Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Bring in Da Noise 

Michael Goldberg's rock 'n' roll Web dream

Wednesday, May 15 1996
Comments
When Michael Goldberg first started writing about rock 'n' roll, rock FM radio was in its infancy. Trapped in the body of a pimply prepube, the budding music journalist busied himself by penning letters to the editor of Marin'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."

Goldberg, now 42, has made a career out of "getting it." For 10 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 says. "It's exciting."

What's kicking out Goldberg's jams these days is the on-line magazine he publishes, Addicted to Noise (http://www.addict.com/atn/), which has garnered a box-set of kudos from the industry and public alike. Billboard and Wired have sung the Web-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 Online 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, 'Ya 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 are still raging with rock 'n' roll fervor, and one of his primary goals is to present an alternative version of the accepted rock 'n' roll history.

"There's a real attitude in Addicted to Noise, a real point of view," Goldberg says. "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. HYsker DY wasn't written about until Zen Arcade."

And it's in that tradition of 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 this: If it rocks, it's in.

ATN's contributors include Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Michael Azzerad, Dave Was, and Deborah Frost, 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 every day," 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 bring his readers closer to the experience.

"I feel that this particular medium is really well-suited for communicating about rock 'n' roll," Goldberg says, "I think because rock 'n' 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 'n' roll ..." His cell phone chimes in his pocket. "... It's a really, really powerful thing."

The business model for ATN is commercial radio, in which advertisers support the medium. 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 per day. But hits can be misleading. Depending on how the user bounces around on the 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 sorts of 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 the dollars of the slick music magazines -- as little as $75 for a 3,000-word profile. But low pay is the sacrifice that many are willing to make, Goldberg says, because they believe in the work-in-progress.

The work-in-progress is constantly chasing the technology. A couple of issues back, ATN explored the new technology on the Web by publishing a longer RealAudio segment, "Radio ATN," which carries recorded 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 9, 10, 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 -- every day -- 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.

About The Author

Paul Critz

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular