Working towards a fairer music industry

In Conversation With : Seb Wheeler

Over the past decade, Seb Wheeler has worked his way up through the ranks at Mixmag from starting out as an intern to become the current Head Of Digital.

During this period, platforms that are common use in the world of digital media today were only in their infancy. The gargantuan rise of digital media within the editorial industry has had a huge influence on how we consume stories and has also had an affect on the roles of people behind the scenes telling those stories.

Across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram Mixmag has over 2.7 million followers. Add into that the 1.3 million YouTube subscribers and that’s a serious online audience to curate for.  We spoke to Seb about the changes in digital publishing, the menial jobs that form the foundations of any big company and what he looks for in new members of the Mixmag team. 

Digital Publishing

Can you tell us a bit about your career so far and how you got to your current position?

I did an MA in Journalism at Goldsmiths in 2010 following an undergrad in English With Creative Writing. I got to the end of that and thought ‘writing is my passion and I’m good at it but I need to specialise in order to get a career’ so that’s why I then did the journalism course. Then I applied for work experience at Mixmag before my MA started, which turned into an internship, then into a junior role. Then I was deputy editor of the website, then editor and then I became head of digital. That’s been over nine years. The time has flown!

I started writing about music when I was about 15. I grew up in North Devon and we used to take the train to Exeter to sneak into punk shows, then we’d interview the bands after. And then I’d make zines with friends in college. When you’re working in culture, it feels like a privilege because you live and breathe music. After work you’ll be going out to a gig or club, or DJing, then going to Festivals in the Summer so it’s more like a lifestyle than a job.

What does it mean to be Head of Digital? Can you break down your day-to-day roles and what a normal work week looks like for you?

I oversee all of our digital output. I manage the website and social media team, I help develop online editorial video, and then I’m directly responsible for developing Mixmag’s online audience. So making sure website traffic and social media numbers are going up, that we’re being as engaging and reactive as possible online and that there’s a strategy in place. I’ll know what the website is going to be doing 6-12 months ahead of time.

Day-to-day is a mixture of things. There’s a fair amount of admin and answering emails. But then there’s also a lot of creativity in terms of helping our features editor commision work for the website, working with the production team to create art for the site and socials, producing video content with Mixmag TV, and linking up with our commercial team to create the best possible media partnerships for all the clubs, festivals and brands we work with. I also have to be alert to social media trends, so I read a lot of digital media and industry websites like Digiday, The Drum, Wired and The Verge.

Do you have free rein to decide what you cover or are there strict guidelines?

We’re super interested in telling the most important stories in electronic music, so that’s what guides the website in terms of editorial. We’re always on the lookout for new artists, emerging scenes, and interesting stories from dance music history that people might have overlooked. It’s all about giving our readers as much insight into dance music and club culture as possible.

So it’s completely up to us to create the editorial that our audience wants to read.

What are the some of the changes you’ve seen in the digital publishing world since you’ve been working at MixMag?

It’s changed completely. When I started at Mixmag, the website and the magazine were the main things that we did and now we have a range of social media, a channel on Youtube, we do events, and we have a creative agency. We’ve kind of evolved into doing everything because that’s just what the digital landscape demands now. You’ve got to be able to diversify as much as possible because audiences exist across different platforms.

We take our social media editorials as seriously as our website or magazine, and that’s not to undermine the long reads that we put in the magazine, it’s just to say that you have to treat social media as seriously as a 3,000 word essay.

What are some of the biggest campaigns / projects you’ve worked on?

We’ve got offices in nineteen different locations across the world and I act as the contact for all of those offices, so it’s been amazing to see the brand grow so much. Mixmag is now truly global. Seeing our weekly livestream The Lab grow to be in several different locations has been amazing. We do it in London and we call it ‘the club in the corner of our office’ but now you’ll find it in New York, Johannesburg, Los Angeles. We developed a new video strategy on Facebook in 2019 and gained 1 million new followers in a year, which sounds superficial but is actually pretty incredible.

My favourite thing recently is the documentary we’ve made about a DJ called Fat Tony who began his party career in the golden days of Soho in the early eighties. He became a big DJ in the acid house years but sadly developed heavy addictions and it derailed his career. Now he’s back and DJing for massive brands, fashion parties, and even for Harry and Megan, so we’ve made a documentary about the rise and fall of Fat Tony. He’s got this incredible life story, it’s been a really nice project to work on.

Are there any really boring tasks you had to do early in your career that you now look back on as valuable lessons?

I think whenever you enter a workplace you’ve got to be as enthusiastic as possible. Even now, having been nine years in the game it’s key because the energy that you project is what other people will pick up. I remember doing work experience at The Wire and one of the first things they asked me to do was put all their magazines in order on the shelves, and I was like “Yeah! I’ll do that!” because I was just so excited to be at a music magazine. I still remember that.

There’s a lot of menial stuff you’ll be asked to do at the start of your career, but it’s important to cut your teeth and learn about how a company works. I enjoyed all of it, and now I’m the one asking our work experience candidates to do those tasks. Sometimes I will apologize and say “sorry if this is really boring, but it is also important” because without those small tasks getting done an office doesn’t run properly.

You also used to put on club nights as Tropical Waste. Did that passion come first or was it digital / editorial work that interested you most?

Journalism came first but they’ve always gone hand-in-hand. When I was in college I’d make skate zines and then that became more of an art and music magazine. We put out records and put on gigs at our local bar. Then when I got to uni I did the same kind of projects. I was putting on parties at the student union and doing house shows and zines and CDRs. So the journalism and the parties have always gone together because when you’re writing about a band or musician you then want to go see them live.

When I finally moved to London I was like “there’s a million parties here already, I don’t need to do anything!” but then it became apparent that there wasn’t a space in London for the kind of music I was getting into, and that’s why we started Tropical Waste. I had a show on NTS where I was playing all the records I was writing about in Mixmag and then the natural step was that I wanted to dance to that music, so I started a party.

Tropical Waste artwork below by Patch D Keyes.

What qualities do you look for in someone joining the Mixmag team?

It’s good if people come in and have skills already developed. I’m not saying you have to already be a professional but you need to be equipped to do a number of things. Like write copy, edit copy, use photoshop, know how to edit video, even be good at taking photographs. That sounds like a lot, but it is the nature of journalism now. I think some people view it as cynical that journalists can’t just make money out of writing words anymore, but I’m more excited by the fact that if you come and work at a publisher, you’ve got all these avenues on which to publish editorial. So when young people come to Mixmag, it’s great if they have the skills that mean they can jump straight in on all the different platforms.