Nine Questions With Ian MacDonald
By Phil Hood
Ian MacDonald’s passion involves interviewing drummers who are susceptible to fast tempos and ear-splitting volume. He has been a key voice spreading the gospel of extreme metal since 2006 when he started Sick Drummer. At the time he was involved in buying and selling domain names and web code and noticed one day that the domain sickdrummermagazine.com was up for sale.
As a guy who grew up playing drums and being in bands that shared the stage with legends like Brann Dailor, Dave Culross and Tim Yeung, it was a no-brainer. He launched the website, and began interviewing drummers, and promoting the metal community. I interviewed him last week.
DRUM! You started the site in 2006, but the digital magazine came later?
Ian MacDonald Right. The idea for the digital magazine came about three years later when I met Andon Guenther [Enemy Reign] at a party at John Merryman’s house [Cephalic Carnag] in Denver, the same night of my “Blast-Off Drum Competition” in 2008.
DRUM! Has the type of coverage changed much in 13 years?
Ian MacDonald The goal has always been and always will be to promote extreme metal drummers, so appreciation of them grows with fans of drumming, regardless of the genre. The kind of coverage has changed a bit while staying true to our initial goal. We slowly and sporadically publish “Off-Beat” interviews with amazing players outside extreme metal genres. This allowed us to not piss off our core audience, while growing and exposing these genres to the more mainstream genres over time.
DRUM! Are readers and users interested in the same things that they were when you started?
Ian MacDonald Like all music it has progressed over time, as have the artists. Album sales are increasingly down and the advancements in technology have of course played a role in the progression, like it or not. Players are getting more technical and faster, and at the same time, I feel skipping rudimentary steps to build a solid foundation.
We must walk before we fly. Although the music has changed, our readers are still interested in the same things they were ten years ago, but now old and new readers are also more accepting of content we post that is not “extreme.”
DRUM! There are a ton of metal zines and sites around the world, exploring every little niche genre. How does Sick Drummer stand out?
Ian MacDonald Webzines come and go and cover a lot more than drumming. I believe we stand out in a crowd like that as we only focus on our goal and forge real relationships with those we have chosen to feature. I also believe we stand out because we were the first digital drum magazine.
We also developed the first interactive digital advertisements for our advertisers, which many top gear manufacturers have since mimicked. Anything from being able to see a player’s setup on a brand website and “play/hear” their drums/cymbals to kit builders that allow you to customize your own setup using code and scripts like we introduced as advertisements in our early issues.
To be honest, we’ve never really had to try and stand out, as there are no other websites, blogs, or zines that do just what we do. We identified a problem, created a solution, then built a business around a passion. This scenario seems to work best and experiences more longevity than just building a business to compete for market share. It’s all about authenticity.
DRUM! A publication is a labor of love as well as a business. What’s the most challenging aspect of Sick Drummer from the work perspective?
Ian MacDonald Persuading advertisers to allocate more of their budgets to a digital publication. It has changed over the years, but for a long time it was hard to get advertisers to spend more on digital media. A lot of the people making the decisions when we first started didn’t grasp the full potential of what we knew was going to happen with digital -vs- print. The most challenging aspect now is trying to make money when technology has made it so everyone wants everything now, fast, and free.
Again, it comes down to authenticity, I believe. Any fan of anything . . . a band, a food, shoes, whatever. We walk the walk and talk the talk. It comes from a place of passion, and that’s why people don’t just like SDM, they love SDM. Money was never the goal and that can be sensed and is respected among core and new followers.
DRUM! You’ve got a music compilation that comes out periodically. How is the response from bands to that Brutal Beatings compilation?
Ian MacDonald It’s a nice little added revenue stream and the bands that get picked and featured are more than appreciative to be featured among national/international bands. We work with our record label friends and partners to make the compilations not only a win for them, but for the younger bands trying to utilize the power and reach SDM has to offer.
DRUM! Which social-media platform does the most to promote Sick Drummer by bringing traffic and interest to the site: YouTube? Facebook? Twitter? Instagram?
Ian MacDonald Facebook videos get way more hits faster than YouTube for us, but the BETA monetization is very slow and will take a while to become something I focus on. Facebook still drives the most traffic to the site, as well as organic Google searches. Instagram is excellent, but we don’t use it as a funnel. YouTube is great for us because our channel has been around for so long and the revenue from monetization is great.
Our YouTube videos are fed to a widget zone on our site and the traffic from our video descriptions and the channel is decent. Our Twitter is fed by our Facebook and we don’t pay it much attention. Our video content would be nothing if it was not for the incredible work of my partner Anton Hefele, and staff members Lili Brown, Jeff Christopher and Tomasz Pilasiewicz. Having said all that, we would not be as well-known as we are today without MySpace.
DRUM! What was your musical or publishing background before Sick Drummer?
Ian MacDonald I grew up playing clarinet in school until I was about 10 and switched to drums. I’ve played in many bands, done some touring, appeared on about ten albums with different bands, and taken a few lessons from Steve Eagan, and Dave Culross. I had no publishing background before Sick Drummer, but was around print my whole life, worked in print, and have been a web developer for the better part of 20 years now.
DRUM! What is something about you that people don’t know.
Ian MacDonald My father, in a daze, woke everyone in our house up the night before John Lennon was shot in December 1980. He was running around the house saying Lennon is going to die tomorrow, Lennon is going to die tomorrow. The next day, John Lennon died. The night before my father died when I was 19, John Lennon came to me in a dream and told me my father was going to die the next day. He was also correct.
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