Stubbs started Loud & Quiet after graduating from university with a degree in film and drama. “I didn’t really know what to do with myself, and music was the thing I always loved, so I decided to become a music journalist. I emailed around all the existing mags but like most people, I didn’t get very far,” he says.
Impatient and frustrated with the lack of response from existing titles, he decided to create his own publication that would offer something different: a focus on new and lesser-known artists rather than established acts. “I was idealistic at the time, and it really frustrated me that a lot of mags were all featuring the same bands. I understand now it’s because they were retail titles, so they had to put someone on the cover that would make people want to buy it, but it bothered me that new music was always just assigned to a section or column,” he adds.
The first issue was printed on an inkjet printer at Stubbs’ parents’ house in Southend and he assembled 150 copies by hand. “It took forever. I designed it myself on Quark, terribly, and printed it off in black and white, but I was insistent that the cover should have this coloured logo. I printed [the covers] on card and of course the ink rubbed off, so I had to lay them all down and spray them with hairspray. Then the magazine was too big to staple, so I had to fold all the staples over by hand with a knife… I wrote it under all of these different names so people would think there was a team behind it, but it looked so homemade, theres no way anyone would have thought that,” he remembers.
Stubbs dropped the magazine off in a handful of pubs and music shops including Rough Trade and within a few weeks, started receiving emails from people asking to write for the title. He continued to make it from home for a few months, then at a local printers, increasing its circulation to 1,000 within two years. After dabbling with a glossy A4 format – an expensive mistake, he says – he switched to tabloid newspaper, secured a deal to get the mag stocked in student unions and, soon after, in Heathrow and Gatwick Airports. Now, Loud & Quiet has a monthly print run of 32,000, a team of writers and photographers and even an art director (Lee Belcher, former art director at Wallpaper).
The magazine’s success is modest – Stubbs describes it as a ‘cottage industry’ – but it is a respected title with a loyal following. Past interviewees include Metronomy, Bat for Lashes and The XX as well as David Lynch and its design has smartened up considerably since its early days.
“Lee has been fundamental in [shaping] the appearance of the magazine and the photography. We both have quite similar tastes, and we like quite minimal design. With photos for example, we wanted them to be printed big – the tabloid size helps with that – and we try not to put much text with images. It’s really about not overcomplicating things with loads of mad fonts and spacing,” he adds.
Photography is a key focus throughout the magazine – a selection of portraits from previous issues are on display at Oslo Bar in Hackney later this month and include a picture of Graham Coxon in Stubbs’ back garden, a psychedelic shoot with experimental band Goat and an image of Lynch looking the epitome of cool in a dark suit and shades.
Stubbs says he tries to avoid any cliched imagery, such as the familiar ‘band standing against a wall’ shot often featured in indie music mags. “Bands are often quite awkward people, and don’t really like getting their photo taken, so you end up with all these shots of them standing in alleyways, which is something we wanted to avoid,” he says. He also says photographers are given complete creative freedom on shoots.
“I did some work experience on the NME picture desk and the thing that always struck me was that we’d get a photographer in, tell them everything they needed to do and we might as well have just hired the equipment off them. It’s a bit of a shame because I think photographers do end up resenting that – they’ve worked hard at creating their own styles,” he adds.
“The only rule we really have is ‘don’t make it look like a typical band shot’. Photographers respond to that in a really good way and it’s helped us in terms of bringing in people [to shoot for Loud & Quiet], because they’ll say to their friends, ‘I’m shooting for this magazine and they’re letting me do what I want,” adds Stubbs.
“Most of the photographers we work with let bands do what they want, and I think maybe because the photographers are so relaxed, it helps bands relax too. They don’t feel like they have to play characters.”
This hasn’t resulted in any wildly experimental or abstract imagery for the magazine, but it has led to more relaxed and intimate shoots with notoriously camera-shy musicians, and exclusive ones with bands that often refuse to be photographed.
Loud & Quiet is still a small magazine with a very small team, but it has enjoyed steady growth for a decade – an impressive achievement given its homemade roots, particularly during a time when its competitors haven’t fared so well (The Fly, once the most read music title in the UK, closed last year after nearly 15 years in print, while NME has gone free after seeing sales fall by around 20% each year).
Stubbs believes the key to Loud & Quiet’s success is down to having realistic expectations and targeting a small but loyal following. He has considered charging a cover price, which would allow the team to create a glossier magazine and reach a wider audience, but says it wouldn’t be practical or affordable.
“We couldn’t afford to print [the amount of copies] that distributors wanted or pay what stockists were charging, and once you’re in WHSmith, you have to be more careful about what you put on the cover. By being free, and stocking the mag in places that are appropriate, we’ve been very careful about targeting a particular audience…and featuring things that other titles aren’t,” he adds.
It will never be a magazine that makes millions, but Loud & Quiet’s slow and steady success is proof that there is still a place for indie music magazines, and printed titles focused on new or less famous acts.
“Integrity is also key to the mag I think. In music, or indie music at least, it kind of all hangs on whether youre seen as legitimate. People are obsessed with the idea of selling out, so you have to make sure you’re objective, and that you’re only telling people about music you love – people can tell if you’re giving an album a good review because the label has an ad on the back page.”
10 Years of Loud & Quiet Magazine: A Photography Exhibition is on display at Oslo, Amhurst Road, Hackney from October 23 until November 13.