH:I never had intentions of becoming a journalist. Although as a child I was always documenting family vacations and outings either taking photos or writing, at that age I didn’t comprehend that people had to have careers so it never crossed my mind that I’d be doing either for a living. When I was old enough to comprehend that people had to have jobs, the music industry was my only go to.

In 2005 at the age of 17 and when Myspace was in full effect, I started to ‘friend’ people who worked in the music industry, especially the people who worked at record labels. It was around this time I realized that I had to start thinking about what to do after high school. I knew that I wanted to be in the music industry, I just had to figure out a way to break into it.

When you live in a small city that has no record labels, one alternative radio station, only a couple small venues and recording studios, and doesn’t get that many tours coming through, it’s tough to get your foot in the door. I did reach out to most of the recording studios and the venues and happened to get a reply from one of the studios in late 2009. 

Although I got to sit in a recording session and it was completely my own doing, I felt obligated to go. Even before I went in I had preconceived notions that working at a recording studio wasn’t going to be the right thing for me (partly because of the fact I’m completely deaf in the left ear and the other because I’m stubborn and wished it was a record label).

Coming out of the session, I was heartbroken that my notions were correct. I had no idea what path to take next. I had terrifying fears of never actually getting into the industry let alone if I’d actually like it if I did manage to break into it.

In the winter of 2010 some things happened that changed my life, but it was the biggest blessing in disguise that I ever received. I say it was a blessing in disguise because the path it led me to was me casually searching the local jobs section on Craigslist that following January and it was by fate that I came across an ad for a Production Assistant for an independent movie that was being filmed in my city, that movie was ‘The Motel Life’ starring Emile Hirsch, Dakota Fanning and Stephen Dorff. That same day that I reached out, I got an interview and was hired on the spot. That job was only 2 months long (from pre-production to post production), but it was the hardest and yet one of the best experiences of my life. I met so many hardworking and dedicated people that it ultimately changed the way I looked at my life, and it especially changed my work ethic. 

From then on I began to do any and everything I could to pursue my dreams and one was reaching out to Shannah Lauren (Owner of Inspirer.nu Magazine/ and one of those industry people that I friended on Myspace). She was looking for journalists for her site and I rushed to apply and even though I had zero experience, she gave me a chance and let me write for the site.  

I worked for Inspirer.nu Magazine for a year, starting out just posting music news, writing “Band You Should Knows,” as well as writing album reviews. After I became aware that I could also start interviewing musicians I immersed myself in them.  

I feel that although it was only a year that I was writing for Inspirer.nu the fact that I dove headfirst into it because I knew that it was my break into the industry, led me to learn and grow so much in that short period of time. Since I felt like that, I knew it was time to pursue my own website which is Decorated Youth.

H: Who or what is your biggest inspiration as a writer?

HH: As a book reader the authors J.K. Rowling, Jonathan Safran Foer, John Green, Ellen Hopkins, and Kevin Brooks have been some of my early inspirations. I’m also constantly inspirited by other publications like Local Wolves Magazine, Naked Magazine, Hightlight Magazine, Venture Magazine, Relevant Magazine, Varience Magazine and of course Alternative Press has been my go to for the last decade. 

However, my biggest inspiration is definitely songwriting. The songwriting that goes into acts such as; One Republic, A Rocket To The Moon/ Nick Santino, Local Natives, Vampire Weekend, The Paper Kites, Dallas Green, John Mayer, The Format/fun., Paramore and Fall Out Boy to name a few, are impeccable. 

H: What is the origin of the name Decorated Youth?

HH: The word ‘Decorated’ in our name is figurative. Everyone is decorated with their past; emotions, people, careers, passions, beliefs ect. and it makes everyone who they are. With this magazine I want to show the readers what these individuals are “decorated with” to have them stand apart from others in their industry. My goal is to make entertainment journalism more personable and relatable.

I knew I wanted ‘Youth’ in the name to not only represent my generation by age, but to also represent in a figuratively sense the start of something. Since youth is where everything starts there is so much room for growth.

H: Your site mentions that your focus is quality over quantity. What is it about the content offered on your site that sets it apart from competitors?

HH: Quality refers to in-depth interviews. For example, with our first print issue we featured the nonprofit organization These Numbers Have Faces which had a 7 page spread, if you add them up 6 of those pages were all words and they weren’t even our cover feature. 

Quantity refers to the number of features we have, which goes for online as well as in print. We don’t post music news (like tour/album announcements) to gain an audience, we’d rather post a few article here and there to gain loyal readers. Our first two print issues we only have seven features in each, in this third issue (that’s going to be release on Sept. 22) we have six interviews and a few photo galleries of live shows. We’d rather have a forty two page print issue with six or seven features, than a forty two page issue with fifteen or twenty features.

Since our motto is quality over quantity I try to always put as much effort into each interview question as possible, in hopes to always having the best interview I can get from that individual/group. When I’m researching who I’m about to interview, for the most part I learn a lot about them in other interviews which can make it a very tricky thing to ask questions that haven’t been answered already. My goal is to come up with those questions. 

There are some questions that I use regularly with musicians that have to do with the writing process because those are important things to include, but even if they are a small unsigned band or unknown individual I always spend the same amount of time with each interview from start to publish. Our logic is if you’re going to spend time doing an interview why not make it the best it can be? Why put time into questions that people can find the answer to somewhere else? I also don’t just include questions about their most recent work, I try to go back to their start and tell their story to give the readers a timeframe. 

Most musicians dread doing interviews and I can see why when everyone either asks irrelevant questions or questions that can be found online. I want to interview those individuals and take the dread out of doing interviews, I want them to feel like it’s their first interview again. 

H: As far as I can tell there is no advertising to be found on your site. Do you have plans to monetize in the future? If so, how do you plant to approach it?

HH: Another thing that sets Decorated Youth Magazine apart from the rest is that we never have and never will have advertising, not even tour/album posters in our magazine.  It kind of goes hand in hand with quality over quantity in that I don’t want any fillers, on the site or in the print issues. I also wholeheartedly believe that the best advertising is world of mouth, so if I want to advertise a specific tour or album I either will get in touch with a publicist on doing an interview or go to that live show to cover it.

H: Every site is in a constant state of development. What are you focusing on currently as far as growth and expansion is concerned?

HH: As of right now since it is just me running the magazine and I’ve just starting releasing the print issues in June I’m only looking as far ahead as the next issue, because I don’t want to get ahead of myself. 

There’s a great quote that says “focus on one thing and do it well.” So as of right now my main focus lies in balancing putting everything together in a quick manner for the print issue while still posting features on our actual site. Once I have the hang of that I’ll start to brainstorm how I else I can evolve.  

H: Have you done any marketing for Decorated Youth yet? If so, can you tell us what worked best for you?

HH: I haven’t had time for traditional marketing, but I’ve found that just doing interviews with people and actually putting time into it and caring is the best marketing anyone can do. Word of mouth works wonders in the industry and if you actually put time and energy into every interview and story people will take notice and want to share it.

H: There are a number of young artists and bands featured on your site. Where do you turn when hoping to discover new music?

HH: Social media. I rarely go out of my way and try to find the next best thing. Most of the time I discover my next favorite musician(s) from people I follow on social media sites. People are always posting about music they love, the key is to trust them and actually listen to it. I also hear a lot of great music in commercials and soundtracks. 

H: Some people believe there is no need for critics in the digital age. Do you agree? (Support your response)

HH: I disagree. For the people who read what critics post, critics in the digital age seem even more important than ever. I say that because in this digital age we want everything right now, so if somebody reads a bad review of something they probably won’t take the time to go out and test it for themselves. Can you even imagine what people would do without critics? They’d have to actually test out everything themselves!

Another good thing about critics in the digital age is that since there is so much content it can be overwhelming trying to keep up with everything being released, so when it’s reviewed it makes the unknown known.  

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

HH: I love Dropbox because it goes everywhere I go and almost everyone has it, but I’ve also just started receiving a few Haulix downloads which I’ve been really enjoying. It’s simple and has a clean layout.

H: What is the hardest part of this ‘job’ you’ve made for yourself?

HH: Prioritizing. Besides doing everything for Decorated Youth I also have a (almost full time) day job, so I’m still trying to work out balancing everything whether it’s; editing live photos, reaching out to people to do features on, researching interview questions, finding time for phone interviews, decided what to post online vs. in a print issue, turning the interviews into stories and then of course putting the whole print issue together. It takes most of my free time, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love every aspect about it because I know it’ll eventually get me to where I envision myself.

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

HH: It’s not necessary about changing the music industry itself, but changing the way “fans” approach it. When I talk to people about the bands that they say they really love, I have to be the one telling them that they are releasing a new album or going out on tour. Otherwise they would have no idea. I wish music lovers cared about music enough to stay updated with their favorite bands. 

H: What is your ultimate career goal?

HH: To have a steady career in the music industry. My goal has always been to work in A&R, although music supervision is a close second. There are so many opportunities out there I’m still trying to get my footing around what I really want to pursue in this industry.  

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

HH: For Decorated Youth I’m planning out the fourth issue which is going to be released in early November just in time for our one year birthday. I can’t say if I have something clever up my sleeve quite yet as I don’t want to jinx it. 

Personally, there’s a few upcoming concerts that I hope to shoot to keep building my photography portfolio.

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.