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Websites dedicated to progressive rock seem to be multiplying these days, with a host of newcomers joining the more established resources such as ProgArchives or DPRP. Most of them are operated by a team of people who devote their free time to their favourite music, providing reviews, news and other items of interest. ProgSphere – the brainchild of Serbian-born Nikola Savić – was first conceived as a glorified blog, manned by a handful of volunteers, but has since expanded into a much more ambitious operation than a mere repository for  reviews, interviews and assorted news items. As a supporter and frequent contributor to the site, it was a pleasure for me to have Nick answer some questions about how the site came to be, and how it gradually developed into what it is today.

First things first… How did you get the idea for your website?

I have always been interested in running websites where I can talk about the music. It’s funny because music journalism is totally my kind of thing, but I decided to approach totally different professional career. My first website, called Metal Explosion (back in 2003), was a metal dedicated webzine, and after that I contributed for a few Serbian music web and magazines. Some time during 2004, the whole world of progressive rock entered my life, and I listened to the likes of King Crimson, Camel, Jethro Tull, Yes almost maniacally. In late 2009 I got an idea of creating a website that would serve as my look on progressive rock. In February 2010, I created a Blogger account (http://prog-sphere.bandcamp.com) and, besides the few reviews I already had written with the help of my friend Dan (Thaler), we conducted an interview with Andy Tillison of The Tangent. In the beginning we were mostly focused on interviews, but later we started writing about albums (both classic and contemporary). Meanwhile, we moved to a paid domain and hosting (www.prog-sphere.com), and the website slowly shaped into a standard news/review/interview portal.

As I pointed out in the introduction, progressive rock websites seem to be a dime a dozen these days. When you first started ProgSphere, did you set out to be different from what was already available?

To be honest, we didn’t actually care too much about any other websites. My idea at first was just to talk with the bands I love. But with time, I wanted to do something new and different that other websites did not offer. I guess that I literally took the term “progressive” and decided to implement it on the website (and even my life). I wanted to keep the website recognizable for its content and put some kind of a seal so that people can always pick Prog Sphere out from the crowd. 🙂

Did you have ambitious plans for your site right from the start, or was it something that developed gradually, after you realized there was a positive response to what you were doing?

As I said, in the beginning it was only about interviewing my favorite bands. But with time I saw that there is plenty of space for progress. The response from progressive rock fans on what we did was really great, and, to keep that feedback always high and positive, we introduced many different features. The Progstravaganza compilation series is one of them.

As one of the so-called “Millennials”, you did not grow up with prog as most fans of the genre (including myself) did. How did you get into this kind of music, which is not exactly hip or popular with the younger generation?

I’ve been surrounded by music since my childhood. My father  introduced me to many good bands/singer-songwriters he used to listen to in the late 60’s and early 70’s. During my teenage years I mostly listened to metal, exploring absolutely every subgenre this genre has given over the decades. Whether it’s traditional heavy metal or the most extreme subgenres such as black-death metal, I enjoyed that music. But then I (re)discovered that progressive rock world through my father’s record collection, and since then I have (mostly) been stationed in this wonderful genre. I never cared about what is popular. Maybe that’s why some of my friends considered me a codger, haha!

Is there a prog scene in your home country of Serbia? What about the neighbouring countries? Do you have the opportunity to go to concerts, or do you have to travel abroad if you want to see live music?

Former Yugoslavia had some pretty strong bands with progressive rock leanings (Time, YU Grupa, Smak, Leb i Sol, Tako, Igra Staklenih Perli, etc). After the breakup all hell broke loose, and the rock scene as a whole was marginalized. With the arrival of the new millennium, Serbia besides political changes started to improve its position musically as well. I cannot say that there is a prog scene in Serbia, but there are bands flirting with the genre, taking its elements and putting them into the modern mix. The best-known bands from Serbia doing so are Consecration, Temple of the Smoke, Draconic, Burning Circle, Through Art, Igra Staklenih Perli (who are active again)…

Serbia is lacking in progressive rock concerts; there are no promoters who would take the risk of bringing any prog bands – for obvious reasons. There are few jazz festivals with tradition and they are struggling every year to manage the organization. Most people are traveling to Zagreb, Budapest or Sofia to see bands in live.

A couple of years ago you introduced ProgSphere Promotions to help up-and-coming bands and artists gain more visibility on an already overcrowded scene. Has it really worked in this sense, or do you think things could be improved?

Yes, Prog Sphere Promotions (www.prog-sphere.com/promotions) was established to help bands getting attention from media and most importantly from the fans of progressive music. Our mission has been successful; we are sending the music of our bands to many radio stations all around the world (currently that number is 250 and counting), to webzines, magazines, TV channels… But, as you indicated in your question, there is always something that can be improved, and we are always looking to offer something new to our artists. And, actually, for the time being I am working on bringing a new service called Progify. It’s still in the works, but I can reveal that it’s about music distribution and streaming with tons of other ideas on how to expand it further. We are introducing some new aspects of promotion besides standard press promotion and public relations. Also, our plan is to get more involved in concert booking, so there is a lot of going on in the PSPR headquarters. 🙂

Another of of the site’s strong points, in my view, is the availability of podcasts and compilations –  another means for artists to achieve visibility and attract more fans. While podcasts are far from uncommon, compilations are much rarer. How did you get the idea, which has been very successful so far?

The Progstravaganza compilation series is the thing I am most proud of. Introduced back in 2010, the idea was simply to give people something actual, something to explore and enjoy and, at the same time, to give the bands some sort of recognition for what they do. I was spending a lot of my time searching for new bands, and it led me to start releasing the compilations. With the help of my friends, graphic designers Pahl Sundstrom (Klotet, Vallebrad, Usurpress) and Chris van der Linden (Fourteen Twentysix, Bow) who provided their skills in contributing cover arts and booklets, we showcased more than 100 bands from all over the globe. So far, we released 12 samplers and one “best of” compilation (with tracks from the first nine samplers that were originally available as lossy mp3 downloads), and reached over 25,000 downloads. And right now I am working on the 13th part, which should be released next week. Now, besides the compilation itself, we have a separate mini-site where we put basic information on the bands in addition of reviews, interviews or any other special features. The compilations are available for free from Bandcamp, so make sure to check out our page at http://prog-sphere.bandcamp.com if you haven’t already. As for the podcasts (or, as we call them, AwesomeCasts), it seems like it’s a trend now, so we decided to go with the flow instead of being trendsetters, haha.

While keeping a healthy balance between vintage prog and newer music, ProgSphere seems to have a definite bias towards metal – which can be a turn off for older fans. What is your take about the importance of metal in the development of the modern progressive rock scene?

Metal is very important for the progressive rock scene. It comes naturally that many contemporary bands base their sound on metal and if well implemented it can sound really great. As an example I would mention Norwegian proggers Leprous. These guys do absolutely everything right in mixing progressive rock with metal. My opinion is that the future of progressive rock scene will largely be based on this genre, as these two genres have a lot in common. No matter if it will be metal or any other genre, progressive rock needs to change. It is in the genre’s nature to evolve, no?

 I have to say that Prog Sphere (including Prog Sphere Promotions) is NOT only about progressive rock or progressive metal, as some people would think. It happened to me that, after sharing a post on Facebook about a band that is not related for progressive rock/metal, somebody commented saying that it’s not prog. We do not limit ourselves to writing only about Rush or Jethro Tull. There is a whole new world waiting to be explored, and that’s what we do – explore.

ProgSphere can also boast of a roster of fine reviewers. How do you “recruit” them, so to speak?

I love reading any kind of reviews, especially music reviews. And when I see that a reviewer is really into it, without any hesitation I get in contact and ask if he/she would be interested to contribute for Prog Sphere. That’s how I did with you, Roger, Conor and other Prog Sphere reviewers. I prefer “descriptive” reviews rather than ones that strictly require having a release rated with stars, numbers or percentages.

And now for a rather tricky question… What, in your opinion, are ProgSphere’s strengths if compared to other large prog websites? And what would you like to improve?

I think we are not snobs like some other large websites. We are treating all the bands equally, no matter if it’s Rush or Gösta Berlings Saga. Some of those large websites will only write about bands / artists that are a commercial success, and that will bring visitors (readers) for commercial purposes. I’m not going to poke anyone in the eye; there is enough on the Web for everyone. We have always been driven by enthusiasm. Speaking about improvements, we are in constant motion. Adding new features on the website (I am currently working on getting some big names of the scene to write occasional columns for Prog Sphere) is something I am trying to achieve all the time. The website is largely lacking in interviews and it would be really great to have someone who would only work on this. Other than that, what I would really love to improve is the performance of the website itself, speaking from the technical aspect. My plan is to move to a dedicated server hosting plan in the near future.

What are your plans for the future? Have you ever thought of branching out into the organization of festivals or similar events?

First things first… The new Progstravaganza compilation is about to hit the Internet shores. After that, sometime in August we will be unleashing the Progify service, which will closely be connected to our work with Prog Sphere PR. There are some talks about releasing another digital release on our netlabel Prog Sphere Records, but I cannot say anything more on that as everything is still under negotiation. Perhaps in the future Prog Sphere will be involved more in music publishing. Time will tell.

It has always been my plan to organize a festival under the Prog Sphere name, but due to my frequent movings from Serbia to Turkey it simply couldn’t be done so far. I have some thoughts for putting together an event in 2014. It’s a delicate process to have an event like that organized on a high level. Maybe we will be asking people to pledge through the crowdfunding campaigns and help us in organization, but for now it’s all under a huge question mark. However, there’s a lot going on and we will be taking one step at a time to achieve our goals. I would love to thank everyone for supporting Prog Sphere over the years. And special thanks to you, Raffaella, for having me interviewed for your website. It’s great to see with how much devotion you work on it, there are many people who appreciate it. Keep up great work!

Thank you for your time and patience, and best wishes for all your future endeavours!

Links:
www.prog-sphere.com
www.prog-sphere.com/promotions/
www.progstravaganza.com
www.facebook.com/ProgSphere
www.twitter.com/ProgSphere
www.youtube.com/user/ProgSphere

 

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