Music magazine Clash recently issued its 50th edition which was marked by the relaunch and redesign of its printed format. Far from its humble beginnings in Dundee, the music magazine now boasts an international readership and continually features high profile cover stars. Indeed the whole Clash Music enterprise has undergone major growth in recent years, diversifying from a straight-up traditional printed music mag into a more integrated, multi-faceted media offering, with offices in Dundee, London, and the prospect of an American address soon.
The Drum caught up with Clash publisher John O’Rourke (JOR) and editor Simon Harper (SH) to find out more about the new look of the magazine, the £230,000 grant it received in 2008 to develop its digital platform, and the journey it has undertaken as the Clash brand evolves to embrace an ever-growing, mediasavvy audience.
How has Clash mirrored the changes in the market place?
(JOR) We have grown from a traditional print media culture into an integrated multi-platform media brand adding digital and live platforms. It was a natural progression to embrace the savvy download generation through podcasts and exclusive free downloads through ClashMusic.com connecting with the music community and also market ourselves via international gigs and festivals like RockNess, Sonar, Iceland Airwaves and SXSW, building a global live experience where we can project the Clash brand and work directly with artists and labels to entertain music fans.
How does it feel to challenge more established, London-centric titles, and, in some cases, keep afloat while they go under?
(JOR) It’s never nice to see anyone suffer or lose out however we have had to evolve our brand and had to overcome a music industry and publishing sector grappling with their biggest challenges of a business model changing from physical to digital, facing a recession and diminishing advertising budgets. We were early adopters of the digital platforms with less to lose, so it made the leap to digital an easy decision for Clash, whilst some others were not facing up to the digital opportunity and then found it very competitive and that to grow a substantial digital audience takes time and considerable resources. ClashMusic.com is now the largest independent UK music media online, attracting several million unique users and still growing.
To what extent has this expansion and growth been facilitated by the Scottish Enterprise grant in 2008?
(JOR) We have worked with Scottish Enterprise who have provided excellent support in all areas of the business from market development assistance and essentially they have allowed us to properly address international growth and to increase frequency and to expand our digital platforms. The grants are significant in our growth however overall their support and know-how is of higher value.
How do you feel about the redesign?
(SH) Completely happy with the redesign. Obviously there was a hesitancy towards a complete makeover, due of course to the familiarity with the product, but once things got underway and we saw proofs and progress, change was embraced and the team was enthused and excited about unveiling the new issue. I am most happy about the space that has been breathed into its pages – it feels easier and lighter to read without detracting from its substance, and the navigation has been enhanced to ease its flow. The biggest challenge was creating this whole new issue as well as working on previous issues and all other Clash platforms, which is not easy with a small team. Keeping the proofs and pages guarded for five months was difficult too – couldn't risk anyone outside the office seeing the changes...
The redesign coincides with the 50th edition of the magazine. Do you think the mag was getting stale and actually in need of a redesign, or was it more opportune timing?
(SH) The magazine wasn't going stale. Our working methods were becoming progressively more difficult – main office in London and designers in Edinburgh - and any change in structure there would determine a new look anyway, so we timed the change to herald our 50th issue. It feels good to see a contemporary spin on the magazine though, and the time definitely feels right. We are excited.
Is this redesign an attempt to reinvigorate readership and refresh shelf stand-out in response to difficult market conditions?
(SH) Clash has survived well through the recent market conditions due to a dedicated readership and the flexibility of our independent status – finding income from the other platforms of Clash – but it has felt like a transitional period, where around us we can see other magazine adapting for the times or dropping by the wayside. Our redesign would hopefully reinvigorate both readership and our shelf presence – we have retained Clash's discerning identity while attempting to appeal to a larger and more international audience.
Who was responsible for the new design?
(SH) Clash's design was originally the responsibility of 16K, an Edinburgh-based company who instilled the magazine's unique creative format, but increasingly it became obvious that in-house designers were vital in the London office, the hub of the magazine's editorial department. When we decided to relaunch, we began to source designers from recommendations of other magazines' design teams. Eventually we hired Corey Jackson to lead the redesign. His twelve years of experience in editorial and design roles at major news-stand titles brought a fresh perspective after six years of Clash, and together with the company directors, editors and art director Paul Sethi, conceived the new look to celebrate our fiftieth issue.
Yourself and Jon-Paul (Kitching, group publishing director and co-founder) both trained as graphic designers. How much input had each of you in the new design?
(SH) A great amount. Probably more than anyone, Jon-Paul and I had a clear vision of Clash's evolution – this is partly based on our own aesthetic capabilities and experience, but also on our understanding of Clash's position in the commercial magazine sector and consolidating its reputation as a cultured alternative to its competition.
How important does the magazine’s Dundee/Scottish roots remain?
(JOR) We have many nationalities involved at Clash providing a wide range of content and editorial opinion, however we are immensely proud of our Scottish roots. Scotland is a vibrant musical hotbed; in particular Glasgow is an incredible vital international music city and it’s impossible for us to take our eyes off it. I also think we have served the entire Scottish music scene better and exposed Scottish talent even more through not having a parochial and more international artist approach, and reaching a wider audience. We launched with Franz Ferdinand on the cover and had Primal Scream on the cover as well as featuring niche music labels like Fence, Numbers, LuckyME, fascinating underground scenes and selected emerging Scottish indie artists. We were honoured at the Scottish Music Awards for our contribution to the Scottish music industry and we continue to represent our country’s music exploits with pride and vigour.
When did you know Clash had ‘made it’?
(JOR) You never quite feel that you have made it but seeing the magazine on sale in top retailers and places like the London Underground, New York newsagents and in some obscure international places is still heart warming.