Amrit Singh has spent eight years as executive editor of indie-rock and pop culture blog, Stereogum, helping to guide the site’s rise from humble LiveJournal beginnings to one of the most influential music spaces on the web. He just left the site to become the music and culture editor and featured host on Revolt TV, the ambitious new cable music channel created by P. Diddy. As the network prepares for an October debut, we talked to Amrit about his his old job, his new job, and how the lessons he learned online might help them bring music television back to cultural relevance.
So, it’s been a big couple of weeks for you.
Yeah, it’s been kind of insane. But the last year has been crazy, the last eight years have been crazy. The last day was obviously such a bittersweet thing, to leave something that I had so closely been identified with. Stereogum gave me a voice and a platform. [Site founder] Scott Lapatine was like family, and everyone who passed through editorially was like family.
Is there a moment that seems bigger than the rest? Something where you couldn’t believe who you were talking to, our where you were?
There were milestone markers. At the end, there were things that would have blown me away when I first started. There were always moments where I’d just write about a band because they sent me a MySpace link or I met them out at a show, and that’d be the point where they’d start getting record company offers. Those moments meant more to me than standing with a laptop behind Bjork and Dave Longstreth while they were DJing. Though those sort of things were amazing in their own way, too.
Stereogum, as part of Spin Media, has an office place and it has a more traditional media/journalistic feel. It’s been formalized. But when we were starting off, and for my first six years there, there was no physical office culture to speak of. So, the actual act of blogging was very sort of isolated, especially during the day hours. One of the reasons that I had such an appetite and stamina for seeing shows just bouncing around Brooklyn and the Lower East side as I have for so many years, is because it was the only time I would see human beings. You discover a band and you write about them and then you press publish, and you’re just on to the next one within ten minutes. And it goes on. But you never forget about those new bands that you’ve written about. It really hits home when one of those artists comes back around.
When we first put together our first Stereogum tribute album, for the OK Computer anniversary, we had blog stars of the time. We had Vampire Weekend, and that was right after I made them a “Band to Watch.” Pitchfork’s first post about Vampire Weekend was of their “Exit Music” cover for the Stereogum compilation. So, that was sort of like, wow, we actually have some clout. We can get bands that we really like to do something that’s cool like this, and it also felt like we were making an actual contribution to the culture, it wasn’t just us sitting back and passing commentary.
As the "Music and Culture Editor" at Revolt, can you give us an idea of what your job entails?
Music and Culture Editor encompasses the things I’ve been doing on Stereogum for years: identifying new talent, following breaking stories, following up on existing news stories, speaking to everyone from a Bandcamp upstart to an iconic legend. I’m going to be one of the people anchoring the news component of the station. There’s going to be actual programming and shows that I’ll be a part of as well. I’ve been interested in television for a long time, but my vision for it was never in line with a network’s vision for what music television should be. VH1 has had success with medium-to-good jokes about pop culture, putting a band in frame or cutting to a video, getting a talking head to just talk about that, and calling it music television. There’s an essential core to our music culture that’s left on the table.
We can speak in a way that honors these artists, that’s revealing in a way, that can be both directly about the work and about the lifestyle and the culture as well as the work itself. Amazingly that’s exactly what Revolt wants to do. They want to not just be like MTV in the 90s. They want something that hasn’t been done before. Which is what ESPN has been to sports, which CNN has been to news. That, we haven’t seen yet. We haven’t seen live, real time Situation Room-type journalism about music on a 24-hour cable network that’s going to be in millions of homes.
Music television went from this huge cultural force to something that programmers don’t seem to have much confidence in.
All the people who are involved in Revolt, myself included, believe that there is absolutely an appetite for it if it's done properly. People didn’t think that there was necessarily an appetite for what ESPN provided when ESPN launched. People didn’t realize it was going to be what it is. Tom [Breihan] from Stereogum wrote some really nice things on Twitter after my goodbye post that brought up the idea that it’s “one of our own.” I get to take all of the lessons and the weird memes and in-jokes that we’ve all stitched together over the last 10 years of indie and blog culture. It’s one of us going into mainstream television, in millions of homes. I think that is sort of exciting.
How do you tap into the Internet’s unpredictability when you are creating a mass broadcast? You can’t control or anticipate what someone is going to throw out in a comments section.
We are aware of the clumsy manner with which social media has been integrated into TV to date. This idea that you are just going to start reading out Tweets almost indiscriminately is to no one’s benefit. There will be some forward thinking and unprecedented ways that social media will interact with some of the programming. We’ll just have to show you.
This is one of the first networks that’s being launched fully and completely in the age of social media. So, it’s woven very deeply into the fabric of our overarching plan. It’s a television network, but it’s also being thought of as a multi-platform network. There will be some forward thinking and unprecedented ways that social media will interact with some of the programming.
What was your favorite MTV show as a kid?
120 Minutes is the go to answer. I also liked Headbanger’s Ball a lot. I also liked Yo! MTV Raps a lot. I loved the first season of the Real World. There will NOT be any reality shows on Revolt.
They really ruined everything. It seems like we’d be ripe for some new version of Headbanger’s Ball now, the way that underground metal has taken off.
Absolutely. Metal’s enjoyed such a rise in prominence. Black metal, too. Brandon Stosuy at Stereogum did a lot of that for at least our demographic, if not the broader metal culture. But there are these huge crossover metals albums and moments over the past few years. There’s definitely room for that. Revolt will cut across all genres and demographics.
Do you have a beat? Are you the indie rock guy?
I obviously have certain pockets of expertise and authority with respect to others, but as Music and Culture Editor and host, I’m sort of cutting a swath across all of our programming and editorial content. There will be people who are responsible, particularly on the programming level, for specific genres to make sure there are people that are deeply immersed in one sound or music.
With something like 120 Minutes, there was a sense that you wouldn’t and couldn’t see that stuff anywhere else if you didn’t have a good college radio station in range. Now, with the Internet and Spotify, with “underground” music creeping into movies, commercials, TV shows, how do you go back to being a vessel for discovery on TV when everything is sort of already out there?
Since before Arctic Monkeys first loaded their first mp3 on to MySpace, there’s been that platform and many others for people to put everything out there, and for it to get picked up everywhere. In light of that, trusted filters and sources for taste have never been more important. We’re just living in a complete glut of information and content. You know, speaking for myself, I need someone to hold my hand through stuff, and I’ve been involved with processing as much of it as possible on, like, an industrial scale. But we really all do.
That’s a service I’ve been proud of providing at Stereogum, and one that I’m really excited to bring to television too. As for the way that looks? That remains to be seen. But we’ve got our eyes wide open to the fact that any music video that makes it to air will be on YouTube ahead of time. You can see whatever you want when ever you want. There’s still a way to make music programming that honors people’s time. That doesn’t necessarily include playing a block of videos for hours. But still finding a way to honor video production culture, and the directors, and identify what videos are worth paying attention to. There’s ways to address that.
“Hang with Diddy” was probably on many late-90s lists of signs that you’ve made it.
Yeah, the dude is just synonymous with entrepreneurial success and building brands, with understanding how to take an idea and send it to the sky. The amazing thing about Diddy occupying this space in my life now is that I had a random “hang with Diddy” moment in 2006. It’s the lead photo on my goodbye post to Stereogum. It’s practically cosmic that the moment exists.
Shades of teenage Bill Clinton and JFK, right?
[Laughs] That line will be sitting in my head forever now, thank you. That image, but with a lot more melanin.