I’ve always most admired the DIY spirit of Chicago’s dance music scene. What we come to accept as part of our common heritage often began as just a one man (or woman) show: a person dreams something up, brings it to fruition and pretty much runs all the ins and outs.
312audio.com is very much such a labor of love. I first met John Cutrone this past summer, and what struck me about him was his diligence. You meet a lot of people that are project starters that run on empty before anything else, but thankfully for Chicago this guy wasn’t. And in a span of one year, he has managed to give his 312audio.com site a strong presence in the consciousness of Chicago.
At the time you were growing up in the suburbs, you mentioned that there was no one else that shared the same interests with you in terms of dance music. I’m wondering if you were to grow up in that same environment now, given how big electronic dance music is, would you still have exposure to the underground sound? I sometimes wonder if the underground is still elusive when I look at kids today that come from the suburbs.
That is an interesting question, actually. When I was first introduced to the music while living in Melrose Park, I was exposed to House Music with the occasional Freestyle influence, but back then it was just something I enjoyed, but knew nothing about. When I later moved to Elk Grove, I found there were not many that listened to the same music, which led to me exploring it by myself. Around this time was when many of the B96 Mixmasters were making a name for themselves, and I found myself purchasing mixtapes like Banging the Box, In The House and Mixmaster Throwdown mix CDs. It was when I stumbled upon Plastikman’s Sheet One, however, that I really feel like I discovered the music I love, but it certainly took exploring to get there.
When the music is something you enjoy only on a personal level, there is less influence directed by your peers and you really seek to find what you personally enjoy, which lead me towards an underground House and Techno direction.
Today, electronic music is all the rave, no pun intended. With the strength of the mainstream support, kids are literally forcefed “EDM” artists through the radio, product endorsements, mega festivals, TV commercials and more. With such an influence, they have less reason to explore because their friends like the same artists and the radio will introduce them to the next. It will be the ones that are truly intrigued by the music and inspired to discover more that will eventually gravitate towards the underground and more traditional electronic music styles.
When you were writing for EDM Chicago, what were some of the writing assignments you had that you felt conflicted by? And do you think sites that tend to cover more mainstream culture find the underground to be unimportant, or just not enough juice to get an audience?
EDM Chicago was an interesting introduction to writing about music for me. Prior to accepting a position there, I didn’t consider myself much of a writer, just simply a music fan. The first article I had written for them covered the history of House Music and discussed the downfall of Disco and the emergence of artists such as the late Frankie Knuckles. I attempted the best I could to stand strong in supporting music and information I believed in. I was able to use the platform to highlight local artists that didn’t have prior exposure on there, including Mia Wallace, Intermodal, Twitchin Skratch, Ian Oliver (who performed as Oxtavius at the time) and more. I even highlighted the more global underground sound, discussing artists like Guy Gerber or Apollonia. I was fortunate in that one of the (then) owners believed in what I was doing and allowed me a bit more freedom in terms of my requirements.
Our city is absolutely flooded in talent for our music, but in my observation it goes mostly unnoticed by the average music fan in this city. Now that I would have a platform all of my own, I felt like I had a responsibility in using it to change that.
Even with his support, the site never felt like it was about taking an educational role, and I found my articles to become lost in the shuffle of others discussing what Skrillex ate for lunch or Deadmau5 complained about on Twitter. I would often voice my opinion on some of the articles on the site (and some that I was at times asked to write), but at the end of the day, those mainstream and tabloid-style articles got the clicks, and in turn revenue and followers. It was hard to argue against that point with the owners. Many of the EDM based sites tend to have a similar approach. It is a numbers game and articles and entries are simply a means to an end, nothing more, nothing less.
Things finally began to change when I was asked to write about Steve Aoki deciding to pursue “Deep House.” After denying the request multiple times, I came to an agreement that no matter what I wrote, they would not take it down. What followed was an article entitled “Keep Your Cake,” which was where I took my first aggressive stance against mainstream EDM. Once released, the article began spreading extremely fast, unlike any of my prior articles. That night, the traffic load caused our server to crash twice, unfortunately putting an end to its path to going fully viral. It accomplished what I needed it to, however. It gave me confirmation that there was an audience that was sick of the trash being fed to them and my desire to write for them grew tenfold.
Is 312 Audio a site that focuses primarily on Chicago, or will you eventually move on to making it a global-focused one?
When I initially was developing 312 Audio, it was simply going to be a message board for Chicago-based artists to meet other artists and support collaboration. At the time, I was working on my own DJing and learning how to produce, but found myself without many friends that had the same interest. As the writing took over, I decided it too would feature electronic music news and editorials, but I wanted the focus to be on Chicago artists. Our city is absolutely flooded in talent for our music, but in my observation it goes mostly unnoticed by the average music fan in this city, instead they focus solely on the headlining act. Now that I could have a platform all of my own, I felt like I had a responsibility in using it to change that.
I never desired it to be solely for Chicago artists, but I wanted their presence to not only be known, but to be placed on the same level as other artists we discuss. As the site grows, opportunity has grown as well and at the time the site covers the global electronic scene. While I am happy to have it grow large enough that the global coverage is necessary, it will always stay true to its commitment to focus on the city that does it best – Chicago.
Tell us about who you work with on the website…is it mainly a solo project with guest writers that come in? Do you manage the entire website yourself?
When it comes to the direction and development of the site, it was accomplished 100% as a solo project. While I had some minor exposure to basic programming as a child, I did not have a strong coding background and self-taught myself to accomplish what I needed with the site. There were often suggestions to hire a developer, especially at times I found myself lost, but it seemed to be an expensive option for what I considered a project of passion, so I continued solo.
Once the site launched, I had taken a few writers on board to join me. I was also fortunate enough to have Maryrose Moses write an article series for the site called “Behind the Beats,” which gives our readers a behind the scene look at underground events, from someone who has extensive knowledge and experience in nearly all aspects of the music. Beyond the contributions of those writers, I handle all other aspects. I manage the site, perform its continued development, handle most artist and PR/Management relations, and conduct 90% of the writing. Its growth has certainly made this a bit overwhelming. Just now have I begun opening up to more people becoming involved, having Marco of House of Chi assist with some social media tasks and Marty from Intermodal will be assisting me with some upcoming development. We will also be looking to take on more writers so I always encourage anyone interested to contact me.
What are some of your future goals in terms of expansion for 312Audio? Would you like this to be your full time job?
For now, I am taking it day by day. We do have some more features that will be rolled out soon, for example we have a ticketing system that allows promoters to sell tickets to their event through the website. I have also been working on the development of an equipment database, which catalogues all forms of electronic music equipment, from DJ mixers to analog synthesizers which will allow for ease of research, side by side comparisons, major retailer comparison shopping, and user reviews.
Both of these features are in line with what I want 312 Audio to be. I always want the site to feature the “magazine” side of it, but I want it to be more of a full platform for music fans. When asked if I would like to do this full time someday, I would love to. I have reached a point in my life where I have fallen so deeply in love with music that I can’t picture my life without it – I want to live it, experience it, be involved with it, and always be listening to it. If I somehow found a way to make a career from that mentality, I would love nothing more than to pursue it.
For now, however, the reality is that 312 Audio is quite a ways away from that, and any revenue I am able to find from it in the near future, I would much rather reinvest it back into the site and continue to make it as great as it can be.