When we were growing up, my best friend, Byron, and I would regularly head down to our local record store and browse through the new releases. Typically I’d pick out the ones that had the most interesting covers, and then read about the band. Byron would invariably find his band du jour, and explain why they were so great. Most of the time he was right (although his love of the band Flipper still confuses me). At some point we’d get to discussing what bands we liked and didn’t, and, eventually, why they were inferior to Judas Priest in some way. Point being, music for us wasn’t just an audio experience, but rather a visual and intellectual one as well.
Fast-forward to the present. We now live in a world inundated with multimedia. Television, computers, Websites, blogs, MySpace, Facebook, etc., etc. Finding an impartial and educated view is seemingly harder now than when I was young. It seems like everyone has an opinion about music, and an easy way to express it. Who knows what I would have written of Bing Crosby back in 1989? Certainly he would not have been as great as Hank Williams Jr. was to me at the time.
Enter Andy Fenstermaker ’03, ’06. Inspired while taking a music marketing class from Horace Alexander Young, Andy had the idea to start a different kind of music-review Website—one that would post honest and well-rounded reviews, and also help KZUU-FM, WSU’s student-run radio station, deliver content to listeners. In 2006 Fenstermaker made it happen—with IT help from friend Chris Bloom—when he launched FensePost.com to audiences worldwide.
I first met Andy in Seattle at a local hipster hangout, Hattie’s Hat, in 2006, when he was working on a review of a music project I was involved with. I was immediately struck by his knowledge of music and deep background of obscure bands. He offhandedly mentioned FensePost.com at some point that night, and later I checked out the site. What I found was a well-organized, well-written music-review site that included CD as well as live-show reviews, local and national.
Andy now manages a team of approximately 14 contributors nationwide; most are students or recent graduates of Washington State University, and many of them worked as DJs for KZUU. You can meet them and read their bios on the site.
As chief editor, Andy collects about half of the site’s content from contributors and writes the other half himself, while juggling his “day job” 40 hours a week. Since the site is still relatively young and does not yet generate income, he can’t pay his staff monetarily. Love of music and Web-publishing credits are what he offers instead, and he’s always on the lookout for additional contributors.
What really makes the site excellent is the quality of the reviews. Andy and team put together well-thought-out and succinct reviews without egos or preconceptions getting in the way. He states, “I love to write, and it’s even sweeter when I combine it with my passion for music.” It is apparent his team feels the same.
The review process can be arduous at times, and occasionally Andy decides what album to review based not on knowledge of the band, but rather on the cover art. “What most people don’t realize is that cover art can tell a lot about what’s inside,” he confides to me. “If there’s poor cover art, I’m less likely to get immediately enthusiastic about listening to the album.”
But it’s not all tedium or hard work. When asked what he likes best about being a music writer, his response is, “Networking.” “I’ve met some amazing people…from label executives, to music promoters, to the bands themselves,” he says. He names free promotional albums as a close second. He’s received CDs for review from as far away as Brazil, Sweden, Latvia, and France.
What does the future hold for FensePost.com? Andy has begun to cautiously branch out into other media, including movies and literature. Recently he reviewed Leonard Cohen’s documentary, I’m Your Man, as well as the Brett Milano’s book on vinyl record collecting, Vinyl Junkies. He admits though, he will be sticking close to the music theme in both contexts.
Andy vows to have at least “one new review up a week,” and judging from the catalog of current articles, he’s staying true to his word. Because the site doesn’t focus on just one genre, but rather spans all kinds, you’ll find older albums, from John Travolta’s 1977 album Can’t Let You Go, to Band of Horses’ 2007 Cease to Begin. Although FensePost doesn’t have a review of Flipper’s 1993 CD American Grafishy, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it there.
It’s great to see that love of music is alive and well.