Rolling Stone online editor Abbey Goodman has brought in artists from Wyclef Jean to Mumford & Sons to perform in the magazine’s Midtown offices. But on a recent Wednesday, she was nervous. The musical guest, Rye Rye (pictured), a 20-year-old female rapper, wasn’t going to put on the usual acoustic act. “This is 100 percent club music,” Goodman said. “We’re potentially about to have a spectacle.”
Not to mention that the performance, for the first time, would take place in a hallway outside of Rolling Stone editor and co-founder Jann Wenner’s office. In the past, visiting artists had been ushered to the office’s studio, where they could comfortably be filmed for posterity.
“Jann wanted us to do it out here so everybody could enjoy,” Goodman said.
It helps too that the hallway, which has a view of the street and is lined with artist portraits, provides a better, more scenic backdrop. The more entertaining the videos the better it is for Rolling Stone, which is hoping that these performances, found exclusively on its Web site, will help it grow its traffic.
Rolling Stone is making a big push to jazz up online, and videos of performers like Rye Rye (who definitely entertained in her tight, lace-up bodysuit) are a key part of that strategy. Despite its journalistic stature, Rolling Stone’s digital imprint is tiny; according to comScore, the site drew 1.3 million uniques in November, putting it at No. 32 among music sites—far behind giants like MTV (58 million uniques) and MySpace Music (25 million uniques). The magazine pointed out that its comScore uniques went up to 1.9 million in December, helped by its video views.
During the last few years, Wenner has been criticized for being slow to embrace the Web. In fact, until last April, the Rolling Stone Web site was outsourced to a company called Real Networks. The magazine looked especially out of touch when, last June, Time.com and Politico posted Michael Hastings’ explosive Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal before the magazine itself did, yanking thousands of potential eyeballs from the site.
Misses like that help explain why Rolling Stone is placing its bets on online video, which seems less likely to cut into magazine sales and is sought after by advertisers.
Starbucks, which was looking to align itself with up-and-coming artists, recently became the site’s first big video sponsor, and Matt Mastrangelo, the publisher, is trying to appeal to marketers of alcoholic beverages, fast food and fashion. “Video's a big, big thing for sponsors,” he said.
The magazine’s small digital footprint certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt its ability to get artists in the door. “We had Duffy here, we had Wyclef, we had Kanye; he didn’t play, but he met with the editors,” said Mastrangelo. “So we’re getting a good cross-section of emerging artists and more well-established artists.”
And earlier that Wednesday, Annie Lennox dropped by the office to talk about her new Christmas album.
Rye Rye put it simply: “It’s very important. It’s Rolling Stone.”