Interview: Alex Wagner

Alex Wagner is the executive editor of The Fader magazine, which covers underground music and fashion.

Alex Wagner is the executive editor of The Fader magazine, which covers underground music and fashion.

She recently spoke with PRWeek about the publication's relevance, why it launched a blog, and what mistakes PR people make when pitching the title.

PRWeek: What sort of approach do you use to determine whether the content that goes into Fader fits its editorial mission?

Alex Wagner: The magazine's focus is emerging music. A lot of people misinterpret that as young music. One of the things I'm proud about is that we do cover a lot of unsung legends... and new kids, too.

We want to help people have a new relationship with artists or discover artists who they did not know about who are really relevant, regardless of how old they are.

Beyond emerging music, we look for things that have real emotional and visceral factors. We tend to be early on stuff, but that's not [driven by] a desire to trump anything that others are doing in the way of music coverage. We try to put in the magazine what we are listening to. Sometimes we get it earlier than other people; sometimes people come to us with ideas. We have no qualms putting someone [in the magazine] who has an album coming out in six months if we're feeling it.

Fashion tends to be a lofty type of place; we try to keep it a little more street-driven. Sometimes we'll go a little more experimental with stuff, but, by and large, we want to focus on looks and gear that anyone could be wearing.

PRWeek: When you have blogs that are sometimes ahead of the curve, what is Fader's proposition to readers?

Wagner: We always want to put someone up there who is relevant, but we're by no means trying to trump the blog world.

As much as we can, we try to go beyond the borders of the Web. We try to figure out what people are listening to, whether that means having contacts at record stores or artists themselves or mix-tape spots. We try to bring the journalistic experience to the streets.

That said, the Internet is really useful. For us to stay relevant in a world where there is so much information about music, the book is really high-quality product - there is a contingent of readers who… treat it like an art book. It kind of has a longer shelf life than a post on a blog.

We also try to not be typical music journalists, in the sense that we're not trying to write a voiceless, critical dissertation on music. Our take is what is like to be in the room with this artist. We want to give the reader a first-hand, experiential look at the musician, the music, and the moment.

PRWeek: You also have a blog. How important is it to have that daily publishing?

Wagner: The blog has been great. We publish eight times a year, so that limits how much stuff we can put in the magazine. There's also timing. Sometimes we'll have an issue come out, and we can't hit all of the artists that we want to.

One great thing we've realized is finding a nice marriage between print and the blog, and using the blog to enhance the content we have in print. That could be things like outtakes, galleries, and MP3s.

With the blog, we have a lot more room to stretch our legs and have more fun. Because it's a fast-moving vehicle, we can do funny, weird shit that we would not normally be able to do in the magazine.

You've worked with a bunch of partners like Red Stripe. What sort of things are you looking for in potential partners?

Wagner: We maintain pretty strict quality control with every event we do. We're lucky to have sponsors that really appreciate the feeling and culture of the magazine. Usually, they hand over the reigns of execution to us - everything from the venue to the artist to the crowd. We've been lucky that the integrity of the brand has been maintained.

How would you describe the magazine's general interaction with PR pros?

Wagner: We get a lot of pitches. I think it's a bad issue if the bulk of the feature well is driven from pitches from PR people.

We definitely want to think outside the box, which can be frustrating for many major labels. It's hard to explain [to them] sometimes. They'll say, "You covered [an artist] before; why won't you do it again?"

It's a bit of an alchemy in the editorial office; it just has to feel right. It's hard to explain that to PR people. We don't like when people pitch us who haven't read The Fader in three years. It's probably a pet peeve for everyone, but The Fader really has changed in the last three or four years; it's like a different magazine.

PRWeek: How difficult is it to receive a lot of pitches from artists that are represented from a large label, while wanting to be underground?

Wagner: There is a way for us to cover mainstream artists; if we take a left-field approach like write a column for us or do something that isn't a run-of-the-mill-type profile timed with the release of a second album. We had Snoop on the cover of our film issue because he was doing a movie and we thought he would be a funny person to carry the issue. We've had Outkast gracing the covers twice. The first time, they were far less known; the second time, we had Big Boi, who was starting up his label, Purple Ribbon.

PRWeek: What pointers would you give to PR professionals?

Wagner: On a basic level, we have a very long and slightly fluctuating lead time. We're either pretty early or considerably late on stuff, so timing is hard.

As far as the subject matter, people tend to pitch us on weird acts that have similar characteristics as acts we've had in previous issues. Or people try to pitch us on something they think is really cool. It sounds obnoxious saying that because, how am I going to define "cool." But someone doesn't have to be a crazy art-directed, polycultural grind/disco/folk incarnate to get in the magazine. They think they need to complicate their pitches more than they have to. It's not that hard. Keeping it simple is actually a virtue.

Name: Alex Wagner

Outlet: The Fader Magazine

Title: Executive editor

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