This is a page where I explore different questions that you have asked me, almost like I'm being interviewed if you string them all together.
Personal / general
Who are you, Will? Are you a writer, a musician, a podcaster, all of the above?
Writing has always been my favourite medium, even while making music. I even see the podcast as a form of being an author.
In some sense I’ll always be a musician, but as far as working primarily as an instrumentalist and performer, it’s just not working for me anymore.
All I want is to craft something unique, that stands out. I’ve learned that I can do that better as a writer.
Because this website is my own production, I would say I'm the author of Rhythm Changes; and that I'm a musician and journalist. I need both those practices to do what I do here.
Are you an insider in the Vancouver jazz scene?
No, but I think I know who those people are. They aren't journalists, that's for sure. They're the actual doers who are supporting, presenting shows, and making music. And that's a great thing!
I'm not all about scoops, where I'm giving you information the quickest and you hear it here first. Instead, I give attention to what I find most interesting, and maybe you'll hear it from me first because I paid the most attention to that thing; but it's not about the speed, it's about the effort and attention on an ongoing basis.
Sometimes I get embarrassed because my audience knows some information about what I'm covering before I do, but once I get over that emotion, I'm actually excited about that! It means they're passionate. I can still enrich the experience for them.
At least I believe that the real insiders and longtime contributors respect what I do, and that’s a nice place to be.
Why did you drop out of Capilano University's Jazz Studies program at 18 years old after one year of studies there?
This question is probably my most frequently-asked over the past decade. The truest answer, though general, is, "It just wasn't working for me."
Maybe the better question is why did I enroll in the first place? And I think that's revealing, because I just followed my friends and colleagues to Cap at 17, not knowing what else to do. When you're just trying things, they don't work out a solid percentage of the time.
I was too young to succeed there. I didn't have the life experience or social skills to be happy on campus, and I didn't know how to make the best of my educational opportunities at Cap. If I did other things for five years and enrolled for the first time at age 22 (still not yet engaged or married, even!), I think I could've made it through the program.
But even then, I have never intended to be a schoolteacher or academic/professor, so getting the B.Mus. wouldn't make much sense. Many of my friends are quite good at being schoolteachers, and I don't have what it takes!
How Rhythm Changes works
I've followed you since the original newsletter / since you started reviewing music / since the podcast began... What can I expect from you now with this website?
I’ll continue what I’ve done so far at Rhythm Changes – writing free weekly articles, hosting the podcast – and now there's the Update.
Rhythm Changes has always been about creative music in Canada, and how to navigate it and enjoy it to the fullest, however you're involved.
When I write, I start with what’s happening: new releases, gigs, and the like. But I love to go further and talk about who’s doing it or why it’s happening.
I used to do it in my spare time. But now, I see an opportunity here to do something that no-one else is doing. With the Rhythm Changes Update, I’ve stepped into a space that calls for more focus and treating it as a job, to get some accountability behind my writing.
What do you write about?
Here are some topics on my mind. I would say the theme connecting all of them is the why. I love briefly laying out what happened, and then getting into why I think it happened that way.
- What are the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences I’ve had this week in the Vancouver music scene, and why?
- Why did this artist choose this material, or why did their performance / release go the way that it did?
- Which new jazz / creative / improvising projects are the most noteworthy or ambitious, and why?
- Why are people fans of certain artists, venues, and spaces?
- What are the solutions to the anxieties and challenges of the digital era of the music industry?
- How are people changing the way music is recorded, performed, and delivered as they adjust to the business/political/social climate?
- What are certain musicians and personalities really good at, and why are those things important to their success?
- What makes a venue or live event series successful, and how do you start one – or grow one?
- What is the role of music, and the arts in general, in our social lives?
Which people are you writing for?
I want to unite a few different hypothetical types of customers from around the music world: listeners, music-makers, and professionals. I believe that the types don’t really exist anymore as separate entities. People are listeners to whatever extent, then they’re music-makers to whatever extent, and then maybe they are also working (or have worked) in this world.
I can get into this problem more in other conversations, but I think that lot of music writing tries too hard to write just for fans or just for professionals – when in reality, it all can be interesting.
Many other people contribute to your community as volunteers, some to a great extent. Why do you charge money for the Rhythm Changes Update?
Why not? It takes time to produce, and it's a product that will appeal to certain people. Those things don't grow on trees, and they deserve to be sustainable.
If any other journalists, writers, etc. see me doing the Update, I want them to come away feeling like they could do a paid product too, if they find the right niche. I'm only doing it because I saw so many other writers do it before me (Stratechery, Water & Music, Freddie DeBoer, Platformer, Lenny's Newsletter, Sinocism, etc etc.)
And as for volunteers in my community, I wouldn't begrudge any of our most respected volunteers if they started to professionalize their effort. And of course, the way they're doing it right now is okay too, if it works for them!
Would you ever write for another website / media outlet?
I don’t need to. I already have something that I'm selling: a written product, delivered on an ongoing basis, that is quite different from what anyone else is doing.
How would being picked up by another outlet, add to what I’m selling? It wouldn’t. Instead, it would separate me from my customers.
Freddie DeBoer once wrote about this triad of money, prestige, and freedom. What if you had to assign low, medium, and high to each one? I’d pick medium money, low prestige, and high freedom. And the money is probably the one where you can even exert some control over its growth.
Many people at the old publications see their job as promotional, as marketing, or as something like purchase consideration (“should you buy this new album or not?”) . I don’t do that. For me it’s about connection, people being seen, people’s dignity – people!
You can't really enrich people's experience of other local people (especially not as ongoing coverage) in the traditional music media thing, where you do 5 quick questions, rapid Q&A, what's in the artist's fridge. I’ve worked as a performer, and I’ve never wanted that type of coverage. It doesn’t enrich what I’m doing or what the audience is doing.
I just believe in exposing people to the artists around them, and my background as a performer helps me focus on what’s interesting to cover.
How did you decide on the subscription business model for Rhythm Changes?
My caveat is that I do have sponsorships on the podcast; but that's because my most important mission for it is to keep it free-of-charge! More so than the podcast making lots of money – I just want to cover the costs via sponsorship.
I think a lot of music journalism, as a business, is obsolete. I don’t blame any writers themselves; they might have learned under the mass-media advertising model, a business model that no longer works for music writing. The main theme of Bob Lefsetz’s blog – he’s one of my favourite music writers – is that the concept of the mass market in entertainment only existed in the 20th century. With no mass market, everyone serves a niche, from the traditional music publications down to me.
And just because Exclaim et al. still exist, that doesn't mean it's working at those outlets. There's such a thing as a lame duck, or playing out the clock as something winds down.
I really agree with Ben Thompson about the local news business model, as he called it on Stratechery. The only thing that works for a media niche as small as mine, about creative music scenes, is subscription. There’s no moment where Rhythm Changes breaks through to a mass audience and advertising supports everything. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done as work! It just means that I keep it real when I develop the business model.
The two ends of the business model spectrum I'm on, are two writers whom I admire: David Turner and Cherie Hu. David has a full-time music industry job and writes as a hobby, with highly specific sponsorships; Cherie charges for her work, and it's more than triple what I charge. I'm in the middle of those two, but we're all out on the edge of actually seeking a viable model.
Why should I subscribe to the Update?
Here are the first three reasons that come to mind for me.
First, let's talk affordable price. In the world of subscription music writing, I'm more affordable than other new media (Water & Music, most web3 things), bigger names (Billboard, Rolling Stone), and the wider world of industry publications (Music Ally, JazzTimes). The price is below the average Patreon pledges of most independent media ventures (Roots Music Canada, Canadaland, etc). I can charge a bit less than the market because I'm a solo operator with lower costs.
Second, think about what it means to support Rhythm Changes. You've probably seen, like me when I started writing, how few other people cover creative music in Canada. I don't plan on slowing down, and the best way to keep me accountable – to make sure I stay in the game – is to keep me working for you, and no-one else. My priority is to always listen to you (literally, if you're an artist); that's also why only local arts businesses sponsor the podcast.
Finally, the social aspect. When you make the purchase, business or personal, you know that plenty of folks don't have the money to do so at any given time. Your financial support of Rhythm Changes enables the free weekly article and helps anyone, regardless of funds, to participate in our community through that content. Help me bring Vancouver music to the whole country, and Canadian creative music to the world.
Don't we all get too much email already?
No, I don't think so: we get too much bad email, unexpected email, disrespectful of the five 'W's email. When you subscribe, you know who it's from (me), what you're getting, when and where you're getting it, and why you chose to get it.
People actually don't have enough email like that. When we give them more of it, they'll be even happier to refuse the bad email.
How many Juno Awards have your paid subscribers won in total?
Only a couple, I think – but several nominations! I'll count some day, when the sample size is bigger. And getting the free weekly article, there's a whole bunch of Juno Award winners and nominees...
That said, although many of my paid subscribers are artists – because they find that my work can add value to their careers – others are non-artists and non-musicians, and all are welcome.
What do you like to do outside of music?
Maybe the first thing is that I'm a sports fan! I love to follow and talk all things NHL hockey, Formula 1, and golf. In the NHL I support the Toronto Maple Leafs and sometimes also the Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers. Apologies in advance for my lack of knowledge of the NBA/NFL/MLB.
I like to play golf, play ball hockey, go climbing or bouldering (but my friends are way better than me); and I can hack it at soccer, basketball, or ultimate frisbee.
I also like gardening and cooking, and working online at home helps with those things.
When I'm out and about or in my downtime, I often listen to podcasts and read books, so I'm going through a lot of them pretty much every day. I don't actually listen to a lot of music around the house while I'm doing other things. Music either is what I'm working on or it's the soundtrack to my work.