Industry Spotlight: Andrew Bonazelli (Decibel Magazine)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the very first industry spotlight of the week. We have received a number of requests to feature more stories about the people working behind-the-scenes in the journalism world, and we think the feature below will appease many hoping to learn about those unique individuals. If you have any questions regarding the content of this blog, or if you would like to learn more information about the services offered by Haulix, please email james@haulix.com and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

I am going to be completely honest with you right now and confess that I do not actually read many print publications these days. Music journalism is very important to me, as are the careers of my friends who are employed by magazines nationwide, but for whatever reason I have almost entirely transitioned my reading of music writing to the digital realm. I do make two exceptions however, and in the last month we have been able to speak to people from both of those outlets. The first was Cassie Whitt of Alternative Press and the second, which you will read below, is Andrew Bonazelli, managing editor of Decibel Magazine.

We could go back and forth about what makes any one piece of music journalism great, but in my opinion you know something is special when you find yourself unable to turn past, click off, or otherwise put down whatever it is you’re reading. I have never been the biggest fan of extreme music, but whenever I see a copy of Decibel I know I am in for an entertaining and informative experience. The entire publication, from the editors, to writers and photographers, truly love music, and that passion for the subject at the center of their work shows in the content they deliver each and every month.

You may not have known this prior to logging on today, but Decibel Magazine is the only monthly extreme music publication in America. In an age where print publications are going under left and right, Decibel has remained. I asked Editor Andrew Bonazelli to shed some light on life at the magazine, as well as his personal journey in music, and fortunately for us he was willing to share.

If you would like to learn more about Andrew’s work, we highly suggest taking the time to follow Decibel on Twitter and bookmark their official site. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

H: Hey there, thank you for joining us. To begin, please tell everyone your full name, job title, and current place of employment:

A: Andrew Bonazelli, managing editor for Decibel magazine, which is published by Red Flag Media in Philadelphia.

H: It’s great to have you with us. I’d like to begin this conversation by getting a sense for your history with music. Can you pinpoint any key moments or experiences that steered you toward the career in music journalism that you have today?

A: Like many other impressionable pubescent dingbats circa 1992, I fell in love with Nevermind, and before I knew it, I was writing horrifically bad, completely unqualified rock reviews for my high school newspaper (The Spaghetti Incident?: total masterpiece). Probably the exact second I realized this line of work could get me albums in advance and concert tickets for free, I decided to ride it out as long as humanly possible. I like to think the fact that it’s lasted nearly 20 years—and I can still barely execute an arpeggio on my $150 Epiphone—is more an indictment of the system than me.

H: What was the first album you purchased with your own money (and the format)?

A: Even though in reality it was probably Color Me Badd on triple gatefold colored vinyl, I’ll go with Mr. Bungle’s self-titled on cassette. I was 13 or 14. A friend of mine slept over that night, we listened to “The Girls of Porn,” then I walked downstairs and proceeded to ask my mother to define “she-males, lezbos and shaved beav / and D-cup mamas with so much cleave.” That was as close as we ever came to the birds and bees, but I recall her answering everything succinctly and accurately without laughing.

H: How about the first artist you can remember obsessing over? How did you originally discover them? Go on, tell us a bit about your earliest fanboy memories.

A: Faith No More and Helmet played my hometown of Buffalo before I was allowed to go to shows. I vividly remember reading the next day that Mike Patton was either arrested or booted out of the venue for simulating sex acts onstage. I’m sure my family and I had really good wings that night at my grandma’s house, but I was ready to make the leap to “observing simulated sex acts surrounded by drunk assholes” right then and there. I guess that’s more obsessing about an experience rather than an artist, per se. To answer the original question, I always found the Cathy Dennis video for “Touch Me (All Night Long)” worth obsessing over. My wife has thus far refused to wear the red wig, but I’m working on it.

H: As far as writing is concerned, when did you begin to consider your gift with wordplay as something you could make a living with? 

A: HAHAHAHA, “GIFT.” No, but seriously, I’m more an editor than writer at this point in my “professional” “career.” Pretty sure my incredible acumen for rearranging commas and semicolons has only paid off because nobody else likes doing it.

H: Did you go to school for writing? If so, would you suggest those who are considering a career in writing today do the same? Any insight you can give us on your education as far as writing is concerned would be appreciated.

A: Yeah, I was a Magazine Journalism major and English minor at Kent State University. I have very fond memories of very encouraging professors (Carl and Ann Schierhorn; not sure if they’re still there). Also, KSU’s journalism building is Taylor Hall, which overlooks the site of the May 4 massacre, which probably subconsciously contributed to my generally morbid everyday nature. That said, sorry: I have no idea how much formal college education determines one’s value in the field right now. I mean, writing has been universally devalued to the point that we’ve collectively allowed 50 Shades of Grey to not only exist, but thrive. I kinda think it’s everyone for themselves, and if you can somehow carve out a small audience of likeminded people, you win at life.

H: Currently, you’re the editor for Decibel Magazine, which is a personal favorite of the Haulix staff. When did you originally join the team?

A: Thanks, that’s awesome. I’m pretty bad with years, but I think some time around early 2005? Fun fact: If I’m not mistaken, Red Flag’s publisher, Alex Mulcahy, hired me without consulting dB’s editor-in-chief, Albert Mudrian. Albert just came to work one day and there I was: his new dipshit underling that he’d never met. I’m sure that was a thrilling moment. 

H: What were you doing with your career in music before Decibel came along? Did they approach you, or did you apply? Tell us your origin story as far as being an editor for Decibel is concerned.

A: I was living in Seattle writing an indefensibly terrible and glib column for one of the city’s two alt-weeklies, Seattle Weekly. It was time for a cultural change in pretty much every facet of my life. SW’s music editor, Michaelangelo Matos, was the one who turned me onto freelancing for dB. If I remember correctly, the very day I decided I was getting out of Seattle, I emailed Albert asking if Decibel needed help. I think like two weeks later I flew out to Philly and got this job. That’s probably why I’m so terrified of either getting laid off or applying for another position: It’ll never be that easy again. 

H: Without going too in-depth, please walk us through a typical day at work for you:

A: I’m not getting into this unless it’s a formal employee review and I have two weeks to prepare to make it look like I do something here. I’m sure Ron Livingston’s answer from Office Space will suffice until then.

H: Beyond paychecks and steady employment, how do you measure success at what you do?

A: Good question. I struggle with that. I struggle with that a lot drinking with friends after work. Actually, the reality is the smallest measure of positive reinforcement does the trick. I’m trying to get better at reciprocating that.

H: What advice would you offer to writers and aspiring music critics who may be reading this and longing to one day have a position like yours?

A: Do not aspire to have children, own a house or take vacations with regularity. Also, I smoke and drink a lot and will die soon, so keep those résumés updated.

H: Are there any common mistakes you see young writers make that you would advise others to avoid if at all possible?

A: Not doing a comprehensive final edit before hitting “send” just blows my fucking mind. You don’t hand an editor the equivalent of a first draft, especially not one peppered with easily remedied factual and grammatical errors. Sadly, this extends to “veteran” staffers and freelancers. Either they’re just lazy bastards or they’ve never been called out because nobody gives a shit about presentation anymore. Or I care too much about this type of thing. That’s possible, too. 

H: Is Decibel hiring? How about internships?

A: We’re pretty choosy about staff writers. It’s a big priority to keep the people we already have well-fed with assignments. Then again, here’s some advice for aspiring writers: By the time anybody decent publicizes a job posting on social media/Craigslist/whereever, you’re probably shit out of luck. It’s not the worst thing in the world to sporadically check in with an editor about writing opportunities. (Note: Never ever check in with me about writing opportunities.)

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

A: I have to be honest here: I’m somewhat of a Luddite (only 90 percent by choice; the rest is just ignorance due to not having enough time on my hands to explore my future on Tinder). But I can’t recall ever having any problems with Haulix. It seems to be the industry standard for extreme music, and I see no reason not to concur. 

H: We should have mentioned that you are much more than an editor for a popular music magazine. You have also written a number of novels as well. When did you first begin working in the world of fiction, and what can you tell us about your most recent release? Do you have any books or other projects on the horizon you can tell us about?

A: I recently launched an art collective (that term sucks, but whatever) called Towering Achievements (toweringachievements.blogspot.com). The idea is to blend the wit, hopelessness and misanthropy of Ruthless Reviews with the kinds of unique physical art projects that Vitriol Records puts out. I don’t wanna be too boring/self-indulgent about it, but my favorite thing I’m doing now is working on a stalker postcard fiction series where the individual cards are packed in police evidence bags. TA exists because I was sick of trying to impress “cool” small presses in Brooklyn or whatever with my project pitches, and realized I could do most of what I wanted myself. The reception is irrelevant. If you want to do anything creative, just remember all the uninspired, tepid, twee bullshit surrounding you and it should be obvious that you’re doing the right thing.

H: How do you balance writing books and editing the magazine? Your free time must be extremely limited.

A: Once you start to deprioritize plucking Doritos crumbs out of your pubes and watching Real Housewives marathons, you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish.

H: What are two albums you think everyone should hear at least once before they die?

A: I hate when people are inspired, so whatever the last two Good Charlotte albums were.

H: What is your current career goal, and how has that changed since you first got into the world of writing?

A: To justify my parents’ decision to devote probably hundreds of thousands of dollars to my upbringing and education. Will never be accomplished, but I’m trying. Hasn’t changed.

H: I think that’s everything I have to ask. Before you go, are there any final thoughts or observations that you would like to share with our readers? The floor is yours:

A: If you’re curious about “D-cup mamas with so much cleave,” consult the internet, not your parents.

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.