Working towards a fairer music industry

In Conversation With : 
Stuart Stubbs

If you've spent time in any of the UK’s many record shops, music venues or cafes then you will have no doubt come across an issue of Loud & Quiet. Over the past fifteen years, the free monthly magazine has survived the onslaught of soaring print costs, dwindling advertising, the rise of digital and most recently a global pandemic.

Yet despite this, it has managed to maintain its position as one of the most important independent music publications for emerging bands, budding writers and upcoming photographers in the UK, with a print circulation of over 32,000.

We spoke to founder and editor Stuart Stubbs about the magazine’s DIY beginnings, what he looks for from new writers and how he’d do things differently if given the chance.


What was your first role in the music industry and how did that develop into you starting Loud And Quiet Magazine?

During my second year at Brunel University, I did a week-long work placement at NME Magazine and became friends with a girl who was working there called Cat Goodwin, (who I owe a lot to) then during my final year she started asking me to cover her when she was away on holiday, and eventually after I graduated they offered me a job. Before getting the NME job I spent half a year not knowing what to do. I didn’t study journalism or music, I studied film and drama but I’d always loved music and knew that’s what I wanted to work in. I’d also applied for work experience at Hall or Nothing PR and did a two-week placement there. Back then they were quite big, they had Oasis and Muse, but I realised instantly that I definitely didn’t want to work in PR.

After graduating I moved back to Southend where I’m from but there was nothing there except call-centre jobs so I signed on [to Jobseeker’s Allowance] and that’s when I decided to go with making the magazine. I’d always had the fantasy of running a magazine, and thought if I won the lottery then I’d spend that money setting something up but I pretty quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen so I did it anyway with no skills or knowledge. I had actually released the first issue of Loud And Quiet around this time in January 2005, and I worked at NME on their picture desk for two years while doing Loud And Quiet on the side, mostly on the train to and from work.

What was it like putting that first issue together?

It was really fun. I’m a very obsessive person, so as soon as I get an idea that’s all I want to do. I worked on it solidly every day and taught myself the design software at the same time, which was outdated even back then. I could write well and thought I knew what music criticism sounded like but had no idea about the logistics of actually making the magazine. It was about 26 pages and I printed it all on a home printer. It felt like it took forever, but I was absolutely obsessed with it. The fun of working out what the sections would be, the design elements, and what bands would be featured. I was instantly hooked.

It was called Loud And Quiet because I was originally going to work on it with a friend where one half of the magazine was going to be about music and the other half about books and literature but eventually I ended up doing it myself. I wrote each article under different fake names to make it look like it had contributors. It looked ridiculous, I don’t think anyone was fooled.

How many people make up the Loud And Quiet team and do you tend to work with the same writers and photographers on each issue?

There’s three of us in the office on a day-to-day basis and our designer who has designed the magazine since issue 17. We also have a team of fifteen to twenty writers and twenty photographers who we work with regularly, which sounds like a lot but actually our team is relatively small for the amount of stuff we make and put out. Because we’ve all become friends it’s become quite flexible and sometimes people will say they don’t have time to work on something so they’ll sit out on an issue and come back on the next one, and that’s absolutely fine. We have a core network of people who fortunately really enjoy doing it. Some of our writers have written for us for nearly fifteen years, so we have a loyal gang putting it together.

How has the magazine changed over time?

I suppose the format is the most obvious way. It started off on a home printer and I stapled and folded it all myself. Then we went up to A5 and printed professionally, and then it went out as a newspaper format, before finally looking like it does today. Other than that, I would say the things that we feature have changed quite a lot. When it was only me and my fake names it featured my personal taste which was actually really narrow because I was 22 and had grown up in Southend – I thought The Libertines were a cool underground band. At heart it’s still a bit of a vanity project for me but now we feature everything. There will of course be some stuff that I’m not personally really into, but I know that a young writer loves it and really wants to write something on it and I want the magazine to be a community where everyone has a say. So as the team grew, the interest of the magazine grew.

Talk us through the process of putting together an issue, from concept to print.

We’re constantly being sent albums from the PRs we’ve got to know over the years and we have folders in our inboxes where we pull all of the promos we get sent into different issues. So for example, we’re currently working on issue 142, and anything that is going to come out in that period will be dragged into that folder. We’re constantly listening to new music in our office and we spend a day going through everything we’ve been sent and deciding if and how we want to feature it.

We review thirty-two albums in each issue, so once we’ve decided on those we get in touch with all our different writers and see who wants to cover what. We tend to have an idea of which writers will be interested in which records and they also suggest things they want to cover. I go through the live listings and put a big list together for our live reviews. Then we work out who we’re going to interview and who’s going to shoot it, and there’s a lot of back and forth with the PRs about when that artist is in town. The majority of our team also have other jobs either as freelancers or some are in bands themselves, so we need to make sure our writers are free too. About a week before we go to print we start sending stuff to our design team and talk to them about how the issue is going to look, so by this point we’ve usually received all the content and it’s just about putting it together.

After that it goes to print where it takes about a week for it to be printed and sent back to us and we spend that time promoting the magazine online and getting people to pre-order and subscribe. It gets delivered on a Thursday night and gets posted out to our subscribers on Friday. So there’s lots of envelope-stuffing and going to the post office, then it comes out on a Saturday. In London I distribute it myself in my car, so I’ll spend a whole day driving round to all the different venues and shops. We also work with Forte, who are a record distribution company. They receive a load from the printers and send them out to the record shops.

Amongst that you’ve also got all the website content, which starts to go up online incrementally throughout the month, so that by the time the new issue comes out the content from the previous issue is all on the website. I also spend a lot of time trying to get people to advertise in the magazine because that’s how we pay people, which is boring but is necessary and a big part of it.

Then it all starts again.

What have been some of the challenges in running a magazine and what do you wish you had known before you got started?

My answer to this question has changed recently. Originally I would have said that I wish I knew to charge people properly for advertising. If you charge too little from the beginning it makes it really hard work later on. We sell advertising for our magazine so that we can pay people and keep it free because when I first started there was no way people were going to pay for what I had produced.

Now I would say I wish we had always just charged for the magazine. Essentially, you need to put a value on what you’re making. It's really easy to get carried away with the fun aspects, which are really fun, but you end up making yourself a slave. You’re the boss but you’re also the person getting criminally underpaid and it’s just unsustainable. As it gets bigger it costs more and more money, and then the finance becomes your every waking stress and that can end up taking up more time than the fun part of it, which is the reason you started it.

So yeah, I wish I’d just had the guts long ago to say “this can only work if we charge people for it”. I think I was just a coward because I was worried people wouldn’t buy it and I would have had to stop doing it. So Young magazine is a good example of having done it well by charging people from day one.

In what ways do magazines like Loud And Quiet help budding writers and photographers hone their craft?

I think that they’re incredibly important because they’ve normally been started by young budding writers or photographers. That’s why I started Loud And Quiet. In 2005 there weren't that many music magazines that I liked and they only really featured big established bands. I wrote a couple of emails to magazines asking if I could write for them, but of course they never got back to me so I decided to start my own and that way I could write about the bands I liked. The stuff I wrote in the early issues was terrible looking back on it, but it didn’t matter because it was a safe space for me to slowly get better at writing as there was no one there telling me it was terrible.

Even though I’m fifteen years older now, I still remember what it was like to want to do this and I want to give others the chance to do it. I think that’s why these types of magazines are really important. We give people the freedom to let them write as they want to and help them learn in a way you wouldn’t be able to by doing a degree in it. And I think that counts for magazines like Crack, DIY, and So Young too. DIY culture and smaller scenes will let people make mistakes and learn from them, whereas perhaps understandably you’re not going to be able to learn on the job so easily at a broadsheet newspaper.

Who were your favourite writers growing up, and who are your favourite upcoming writers?

Growing up I didn’t really read that many music magazines. I read NME and Melody Maker at school but I wasn’t that nerdy on who was writing what. In terms of writers now, Joe Goggins, Tristan Gatward, and Gemma Samways are some examples of really great young writers. We’re fortunate to have some excellent writers on our team. I think the really good ones are the ones where you can say “do you want to write about x?” and even if they know nothing about it, they’ll say yes and be willing to put the research in and come out with a great piece.

What are you looking for in pitches from new writers and photographers and how can someone who wants to pitch an idea get in touch with you?

Now that we’re quite established, people can go on our website and see if the sort of thing they’re into is what we’re going to feature. We do feature most things but I suppose the type of music we wouldn’t really be into is stuff like The 1975, big indie bands.

The thing that I look at more than music taste is their writing style. I think everyone, when they start writing music reviews, is guilty of writing in cliches. It’s easy to become really serious when writing about music and end up sucking all the fun out of it, but actually I prefer it when someone sends something that’s a bit different or fun. Something that has a bit of their personality in it. More than looking at who has the best grammar or spelling (I’m terrible at both), I look for people who can put their own spin on things.

Most of the artists we feature are young artists and I think they should be interviewed by their peers: people of their own age who get them and have shared interests, so we’re always on the lookout for new writers. We have an email address called or they can DM us. The best way to get in touch is by sending a piece that you’ve already written. It doesn’t have to be a published thing, just to give us an idea of how you write. And a list of artists that you’re into.

The effect of COVID-19 has been financially crippling for many in the industry, including yourself. Do you think the music community (industry insiders and fans) have come closer together as a result, and does that make you feel positive in the long run?

COVID is a really good moment to redress the balance of things. I think we’re moving into a world where people are willing to pay for things again. People are buying records and supporting their local record shops when before people were just streaming everything. There’s a sense that we’re starting to realise that if you want these things to survive you have to put some money back into it, you can’t expect it all for free.

I think the independent music industry has really banded together in this time, but it does feel like there are two types of industries. The major label industry, and the independent industry. They’re very different. One has loads of money and one has hardly any. But across the board coronavirus has allowed people to be really honest about their circumstances, whereas before people were a bit embarrassed to say “we need help”. We’re all told to put a brave face and say “everything’s fine, our magazine is going from strength to strength” because essentially you want to look like you know what you’re doing. There’s this idea that if you kid people that you’re successful then you’ll become successful, but coronavirus has allowed bands, magazines, promoters to just say “we need help”. It’s been really nice to see how much of a community spirit there is around independent music. It makes me feel hopeful for the future.

The cynic in me does worry that once this ends, people will forget and go back to not supporting the things that they love but hopefully we’ll remember this time and change our behavioural patterns because these things need supporting forever, not just in this moment.

Finally, what’s been a career highlight so far?

I still can’t believe how far this magazine has come. We released a compilation vinyl for five years and did a photo exhibition to mark ten years, but my personal highlight is the fact that I’ve been able to go on some amazing trips that I never dreamed would happen. I couldn’t ever imagine that someone would pay for my flights to go to another country to write about an artist that I like for a magazine that I made up. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it still seems ridiculous to me and I’m blown away by it. I also still get a thrill from going to a gig and being on the guest list even after all these years. Before I started this magazine I would save up and spend all my money on gig tickets so I still find it exciting when I go to a gig and meet a new band, or get sent a new record before it comes out.

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