August 12, 2020 · Behind The Scenes

Saving the Music: A Q&A with Stereogum’s Scott Lapatine


Stereogum is one of the most influential music blogs of the last 20 years. But great taste doesn’t always come with great luck: When they recently became independent in late February 2020, a world health and economic crisis was lurking just around the corner. 

That’s why they launched the Save Stereogum campaign on Indiegogo — to showcase the best in independent music and to keep the music alive. They’ve raised over $300,000 in just a few weeks, enough to keep the lights on and the grooves going for a long time yet.

We caught up with Stereogum founder and Editor-in-Chief Scott Lapatine to get the full story about their campaign, ‘00s nostalgia, and general music nerdery. Here’s what we found out.

What’s your story, and why did you launch this crowdfunding campaign? 

I started Stereogum about a million years ago, back in 2002, to share information about the best up-and-coming bands and the music industry. We’ve always been a small group of people very passionate about music. 

And earlier this year we had a huge opportunity to finally acquire the Stereogum website from our parent company, which is something I had wanted to do for a long, long time. 

I completed the deal for Stereogum in February, and then the coronavirus hit, resulting in a dramatic drop in our ad revenue.

So Stereogum became independent just 2 weeks before the lockdowns began?

It was potentially the worst case scenario for our business. But I remembered a crowdfunding campaign that another music publication launched during the last financial crisis. They raised a lot of money from their readers to help them stay in business during those tough times. 

We have a very engaged community. Our content has always been free. And whenever we put on concerts in cities around the world, those have been free too. I’ve always tried to be transparent with our audience about changes in our business, and when I communicated some of our advertising struggles, readers were already offering financial support.

How did you get the idea to put together a compilation of cover songs? 

A few times over the years we’ve put out these track-for-track covers of classic albums. We did one for Radiohead’s OK Computer, REM’s Automatic for the People, Bjork’s Post, and the Strokes’ Is This It. And those had been really popular. And we’re always looking for opportunities to work on a creative project and put something new into the world. It seemed like a really great way for us to offer something to backers of the campaign. I was thrilled by the caliber of artists that volunteered to donate their time and music to this campaign. 

Let’s talk about the record itself. What kind of songs can backers expect? 

I got over 50 artists to contribute, focusing on acts that Stereogum has championed most over the years. In some cases we were their first national media exposure. Some of the more established groups, like the National and Death Cab For Cutie, we’ve covered closely for over 15 years. A younger generation of songwriters we’re really excited about is represented by acts like Charly Bliss, Julien Baker, and Moses Sumney.

These artists recognize the value of independent media, especially when there are so few outlets exclusively focused on music. And I think there’s an appreciation of the blog format, which can be both authoritative and conversational. There’s a surprisingly high level of discourse among the regular commenters. And we don’t give ratings with our album reviews — it’s very much a dialog with our readers. There’s a lot of positivity, which is hard to find these days.

How did you decide on a 2000s cover album? 

Since the nostalgia cycle seems to happen in periods of 20 years, the timing lined up perfectly for us to revisit the Aughts. Turns out finding songs to cover from this decade has proved frustrating for many of the artists. I think our campaign supporters will be really pleased with what everyone came up with, though.

Are there any songs that you’re particularly excited about on the comp? 

The song choices will be a surprise until backers receive the comp, but I’ve been floored by the quality of the productions, especially because most of our contributors were still stuck at home, like the rest of us. It goes to show how advanced home recording has become and how self-sufficient indie artists can be thanks to technology.

I guess fans can’t go to concerts now, and artists can’t either. They’re stuck at home too, right?

It’d theoretically be great timing for musicians with “nothing to do.” But I’ve heard from so many artists how difficult it is to be creative under current circumstances. And you also have to consider that their livelihoods are at stake, so it’s a stressful time. 

What’s the format of the recording? Is it a download? A CD? Vinyl? 

In the spirit of early Stereogum, these are all going to be downloadable files. We started out as one of the first MP3 blogs where every day we were hosting tracks from obscure bands. And we’re not going to be streaming it! This is a limited time offer.

I know some readers would want vinyl but I didn’t want to get bogged down with the logistics of producing physical media. There are already costs associated with making and shipping the merch, and fulfillment to thousands of supporters will be complex enough. I’m doing this all myself so I simplified where I could.

You just mentioned merch. Let’s talk about these Stereogum t-shirts. What’s the story?

Well, I am a huge music t-shirt collector. That is my true passion, not Stereogum, but rock t-shirts. [laughs] We actually haven’t made t-shirts available in 13 or 14 years. And we currently don’t have a merch store. So this is the first time many of our readers have been able to get any swag from us in a long time.

I’m also going to be relaunching the site, which will have completely new branding. So instead of attaching our current logo, which will be changing, I put a spin on some classic rock iconography.

That REO Speedwagon t-shirt definitely made me laugh. 

Stereogum recently reviewed one of their songs in our recurring series The Number Ones, where we’ve been diving into every number one single in chronological order, and they will be in the column again. And they were on Ozark, which I binge watched this year. The Wagon’s back, baby.

What about this VIP Zoom party? That’s a pretty sweet perk. 

We’ve been putting on mini-festivals for a long time, and under different circumstances this would be an IRL event. But I think it will be pretty special as a livestream. Live-from-home performances have proliferated during quarantine, but Stereogum hasn’t broadcast any. We’re gonna put all our energy into this single private virtual festival for VIP level and above backers, which will be a few hundred people. We’ll have performances from artists on the Save Stereogum album, and many surprise big names who wanted to be on the comp but couldn’t make it work for whatever reason. It’ll also be an opportunity for us to connect with our regular readers who we only know by their screen names.

And the “All Access” perk? What’s that all about? 

There’s a wonderful community that has formed around the Number Ones series. People who back the campaign at this $1,000 “All Access” level can request any song that was a Hot 100 hit and get a The Number Ones-style write-up. Tom from Stereogum, who writes the column, will do all the necessary research to provide historical context along with his assessment of the song. And the donor will be able to introduce the article and explain why they chose it. Six people have claimed that already. 

How has it been running the campaign itself? Have there been any challenges?  

Thankfully the Indiegogo platform has been really intuitive and did what we wanted it to do. A big part of our success so far comes down to the ability to offer perks at different levels. So it ended up being perfect for us. 

One challenge was the campaign video, which up until the last minute was going to be provided by Insane Clown Posse. When they flaked we had like three days to put something else together. Apparently ICP might still do something for us down the line. There’s always the next pandemic.

What’s it been like working with the backer community on Indiegogo? 

I knew our Stereogum audience would be excited about the campaign, but I think we’ve gotten quite a bit of engagement through Indiegogo’s newsletters and social media as well. We’ve been getting questions on our Indiegogo page that I’ve been responding to. And it has also given me the opportunity to check out all the really cool projects that are on the platform. In another life, maybe I’ll have a foldable bicycle to crowdfund. For now we’re just doing an album.

Do you have anything else that you want potential backers to know about your campaign? 

I would just remind everyone that this really is a super limited-time offering. We’re not going to put the compilation on Spotify. We’re not going to sell it in the future. It’s just for this crowdfunding campaign. 

And at the same time, I want to communicate how much everyone at Stereogum appreciates all the support and how grateful we are to everyone who helped us reach our goal so quickly.

To support Save Stereogum, check out the Indiegogo campaign page here.