wien1Gary Wien has made a reputation for himself as a student of the arts, in large part due to being steeped in the Asbury Park, New Jersey music scene, which was the subject of his first book Beyond The Palace.  His interests extend well past the borders of the town into the rest of the state as evidenced by his second book, Are You Listening?  But the publication that gave him the most visibility, and probably took a decade off his life in the process, was Upstage. Devoted to all manner of the arts, Upstage covered New Jersey in ways few magazines could rival. The problem was that Wien found himself wearing most of the hats in the enterprise, including being the distributor.

Digital publishing is a much different animal though, and after a long time away (call it a situationally dictated hiatus, if you will) the spirit of Upstage returns as a digital publication called New Jersey Stage. Wien has been building a warchest for the launch of the publication through an Indiegogo campaign, which is coming down to its final days this week.  Popdose talked to Wien about the new world of publishing, the vision for this enterprise, and more.

Could you give me a timeline regarding the original Upstage Magazine, what was covered, etc.?

Upstage Magazine began in 2003 (October, I think) and ran until 2007-2008.  I ended my association with the magazine, somewhat ironically, after the publication won the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Publication.  We were then and still are the only publication to ever beat out the Aquarian for that award.

Why was the timing right for the return of Upstage?

Well, Upstage isn’t returning.  The concept of Upstage is though. The new magazine will be called New Jersey Stage.  It’s essentially the concept of Upstage (covering art, music, theatre, film, comedy, dance, literature, etc.) but in a digital form.  In my mind, the timing is right mainly because digital magazines have come of age.  Tablets are a big reason for this, but software that makes it easier to create digital magazines is an important element in the magazine’s return as well.

Upstage Cover1The magazine moves from print to digital in its new incarnation. What are some of the things you’re finding through this transition?

It’s exciting.  There’s a temptation to utilize the digital elements too much, but I’m making sure there’s the right balance.  Digital allows for every page to be in color, if desired — something that’s very expensive for a print publication. Digital also lets you incorporate audio, video, and make the publication interactive.  For advertisers, it’s the difference between a static black and white ad or a full color video commercial that links directly back to their website.  For stories, it means being able to show the readers backstage as a play is being formed or to show the latest music video by a band.  It’s hard to say the possibilities are limitless, but the genre is still developing and more and more possibilities are, in fact, opening every year.

Upstage was originally quite regional – NY Tri-State with the focus heavily weighted toward New Jersey. But with New Jersey Stage’s digital format, the readership can be wide open. Does this mean that there will be a larger sphere of coverage found in the magazine?

Well, Upstage basically started out covering Central New Jersey (Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties).  The publication later spread to most of North Jersey and a good part of South Jersey as well.  New Jersey Stage covers the entire state.  Upstage essentially covered shows taking place in New Jersey and artists coming to the area.  About half of each issue (or more) dealt with national acts, but acts who were playing the area.  Since the region is now much larger (many performing arts centers were built in New Jersey in the last decade) and now covers Atlantic City to Newark, there is at least three times as many options for features and interviews.  There’s really no reason to go outside the area, but we still will if it’s a story we like.

We’re still going to have film reviews of mainstream and indie films, still going to have CD reviews of local and national artists, but one look at our event calendar online will show you just how much material we’re working with now.  If I thought the original Upstage area of Central Jersey had as many events as a small city, New Jersey Stage is now looking at the amount of events of a major city.

Technologically getting into the weeds, people read “digital magazine” and think “website.” What are the major differences?

For me, the difference goes back to the heart of publishing.  Websites are essentially like daily newspapers.  While people can still link or directly go to a URL of stories from years ago, they basically disappear from the website’s main areas rather quickly, just as telling people you are in Monday’s newspaper on Tuesday doesn’t do much for them.  Digital magazines are a way of grouping articles together in an archive that’s easily available.  As a publisher and a writer, I believe an article in a magazine holds more prominence than one on a website.  Digitally speaking, the magazine can be instantly shared or emailed with people and the recipient gets an actual magazine – not a link to an article or a website, but a real magazine (front cover, table of contents, the works).

UpstageCovers2Digital magazines can also present material much better than websites can imo.  A website struggles with the need to fit advertising on the screen, but a magazine’s standard ad sizes work with text in a much better way.  Since a computer screen is designed wider than it is long, it’s difficult to present a nice 8 1/2″ x 11″ look on a screen.  You wind up with far too much space.  With a digital magazine though, tablets and computers can easily view one page or the left/right combination in a much more natural form.

The original Upstage had a long run. What were some of the stand-out moments in those issues for you?

Well, obviously winning the Top Music Publication was a big one, there were several good moments.  In addition to winning other awards for writing and web design, it was the little things like having a top regional theatre like George Street Playhouse list a quote of ours on the cover of their seasonal promotion and anniversary concerts that had so many artists want to play we had to turn many away.  I think one of the greatest memories is having college students at Rutgers read us all four years in New Brunswick and then move on to a job in the arts and call us.  That was something very special.

The funding for getting the running shoes onto this venture comes from an Indiegogo campaign which closes out this week. What has your experience with it been like?

It’s tough doing something like this with a magazine.  I originally checked out several crowdfunding sites and magazines traditionally had a rough go at it.  It was very nice seeing my old advertisers with Upstage lend a hand and provide us with great rewards to offer — things like theatre, film, and concert tickets — but sadly, we still have many of the rewards available.  We’re close to raising a thousand dollars, which will be a big help.  Producing a digital magazine costs much less than producing a print one, but we still have plenty of costs from software subscriptions to hosting fees and such.  The biggest cost is simply marketing the magazine so people know it exists.  With Upstage, we had about 50 newspaper boxes on busy street corners in places like Trenton, Princeton, New Brunswick, and Asbury Park.  Those boxes were like a 24/7 billboard.  We’re going to try replacing that kind of promotion with online advertising via search words on google.

All in all, if nothing else the crowdfunding campaign is a decent way to get the word out about a new magazine.

For independent producers — of any sort; music, movies, video, media in general — there’s been a lot about the crowdfunding model going on right now. What are the benefits of this model?

I have contributed to many crowdfunding campaigns in the past, so I thought we’d give it a try.  I think it’s a great way for a musician or filmmaker to raise funds.  It’s probably best when there is a clear, distinct goal in mind like raising money to produce an album or to edit a film.  In cases like that, the crowdfunding campaign brings the artist and contributor closer together than if the guy simply purchased the finished product online or in a store.  The contributor feels as though they played a role in the end product.  I think that’s a good thing.  For hundreds of years, governments have supported the arts; unfortunately, it’s generally one of the first things to be cut these days.  So, crowdfunding has sort of replaced the government’s role.

When can people expect New Jersey Stage to arrive?

It’s being billed as “a daily website and a monthly digital magazine”.  The first issue of New Jersey Stage is currently being worked on and is planned for July.

To find out more about New Jersey Stage, or to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign, click here to visit the campaign page.