It has been my privilege, over the last few years, to write a few pieces for Britain’s best music (and arts and movies and stuff) magazine The Word – including, a couple of issues back, an article about the curation boom (my articles went the way of all flesh, of course, when David and Mark closed The Word, but here’s one about my early Internet life that I scanned).
The magazine’s publisher is David Hepworth (its editor – and the man to whom I tremblingly submit my copy – is David’s long-time publishing partner Mark Ellen). David oversees the selection of tracks for Now Hear This, The Word’s covermount CD: a monthly curatorial gem that regularly stays in our car CD player for the whole month (until the next one comes out).
I asked David a few questions about this rather successful example of 21st Century music curation (and also about his Saturday morning vinyl curation habit #platterday).
SB: tell me about the Word covermount. How does it come together each month?
DH: It’s put together by Andrew Harrison and Alex Gold with ideas thrown in by everybody else.
Are you extensively schmoozed by label PRs? Do bands send you stuff?
The record business is on the bones of its arse but you wouldn’t know that from all the stuff we get sent. Yes. PRs are instructed to try and get certain acts on the CD. it’s one of the few places where they can place unheard music and assure it gets heard.
Are there punch-ups in Word Towers about who’s on it or do you keep it all to yourself until its done?
No punch ups. You chase thirty tracks and you can’t get all of them. You might get twenty possibles which you edit down to fifteen. You need a mix.
What are the economics of the covermount? A few years ago everyone seemed to have one – and the newspapers went mad for them. How do they work?
Newspapers etc. have them for totally different reasons. They pay big money for music in order to outsell their competitors. Eventually they realised that the likes of Prince were taking them for a ride. They cost a lot of money because you have to pay mechanical royalties with them.
What’s the fate of the covermount? Will you replace it with a memory stick or a Spotify playlist?
No. It works because it’s a physical object.
Supplementary question: tell me about #platterday. Is it a model for publishing in the social media era or just what you do with a bacon sandwich on Saturday mornings?
I just got out my old deck and loved restoring the ceremony of playing black vinyl records on Saturday morning. Twitter just seemed an obvious way to share that experience. I posted a picture of a shelf full of my records and people started saying “oh play that one” which is clearly insane.
What is curation in this new sense? Is it different from being an editor?
I dunno. What I’m always trying to do is say something that doesn’t sound like the usual over-heated recommendations. It’s very hard. I find 99% of recommendations don’t actually convey anything about the nature of the thing recommended at all. They’re just endless variations on the expression “it’s brilliant!” Saying something meaningful about music is very hard, that’s why most people don’t bother.
Is there a business in it?
Shouldn’t think so.
David keeps a rather good blog of his own and curates a storytelling night called True Stories Told Live.
UPDATE: I asked David why he no longer picks the tracks himself. He says:
I did it for three years and was only too delighted to pass the job on. If you choose the tracks you have the unenviable job of writing the accompanying blurbs, which is like pulling teeth.