It’s quarter after one Sunday night/Monday morning and I just got an email telling me that a working draft of my master’s thesis is due in about three weeks, so since there’s just about no way in hell I’m going to sleep anytime soon, this seems as good a time as any to pause and take a moment to reflect on last week’s special “Unsigned Band Issue” of The Aquarian.

I started the unsigned issue tradition six years ago, because, well, I was in an unsigned band at the time and figured there were others out there who would appreciate the support. For what it’s worth—and probably not much—I didn’t cover my own band, but then, like now, there was no shortage of groups out there worth the effort from the NJ/NYC/Philly region and beyond. It was kind of a shabby feature, there were a couple filler acts thrown in I didn’t really care about, but that goes with the territory.

When I was asked last year to come back on as Managing Editor of this paper, I knew that for every single thing that was the same about the job, at least two things would be different. That’s definitely turned out to be the case. We still go to press on Monday, deadline’s still Friday and I still spend a significant portion of every week trying to chase down hi-res images for our cover features (sometimes with better success than others), inevitably explaining to someone in the process what exactly “hi-res” means, but a lot has changed, and not just in terms of the process of putting out the paper. The whole idea of what we’re supposed to be about is different.

For the unsigned band feature this year, I decided to try something new. I opened the floor to our complete staff—those who check the emails I send, anyway—and said, “If you’re passionate about a band or artist or have someone who’s been bugging you for coverage, now’s the time.” You know how many responses I got?

One.

The whole staff of people, several of whom have been involved with The Aquarian longer than I have (and in the music industry, seven years is a really, really long time to have your name associated in one way or another with anything), and one person said they wanted to contribute an unsigned band to the feature and actually made it happen. Thank you, John Fortunato.

I’m used to the unsigned issue being a clusterfuck. That’s nothing new to me, and honestly, that’s part of why we do it in February, because it’s before we have to really gear into Bamboozle mode around here and there’s enough of a lack of other things going on at that point that people might actually pay attention to a band like Victor Made A Time Machine, who, in case you missed it, were on the cover last week. But one person? One?

Is the scene in this area that dead?

The saddest part: It’s not. If it was, that would be a viable excuse, but the fact of the matter is I asked Roz Smith—about three weeks into her internship at the time—to give me seven bands, and two days later, she handed in a list of acts she either knows personally or has seen in concert, viable bands in a vibrant local North Jersey scene. With photos! Sure, half of them were from Ringwood, but what the fuck? That’s still better than anyone else was willing to give me. I’ll cover Ringwood every week for a year if that’s where music is coming from.

If someone asks me where I work and I tell them, the response I most often get is, “Oh yeah, I used to read The Aquarian all the time. It’s still around?”

Yeah, we’re still here. After 42 years and the death of the print industry, The Aquarian is still here. And while that’s great to say and it feels good to know the name is still a semi-viable brand, the fact is that means all of jack shit when it comes to what we’re going to do for next week’s cover.

If this paper does not stay as relevant as humanly possible, it will die, and when it does, no one will care. There. I said it.

That’s what I learned from this year’s unsigned issue, and as long as I’m up near the top of the staff box, I’m going to break my ass to bring you the best product I can every week, whatever doing so entails.

(And apparently I’m going to put together a thesis while I do it.)

I don’t care whether you see this online or in print. Thanks for reading.

Much appreciated,

JJ Koczan

jj@theaquarian.com

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