From basement to bookstores' shelves
Apr. 14, 2004
Matt Boyd
Staff Writer




Local magazine maven builds a

publication on

a passion for music

Scott Crawford worked out of his Silver Spring bedroom as a teenager in the late '80s and early '90s, putting together Bent, a homemade low-budget magazine for music fans.

Designed on his home computer, Bent was printed, photocopied and bound with staples. "I really thought I was going places when it went to newsprint," Crawford said.

At age 32, Crawford is still heading his own music magazine. Now, however, his work is sold in bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble and boasts a circulation of 30,000. It isn't bad for a self-taught graphic designer with no college degree.

"I've been very lucky that way," Crawford said.

Crawford is the editor in chief of Harp, a bimonthly music magazine.

Though he now works out of a ninth-floor office in downtown Silver Spring, he founded the magazine three years ago in his basement and is still doing what he loves.

The magazine is a reaction to what Crawford calls "the Rolling Stones of the world," magazines that focus on music as celebrity. Harp, he said, is for people who are passionate about music itself.

Through articles, news, reviews and interviews, Harp covers music from roots to rock, including major acts like Wilco or lesser-known independent groups like Giant Sand, essentially alternative music not found on the radio but huge with the over-30 crowd, Crawford said.

It's an audience that isn't spoken to in music magazines, even though the success of albums like the "O Brother Where Art Thou?" soundtrack have shown how passionate its members could be about music, Crawford said. "The main thing to make any magazine succeed is to fill a niche or a void," he said.

Out of Albert Einstein High School, Crawford took freelancing jobs as a graphic designer, eventually settling at JazzTimes magazine in Silver Spring. Several years ago, he left to start his own graphic design business, Guthrie Inc., putting together things like CD packaging and print advertisement.

The idea for Harp came almost three years ago. "I was closing in on 30 and realizing that no one magazine spoke to me," Crawford said. "I was crazy enough to think I could create it."

The first issues of Harp were paid for with the funds from the graphic design business and filled with content from freelancers. The management of the magazine was up to Crawford, and he was in constant touch with his old co-workers from JazzTimes, asking for advice.

There's a lot more to managing a magazine than a reader might see, said Lee Mergner, publisher of JazzTimes. The magazine has to be distributed to outlets, subscriptions have to be kept, and money and resources have to be allocated. His magazine had slowly developed all those things over the past 30 years, but Crawford was just starting.

So, 18 months ago, JazzTimes partnered with Harp. They're now published out of the same office.

The idea was to give Crawford business support while letting him focus on the creative side, Mergner said. The competitiveness of the magazine industry puts a lot of demands on staff.

"Go to a Barnes and Noble and a Borders, and any one of us can empirically see how many magazines there are," Mergner said. Dozens of them go out of business every year, even promising ones like Brill's Content, Talk, or Oxford American.

"All day I could name magazines that are not around anymore," he said.

Mergner said he feels good about Harp. "It's amazing how much better it is with every issue," he said.

Harp's content comes almost entirely from freelancers, though it has picked up another full-time staffer in Jake Flack, the advertising sales manager.

Flack sees Harp as almost a responsibility. "There's so much good music right now that isn't being given a lot of coverage," Flack said.

The consolidation of radio station ownership has led to a narrowing of what gets played on the air, until each genre is limited to 40 or 50 songs at a time, Flack said. "A lot of people are sick of being force-fed the same 40 or 50 songs," he said. He said he believes that's why there has been such a rise in Internet and satellite radio services.

"Anyone who thinks there isn't anything happening in music right now, well ... just take a look at our office," Flack said. The office is half full of albums in white plastic bins that have been sent to the magazine for review. There are probably about 1,000 albums from the last two weeks, he said.

Flack said it's exciting to be in touch with the independent labels, many of which look to Harp as their mouthpiece. "It's our responsibility to cover this stuff," he said.

Crawford is optimistic about the future of the magazine.

Circulation and ad revenue has been steadily increasing, and he soon hopes to put out two more issues per year. The magazine has a Web site, www.harpmagazine.com.

Like the stapled magazine from his teenage years, Harp remains a labor of love for Crawford. "I think one of the rewards to doing a magazine is to talk to the artists and see what they have to say," he said.

However, Crawford gets a bigger thrill when subscribers e-mail to say they appreciate his work.