Bring In Da Noise: The Addicted to Noise Web dream
When Michael Goldberg first started writing about rock-n-roll, rock FM radio was still in its infancy. Trapped in the body of a pimply pre-pube, the budding music journalist busied himself by penning letters to the editor of Marin California's Pacific Sun questioning the work of their stodgy in-house music critic."She was older, usually she wrote about classical music," Goldberg says with an understanding tone. "It was clear she just didn't get it."And Goldberg, now 42, has made a career out of "getting it." For ten years he was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone where he wrote serious investigative pieces as well as cover stories on the likes of Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Boy George."I really get off on communicating about what's going on in rock-n-roll," Goldberg tells me over a bagel and cup of tea. "It's exciting."What's kicking out Goldberg's jams these days is the monthly on-line magazine he publishes, Addicted To Noise (http://www.addict.com/ATN/), which has garnered a veritable box-set of kudos from industry and public alike. Billboard and Wired have sung the e-zine's praises. Last year, due largely to his work as founding editor of ATN, the Music Journalism Awards dubbed Goldberg its Music Journalist of the Year. And in January, Newsweek named Goldberg one of "50 People Who Matter Most on the Internet." The concept of an on-line music magazine came to Goldberg back in '93, when he was working on a story for Rolling Stone about musicians using computers. He got an America On Line account and saw the future of rock journalism. But something was missing."The problem was then they still didn't have sound and pictures integrated on the same page. You'd go to the New York Times page [on AOL] and scroll through text."It wasn't until the advent of Web browsers like Mosaic, and then later, Netscape, that technology caught up with Goldberg's imagination. As '93 progressed, and Websites integrating sound and pictures became more numerous, he realized the future was nearly now. By early '94, it was time to make some calls."It happened pretty fast," Goldberg says. "I knew a lot of journalists. A lot of people respected the reporting I'd done in Rolling Stone. I was in a position where I could call up Greil Marcus, say, and talk to him about this. And he would go, 'y'know that sounds interesting.' I could call up Dave Marsh and say, 'I'd really like it if you could revise American Grandstand. I loved that column you used to do years ago, how about doing it for me?'"In December 1994, Addicted To Noise debuted on-line with a cover story on Frank Kozik. In his first editorial, Goldberg described rock-n-roll (and, by extension, ATN) as "A howling at the moon...A fuck you in the face of convention."A year-and-a-half later, Goldberg and crew still rage with the rock-n-roll fervor; and one of their primary goals is to present an alternative version of the accepted rock and roll history."There's a real attitude in Addicted To Noise, a real point of view," Goldberg says, trying to capture the aesthetic behind the success. "In the Addicted To Noise world, The Ramones are very important, the Sex Pistols are very important. Iggy Pop is a major figure.""Black Flag was never profiled in Rolling Stone," he continues. "To me that is amazing. Husker Du wasn't written about until Zen Arcade."And it's that tradition of gutsy DIY rock-n-roll that Goldberg has produced a music publication that doesn't get bogged down in genres, addressing the work of such seemingly disparate performers as Blue Oyster Cult, Sonic Youth, the Mermen and Guided By Voices. His one editorial rule seems to be: If it rocks, it's in.ATN's contributors include Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Michael Azzerad, Dave Was, Deborah Frost, to name but a few -- as well as the unmistakable graphic mark of Frank Kozik, who, along with Nick Rubinstein, has worked with Goldberg since ATN's inception.Addicted To Noise's aggressive exploitation of multimedia also dates back to Goldberg's youth."Album reviews with sound samples," Goldberg shakes his head. "I mean, that was something that I imagined for so long. When I was a kid, I'd read a review in Creem magazine or something and I'd go, 'well it sounds like it'd be a really good album, I wonder if it is.'"Another ATN innovation is it's daily "Music News Of The World" updates."We are ahead of everybody in terms of news everyday," Goldberg boasts. "When a new issue of Rolling Stone comes out there's a lot of stuff in there that we've already reported."But such an immediate response can have its drawbacks, like the time ATN inadvertently published the location of a Soundgarden video shoot."Apparently thousands of people showed up," he laughs. "It wasn't funny, they had to hire a lot of extra security, it was a mess. It was not our intention to cause that to happen, but that's an example of the impact."And, of course, there's always the danger of having your $4,000 PowerBook moshed to bits during a live remote from an abortive Pearl Jam show in Golden Gate Park. But that's a worry Goldberg is more than happy to live with if it means bringing his readers closer to the experience."I feel that this particular medium is really well suited for communicating about rock and roll," Goldberg says. "I think because rock and roll is this thing that people experience in a very emotional way." He likens the relationship a fan has with rock music to that shared by an individual and his or her computer. "I feel that when you combine the intimacy of the computer with the emotional power of rock and roll," as his cell phone chimes in his pocket, "it's a really, really powerful thing. Hullo?"Like any print publication, ATN relies on ads for revenue. But so far, attracting ads has been a tough sell, Goldberg says, because advertisers are still adjusting to the new format. In these pioneering days of the medium, he believes, advertisers are too hung up on the raw numbers of "hits" to a page on the Web. When ATN was first launched, it scored 10,000 hits per day, and it is now up to more than 200,000 hits per day. But hits can be misleading. Depending on how the user bounces around a site, he can leave a trail of 20 or 30 hits without absorbing much of anything. Goldberg distills those numbers to estimate a monthly circulation of about 75,000 readers, hoping to eventually boost those figures to 1.5 million -- a goal attainable, he says, for a worldwide publication.Until ATN snags those numbers, Goldberg insists that advertisers should obsess less on total hits and concentrate more on how the medium can influence users. He gives an example: "Epitaph Records has a quarter page ad for NoFX's latest album in the back of Rolling Stone. For much less money than they spend there, on-line they could have an ad that has sound samples, that has video, that links over to their Website. I mean there's a lot of things they could do in that environment that they can't do with a conventional print ad."Refusing to offer specific numbers on the business side, Goldberg says his initial investment in ATN was "considerably less than what it would take to start up an international print magazine -- in the thousands instead of the hundreds of thousands." Nor will he say much of anything about advertising rates except that they are "less than HotWired."ATN pays its writers pennies compared to dollars of the slick music magazines -- as little as $75 for a 3,000-word article. But low pay is a sacrifice that many are willing to make, Goldberg says, because they believe in the vision that ATN offers. Part of the appeal of that vision comes from Goldberg's enthusiasm for pushing the technological envelope to find new ways to communicate about rock-n-roll; and on the Internet, new forms of communication are being developed almost every week.A couple of issues back, ATN explored the new technology on the Web by publishing a longer RealAudio segment, "Radio ATN," which carries interviews and profiles of artists like Cracker, Sonic Youth and Neil Young. The random access "radio" show features the work of ATN staffer and former KSAN music director Bonnie Simmons, as well as the iconoclastic ravings of special correspondent Joey Ramone. And while "Radio ATN" is only a couple of months old, Goldberg is already eyeing the possibility of integrating real time "streaming" video into the program, which will add a whole other dimension to ATN's ability to communicate about rock-n-roll. And that's what makes Goldberg's world go 'round."I can't imagine ever doing anything other than this," he beams. "This is much more exciting than anything I ever did when I was at Rolling Stone. Think about it: At nine, ten, every morning, anybody, anywhere in the world who has Internet access has access to this news that I edit and put out. To be able to do that, to be able to communicate internationally -- everyday -- knowing that information is being accessed, that people are using it."He shakes his head in wonder, and for a fleeting moment reveals a glimpse of a pimply kid with a transistor radio pressed to his ear.