Flashy digital ads and gimmicky marketing schemes aren’t telling the stories (or singing the praises) of artists who run counter to Kansas City’s mainstream, said Aaron Rhodes, founder of a niche music magazine newly hitting the streets this spring.
Readers shouldn’t be fooled, Rhodes said. His underground approach to ad sales for Shuttlecock Music Magazine is part of a much larger plan — aimed at embedding the publication deep within the community it covers: a gritty, talented, and often quiet band of musicians on the rise.
“I’m committed to staying away from Facebook [style] ads,” declared Rhodes, who also serves as Shuttlecock’s editor and a key multimedia storyteller, detailing ways in which he believes his approach to audience building and operational sustainability reflects the raw, undiscovered vibes of the city’s local music culture.
Click here to learn more about Shuttlecock or to read Rhodes’ latest features.
“I’ve never tried super hard [or] sent out a ton of emails [selling ads] — I kind of just sensed that there wouldn’t be that much interest in it,” he continued. “I think everyone acknowledges, at some point, [web ads] aren’t all that helpful. … If I’m going to sell ads, I want to do it within the community that’s around me.”
That means working with such partners as The Vinyl Underground at 7th Heaven, a local record shop that shares a similar mission to Shuttlecock and joins the publication in uplifting Kansas City-grown talent, he said, noting the more traditional alternative to his tactics: websites filled with ads that are devoid of value to his growing audience.
Shuttlecock’s approach has served the magazine’s online presence well over its nearly six-year run, but on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and a layoff from his full-time job at Do816 — a local events promotion blog — Rhodes knew he had an opportunity to consciously adjust his strategy.
In April, he launched a free, print version of Shuttlecock — a move that required him to shift his thinking on ad sales to the B-side.
“When I sent out emails about selling ads in the [print] magazine, I ran out of space within like a week and a half,” he said with amusement, reinforcing his decision to enter the print game amid a digital era that’s seen many local publications shutter their presses and let their ink run dry.
“I was lying in bed like, ‘Is anybody really going to care about this? Are people going to pick this up, even though it’s free?’” he said of initial concerns over whether advertisers — and the magazine itself — would see any return on the experiment.
And, so far, it has.
“I was surprised by the reaction a little bit,” he said. “I was dropping them off at record stores and coffee shops … and people were genuinely excited to see it and have started posting about it. … I’m happy about that.”
The magazine is available for pickup at places like The Vinyl Underground and Johnson County Community College in the Kansas City-area and Love Garden Sounds in Lawrence.
Behind the camera (and the page)
The experience overall has been just one of dozens of real-world lessons in entrepreneurship for 24-year-old Rhodes, who started the online publication fresh out of high school — and with just a few years of journalistic experience under his belt.
“There are a lot of shows I went to when I was younger and there’s no video, there’s no photos. I really only have my memories — and that’s great, but it’s cool getting to watch footage and getting to pass it on in that way,” he explained of his initial why for founding the magazine.
“There are smaller shows out there where sometimes I’m the only one with a camera and the only one writing about it. … I’m covering local artists that don’t get covered elsewhere, that aren’t getting radio play yet.”
WATCH: The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but Shuttlecock editor Aaron Rhodes is having a particularly tough time. With no real shows to be booked, he’s been making up gigs in his head and handing out flyers for them in Westport. His friends are worried.
Expanding Shuttlecock’s offerings to include a print version of the publication — as well as two podcasts — means even more exposure for local artists.
“By [offering] a free magazine I can kind of expand the reach of what I do on the website and put local artists that I care about in front of audiences that would not come across them,” Rhodes added, noting his commitment to musicians region-wide and hopes to keep the beat of Shuttlecock sounding well into the future.
“I’ve been doing the Shuttlecock podcast — the main podcast — for a few years now. That’s where I interview someone involved in the local music scene,” Rhodes said, noting the process allows him to have casual conversations with musicians that often reveal more about their art than a formal interview.
Rhodes recently launched a second podcast, “In My Headache”, alongside Bill Brownlee, veteran Kansas City journalist.
“We talk about two new albums and one throwback album,” Rhodes said of what listeners can expect from the podcast which releases on all major platforms and the Shuttlecock website every two weeks.
“It’s been a lot of fun because I’m 24 and Bill is in his mid-50s. I think we’re both very open-minded with our music tastes and are pretty decent at analyzing the music we listen to,” he said.
“I think getting two perspectives, from people who are 30-years apart [in age] — but love a lot of the same music, is kind of a fun thing.”
Click here to listen to the latest episode of each podcast.