Matt Mastrangelo, the publisher of Rolling Stone, hates thinking of his magazine as a legacy. Instead, Mastrangelo argues, Rolling Stone is as influential in pop culture as ever and therefore should be considered an icon.
Rolling Stone has been an icon in music, politics and entertainment coverage for over 44 years. The magazine is known not only for its liberal coverage of current events, but also for its creativity in photography and cover art. Editor Jann Wenner and music critic Ralph J. Gleason founded the magazine in 1967 and dubbed it “not just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces.”
For nearly half a century, Rolling Stone has reported on America’s most compelling issues. Journalists like Hunter S. Thompson has given way to those such as Matt Taibbi, but passionate writing and compelling coverage remain.
NUVO spoke with Mastrangelo about the magazine’s first Super Bowl party, its political coverage for the election year, and his personal musical interests. Mastrangelo considers himself “classic Rolling Stone” in that he listens to everything from Kanye West to The Beatles, but he sticks to the mega-hits. And, in accordance with the magazine’s history of great writers and even greater stories, Mastrangelo shared advice for aspiring journalists. But first, we had to talk Super Bowl.
NUVO: Tell us how you got involved.
Matt Mastrangelo: This is the first time that we have done a big Super Bowl event. Michael Provus, who is our associate publisher, was born and raised in Indianapolis and went to IU. He was twisting my arm and saying, “If you are going to do a Super Bowl party, you have got to do it in Indianapolis.”
NUVO: Why is that?
Mastrangelo: Well obviously [Provus] is from here, so he is probably a little partial. He was talking about the community, talking about how it is a midsize city. It’s big enough where you have a great music scene, but it’s small enough where you’re not overwhelmed. We came out and we met with a lot of different owners and venues about five or six months ago.
There were two options that we had: we could just do what everybody else does and buy out a venue, throw the Rolling Stone party, make lots of money, pack up the bags and head back to New York. Or we could work with a venue and an owner in partnership. That’s when I got turned on to Gary and the team at Crane Bay.
I’m hoping that when Rolling Stone leaves, we aren’t taking the money with us. What I hope is that when people put their money down, they are going to put it down for an Indianapolis group like the Crane Bay as opposed to a promoter from L.A. or New York. We are helping to employ five or 10 people in permanent jobs and we are helping bring in 200 hundred jobs just for our event. That’s what really turned me on about it. It’s about community and that’s so much what we [Rolling Stone] are all about.
NUVO: Talk about the selection of the talent.
Mastrangelo: That was a fun couple of weeks (laughs). If there is one thing that people like to discuss, it’s music. What we wanted to do was blow the doors off and have multiple acts on a bill. We also wanted to get multiple acts in who were chart-toppers. We have LMFAO; right now, [“Party Rock Anthem”] is the number one song and [“Sexy And I Know It”] is the number nine or number eight song. You have Cobra Starship, who right now I think is the number 17 song. Gym Class Heroes have two top ten hits; they have another one that I think right now is in the Hot 100. Lupe Fiasco has three Grammy nominations. We wanted to put together a selection of artists that are not duplicative, so it’s not the same type of music.
NUVO: Are you a personal fan [of these artists]?
Mastrangelo: Am I a personal fan? I think they’re all fun. Like I was saying, you turn the radio on and LMFAO is on and you’re boppin’. It's party music. Cobra Starship — great pop, I don’t want to say bubblegum, but great pop rock. Lupe — I love Lupe — I think he is so underrated; he is under the radar. We like him because not only is he a great artist, he is a really great guy.
NUVO: What are you listening to right now?
Mastrangelo: I’m classic Rolling Stone; I listen to everything. There are a couple bands that I’m really into right now. One that I really like is Das Racist. They are fantastic. Honestly, I love a lot of what the women are doing right now. Florence and the Machine, stuff that she is doing. I think Gaga is great; she’s bigger than life. She’s got this total attitude.
NUVO: Take me through a typical day in your job at Rolling Stone, I imagine it’s pretty surreal.
Mastrangelo: Because we are published every two weeks, it’s a constant flow of high energy at the maximum level. Obviously Jann Wenner, who is our owner and founder, is working everyday and editing. Keith Richards will come in, or Bruce Springsteen will come in and play his new record, or you have the guys from the Black Keys coming in. Actually, tomorrow, Cobra Starship will have lunch. It is a highly creative, high energy type of environment, but the environment and the job doesn’t end when you leave the office. I will probably be going to two, three, four shows a week, going to small clubs, listening to great music, going out with clients, going out with agents, going out with managers, until one o’clock in the morning and then you’re back in at 7:30 a.m. You have to have this passion.
NUVO: How involved are you on the cover path? How far are the covers planned?
Mastrangelo: Some covers are planned out well in advance, others are done spur of the moment. The covers themselves [are a] total editorial decision. Mr. Wenner is the master in the editorial team.
NUVO: Any plans from your esteemed political guys for this new presidential election?
Mastrangelo: Oh, yeah! The thing that we have always had a very strong connection to is our political coverage. Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone and most people say he is doing the best political [and] Wall Street reporting than anything today. As we go into the election year [political coverage] will be an important part of our package. It is about youth and empowering them with the knowledge and information that allows them to have an intelligent conversation about politics.
NUVO: Who is your key demographic right now [in 2012]?
Mastrangelo: It hasn’t changed much. It is still that 21 to 35 year old that is usually passionate about music, entertainment, and pop culture. The magazine was founded on the premise that its not just about rock and roll, it’s about everything that rock and roll impacts and affects. That’s where we layer in the politics, the movies, all of the national affairs pieces as well.
NUVO: So as a legacy print product, how involved are you in the music blogosphere?
Mastrangelo: What we have been able to create is we have this — I hate to use the word “legacy,” let’s use the word “iconic.”
NUVO:Why do you hate [the word] legacy?
Mastrangelo: Because “legacy” seems like your time has passed. An iconic brand is a brand that has been able to stay current and relevant. And I think that this brand is an iconic brand because it has stayed true to its core value for over 44 years. It hasn’t wavered from that commitment. Fads and trends have come and gone, but our core value proposition to our reader has not changed. With that being said, we have our print property. Print property is really great investigative journalism, feature writing, great photography, great record reviews. Circulation is at an all-time high; audience is at an all-time high.
NUVO:And that has come under you —
Mastrangelo: Well, that has come under the editor, from a circulation standpoint. We have had to give away some of the things that would be in the magazine to our digital property, because they can do it better. Things that are happening right now in music and entertainment — like when Cee Lo Green changed the lyrics to John [Lennon’s] song at the New Year’s celebration. If that had run in the magazine, it would have been too old.
NUVO: Where did you think you would be when you were starting out, graduating from college?
Mastrangelo: Well here’s a funny story (laughs). I went to school at a small little school in West Virginia, Bethany College. I was the music director at the [radio] station, I was a station manager, I was a huge music fan. Then I had my internship at MCA Records doing local promo, so I did promotion for them. Then, I was in the ad business, so I worked at BBDO.
I interviewed at Rolling Stone for a direct response sales job and I didn’t get the job. When the publisher told me that I didn’t get the job, I said to myself, “I will have your job someday.” I was so pissed and I knew that at some point in my career I would get back into the Rolling Stone offices. I have been with the magazine now for 10 years and I started off as the advertising director. I have done a number of jobs within our company and started a couple of divisions. I was a publisher at Men’s Journal for a while and then took over Rolling Stone.
So, when I think about back in college or what I thought I was going to do, I think I’m doing what I always had a passion to do. I am just incredibly grateful.
NUVO: It’s a discouraging time to be studying journalism and English [literature] in college, so what advice would you give people that want to be doing what you’re doing?
Mastrangelo: I have always said to [interns] that the key thing is about forgetting your first job, because your first job gets you your next job, and your next job gets you your next job. When I first got out of school, I took any job that I could get. My mentality was that the only way I am going to get the job I want is to have the job that I don’t really want. This generation right now has gone through so much —wars, recession, and practical depression. The strains and the struggles that they’ve gone through is setting up for a generation that has the potential of being hugely successful, because they have to work really hard.ν