The first sentence of an introduction is often the hardest one to compose, but as I sat down to write this piece, it felt insurmountable.
Typically, I’d feel very comfortable announcing a new role or project to start a new year—but even as I’m writing this just a few days in, it’s obvious that 2021 is not a typical year. I am excited to announce that I’ll be taking over for founder and editor Chris Young as the point person at Vortex Music Magazine. I’m also looking forward to talking a bit about some of the plans I have for the magazine going forward. I’m even happy to talk a little bit about my background, experience and the things that led me to apply for this position in the first place. (Okay, this might be sounding a little too much like a cover letter.)
More than all that though, I feel a profound sense of loss. The Portland music community has lost so much over the past year—not just the closure of venues and bars but a temporary erasure of live music entirely, and that word “temporary” is tricky. Is the end in sight or will things never be the same?
Local music journalism, and local music communities for that matter, have a tendency to revolve around live music. I’d argue, though, that in this current moment where live music as we knew it doesn’t exist anymore, local music journalism is more important than ever, particularly given the recent cutbacks of Portland music coverage from local standbys like the Portland Mercury, opbmusic and virtually every other publication and media entity. Those of us who are committed to the pursuit of music journalism, or even just being music fans, have to find new ways of shining the spotlight on deserving artists, of building community and, ultimately, of providing much needed support for the artists, bands, labels, venues and everyone else that makes our music scene function. We have to do better.
I first heard about Vortex Music Magazine when I was working at KPSU, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Under the leadership of Chris Young, and due to the contributions of so many, it’s grown into an increasingly vital voice in Portland music. When I co-founded The Thesis with Mac Smiff and Verbz, Chris was one of the first local writers to offer his support. When I started a label called Good Cheer Records in 2015, Vortex was there to cover our artists and help promote our shows. After some initial success with press and having some of our artists featured on sites like NPR, Pitchfork, Stereogum and more, the national media landscape began to change. Sites closed or became less willing to cover artists without major label support (or major label distribution), staff writers were laid off, and, as a result, local publications began to feel even more important.
A benefit to the social networking aspect of music platforms like Bandcamp and Spotify is that the national music press is continuing to lose influence. Folks are becoming more likely to look for recommendations from friends than national music sites. The future of our music scene may be determined by how to bridge that gap, how to make it easier for music fans to jump from seeing what their Facebook friends are listening to, or looking at “related artists” tags, and start finding out what music they might like that’s being made in their own city.
I recently admitted to myself that the label I started was not worth continuing on a full-time basis, and while a lot of that had to do with wounds that were self-inflicted, a lot of it also had to deal with the fact that the deck continues to be stacked higher and higher against unsigned artists and labels who do not have the benefit of corporate support. This is why local music publications like Vortex have always mattered, and they matter more now than ever.
For those of you reading who have enjoyed Vortex as much as I have, rest assured that little will change. Chris and I are fairly similar in our approach to covering the music scene here. From showcasing vibrant scenes like the Portland hip-hop community, to finding new and unique voices within the rock and pop scene, I’m confident that the things you love about Vortex will continue. I’m committed to continuing the great work that Chris and so many others have put into this project while finding new opportunities to make it an even more essential publication going forward.
If you’re wanting to know a little bit more about me, I’ve been active in the music community here for the past decade. I’ve booked shows at various venues (from the Crystal Ballroom to the Portland Spirit), worked at a record store, hosted radio shows, and written for local music publications. I co-founded Good Cheer Records, The Thesis and the Portland Label Coalition. I met my partner for the first time at the Clinton Street Theater at a show my label hosted. Mo Troper headlined that show and was the best man at my wedding less than two years later. The music community here has given me an awful lot and it’s such a great joy to transition into a role like this that will allow me to focus on how to give back and offer support.
Thanks for reading,
Blake Hickman Managing Editor