That other obsession obviously is music. Music is a necessity for me. Without music I would be lost in the putrefied cesspool that our current society is. I've been going to concerts since I was fifteen years old, played my first instrument (a tin drum) when I was three and was a resident DJ in our living room since I was seven. I started my first band when I was seventeen and several followed, not with a lot of success though. When I got into music software, I started electronics solo projects.
I don't care about genres. I grew up with Queen and several compilation vinyls but I quickly gained interest in a wide variety of styles. My own musical escapades include rock, folk, metal, noise, ambient, techno, drum & bass and trip-hop and my DJ-style was gothic and metal, both including all subgenres. And even there I was a bit of a misfit. I managed to make people slow-dance in a metal bar and I played Army Of Lovers and Napoleon XIV at goth parties, with great success by the way.
Yet, that summer evening in August felt special. It almost felt like the night after the first kiss of a promising new girlfriend. Something was up, something good. Then, suddenly, it struck me. 'Why don't I start my own webzine'? Immediately after that, a second thought: 'Why the fuck didn't I think of that before'? I quickly ran back inside, stumbled over our cat who is pretty much always standing in the way and fell on the floor. My wife, alarmed by the noise, ran into the hallway to see if I was ok. There I was, lying on the cold tiled floor, telling my lovely wife that I had an idea. The cat rubbed her head on my hand.
That night, I couldn't sleep. I wanted to start immediately, but that's not an easy task if you can't find a decent name. Many possible names flashed through my head but it had to be a good name, one that wouldn't restrict me to certain genres and one that would get stuck in your head. 'NoiseFlashers', nah, too genre-related. 'MusicTalk', nope, sounds stupid. 'He Who Writes About Music', oh come on, you can do better than this. How about 'Merchants Of Air', from the Kong album. Well, sounds perfect but I need Kong's approval for that.
And I did, for which I am eternally grateful.
So the day after, I registered www.merchantsofair.com and started working on the first lay-out, which was hidious but at that time I was quite proud. I gave myself until 25 September to kick-off the whole thing. That would provide enough time to come up with something good. Eline, my wife, told me that a colleague of hers used to write for a magazine. Maybe he was interested in helping out with Merchants Of Air. Apparently, he was and Björn joined the team.
At Incubate 2014 our quest would begin. We reviewed many bands and interviewed a few of them. One of them was Alice In The Cities. We spent hours talking and having fun at the steps of the Paradox venue in Tilburg and we had a blast at the festival. But that was only the beginning, all these things had to be written down. A busy week followed. Eline and I worked like crazy to get the Incubate special online but when it was published on that 25th of September, we were proud of it.
We were pleased with the number of visitors in the first few days. Several hundred people read the special and some albums started already coming in. Both Björn and I had been writing reviews about albums we had bought or found on bandcamp. Gradually, more and more releases came in, starting with a regular e-mail by Domino Agency. Others soon followed and at the same time the visitors graphics started showing a steady increase. A Desertfest special followed, once again proving to be quite a successful one.
At one point, I decided to try to make a bit of cash out of this. So I added ads to the articles. But things went completely wrong with those. One of the ad providers redirected the whole site to an advertisement, making people unable to watch the site on their smartphones. I wasn't very pleased with the other providers either - not to say that it was all just bullshit. After all, it didn't take much consideration to realize that the ads were completely pointless and a waste of time, lay-out and effort.
So I kicked them out. Some are currently still present on the website, I know, but I'm not adding new ones and I don't feel like removing all of them manually. As time passes, those ads will disappear into the annals of the internet. I replaced them with our own ads for shirt designs, stickers and artwork. It still isn't an incredible success but at least now we're offering something related and something we like ourselves. In the future we will also sell other stuff, our own stuff.
Over time, other writers joined in, providing their work on a guest-writer basis. Cloves, Wouter and Joerik already sent us some of their well-received reviews, and Eline made a few excellent efforts in the dark ambient region. We're expecting some people to join in soon but we'll keep that a secret for now. Fact remains, even with occasional help, we can't possibly review everything that's coming our way anymore. I actually see that as a compliment.
Yes indeed, there's over a hundred albums still waiting to be reviewed and more are coming in every single day. Many of them will probably remain there, hidden in the dark corners of my download folder, but we can't help it. If we had a full-time working team of eight people, then maybe, but now there's no way we can keep up with it. I can't stress that enough, it's not a case of not-wanting, it's a case of not-enough-time. So yeah, more new writers are extremely welcome. And spelling checkers, adds Eline, who fights with commas and past tenses in this present blog but who no way can check everything that's on the site.
Of course, an important reason of that is the no-genre-limitation approach that we hold on to. Probably because of our musical background and the first content, most of the articles on Merchants Of Air are about metal but in my opinion all this would be one-sided if we didn't add other genres. Post-rock, for example. Starting out with Cecilia::Eyes and evolving in another hit-article about the amazing Dunk! festival. That article got us a lot of attention. So did our interview with The End Of The Ocean by the way.
After several months, it also became clear that we needed a new web-provider. I wasn't very pleased with the speed of publishing anymore but I learned that I was doing things wrong. So we partially moved to Weebly, which still seems like a good thing to have done. With some adjustments, changes and try-out gradually the current design appeared, much to the happiness of the staff actually. We're quite pleased with the result so far and updating the whole thing goes pretty damn fast.
Those changes, along with the decision to leave out the crappy ads, were incredibly favorable for Merchants Of Air. From a few hundred visitors a day, we quickly grew to a thousand and currently we're often doubling that. Peaks of three thousand views sometimes appear. I know, it's not that much for a webzine but still, it's a nice evolution in a single year of learning, trying, failing and trying something else. Adding the news section and the 'A Small Neat Journal' blog certainly helped in that. In that way, Merchants Of Air is already becoming more than a music review website, and that's something I'm really pleased about.
With the ads out and Rik Stalknecht in, Merchants Of Air is ready to take a next step. We don't really know what that is going to be yet. We got some ideas but we'll keep them to ourselves for now. What we do know is that from now on, we'll focus on two main goals: quality and positivity. We want to guarantee well-written articles (although errors sometimes occur, which always get solved if you mail them to us) with a positive note, even if there is criticism involved. That's something we stand for and it's the only demand I make to our writers.
In my opinion, it's useless to tear down an album if you don't like it. First, people have different tastes. Second, those albums are often the blood, sweat and tears of hard working artists and their promoters. Who am I to smash them into the ground? It's not like my music is any better than what is reviewed on Merchants Of Air (haha). That doesn't mean that I lie in my reviews about the albums being better than they actually are. To be honest, the relentless overload in albums makes it easier to choose the ones we like. That being said: no, we haven't reviewed your album (yet) because we wouldn't like it. It's just somewhere in the pile and like you I hope it will get reviewed once. But I'll stop whining about the amount now. As I said, I see it as a compliment.
At one point, and this is merely a fun anecdote, I received an e-mail from an internet domain registration company in Hong Kong. Apparently some company wants to buy our domain extension (unless the whole thing is an attempt in fraud, which is also a possibility). Several mails followed, even one from the company who wanted the domain in the first place. I still don't know how to feel about this, especially since a big part of the e-mails contain the exact same text. Getting sick of it, I recently told them they could have merchantsofair.com for one million euros.
I'll probably never get one million euros for this website, but imagine if it worked. What if suddenly the million was one my bank account? What would I do? Well, my dear friends, I would do exactly the same under a new moniker and on a full-time basis. I would definitely quit my regular job and invest in some certainty for a future income, making Merchants Of Flair (or whatever we'll name it by then) my number one occupation.
Because if there's one thing that makes me most proud about Merchants Of Air, it's the appreciation, praise, support and friendship we have been receiving over the past year. Bands like Alice In The Cities, Bittered, Cecilia::Eyes, Dö and people like James Welburn and Kevin Wright (Sombre Soniks) as well as promoters like Purple Sage and Viral Propaganda have showed us so much love because of what we do and that, my friends, is simply astounding. It's a feeling I've been missing at every single job I've ever done.
There's many more people I should or could mention but I suddenly remember the vast amount of e-mails, messages, tweets, articles and reviews I've been writing in the past year. It's more or less been a full-time occupation and a constant learning process. It has been a hell of a ride and I can't wait to get on the rollercoaster again. I'd like to thank all of you, all our readers, the promoters, the artists and the people from our own crew for making this possible.
I certainly want to thank the bands who submitted a track for 'Year One', our massive compilation. No less then 32 tracks came in, much more than I initially expected. This is simply amazing. We perfectly managed to capture the open-minded approach and vast variety of Merchants Of Air. There's ambient, there's black, death and doom metal, there's electronics, drones, jazz, sludge, rock, grindcore and post-rock.