Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Madness That Was My Digital Magazine, Retaliate

Taking on a major project by yourself takes guts.  It also takes a lot more from you and out of you, as I learned when I attempted to launch my own digital magazine, Retaliate, in 2010.

I'd spent the previous seven years knocking myself out working my way up through the tiers of music and film journalism and I'd been writing simultaneously for numerous magazines and websites.  With the transition in media toward the digital age, I found myself, along with my colleagues, dropped to the bricks as the trad print mags were sadly folding, one-by-one.

It was a very difficult and upsetting thing for me to digest since one, a lot of my secondary income was tied into my freelancing work for those rags, especially once I became a new father when we adopted my little guy.  I'd already learned to fight for work, having been downsized from the mortgage title industry on numerous occasions since the rollercoaster nature of that business dictates employment, naturally. 

Nonetheless, as I found myself being courted by loads of websites who couldn't afford to pay me, I nearly bowed out of media journalism, since my attempts to coax the editors of the few remaining big dog mags and newspapers were met with frustration.  So too was the fate of many of my peers since those periodicals still hanging on were well-fortified with staffers and freelancers already. 

As I turned to beat reporting for a local newspaper and also some field data collection for Patch.com, I got the idea that maybe I should take on the digital realm and begin my own venture.  I had all the industry contacts I needed to get launched, so why the hell not?

Wolf Hoffmann - Accept

To this day, I still thank every publicist and record label who got on board with me when I proposed to launch Retaliate, a digital magazine focused on heavy metal, punk rock, hard and classic rock and horror films.  By now, it's been proven that horror and heavy music are natural bed partners, which I've said since the eighties.  It was a winning concept my industry friends and my guests all believed in.

I deemed myself Editor-in-Chief and recalling my time as Assistant Editor on my college newspaper, Spectrum, I used my old layout techniques and learned to apply them in a digital format.  Just this part of the process took a bit of time to refine before I began the months-intensive succession in assembling my debut issue.

Wearing multiple hats, I took on every aspect in making Retaliate a reality.  I booked and conducted every interview.  I fielded the music reviews.  I did the live photography and used supplemental press photos from the labels.  I laid it all out and banged my head against my desk when the pages wouldn't merge in succession, then rejoiced when they finally did.  Outside of the cover fonts and logo, which I owe to my dear friend, Sheila Eggenberger, everything was done my me.  I sometimes bounced my son on my knee while I edited my articles and told him I was going to do something big for our family.

Jacoby Shaddix - Papa Roach

I engaged a partner, who was going to handle online production and distribution.  By the time I was ready to release Retaliate # 1 with a test price of $2.50 per download, I was already finding hints of gray on my head.  Nonetheless, I'd assembled a hell of a guest list for Retaliate #1:  Marky Ramone, Dave Lombardo from Slayer, Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach, Stevie Benton from Drowning Pool, Richard Patrick of Filter, Chris Adler from Lamb of God, Wolf Hoffmann of Accept, Jim Gustafson of Poobah, former Overkill drummer Rat Skates, Nick Cantanese, formerly of Black Label Society, Steve Von Till of Neurosis, Alexx Calisse and others.  I had esteemed horror directors Mick Garris and Adam Green on board for my "Van of the Dead" horror section.  It was gold.

I took to the pre-launch campaign trail and staged some goofy intro photos with me pimping Retaliate.  One has me standing amidst a flurry of political candidate placards with my own stating "RETALIATE FOR READERSHIP."  Another one has me dressed up as Pinhead from Hellraiser hitchhiking along an interstate with a sign stating "RETALIATE OR BUST."  These photos were sent to all of my press contacts and I was offered publicity services from a few firms out there.  I wanted to get the first issue running and then take them up on it to implement my marketing plan. 

I'd spent many months hitting concerts to gather my live photos, going backstage for interviews and taking phone calls at ungodly hours to conduct chats with those who I couldn't connect with on the road.  I was giddy beyond words through the whole thing, though, most especially when Marky Ramone and I kept playing phone tag with bad connections on our cells.  I hightailed it back to my work office at the time and begged the use of their phone to get it done with Marky.  As a Ramones freak, it was one of the most gratifying interviews I've ever done.

I could spend the rest of this post gabbing about the wonderful interviews I had for Retaliate # 1.  I won't forget Adam Green getting on a roll about the production of his film, Frozen, and him generously asking me if he could call back because he had plenty more to talk about.  He kept his word.  On the nuttier side of things, my interview with Dave Lombardo was completely insane as I waited for my liaison to come get me, which was pretty danged long.  I was scheduled to photograph Slayer and Anthrax's sets at the Baltimore Arena and by the time I was finally brought back to Lombardo on Slayer's bus, I was given five minutes.  We did a lightning round that I think left both us dizzy afterwards.  Dave's a gentleman, and I'm sorry to see what's happened in the Slayer camp since I've also had an amazing chat with Tom Araya in the past.

I'll never forget seeing the late Jeff Hanneman lounging on Slayer's bus and jamming to Zeppelin with a hundred lit candles around him.  We said hello to each other in passing and that still strikes me today now that Jeff has passed.  Afterwards, I had to blitz and navigate my way from the loading docks to the rear of the stage in the arena and bolt into the photo pit as Anthrax began their set.  It's something you can't necessarily put into words, but it was a huge rush, disorganized as that night ended up being, but that's rock 'n roll for you.

Running into Stevie Benton of Drowning Pool a week after we'd interviewed in the photo pit of Godsmack was a kick and Stevie was cool enough to get a photo with me.  I'd done phoners with Benton, Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach and Adam Green back-to-back, another chaotic but wonderful night of the Retaliate cycle.

Angela Gossow - Arch Enemy

And then reality struck.

As I was ready to hand over my work to my partner upon execution of a formal business agreement, the guy flaked out on me.  No response, no further communication.  I had to find out from a mutual friend he'd blown our little enterprise off despite his enthusiasm by my progress.  In scrambling mode, I found another party who expressed interest but once again, those overtures fizzled out.  I attempted to pitch on Kickstarter and was shot down.  I then opened ties with one of my guests and we nearly got it off the ground together, but his prior commitments took precedence and by that time, my material was in danger of being too old to be marketable.  Besides, the true reality of things is that nobody wants to pay for what they get for free everywhere else on the web, regardless of product quality.

With gnashed teeth and a heavy heart, I decided to throw the pages of Retaliate onto my site, The Metal Minute for free.  I'd won an award from Metal Hammer at that blog, so it made sense, particularly as a commitment to everyone who participated in my endeavor. 

To be honest, the entire experience ragged me out and I was in the throes of fatherhood anyway.  Thus I pulled the plug on Retaliate, even as I received a nice outpouring of support from the industry.  I'd had high hopes, as the song goes, but it takes more than a mere man these days to accomplish anything of significance.  Retaliate was and still is my baby and I look at those pages with tremendous pride and gratitude toward the musicians, directors, publicists and labels who gave me their time.  I thank them all for the crazy adventure that was Retaliate.  At least it was an indirect path to landing with Blabbermouth.

All photos and pages (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

                 Listenin' to:  Devo - Duty Now For the Future

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