Blogger Spotlight: Matthew Leimkuehler

Hello, everyone! Welcome to the final Blogger Spotlight column of the week. We are planning to bring back our Advice series tomorrow, but at this point we are waiting on a few final components to fall into place before revealing the article’s focus. If you have a person or publication you feel deserves to be highlighted in this column, or if you have an idea for a future Advice article, please do not hesitate to email and share your recommendation(s).

A hard truth many aspiring industry professionals are forced to face as they grow older is that there will come a day when the fruits of unpaid labor are no longer enough to sustain their continued existence. This a long way of saying that at some point people recognize the need for sustainable and reliable income greatly outweighs the desire to one day work full time in the entertainment business. Those who choose to give up on their pursuit in favor of steady work are sane and rational humans who will eventually come to terms with their decision, but those who make additional sacrifices to further reach for those long-standing goals are the ones that end up in this series. Matthew Leimkuehler is one such person, and today we’re going to learn about his journey into the world of entertainment.

Growing up, Matthew Leimkuehler was fed a steady stream of classic rock by way of his father’s fondness for The Eagles. This love of art was something that was passed down to Matthew, and as he grew older he found artists he connected with in ways similar to how his father adored the group who gave us “Hotel California.” He eventually recognized a desire to share that love with others, and shortly thereafter his pursuit of a career in music journalism began.

Not everyone becomes an overnight success, and though Matthew has come a long way from where he started he has yet to find full time employment in the industry. With the need to support himself always on his mind, Matthew has had to make a few difficult decisions in order to continue pursuing his dreams, and it’s in that determination to succeed that his story truly shines. He has drive like no other, and after reading his story we think you’ll feel a bit inspired as well.

Matthew has his hands in a few projects right now, so those hoping to stay on top of his activity would be wise to join him on Twitter. Additional questions and comments can be left 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:

ML: Hello all. My name is Matthew Leimkuehler, I work for Under The Gun Review and Substream Music Press. I work as the Music Editor at UTG and I do contributing writing for Substream.

H: When you think of your earliest memories of music, what comes to mind?

ML: Oh! What an interesting question. I always remember my dad playing The Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over. I would listen to it with him constantly. I remember making little mixed tapes on cassettes from the CDs he and my mom owned (you know-when you pushed play and record and captured the tunes, haha) and always being so proud of the mixes I would come up with. I’d walk around the block with my boombox showing off the latest playlist to the other kids.

H: Do you remember the first album you purchased with your own money? Do you still own it today?

ML: I remember purchasing Chumbawamba’s Tubthumper on cassette and jammin’ it in my backyard. My parents ended up hearing the line ‘pissin’ the night away’ and took the tape away from me. I was sooooo upset for days. I still some reservations towards that record to this day. Maybe I’ll go back and buy it now that I’m an adult, and can.

H: We’re going to dig into your current efforts in a bit, but first – can you please share with us what originally pushed you towards a life in entertainment journalism?

ML: My passion for music truly came about in middle school when I began connecting with bands like Green Day and Everclear and blink (this can before my grunge phase, which was to follow). As most, it was a way for me to connect when there was no other connection around. I loved sharing, talking and forming opinions on music back then, which eventually led to this. When I got older and became more connected with my local scene, I did everything I could to share this passion with any and everyone. In college, I played in regional touring bands and majored in mass media, which lead to more and more writing. I’m fascinated with the spreading and sharing of information. Diving into this field is the most logical way to combine these two loves. It also helps that everyone I come across has a similar mindset and work ethic. I like surrounding myself with good people. When I was struggling with finding my place once a few years back, I had a good friend tell me, “Matt, music is your passion. Your words are just the way you want to convey that passion.” Ever since then, I have done everything I can to work into the industry.

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

ML: I firmly believe my biggest inspiration comes from reading and watching those that create fantastic journalism pieces. It is a true artform to capture and translate someone else’s words to tell a story. This doesn’t need to be an entertainment piece–it could be a long-form New York Times article, or a documentary, anything. I also find myself highly influenced by great records. When I am handed a new record and I make a connection with what this artist is delivering, it comes across as being a great motivation to do a review justice.

H: Which came first, the love of music or the love of writing? When did you first begin to combine the two?

ML: As I mentioned a bit above, the two combined when I found my passion for communication during my undergraduate studies. I stopped touring and playing in bands, but I wanted to still stay relevant to all of the friends I had made and I wanted to continue spreading music in this scene and meeting more like-minded people. I am really happy I was given these opportunities to do just that.

H: Was writing your first experience ‘working’ in music? If not, please tell us about your early experiences in the business.

ML: My first experience was booking and promoting shows on MySpace in central Missouri, haha. It was always a blast. I would throw shows in the bottom of the empty community pool or at a shelter house. I met some of my best friends in the whole world doing things like that in high school.

H: You’re not a journalist by trade, but rather someone who has managed to turn a hobby into a career path. What did you study in school?

ML: I studied mass media and actually had a concentration in audio production. Studying the principles and backbone of audio gave me a great insight into reviewing records. Although I did not peruse a career in a recording studio or as a live engineer, those skills help me review a record every day. Knowing how a producer or musician made the sounds you are hearing can play a vital role in being a critic of those sounds.

H: A lot of people think working in the industry requires you to relocate to a major coastal city, but you currently reside in the middle of America. What are some of the challenges you face because of your location? Advantages?

ML: I do hope to re-locate when the time is right, but until then, being here seems like a content choice. A lot more happens on the coast, but there is also a lot more competition. I live in the greater Des Moines area right now (I grew up in the Kansas City scene but recently moved) where there is not a lot of media coverage in the alternative music scene. This makes it easier for access to interviews and shows and such, but also plays a difficult role because there are not a lot of individuals to connect with on a face-to-face basis. After I finish my work here (currently working on my masters degree) I feel it will be the right time to head coastal and break into bigger cities. Until then, I have to make the best of Iowa!

H: Before you joined the UTG team you were involved with Highlight Magazine. Where did you first come in contact with the Highlight team, and what caused you to depart?

ML: Highlight is great. Everyone on that staff works relentlessly hard to put out a great monthly magazine and constant online content. I departed mainly because I didn’t feel I could give them as much time as the job I was doing needed. I had moved to Iowa and was adjusting to a new full-time role working at Iowa State, and I just couldn’t couldn’t handle being pulled in a lot of different directions at once. Everyone there is so much fun, though. I can’t say enough how driven and dedicated they are to what they do.

H: How about UTG? Where did you first discover that site, and what lead you to apply?

ML: I found UTG when I was first looking into seriously getting into music writing (through following the site on Twitter) and I actually tweeted Jacob (a co-owner/editor) about getting some time writing. I loved the nature of the site, how it could be breaking yet still deliver substance with the news and reviews. It seemed like a rad fit. What I loved most about joining UTG was that it was the only site with a readership of its size to give me a chance to write for them. I was trying so hard to gain traction in this industry and they were the first ones to give me a true shot and it turned out to be an awesome fit.

H: You, like many, do not get paid to be a music journalist. Why do you do it?

ML: I do it because I love music. Money does not supplement drive and passion (maybe mixed with a little bit of zeal). I am constantly attempting to build and grow as a person and professional in this industry and although I may not be getting paid at the age of 23, I can only hope this work and dedication will pay off in the months and years to come as I further my professional goals. I believe everyone who does it for love does it because they know they want to get into this business and dues have to be paid.

H: There are more and more music sites by the day it seems. What do the sites you write for offer readers that they cannot find elsewhere on the web?

ML: UTG is great because every writer for that site has a true and personal voice. The way one person would write a news story is not the way I would write one, and ect. The detail we attempt to deliver in features/multimedia/news/reviews is always unique and in-depth, which is something you might not find among a lot of these young blogs. We always look to create a unique angle that holds true to journalistic ethics.

H: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing artists today?

ML: Cutting through the noise, for sure. There are so many artists in every genre of music, what do you, as an artist, need to do to be heard above your peers? There are so many different ways to look at how to cut through that noise. You can do it digitally with great social strategy, you can do it through a sensational live performance, you can do it by creating fake Warped Tour passes (lulz). You know? Stand out. See what your peers are doing to gain attention, and do it different or better or both.

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

ML: This argument probably comes from the same message board people who believe journalism is a dying field. As long as there is entertainment media, there will be people needed to critique said entertainment. It is the nature of supply and demand. I believe, we as entertainment journalists, also need to evaluate how to stand out through the quality of our content. More people being introduced into the field (through the digital expansion) just means you must create content that will make you stand out.

H: Where do you go to discover new music?

ML: I like to poll my peers. I read other sites. I always love to see what is influencing my friends who are musicians and the musicians I interview. Even if it goes off record, I always see what people are jamming. I love to watch what gains traction through the Internet and how that artist gained traction. I would almost argue I love seeing how artists promote and distribute music as much as I do writing about it. Just today, James, I asked your opinion on what a great hip-hop record would be to spin, haha. I’m always trying to find new music. I love that I have so many friends who play music that are constantly pitching their band to me. It’s great to watch them develop and it makes for tasty tunes.

H: Speaking of music discovery, you probably receive a lot of submissions from talent vying for a spot on your news feed. What advice can you offer young artists hoping to stand out in your inbox?

ML: Oh my gosh. Never, ever, in your entire lifetime, use the phrase “I know you get this a lot, but…"Be confident and professional. My biggest mistake, when I was playing in my band, was not treating the band as a job. I was so sloppy when I conducted business. I listen to as many submissions daily as I can. I always take higher interest in artists who simply state they are looking for me to listen to this, rather then a slew of beggy comments or questions.

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

ML: There is not doubt Haulix is the best interface. Depending on the device I am most using that day, it allows streams or downloads, which really caters to what I need to hear the material. I am actually studying the diffusion of innovations in one of my grad courses right now and in a recent argument I stated why Haulix is a superior product to competitors. It gives you everything you need about an artist, gift-wrapped.

H: You’ve held a few roles within the music industry. Are there any area of the business you would like to experience that you have yet to become involved with?

ML: I’ve touched on a little bit of a lot of stuff, but I’d love to get more into publishing and distribution. I am studying how digital elements change the way music is distributed to fans, so that really interests me. I would love to look at how poublishing plays a factor in the barriers of entry of success as an artist. But for the time being, I’ll stick to UTG. 🙂 I also think it would be fun to go to the other side of the field and do some publicity work. It’d be fun to gain some experience working on that side of music journalism.

H: What is your ultimate career goal?

ML: I want to be as happy as possible. I would love to either find a place at a company or start a company where I can use all of my skills and truly make a difference in the industry while gaining enough money to put some food on the table. I think that’s what a lot of people my age are striving for.

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

ML: The typical answer would be money. Everyone knows there are plenty of hard-working artists out there who suffer from poverty for their art. Aside from that, I wish there were less power in corporate radio and publishing. I feel like Clear Channel decides what the next Imagine Dragons will be. I wish more people who look towards and listen to popular music had more say in what the next big thing is. Radio is a great form of media and plays a vital role, but I believe in a digital era, it still holds too much power of music discovery.

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

ML: Survival is always on the top of my list, haha. In all seriousness, I hope to continue to adapt in my new role at UTG as Music Editor. I want to really work on creating content that looks at different angles of entertainment. I have a couple of cool interviews and show reviews lined out for the rest of the year and I just want to keep spreading music I think is rad to as many people as possible. Thanks so much!

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.