Pillbox

Frederick makes splash in music journalism

At media company BUZZMEDIA, Carnegie Mellon alumnus Brendan Frederick works to revamp print music publications like SPIN for the web. In his pursuit of a career in music journalism, Frederick found an 
interdisciplinary industry that combined his passions for writing, music, and business. (credit: Courtesy of Matt Crowley via Flickr) At media company BUZZMEDIA, Carnegie Mellon alumnus Brendan Frederick works to revamp print music publications like SPIN for the web. In his pursuit of a career in music journalism, Frederick found an interdisciplinary industry that combined his passions for writing, music, and business. (credit: Courtesy of Matt Crowley via Flickr)

As a student at Carnegie Mellon, Brendan Frederick wanted to blend his love for hip-hop and writing into a meaningful career. Frederick (H&SS ’04) is the vice president of music programming and development for BUZZMEDIA, a media company that owns and operates over 40 music and pop culture websites.

Frederick became involved in hip-hop journalism as an undergraduate. Initially obsessed with breaking into the music business as a talent representative, he decided to try his hand at writing. Although he has since moved on to careers at XXL, Mass Appeal, and Complex magazines, Frederick first honed his editorial skills in the classroom.

“The process of reading someone’s story and dissecting and tearing it apart and telling them what they could have done differently, that was definitely the most useful thing I took away from CMU. That’s what made me feel like I can be an editor,” said Frederick, who majored in creative writing and minored in business.

Frederick attributes his editing skills to the creative writing faculty at Carnegie Mellon, particularly associate professor of English Sharon Dilworth. According to Dilworth, Frederick was a driven student.

“There are certain students who come along who have an energy and an interest in life that immediately sets them apart from the rest of the student body. They are infectious in their enthusiasm — Brendan was that kind of student,” Dilworth said via email. “He was so engaged — so smart and savvy. He didn’t need encouragement. He was going places well before he even knew where it was that he wanted to go. You don’t forget the Brendan Fredericks.”

While still trying to break into the music business, Frederick applied to internships at record labels, but was not accepted. “Unless you have a connection or know someone, it’s pretty much impossible to get your foot in the door,” he said.

Eventually, Frederick took another route by focusing on his interest in writing. He got an internship as a mix-tape columnist at RIME Magazine, a small hip-hop publication. He used that opportunity as a springboard to open doors that were previously closed to him. A turning point came during Frederick’s senior year of college. He was named editor-in-chief of Mass Appeal magazine a year after becoming an intern there. In his role as editor, he was finally able to mix his interests in hip-hop, journalism, and business.

“Brendan is a real good kid,” said Elliott Wilson, owner of hip-hop culture blog Rap Radar and editor of RESPECT. magazine. While Wilson was an editor at XXL magazine, he hired Frederick to enhance the site’s lackluster website. “Brendan was the reason XXL was able to beat a lot of our competitors,” he said.

Throughout his career, Frederick was able to build a reputation as a tech-savvy editor. This was especially useful at Complex magazine, where he worked for four-and-a-half years before joining BUZZMEDIA in September.

Complex, founded by Mark Ecko, owns advertising rights to popular blogs. The magazine is an extension of a larger brand and is an anomaly among music publications. As Frederick puts it, Complex is not exactly hip-hop, hipster, or pop: “It’s somewhere in the middle.”

“The hip-hop world thinks of Complex as a fashion magazine, and this sort of white mainstream media world thinks of us as a hip-hop magazine. It’s almost like we have the best of both worlds. We can get away with taking a lot of risks and doing things and asking questions that a lot of people might not be able to,” Frederick said.

It is a huge departure from the common newsstand magazines featuring an image of a celebrity against a white background. “A lot of magazines, their business is still based on selling magazines on the newsstands,” Frederick said. “That’s why you see so many magazines with a celebrity in front of a white background and cover lines that are designed to catch people’s eyes.”

The print issue is a canvas for experimentation. Justin Bieber was featured on the Complex front cover for the magazine’s 10th anniversary. The picture showed Bieber in an uncharacteristic role: getting pummeled in a boxing ring. The move reflected the magazine’s marketing technique. “If you hate Bieber, you can see him get punched in the face. If you love him, you get to see him in this crazy, grisly scenario,” Frederick said. However, Complex is more concerned with its digital platform, a constantly updated outlet for music, fashion, and political news.

Frederick’s work at BUZZMEDIA is similar to what he did at Complex, but he focuses more on acquiring and maintaining media sites, including SPIN, Concrete Loop, The Hype Machine, and many others. On its website, BUZZMEDIA boasts more than 40 million people visiting its member sites. The company has been bolstering its profile through acquisitions: In July it acquired SPIN magazine, and in August it acquired three punk rock music blogs, including Under the Gun Review.

One of Frederick’s primary tasks is helping music magazine SPIN transition from a print-based business model to a web-based format: “BUZZ bought SPIN back in July, and despite being a very well-known music magazine with a long history, they still have a long way to go before they find the same level of success on the web. Right now I’m working out of the SPIN office, trying to help them rethink their whole operation.”

Although Frederick is removed from his college days, he offers the same advice that he received while at Carnegie Mellon: The cornerstone of a meaningful writing career is having confidence. “Having confidence in your writing and having confidence in your abilities to critique other people’s writing are two totally valuable skills that I learned through the creative writing program.”