Mike Shea of Alternative Press speaks APMA’s, bands you should be watching for and advice to the music industry!

My next interview is definitely something so different from the normal on this website but it was quite possibly one of my favorite interviews I’ve done this year so far. It’s with the man that inspired myself and many other young journalists around the country. He also gave the chance to bands to be covered that are now killing it like Falling In Reverse, Pierce The Veil and Sleeping With Sirens. He started Alternative Press in 1985 and has remained the head of the magazine ever since. His latest venture though has been the Alternative Press Music Awards taking place in Cleveland later this month. It’s the second year of the event and gives alternative artists the unique opportunity to get rewarded for the hard work they put in that doesn’t get recognized as often it should. Read on for this rare interview opportunity and watch to see if your favorite acts get that trophy!

You’re going into the second year of the APMA’s. How long has the second one been in the making?

Right after the first one, we were like wow that was a much bigger thing then we thought that it was going to be. So then we started talking immediately and started working on it. Getting the artists is the hardest part because so many bands now plan out their touring schedules roughly two years ahead. So we’ve learned that we have to work out way in advance now so we can kind of get into their schedule. Especially for a good number of the artists, the show is like a fly-in date. So they’re not necessarily on tour and things like that. So yeah we started immediately after and we’ve already sworn that for next year we’re going to start even earlier. We are really already starting booking bands for 2016. Like we’re already that far ahead because we have to for a bunch of the bigger names.

Perfect, and then maybe you do have a lot of bands that are playing that do tour steadily. I know Warped Tour plans their routing around it. They play the Cleveland date of Warped Tour the day after the APMA’s but you do have bands like Sum 41 and Simple Plan who obviously haven’t played in awhile. Were they bands that you really wanted to play the show in particular?

Yeah! We did actually and the other cool thing is that it’s really an honor and it’s also something where these bands reached out to us and said we want to make the APMA’s the first show. That is really an honor to us just because that means the show to artists has the stature that we were wanting it to have. It’s a good event for bands to kind of come out and blow it out the door because it’s a media event. It’s not just a concert and so it’s really a media event. Last year, we had some artists come out on stage and they really hadn’t planned it out very well what they were going to do. So they kind of ended up coming out just doing one of their songs but the bands that got it were the ones who came out and made something of the moment. So we’ve been working with the artists on this show for a while now on it. That’s the best part about this whole thing is that so many of these bands they now get is what they get out of the show is what they’re going to put into it. You know if they put some really great, quick, crazy wild or powerful moments up on stage, it’s going to go viral. It will be all over their socials. It will carry out for them for years. So we still see that. The Oli Sykes speech, the Billy Corgan speech, Joan Jett and Slash. All Time Low with Yellowcard, New Found Glory, Pierce The Veil. Brendon singing Sinatra. It’s still all over the place.

And then obviously there have been music award shows in the past but not unfortunately ones where a lot of these alternative acts that you’ve always covered were nominated. Maybe how long have you been wanting to even do this. Like have this awards shows. They can go up there and have their acceptance speech and win like best album.

I thought of the idea about three years ago and then our friends at Hopeless Records hit me up literally a couple months after I was kicking it around. They were like hey have you ever thought about doing one? I said funny enough. We were going to do it in 2013 because I actually got the idea the end of 2012 but we weren’t ready. Just internally we weren’t ready. We really had no planning so we needed almost a year worth of planning. So we got it moving by September of 2013 and it literally was almost a full time job by the time we hit February of 2014. Then it was pretty much evenings and weekends and days from about March all the way up to the show date. It was a lot, a lot of work.

Perfect and then considering this is the second year you’ve done it, are there things that you wanted to work on. Like considering how last year’s event went. Things you wanted to change going into this year’s award show.

Well, yeah. The first thing we wanted to do was bring it indoors. Doing it outside in a park was beautiful but we completely lucked out with the weather. It was raining not more than two days prior. We just happened to have lucked out with the temperature outdoors. Beautiful weather. Cloudless sky. The outline of downtown, everything but we were putting on an award show within a festival and the festival is what killed us. It was just way too much work. We basically built that show from scratch on that park and it was the biggest stage that had ever been in that park. We were spending so much of our time on the Porta Potty count and bike racking and it was too much. So we decided right out of the bat, we’re indoors and then it was the matter of meeting with some of the Cleveland business development organizations and the promotion organizations. We were able to work it out to be at the Quicken Loans Arena which I still can’t believe we’re in there. So now it’s reduced our work load by fifty percent. Just because the Q already has so much of the stuff that we need. Then the other thing is that we don’t need sound or lights for an outdoors show. We don’t need lights for a daytime sunlight and nighttime. We only need one set of lights now. Then just some production stuff. There was never a full rehearsal for the show because half of the artists showed up that day from Warped Tour. So there were so many parts of the show that were kind of first time run throughs that day. So we were able to smooth a lot of that out this year. Now we know, the orchestra conductor will actually get a head set. So now she’ll be able to like be cued. Last year, she was being cued by sight by somebody standing off to the side of the stage telling her play now.

Little less stressful. Perfect, and then I wanted to ask you. Maybe how are the nominees picked out of these countless touring bands? Is it kind of a nomination process within AP staff, do you bring in other people to vote on it? How do you normally go about that?

It’s primarily AP staff. We have some input from like Kevin Lyman too but it’s primarily AP staff. We literally just go through each one of the categories and we go through the past year. It’s very drawn out, a passionate debate. I actually went through and watched over like two weekends probably almost two hundred music videos. So many that I just missed. The thing that’s tough is that you’re trying to squeeze in so many sub-genres within one category and it’s virtually impossible. So you’re always going to be leaving somebody out and artist of the year, there are ten nominations. That saves our butt so many times because we can actually get a nice diverse group. We can put in the rock bands. We can put in the hardcore bands. We can put in the pop-punk bands. We can put in the pop band. We can put in the post hardcore bands. So everybody has kind of gotten the best of the best. When we get into the other nominations, it’s only six spots. As a category, that’s really difficult. You’re leaving out people and it’s just really, really tough. Then sometimes for somebody, what most people based it off of is if that put out music in the previous year but there’s a couple that are kind of left open based upon if they had a really great year. Those are tough. Those are really, really tough. It isn’t easy. I wish we could do like ten across the board for all the categories. There are some uncomfortable moments where you’re just like crap, couldn’t fit everyone in.

Perfect and then I know during the APMA’s you’re also doing the thirthieth anniversary gallery presentation. I attended the one in NYC for I believe the twenty fifth anniversary. I know as well as having a lot of Atlernative Press memorabilia, you had artists that you cover have their artwork displayed. Maybe is that something you’re going to be doing again this year. Maybe what can people look forward to with attending that?

We are actually going to be announcing something very soon that’s going to be an exhibition here in Cleveland. Wrapped around thirty years of AP and that’s going to be in one of the upcoming press releases and it’s really another one of these moments. Really an honor and we’re just completely blown away by it. So there will be something wrapped around that definitely. In a way, it’s been a little weird because the show has become such this important thing. So the thirtieth thing is almost an afterthought sometimes in my head because I’m just looking at the show. I was just thinking about it this weekend. Thirty years ago at this time, I was typing, retyping because I was editing the magazine as I was retyping. Stories that were given to us to appear in the first issue and I typed them onto a floppy disk. On the old PC in a floppy disk. Then I had to take that to our printer and then they would format that into a galley to type. That took about a week for them to do that so I think we were all still collecting artwork for a few ads that we had got. The first issue came out on June 6th, 1985 so it would have went into print four days I believe if I’m correct before that. Then it took us about a week and a half to lay it all out because it was the first issue and we were kind of going back and forth and tweaking things. We also kind of didn’t finish our logo until about a week before. So my friend Marty was doing this pointerism black logo. He had done one version and I asked him to kind of punk it up a little bit more and he did it over again.

That’s awesome! And then like you said, June 6th is obviously only a few weeks away but you’ve always kind of given a chance to new bands to be covered. You kind of see that in the award show nominations this year. Picking out bands like State Champs then The Hotelier and Pvris who are just really getting started. Maybe what are three bands you think kids should be looking for this year. Maybe bands that are starting to really do something or new bands coming out.

In general?

Yeah, in general.

Well Pvris is definitely one of them. If anybody is ready to be the next Paramore, it’s them. I really believe that.

I do too.

In the end, it’s just because they’re just so dynamic. They’re essentially a pop rock band but they’re just so dynamic and Lynn the singer is just so amazing. Her vocals are great, the songs are just awesome and they stick in your head. One of those records you can’t get out of your head after you play it. I can’t wait for the orchestra to play their version of that song in the overture. It will be awesome. Another one that’s blowing up right now is Set It Off. Those guys are again one of those bands who’s records are just catchy as hell. Their live show is really incredible. It’s so much fun and they’re a little bit of a kind of secret. Overseas, they’re blowing up like crazy in England and so forth. Here in the states, they’re definitely hot but it’s just a slight delay here. So I think that between Warped Tour and our show, it’s going to really kick them into gear. So they’re another one and I’m kind of torn with some of the third options. I would probably say it’s a toss up between Neck Deep, State Champs, Real Friends, Knuckle Puck. Like that whole new generation of pop punk stuff. It’s just so good. Man Overboard and all of that. I think that all of those bands are really just the new generation of artists. The lyrics are really good. Songs are great to sing along with and each one of them is just really representative of the times we live in. They’re all great. All of those guys are great.

Perfect then maybe to end it off, obviously the music industry is more of a passion industry, not exactly the most money making industry. Maybe advice to bands just to keep on working at it, the writers to keep on working at it, record labels to stay positive. Maybe advice to keep on gunning at it?

Yeah it’s definitely not a money making industry right now. I think we’re kind of in a state of flux. The business models really haven’t been figured out. We kind of still have the major portion of the industry trying to figure out how to hold on to the money that they were making before or get back the money they were making before. Kind of have everybody else left to their own devices. So they’re all kind of either working on some sort of donation system or they’re working out some kind of new project. Like a Kickstarter or GoFundMe or whatever. I really do think it comes down to passion because we need it. We need to do it. Even if you’re working at a coffee shop or you’re going to college or you’re having to work two other jobs and you hate it, but you have this passion to write or perform or paint or whatever, you have to do it because it’s the one thing that provides balance in society. For all the creatives and for journalists, journalism will never go away and just because things right now are all about listicles and about short form doesn’t mean it’s always going to be that way. We’re already seeing push back against this so called death of print. Print isn’t dying and it was the same argument that was said in the nineties about the movie theaters when cable television really started to kick in. They said that music was going to go away once downloading happened. Distribution platforms have changed but it’s still there and people want that. People want to go to the communal experience in a concert hall to see a band together. They want to go to the movie theaters to see movies together. Laugh together. Same thing with print. People want to hold on to print. There’s a study that people did research about who was buying digital books and they thought that it was going to be teenagers and as you got older, they were going to stick to traditional books. It was exactly the reverse. People that were buying digital things were the older people and teenagers and early twenty somethings were buying more print because they liked the romanticism of holding onto a book and putting it on their table or putting it on a shelf. Just so proud because they have that book or whatever the deal was. It’s the same thing with print like ours. So print is like vinyl. So it has to be better produced. Will be more expensive. There’s just no way to get around it. It may not be everywhere but it’s going to be collectable and people want to hold onto it. So us guys in print, we have to make sure that whatever we’re producing is something that people want to hold onto. It’s something that we’ve been doing for the past thirty years and we’re evolving that. So people like you have to keep going because we need you. We need you guys out there interviewing bands, writing about stuff. Spotify playlists aren’t going to replace the power and the ability to inform as much as the journalists will. It doesn’t matter how big bites get. It doesn’t matter how funny Buzzfeed lists are. People still want to read pieces and stories and interviews that are good quality and by people that know what they’re talking about. That aren’t doing it for page views or drama or write headlines. Like you won’t believe what they said next. You know what I mean? I would just saw across it all do what you got to do to pay your bills but definitely got to keep going. The models of how we’re all going to make money in this world are continuing to evolve and we’re going to figure this out. There will be ways for people to make money. It will come from an app or it will come from a website or whatever the deal is but unless we try, we’re not going to know. I guess that’s a really long way to kind of answer your question.

Well, thank you so much for taking the time Mike I know you’re a very busy man.

No, it’s all good! Thank you for your questions.

REVIEW: X Ambassadors’ “VHS”.

The debut record for X Ambassadors finally comes out tomorrow as “VHS”. It’s been long anticipated but after listening to the record, it is definitely worth the wait. It is like the band on double time, speed, whatever you want to call it but it’s still X Ambassadors with a lot of hop in their step. They open the record with “Y2K Time Capsule” which is a recording of Casey and Sam’s father asking them where they wanted to be in fifteen years. It’s pretty incredible that their response was “Way away from here”. The first full track on the record is their current number one hit RENEGADES. It had really great group vocals and definitely a different feel but in a great way. Next up was one of two tracks on the record that will be familiar to X Ambassadors fans with UNSTEADY.

After this track, we then dig into a completely different sound with HANG ON and GORGEOUS. It was a lot deeper into the R&B groove, it kind of reminded me of Boston favorites Bad Rabbits. Something I really enjoyed in this record is the anecdotes/interludes in the album that after reading about the record, lead singer Sam says he wanted to do as an homage to the mixtape vibe. They create this personal window into the journey that the band has experienced and now with this new record, all their hard work is truly paying off. The next three tracks are my favorite part of the record with FEAR, NERVOUS and LOW LIFE. Two of which were done with executive producers Imagine Dragons. There was a really soulful vibe to this section of the record that I loved. Overall, the record was fantastic and well worth the wait. X Ambassadors, double the speed.

Brings Music to Life!