Bearded gets a trim

by Steve Watson in April 2009
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I had an email a week and a bit ago from Gareth Main, editor of Bearded, saying he wasn’t going to be producing any more issues of his lovely inderpendent music magazine. He wanted to let Stack know all about it, so we met up last weekend, and since it was slightly sunny we sat in a park with a couple of tins of cider while he filled me in.

The full transcript is included below, but the short version is that he’s a magazine lover, an ardent supporter of independent music, and a rubbish businessman. Actually that’s not fair, because he was never setting out to be a businessman – he knew he’d find it tough to sell advertising and come up with creative ideas for making money, and I’m only glad that he went ahead and did it anyway.

The current issue of Bearded is even more lovely than the last, and definitely worth tracking down in Borders, Smiths, or via the Bearded site. He’s planning to keep on publishing one issue per year, so the magazine hasn’t disappeared entirely, and he’s already started work on the record label and zines that will replace Bearded, so if you’ve enjoyed Bearded you’ll be able to keep on following his work.

Good luck Gareth, and maybe we’ll manage to get that single issue of Bearded distributed on Stack next year?

So, obvious question first, why did you stop publishing Bearded?
I always hesitate to say it’s the money, but money did contribute to it. And the other thing was the stress, or the worrying about stuff. It was a case of money causing stress – ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to fund the next one, or the one after that’. Then I had to ask whether I was really interested in it any more – people are taking it a bit too seriously now. I said that to my girlfriend, and she was like, ‘well, isn’t that a good thing? People are enjoying it and they care what you put in the magazine – that has to be a good thing’.

When you say ‘people’ taking it too seriously, you mean the record labels?
Yeah – it was the labels. It’s not the fans of the magazine, because it’s lovely when you read people saying nice things, but yeah, there were labels getting upset about bad reviews, and that stuff skims off me, but it added to the whole thing coming to the stage where it just wasn’t fun. I started the magazine because it was something I wanted to do – an independent magazine supporting independent music – so it was always supposed to be a magazine that I wanted to read. It still is that, and it’s fun when I get a new issue, but the things around it weren’t so good. I’ve been doing my accounts for about four months now, and it’s just a ballache really – it just takes all the fun out of doing something.

Especially when the accounts are only going one way

Exactly – when your bank account is only going one way it’s not so good. So yeah – it was those sort of worries. It’s about thinking creatively to come up with ways of making money, and I’ve never been good at that sort of thing. Advertising sales is obviously a pain in the arse, and I don’t understand how half of the whole publishing thing works. So much of it seems to be about crunching numbers, because if you publish 32,000 copies of a magazine and sell 2,000, and if somebody else publishes 6,000 and sells 3,000, the 32,000 still charges more for their advertising even though so much of it will just get destroyed at the end of the day. Stuff like that I don’t really understand. And also there doesn’t seem to be much distinction between publications and the different types of people who read them, which is bullshit actually.

You obviously got frustrated with that side of things, but I remember the first time I met you, you were saying I should put Bearded on Stack straight away because you don’t know how long it’s going to last. And in the introduction to your last issue you had that line about it’s okay if a magazine folds because there will be somebody else that comes along to do it even better after you. It seems like it’s been on your mind right from the start.
Yeah – I’ve known from the start that I’m not a businessman and I know I can’t sell advertising. I know I can’t sell things because I’m too nice – I’m not a bastard! But these are things that you have to do, and at the same time there’s things like print quality and pagination – I’ve always wanted to keep those really good. I was giving a lecture at Kings College the other day and there was a Q&A afterwards, and I’d said there might not be another issue so somebody said, why don’t I just reduce the costs by reducing the quality of the paper and stuff, because surely it’s better to have something than nothing? And I can totally understand that point of view, but like I say it’s a completely selfish thing. If I got a new issue and looked at it and thought ‘this is nowhere near as good as the first one’, I would then question why I was doing it, and it would then be becoming a business rather than something that’s fun and informative and nice and high quality. And that way I’d be in the same position I’m in now, but I wouldn’t have made something I’m completely happy with, and I wouldn’t have something that’s framed and up on my wall. Whereas now I’ve got six issues of Bearded up on the wall, and I can look at those every day and be proud that I’ve done it.

Of those last six issues, only the last two have been paid for haven’t they? If you’d stayed free would you somehow have been able to carry on for longer?
No – if it hadn’t gone paid it wouldn’t have carried on at all, because we still have the money coming in from the distributor. And since we went paid we’ve been selling decent numbers of magazines – I think we sell about the same as Plan B sells, but we don’t have the alternative ways of making money that they have.

You mentioned earlier that you don’t really have the desire to carry on with just the website – what’s going to happen with that?
Personally I want the online to continue, though that depends on a lot of things and I haven’t quite worked out yet how that’s going to work. It’s very popular – we get 10,000 unique visitors there every month. That’s more than the number of magazines we produce each issue, and I definitely want to carry on supporting independent music, but me personally, I don’t want to be doing the editorial of it because I want to move on and do other things. I want to carry on publishing it, so it’s a case of finding the people who will be able to edit it while I get on with my own projects that I’ve got in the pipeline and that look a lot more fun for me. So I don’t know what’s going to happen with the website yet, but I’ll probably find out in the next week or so.

You’ve talked before about how the magazine was always very much led by what the writers wanted to do, so I suppose it makes sense that the website would be determined by the writers too.
Yeah – it just depends on the writers themselves. For some of them Bearded is a massive deal because it means they get to see their name in print, and that carries a lot more kudos than the web does. At the end of the day print will always be seen as more important than websites and less throwaway than websites.

It’s something to do with the fact that somebody has taken your words, and edited them and commissioned an illustration to go with them and then fit them to a page – it all feels much more important doesn’t it?
Yeah, and I can’t really understand why. But anyway it’s up to the writers – if they want to carry on with it we’ll do that. I’ve already spoken to some of them and said ‘okay, if we’re going to do this we need to split the work up so that one of you isn’t left doing the four or five different jobs that I was doing in the past’. Just so that they’re not doing what I did and spending every waking hour working on something.

Were you not tempted to do that with the magazine?
Yeah, I could do but it wasn’t really a matter of the workload on me for the magazine – it was more the expense. It wasn’t about dishing out the features and getting them back and editing them – that was the real joy, that was one of the things about Bearded that I really enjoyed. It was more because the business side of things just weren’t happening.

You mentioned that you’ve got other projects in the pipeline – can you talk about those at all?
Yeah – I definitely want to stay in publishing. I’ve been getting a lot of fanzines through recently from people who want to write for Bearded so they send in their fanzines. I mean this one came [holds up copy of Niche Homo] this morning and I was reading it on the tube on the way over. I don’t even know how they got my name and address – I suppose I must have replied to an email or something – but this is the fourth fanzine I’ve had in less than two weeks and it’s basically one of the reasons I’m stopping Bearded. There was one in particular that I picked up and started reading, and just thought, ‘this is what I want to do’. It was the first thing in the last three years that I’ve read cover to cover, because it was interesting and the writing style was just, like, stupid, and the subject matter was very personal – it wasn’t even about music. It was by the lead singer of Ice Sea Dead People and it was something he made on his university course, and it was called ‘Shit and Stuff’, and it was just about him and random anecdotes and stuff he wanted to write about, like sort of embarrassing personal tales. It’s completely pointless but it was really interesting to read, and really well put together. I can’t remember how many they made, but it was all well made and carefully put together.

That sort of thing gets me excited, so I’m thinking of doing one myself about library music because in our second issue we did an interview with Johnny Trunk from Trunk Records, and I think if I was going to choose a favourite feature from Bearded ever that would probably be it. So I’ve become a big fan of library music, and I want to do something collaborative about that subject – loads of fans coming together. So we could be writing about and reviewing music from TV programmes or computer games, with nothing to do with the content of the programmes or the games. This might all be a month or 10 years away, but I’ve started talking to people about it and I’ve got a few people who are really interested in doing it. It’d be great to do something really underground, with no advertisers and none of those worries – something that’s just going to make me feel good about myself. It’s just this idea of doing something fun for yourself – I’m also starting a record label.

Wow – what’s it called?
It’s Fleeing From Pigeons Records.

It’s a great name
I know – and I never want to give it up! I remember coming up with the name about four years ago, when I was editing a golf magazine called Golf Course News International (or GCNI to give it its cool, short name). And I remember thinking that I wanted to start a blog, so I was wondering what to call it and I don’t know how but Fleeing From Pigeons just hit me. Then a year or so later I came up with the concept for Bearded, and I thought right well I need to pick a name for the company. It was originally going to be called Geek Publishing, but then I thought that was a bit shit and the blog had gone by then because I start them and get bored with them after about two weeks, so I realised the company should be called Fleeing From Pigeons. So I’m turning that into the record company, and that’s going to be really fun. One thing I’ve learned from Bearded is not to spend money on things, and people may well say, ‘well don’t start a record label then’, but it’s going to be a free net label and we’re going to specialise in live recordings and rare recordings and B-sides by established artists as well as artists we like. So it’s really going to be an extension of what Bearded and Beard Aid are – we’ll put samplers out and rarities out and promote these little bands and labels. The website’s there – it’s, and it’s launching officially this week.

That all sounds good, but what are you doing to make money?

Well I’ve got a new job as well.

It’s all change!
Definitely, and I’m so happy because I’m totally spreading myself across all these things at the same time. But so like all failed journalists I’m moving into PR – I suppose when PR dries up we’ll all go back to being journalists or something.

Or plumbers
Yeah – I actually worked for a plumbers once, in this office in someone’s back garden in Walsall. But anyway, I’ve been offered two jobs just recently – one doing this web publishing job and another doing music PR, which is less money but about a million times more exciting. It’s not band PR, it’s industry PR, so doing PR for people like the Association of Independent Music, so it’s fighting for the little man again, but this time not with my money.

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