I’m starting a music magazine.

STUPID is a print publication about the music we love, and the ways we’re experiencing it.

Stupid Magazine Brand Exploration V.02 (Liam Thurston, 2015)

A wise man once said that not everybody should try and build a unicorn when starting a business. That it’s actually perfectly fine to aim for a horse, or even a tiny pony. I’m taking the plunge and starting my own business, and I’ve decided I’ll take the pony, please and thank you.

This post is an introduction to my new thing. I’m hella excited about this, too excited probably. But I’ll do my best to avoid the Medium Humble Brag and share this life-slash-business update with you as straightforwardly as possible. (Feel free to call me out in the comments if you catch a whiff of fart-smelling douchebaggery.)

My particular brand (breed?) of pony is called STUPID. It’s about the ridiculous music we love, and the ways we’re experiencing it. If any of the following apply to you, you’ll probably quite like it:

  • You’ve been freaking out about how great Beats 1 is (whilst also making jokes about Apple took this thing called The Radio and put it on this new thing called The Internet)
  • You have strong opinions about whether Kanye West is or is not the Picasso of our generation*
  • You’ve spent any time at all pondering how Taylor Swift is situated within a broader narrative of contemporary feminism

*Spoiler alert. He is.

STUPID started out as a working title, borne from the pure frustration of trying to define the shape this thing was going to take. As in, “the stupid magazine project that’s stopping me sleeping.”

And then stupidmagazine.com was up for grabs and then I realized that all of the swag could have “I’m With Stupid” (without the pointy arrow) written on it and I got pretty excited about that.

STUPID is inspired by music magazines like Smash Hits and Sniffin Glue. These publications sit on opposite ends of the musical spectrum but shared an acerbic, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and a clear-as-day love for their subject matter. Also, just FYI: STUPID will only be available in print.

Punk zine Sniffin Glue (1977) and iconic UK pop magazine Smash Hits (1978).

Some of the goals for STUPID are:

  • To publish insightful, thought-provoking content written by a diverse pool of world-class writers who are experts in their field.
  • To build a culture grounded in treating contributors and collaborators with respect. That means open lines of communication, a willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them and fair payment for all contributors.
  • To take a flexible approach to business model, and share the lessons learned along the way to help others in the print publication space.
  • To have a really excellent puzzle page.

Of course, many of the goals are personal too. Starting a fun and sustainable business has been a goal of mine for like, forever. And now seems like the right time to try and make that happen. Additionally, STUPID feels like a place where my obsession with media business models and the written word can intersect with my deep desire to do something in the music space again.

At the very least, I’ll be able to expose the gaping flaws in my skillset that I’m sure exist and learn a shitload along the way. You succeed or you learn, right?

Want to stay in the STUPID loop, but don’t want to read all the way to the end of this post? You can click on over to stupidmagazine.com and sign up to get notified when we launch.

Issue One contributors include Dr Julius Bailey PhD (Editor of the world’s first ever collection of scholarly criticism on Kanye West) and Alistair Croll ( Lean Analytics, O’Reilly, Solve for Interesting). The aforementioned puzzle page will feature work by the hilarious and talented Turbo Island. All of which is pretty damn exciting and awesome.

(If you’re interested in contributing to STUPID feel free email me at holly@stupidmagazine.com or hit me up on Twitter).

So that’s the what. How about the why?

Despite what you may have heard, print was never fundamentally a horrible platform upon which to build a media company.

It’s true that many legacy media companies, founded during print’s heyday, weren’t able to react quickly enough when their readers migrated to the shadowy plains of the world wide web. The losses suffered by the media industry as a result are well-documented, and not something that needs expanding upon here. However, at a small scale, and with a focus on building a dedicated niche audience, the possibility of building a sustainable print-first publishing company is absolutely there. (It helps that snake people love dead trees, too.)

The indie print publication movement is booming. Leading the charge are amazing magazines like Victory, Intern, Wax, Delayed Gratification and Gym Class, along with distribution startups like Stack. A special mention needs to go Offscreen, edited by Kai Brach. Offscreen’s blog is one of the best examples of thought leadership in the space that I’ve come across, and has been instrumental in informing much of the early thinking around STUPID.

Outside of the print space I’m also wholly inspired by emerging media startups like The Information, founded by ex-WSJ tech reporter Jessica Lessin. In startup terms, The Information could certainly be defined as a pony. Their subscription-based (online) technology news publication is small, lean and impactful with a business model supports a small handful of full-time staff writers. When I think about the kind of business and team I’d love to build, my ambitions for STUPID sit squarely within that realm.

When it comes to print, margins are small, shipping costs are brutal and the chances of failure are high. But, I think there might just be a small space in the market for a scrappy, outspoken pop music magazine, led by an editorial team that’s committed to sharing what’s working, what isn’t and why.

How it’s happening

I’m taking a step back from my role at TWG (the digital product agency where I’ve been working on marketing and partnership-shaped things for the past couple of years). Taking over the reigns at TWG is new Director of Marketing, Alison Gibbins. Alison is a customer development expert who casually wins Startup Weekend events just for fun, in addition to being a highly experienced and accomplished data-driven marketer. Here’s her email address if you’d like to get in touch and say hi.

I’ll be staying on, part-time, as a writer, so that I can continue to do things like eat food and buy clothes whilst also chasing down these ridiculous magazine dreams. If I’m going to be selling my labour to anyone, there really isn’t anyone I’d rather be selling it to than TWG.

All of the things I’ve learned at TWG, and all of the good things I feel about that company is definitely deserving of a post in its own right. But, in brief:

  • TWG’s leadership team is building a culture and a business that is truly inspiring. They prioritize team happiness in a way I’ve never experienced before, and I’m in a position to be launching my own business largely because of the opportunities I’ve had there.
  • If you’re reading this and you work at TWG, I fucking love you. Seriously.
  • This sentiment also applies to an impossibly large number of people in Toronto’s tech community. I’m beyond lucky to have worked alongside so many smart, talented, open-hearted people.

OK. Back to STUPID. (This is the conclusion).

One of the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my journey through the startup community is that supporting each other makes everything better for everyone. So with that in mind, I’m going to straight-up ask you for some stuff.

If you like music, supporting independent media or me-as-a-person, here’s some ways you can help:

  • We’re gearing up for a modest Kickstarter campaign at the beginning of 2016 to help cover production costs. Stay in the loop with that by signing up here.
  • Spread the word about Issue One with a tweet. (Click here for an easy Tweet to send).
  • Connect us with people in your network that love music or love magazines or love supporting independent media. We’re all about that customer validation right now. holly@stupidmagazine.com is my email.

You can ask me for stuff too, of course. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you think there’s something I can help you out with. Or if you’d like to nerd out about music and media over coffee or a cheeky pint.

Thanks for reading. I’m off to build a pony! HELL YEAH!