Michael Goldberg is to online music journalism what Jann
Wenner (the founder of Rolling Stone) was to dead tree
music writing in the late '60s. The website Goldberg founded
in 1994, Addicted To Noise, served as the blueprint
by which many other music-oriented online sites, including
hybridmagazine, have been operated, and for that matter, judged.
Before it was all said and done, Goldberg established a round-the-clock
music news service, whose global reach was an astounding 40
million homes; created Cinemachine, the movie review
search engine; and chalked-up half-a-dozen Web awards, including
a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award
for Web reporting.
However, when things turned too corporate,
the 48-year-old entrepreneur simply walked away from the empire
he'd built. "I always figured, if things got too weird,
I could do something new," Goldberg now says. Indeed.
On June 1, he launched a new site with designer/artist Emme
Stone called Neumu (neumu.net).
One might assume that someone of Michael
Goldberg's status and experience might be a tad bit self-absorbed,
maybe a bit pretentious. A name-dropping music know-all-ogist,
if you will. You know the type of person I'm talking about
-- think John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity.
Or perhaps he's a typical jaded dot com-merce netizen, who'd
rather discuss marketing strategies, branding, sticky content
etc, than music.
However, as soon as Goldberg answers the
phone at his Northern California residence, it becomes apparent
that neither of those descriptions fit him. Nevermind the
fact that Goldberg created and oversaw the first online rock
magazine, or wrote and edited for Rolling Stone for
ten years, Goldberg is a genuine fan of music, period. His
first words to me have nothing to do with what he's accomplished
as a journalist, or how successful and pioneering he is. In
fact, the only thing on his mind this evening is how excited
he is about the new Radiohead record. Hearing him talk about
the new album with as much carefree exuberance as my eight-year-old
son talking about the WWF, is completely refreshing.
Seven years ago -- which in the online world
is a lifetime -- Goldberg launched the most successful and
critically acclaimed music-oriented site on the net. Addicted
To Noise was not only one of the first sites of its kind,
it was the first site with original and compelling content
covering artists -- from Sonic Youth and Neil Young and the
Ramones to Wilco and Radiohead -- that truly mattered.
ATN, which eventually merged with SonicNet.com,
was not started with huge amounts of venture capital or gratuitous
hype. In fact, ATN was conceived before Goldberg even knew
what the Web was.
He was introduced to the World Wide Web
in early '94 while interviewing the founders of the Internet
Underground Music Archives (IUMA) on the campus of the University
of California in Santa Cruz. He was working on a story for
Details magazine chronicling how new technology would impact
music, and IUMA was the first site that served as a repository
for independent music, years before MP3 and Napster made the
Internet an ubiquitous source for music. Goldberg was ahead
of the curve -- in the fall of '93, he had hatched the idea
for an online music magazine and hoped to implement it on
America Online. After pitching the idea to potential investors
for the better part of a year, he resolved to launch the idea
with or without funding. And after meeting the IUMA founders
and seeing his first website, it became clear that AOL was
not the right vehicle for his new idea; the Web was. He left
Santa Cruz, a driven man with a newfound mission.
Addicted To Noise was a combination of a
good idea, good timing, the right person "and some luck,"
says Goldberg. "I think that the reason it clicked was
because I had years of music journalism experience, and I
quickly grasped how the Web could be used to create a new
kind of multimedia magazine."
Goldberg believes that ATN's success also
had to do with his sensibility. "Remember, when I started
ATN, grunge and alternative rock was happening," he says.
"I really felt that an online magazine that looked and
felt fresh and that could deal with all the really cool rock
and punk, from the Stooges and MC5 and Nirvana to Patti Smith
and Echo and the Bunnymen and on and on... I believed that
a lot of people were hungry for that. And for a sense of humor
and passion. I mean I got the great poster artist Frank Kozik
to do the logo (the original logo was a coat of arms made
of two crossed syringes with the words "Addicted To Noise"
overlaid). That was outrageous!"
On December 1, 1994, his vision was realized.
ATN was launched, with Goldberg himself bankrolling the new
venture with about $5000. His self-described paranoia of missing
the window of opportunity was the catalyst for the concept
becoming reality, even without outside backing. "I really
saw that there was an opportunity to establish something brand
new. An editorially-driven music publication that could, because
of the medium -- the Web -- compete with the other things
that were out there.
"I thought at the time that I was racing
against the inevitable. My feeling was if Rolling Stone
or Spin really launched something solid before I was able
to do it, then no one would really care. Now, I don't think
it would have mattered. In any case, neither of them did launch
anything on the Web until long after ATN was established."
The timing was perfect for an online rock
magazine. But without the financial backing of a corporate
sugar daddy, Goldberg had to be extremely resourceful. "One
advantage that I had was that I had been a music journalist
for a long time," he says. "I had been a senior
writer and associate editor at Rolling Stone for nine
years. Before that I had written for Creem, Crawdaddy,
the New Musical Express and Downbeat,"
he says. "When I launched ATN, I called R.E.M.'s co-manager,
Jefferson Holt, who I had a relationship with, and said 'I'm
starting something that no one has ever seen before and unlike
anything else that exists.'
"I described it to him," Goldberg
continues. "I said, 'I want to go to Australia, where
R.E.M. are launching their tour and I'd like to interview
them. It's going to be pretty amazing what we're going to
be able to do. They'll be able to be featured in a way that
a band has never been featured before, because nothing like
this has ever existed.'"
As fate would have it, Michael Stipe happened
to be in the R.E.M. office when the conversation took place,
and loved the idea."Getting that kind of right-off-the-bat
cooperation from a band of that stature was a big deal. You
have to remember, at the time, "Automatic for the People"
had made R.E.M. essentially the biggest band in America. Now
they were coming back with their first tour in five years
and getting ready to release "Monster." Basically,
getting one of the three biggest bands in the world to agree
to be interviewed and participate in this new thing, was a
very big deal."
Being the first at anything can be advantageous
or a complete disadvantage. Not everyone can call R.E.M.'s
manager and request an interview, especially if you're an
upstart publication with no precedence. I asked Goldberg if
it ATN would have been as successful, had he not had those
"I'm the type of person, who at the
beginning of my music career, would stand outside a dressing
room as long as I had to, to try and get an artist to be willing
to do an interview," says Goldberg as he recalls the
time he did a cover story for Rolling Stone on Stevie
Wonder, and sat in a hotel room for a day and a half, waiting
for an interview. Then there's the time he interviewed Bill
Graham in two successive eight-hour sessions, with no breaks
for lunch or dinner. "That's the kind of person I am,
I'm very persistent." he says.
After he deceided he wanted to become a
staff writer at Rolling Stone, it took him almost a
decade to become one of those four guys on staff. "My
entire focus was on getting that job at Rolling Stone
-- for nine years-if you can believe that." Then he says
emphatically, "I believe whether or not I would have
had those relationships, it could've been done. It would have
just been harder. But you also need to realize that there
was a time when I had no relationships. Before starting ATN
I spent more than 20 years developing relationships and a
reputation as a respected music journalist.
"People don't really understand,"
he says. "I did a lot of investigative reporting while
at Rolling Stone. For years. And my stories earned
Jefferson Holt's respect. He took my call because he respected
my work as a journalist. It wasn't like I was born with a
silver spoon in my mouth."
Connections and timing aside, Goldberg's
success with ATN can also be attributed to his solid work
ethic and distinct vision. A typical workday for Goldberg
started at 6 am and didn't end until midnight. Goldberg notes
that Jon Luini, who handled the technical aspects of Addicted
To Noise, and early ATN staff members such as Brick Thornton
and Aimee Spanier were a big help.
He also believes that the graphics by underground
poster artist Frank Kozik made the site stand out. Plus a
combination of high profile writers who wrote for the site,
interviews with high profile artists and Goldberg's own sensibility.
He recruited name music journalists that people were familiar
with from a different context, and brought them all together
in one place. Those writers in turn covered a diverse array
of big name artists -- artists like Sonic Youth, Neil Young,
Wilco, Son Volt and Morphine, artists that truly mattered
-- and presented them in a way no one else could.
ATN enjoyed a completely independent existence
until March of 1997, when Goldberg sold ATN to Paradigm Music
Entertainment, and it was merged with New York-base SonicNet
(which Paradigm had also purchased). Until then, ATN invented
the rules as they went along. "There was no one to consult
with at the time," Goldberg explains. "It was kind
of isolated in a way, it wasn't like there were a lot of people
doing what we were doing."
They were the only game in town, flying
by the seat of their pants, so to speak. "Convincing
companies to advertise on the Web for the first time was a
trip," says Goldberg as he recalls the early days of
ATN. "If not for our head of sales, David Hyman, now
president of Gracenote, we never would have gotten ads from
Levi's and the Gap and Snapple and a bunch of others. David
is hardcore. He is amazing."
Though he kept tight reins on the budget,
during '96 he went deeply in debt, and came to the realization
that unless something changed; he would be forced to go out
of business. Although ATN had advertisers from the beginning,
the ad revenues didn't cover expenses. In a testament to his
integrity, Goldberg proudly states, "There was never
a time when they (the full- and part-time staff including
editors and the production team) didn't receive their checks
when they were supposed to. With the freelance writers, sometimes
the checks were late -- but everyone got paid."
Simple economics dictated Goldberg's next
move. He spent months focused on finding another company to
partner with. Prior to the merger, he was in the process of
negotiating a deal with an unnamed company, when a story in
The Wall Street Journal and a twist of fate intervened. Goldberg
explains, "One day I read in the Wall Street Journal
that SonicNet had been acquired by a company called Paradigm.
David Hyman, my advertising sales guy at the time, had been
in New York a month or so earlier and the SonicNet people
had taken him out for drinks and actually tried to hire him
away from me. SonicNet president Nicholas Butterworth told
Hyman 'wouldn't it be great to merge ATN and SonicNet.'"
Hyman had returned home with the news "but
I knew SonicNet was running out of money, so it didn't make
any sense," says Goldberg. "Then I read about the
Paradigm purchase of SonicNet. I called up Nicholas Butterworth.
We talked four hours, then I spoke Tom McPartland, the president
of Paradigm, and three days later he flew out to San Francisco
to discuss a deal. We met for many hours, and the next day
he called with an offer. An hour later we had a deal."
Michael Goldberg at SonicNet's editorial command post
in San Francisco in early '99.
Convergence can be a good thing. In the
deal, Goldberg became a SonicNet senior VP, and retained editorial
control of ATN. With SonicNet handling the business, Goldberg
had more time to focus on the editorial aspects of the site
and less on the business aspects. He revamped and expanded
the ATN editorial department, which became SonicNet editorial.
He began to oversee all editorial for both sites. SonicNet
editorial had a larger budget, which enabled him to begin
expanding and improving the daily music news section, which
ran on SonicNet as "SonicNet Music News of the World,"
and on ATN as "Addicted To Noise Music News of the World."
Under McPartland's regime, Goldberg was
free to operate with much the same autonomy he had prior to
the merger. Both McPartland's and SonicNet President Nicholas
Butterworth's hands-off approach made for an exhilarating
ride. "We didn't have to convince anyone that a good
idea was a good idea. If I came up with a great idea, I could
just go ahead and run with it," he says. "It was
like everyday, I looked forward to waking up."
It was also during this time that the music
news section started to become more commercial and started
to stray from his initial vision. "We wanted to be the
number one source for music news," Goldberg says. "We
didn't want people to go anywhere else. When I started ATN,
I only covered things I cared about and thought were important.
I wasn't making a magazine for Michael Jackson fans. ATN was
for Sonic Youth and Ramones and Wilco and Morphine fans.
"With SonicNet, the goal changed. The
new goal, which I believed in at the time, was to be the be
all and end all of music news. We wanted everyone to come
to the site. So it became necessary to cover all of popular
music," he says in an effort to explain the perceived
commercialization of the site. "For example, if you look
at The New York Times, if George Bush gives a speech
about energy, you run a story on the front page. The editor
in chief at the Times may hate Bush. So what. When he gives
a speech it's news and as a newspaper you have to cover it.
If you're covering music from a news perspective and your
goal is to be the number one place that people turn to for
music news, than you have to cover everything. If the Spice
Girls are popular, then it's news when someone leaves the
Spice Girls, or if they are about to release a new album or
|Perry Farrell DJing a SonicNet
party in '99 at webnoise
Goldberg describes the next phase of the
SonicNet's evolution, from January 1998 until July 1999 as
an exciting and challenging time. In Jan. '98 TCI (the cable
company) bought Paradigm, then formed TCI Music, made McPartland
president and CEO and folded SonicNet/ATN, The Box television
and DMX radio into TCI Music. It was during those 18 months
that Streamland, the first online music video area and Flash
Radio were created. And it was when the music news section
really came into its own.
"We had five or six fulltime reporters,
a bunch of good editors and we were kicking ass," he
says. "I have to say that our coverage of the Tibetan
Freedom Concert in '98 was just amazing. We must have run
40 stories over three days!"
In July '99 MTV bought SonicNet from TCI
Music and subsequently formed MTV Interactive (MTVi). The
following month, Goldberg, who had been acting Editor-in-Chief
of SonicNet since early '97, was officially given the title.
By the April of 2000 his editorial staff
had grown to over 55 people, the biggest editorial staff for
a music publication -- online or otherwise. He brought in
new talent such as reviews editor Billy Altman, who had been
an early album reviews editor at Creem magazine where Lester
Bangs was editor. He also hired Gary Giddins to write a jazz
column and Simon Reynolds to write an Electronica column and
hired Chet Flippo away from Billboard to edit a country music
section of the site. He even got Dave Marsh to revive his
"American Grandstand" column from his Creem and
Rolling Stone days for ATN. Essentially, his staff
was comprised of some of the top music critics and journalists
covering their respective genres.
"No one could touch us," he says.
"Without sounding arrogant, no one was really doing anything
But all was not right. Once MTV had purchased
SonicNet Goldberg found himself dealing with a corporate bureaucracy
that became increasingly frustrating. "The SonicNet division
was also in disarray," he says. " On the east coast,
a lot of people quit. Hyman quit, a bunch of designers quit.
Nicholas was dealing with the politics of MTV. Morale was
bad on the east coast, and I had to keep things together on
the west coast."
According to Goldberg, a new general manager
who was brought in at the beginning of May began interfering
with his authority and his news operation. "The guy was
clueless," Goldberg says. "When it became clear
to me that he was going to continue to fuck with my staff,
"There can be a period of time when
something like a magazine and the times sync up. And after
a while, it doesn't work anymore. For many reasons, that was
the case for both SonicNet and Addicted To Noise. By May of
2000, it was really time for me to leave and move on. It was
the end of an era."
He not only left SonicNet, he left San Francisco,
where he'd lived for over 25 years, and moved north to the
Sonoma Valley. "I was able to chill out and really spend
some time figuring out what the next thing would be that would
be exciting to do," he says. "I started a consulting
company. I started writing again. I dabbled in a few things.
The decision to start a new online magazine was really organic.
It wasn't like I planned a year ago to launch a new website."
Once again, Goldberg is doing things on
his terms. Goldberg's new vehicle of creative expression,
Neumu [neumu.net], may just turn the online publishing world
on its ear. It's much more of a collaborative effort than
either ATN or SonicNet, Goldberg says.
"I was a total control freak at ATN and SonicNet,"
Goldberg explains. "There were reasons for that, but
with Neumu there is a lot more of other people's ideas and
tastes adding to the bigger feeling and more diverse feeling
that I think this site has. There's also much more of an international
flavor. We have writers and others involved who are in Australia,
Dakar South Africa, Canada, London as well as many parts of
the U.S. A lot of points of view. And a lot of really amazing
Part of the amazing talent he's speaking
of is Neumu co-founder Emme Stone. As the creative director,
she designed the entire site, including all the art that appears
on the pages. They both figured out "what we wanted the
site to be," Goldberg comments. "Obviously I'm running
all editorial, but I think that Emme Stone has had an impact
on my approach in some ways."
When he speaks about the new site, it's
evident he has very little interest in cashing in on his passion.
Neumu has no advertising, and is relying solely on word of
mouth to generate traffic.
"At this point in my life I would love
it if a lot of people found the site meaningful in one way
or another, but that's not why we're doing it," Goldberg
explains. "We're doing it because we want to have a forum.
A place where people can write about things they care about.
To be able to have exhibits of artwork and do experimental
things that have to with art and music. We really want it
to be like a playground for creative people to do things that
they get off on. And what we've found, already, is that there
are a lot of people who dig what we're doing. But we're not
creating things to draw an audience. We're making a cool inspiring
online magazine that we dig, and we're attracting an audience
of people who appreciate that."
As I hang up the phone with Goldberg, it
becomes clear to me that he and I are kindred spirits. We
both write and create solely for the passion of music and
art. The main distinction here however, he's paved the road
I currently walk on.