The Other Side with Newcity Music's Co-Founder Brian Hieggelke
Newcity Music co-founder Brian Hieggelke reveals how he spearheaded the music journalism movement in Chicago, wonders "Did Pitchfork Kill the Rock Critic?" and explains why Spotify might be the music industry's most addicitve innovation in this week's Other Side feature.
Once known as a bit of a rolling stone, Brian Hieggelke was born in Minnesota and spent his formative years in Lincoln, Nebraska before landing in the Chicago area during junior high. Surrounded by a family of musicians, Hieggelke was drawn to music at an early age, admitting, “When I was young I used to say I played the tape recorder, but no one knows what that means any longer.” After earning a bachelor’s degree followed by an MBA from the University of Chicago, Hieggelke spent a stint on Wall Street before co-founding Newcity magazine in 1986. “Newcity Music is the online outgrowth of nearly three decades of music coverage,” Hieggelke explains, showcasing music-related news, album reviews, and features related to Chicago’s music scene. The website’s foundation is built upon the core coverage found each week in Newcity magazine, while employing collaborative elements to encourage music fans to leave their input on the site as well.
We were able to pull Brian Hieggelke away from Newcity Music long enough to tell us what it’s like to be on The Other Side:
Green Light Go: As the editor and publisher of Newcity Music, what was the turning point that sparked your decision to evolve from being just another music fan to a nationally recognized music critic and journalist?
Brian Hieggelke: I was in my early twenties when we started Newcity and was a rabid music fan, but had tastes that were expanding. When we started Newcity, no one was covering music in Chicago. I'll never forget my first alt weekly convention when the then-more-established weekly here, Chicago Reader, told their peers that they didn't cover the local rock scene, because there wasn't really much happening. So we dove in, launched a local music column, and started covering up-and-coming bands like Urge Overkill, Smashing Pumpkins, and Liz Phair, as well as the house music scene, which was blowing up in Europe, but was based in Chicago. A few years later, Billboard Magazine called Chicago the rock and roll capital of the world (at the time!). I felt vindicated. Since then, we've continued our leadership in coverage, with cover stories ranging from Wilco (pictured above), to Rise Against, to Felix da Housecat. We were the first local publication to cover Kanye West, for example, and sponsored his first shows including one on the day The College Dropout was released.
GLG: Since many people have preconceived notions about what a music journalism career actually entails, what is the day-to-day really like for you at Newcity Music?
BH: Lately, I've been addicted to Spotify, listening to everything from my old high school albums packed away on vinyl to sampling a wide range of new releases. Mostly though, since I edit the whole magazine, I rely on my freelancers to keep us current with new music. I split my time between editing, writing, business stuff, and reading email. We get a ton of email.
GLG: Since the dawn of Newcity Music, you’ve constructed show reviews and album previews that have featured artists such as Andrew Bird, The Rapture, F*cked Up, The English Beat, and Lee Fields, to name a few. What is currently in the works at Newcity Music?
BH: We have new stuff every week, so it's a moving target. We've done a few stories lately that have gotten a lot of attention, such as "Did Pitchfork Kill the Rock Critic...?" (written by Alex Baumgardner) and a piece that claimed Arctic Monkeys is the best band in the world. We really like stories with [an objective] point of view; so look out for those.
GLG: Many independent musicians create blog pages within their band website, or they might host a separate blog to share tour photos and stories. What advice could you lend to someone who is new to the music journalism scene and is looking to promote their site by reaching out to a wider audience?
BH: Find the local alt weekly, guys like me, and start sending us stories. We've launched a ton of journalism careers based on great writing coming in over the transom.
GLG: Since you come in contact with dozens of artists per week, what characteristics or qualities separates the artists who are “just another indie band” from those who you’d like to interview or review for the site?
BH: Speaking as an editor, I like bands who have something to say beyond just the technical stuff about their music.
GLG: From the standpoint of a music critic, what advice would you offer to an independent band that was about to release their first record?
BH: Good luck and be patient.
GLG: What albums have you been jamming recently that haven’t been featured on Newcity Music?
BH: Kelly Clarkson's new record, Stronger.
This week’s Other Side is brought to you by: Lauren Mercury Roberts
Wilco Photo Credit: Glide Magazine