Amplifier, champion of music scene, retires from print after two years

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by Jordan Green

She’s not necessarily the first person you notice in the room. Coolly surveying the scene from behind a merch table in the back, the delicate features of her face are a mask of self-possession and awareness like a figure in a Vermeer painting. She’s easy to overlook amidst the scrum of aficionados hovering around the band, losing themselves in the music or greeting old friends at New York Pizza.

Since 2013, Jen Hasty has been producing Amplifier magazine, a publication with a finger on the pulse of Greensboro’s music scene that expanded across the state from Wilmington to Boone in short order. More than a fanzine, Amplifier has cast a wide net beyond local bands, also shining a spotlight on noteworthy ventures like the Piedmont Print Co-op, activist efforts like Queer People of Color Collective, and a local venue’s challenges with law enforcement due to exceeding capacity.

“The idea was finding that band that you really get into, and taking something you love and writing about it,” Hasty says during a recent interview at Tate Street Coffee. “There are some really great bands out there, and I think they’re kind of overlooked in a town like this. Everything is in cliques, and you’ll find this incredible band that only has 20 people at their shows. I think that’s why we started Amplifier — to give them the exposure.”

Now, Hasty is retiring Amplifier as a print product, although the publication will maintain a digital presence. Hasty and her collective of writers and photographers have always marked the release of each new issue with live-music showcases, and the final issue is no exception.

The knowledge that this is the last gathering has drawn a capacity crowd, and the room vibrates with the sense that this is the only place to be in Greensboro on this Friday night. It doesn’t hurt that the first band on the lineup, LeBaron, is kicking ass with an ambient and noisy sound that calls to mind an electrical storm.

Hasty started Amplifier as a recent UNCG graduate with an English degree stuck in an unsatisfying 8-5 office job, and the effort directly led to her hiring as an associate editor at Pace Communications, so in one sense the venture has served its purpose. But Hasty is quick to clarify that, while she loves her job at Pace and feels grateful to have it, the marketing work for corporate clients that provides her with a livelihood is no substitute for the creative fulfillment she’s experienced through Amplifier.

“If we had the money to sustain it, we wouldn’t be having a final issue show,” she says. “I need to be able to move on with my life, and do some things like a normal adult. There are bills I haven’t been able to pay. So it’s more like a responsible decision than anything else.”

Hasty paid for the magazine out of pocket, with print runs totaling anywhere from $300 to $600. She priced each copy at $7, estimating that to actually cover costs she would have needed to charge $10 to $15. The final issue release party at New York Pizza on Dec. 11 would, in fact, prove to be the first time the magazine ever broke even. Hasty tried selling advertising to defray costs, she says, with only mixed results.

She’s the first to admit that she isn’t the best businessperson: Even the issue release parties were more geared towards garnering exposure for the bands than promoting the magazine.

“We don’t push our stuff,” Hasty says. “We’re there to support the bands. We want people to buy the bands’ merch.”

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1970s Film Stock

Among the many epiphanies as a publisher and promoter with discovering new talent, Hasty mentioned the first show the magazine promoted outside of Greensboro, at the BlackCat Burrito in Boone in February 2015.

“This band ET Anderson — they’re incredible,” Hasty says. “Ivadell came to me; they said, ‘This band is touring with us. Can we get them on the bill?’ It was at the BlackCat. It was rainy and cold, and there was ice on the ground outside. It’s concerts like this where careers in journalism make it worth it. No one in the room had ever heard this band except for the couple of people who they came with. A hundred people heard them. You’ve booked a show, and introduced all these people to this band. That was the first show out of town, and it was packed. People knew who we were. It was inspiring.”

The Amplifier banner quickly attracted not only talented contributors but bands hoping some of the magazine’s magic would rub off.

“We had this brand of quality people that are talented and businesses that are worthwhile,” Hasty says. “We would always have people in bands calling us up and asking if they could be in the magazine or if we could put them on the bill for a show. That’s the hardest part is telling people no.”

Black Squares / White Islands
Black Squares / White Islands

Amplifier in its first year generated significant excitement, both as a stylishly designed and smartly curated publication and as a figurative home for the music scene, but Hasty says interest seemed to diminish after the fifth issue release show at the Green Bean in November 2013.

She made the decision to retire the magazine after the most recent show at the Green Bean in September. It was a relatively small crowd — only about 50 people — and the magazine didn’t draw much interest, Hasty says. Worse, the draw from the door, which went directly to the bands, was paltry.

“I think it’s hard to keep people’s interest in this town,” Hasty says. “I wish more people understood that saying that you don’t realize something is valuable until it’s gone. It seems like people wanted to care about it after we told people it was gone.”