Q&A with Lauren from ‘Punksburgh’ blog, named ‘Best Local Blogger 2017’ by Pgh City Paper

In 2016, received this email from a guy named Blake informing me that I had been voted the first-ever ‘Best Local Blogger’ in the Pgh City Paper Reader’s Poll.

I thought it was a prank.

But it was not – Pittsburgh City Paper readers picked a queer, disabled, middle-aged woman at the first blogger to win this accolade. Alas I did not attend the award ceremony (see disabled blogger reference) so my physical award was misplaced.

To be a good blogging colleague, I pulled myself out of contention for 2017. And waited eagerly to see who would win this year. To my delight, it was a group blog that’s new to the Burghosphere and helmed by three women – the team at Punksburgh.  One of the founders, Lauren Stein, took some time to chat with me about the blog and the award.

This is sort of my way to hand-off the crown by doing a blog interview. I hope that becomes a tradition. I hope people who win in ANY category have the grace to step aside for a year after winning. I know the corporate folks are less likely to do that, but no reason the artists and indie folks can’t create a healthy continuum of giving up the microphone for someone else. We can model sharing and community building.

The Punksburgh crew courtesy of Lauren Stein

What was your very first reaction when you learned about winning the ‘Best Of’ category? (I thought I was being pranked.) Every step of the way I was shocked. This year there was a nomination process, and I couldn’t believe we even made it on the ballot. I figured it was cool to be on there, but there was no chance of winning. When I got the email saying that we had placed, I was blown away and assumed it was third place. It still seems a bit surreal that we won.

What inspired you to create a blog devoted to the regional punk music scene? I started going to shows regularly (2-4 shows a week) about 3 years ago; it was kind of my therapy, in a way. Everything was so new to me and it was all so exciting, so I documented the experience by posting crappy cell phone pics on Instagram and Facebook. I eventually attracted the attention of Colin Clark, who runs his own punk rock blog in England—he wanted a writer from the States to provide some variety. I wrote up a Flogging Molly show that I attended, and when I posted it on my Facebook page I was bombarded by people wondering why I wasn’t doing the same thing with local bands. My good friend Brian McGee (from the Danzas) had been nudging me to make a blog for awhile, and I honestly didn’t think anyone would care. But that same day I went home and registered the site. The original goal was to just cover the punk scene (since that’s mostly what I know), but we quickly dropped that idea and have moved on to any Pittsburgh-based musicians. That saves us the trouble of having to define what punk is!

Tell us about your blogging team. The core group is me and my editors, Shandra and Nicole. They both joined on right from the start and have definitely helped influence the direction of the site. Next there are the writers: Thomas, Steve, Joe, and Chuck. It was completely unintentional, but it worked out well that we all have own little niches in the scene… for example, Joe’s into hardcore punk, Steve likes metal, and Shandra listens to a lot of pop punk. This definitely helps us cover a broader spectrum of music. I knew everyone on the team before starting the site, but I’ve definitely gotten a lot closer to them all. We all get along well, even though we sometimes drive each other bonkers in the group chat.

You grew up in Beaver County (I think?) What is your favorite memory of Pittsburgh? I work in Beaver County, but I’ve never lived there. I grew up all around the northeast and settled in Pittsburgh after I graduated college in 2007. Like I mentioned early, I’m a fairly new transplant to the local music scene, and I lament all the bands and venues that I never got to experience. I hear my friends talk so fondly of Club Laga—wish I could’ve gone to a show there!

As an adult artist, what impresses you the most about Pittsburgh? I wouldn’t really consider myself an artist! I’m a teacher in my day job and I’m honestly just winging it with the blog. I have no training whatsoever as a journalist or writer. I don’t really have anything to compare it with, but I love the music scene here in Pittsburgh. I know people have been talking recently about the scene dying, but there are a ton of shows happening every night and there are so many creative people in our city.

The NYTimes recently published a piece about women ‘ruling’ the punk rock scene. Agree or not? Do you see any parallels in Pgh? There have obviously always been women in the punk scene, but I think they’re becoming more and more visible. One of the recurring themes that I noticed in the NYT piece is that many of those women started in music because they saw other women playing. It seems like it’s becoming like a snowball effect, where the increased representation of women in punk rock leads to even more women getting involved.

Still, though, women definitely face some struggles. They are still tokenized, and I believe the bar is set higher for them. They have to really nail it for many people to take them seriously. And there’s just the visibility problem. One of the reasons Punksburgh blew up right away is because really early on I provided pretty comprehensive coverage of Ladyfest, and I heard back from a lot of people who were very glad there was someone covering music that wasn’t made by cis het white dudes.

Tell me about your blog. Are you using WordPress? How are you engaging your readers? Are you connecting with other bloggers? The blog is on WordPress and we also have a strong social media presence—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Every blog post is announced on Facebook, where we can tag musicians/bands. That’s definitely where most of our readers come from—bands and artists sharing our Facebook posts. I don’t even know what we’d do if it wasn’t for that. We don’t really connect with other bloggers. That’s something that I should get better about. I know there are a handful of other people covering the Pittsburgh music scene, but I’m bad about reading their stuff. I barely have enough time to write my own pieces.

Shandra and Lauren with with the award

What local blogs do you read? See above, I’m really bad at connecting with other bloggers! Most of my “networking” is connecting with local musicians, bands, promoters, etc.

Looking back, what advice would you offer to a new blogger?  I still consider myself a new blogger, honestly! But the biggest thing I’ve learned is to take things slow and don’t be too hard on yourself. When we first got the site off the ground, we were all filled with enthusiasm and my summer break had just started, so I had all the time in the world to write and do interviews and just figure things out. We were posting every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and we were getting really steady traffic. It was awesome. But then in August we all just kind of burned out and personal stuff got in the way. It stopped becoming fun and started to be a chore. Especially now that I’m at work again, I’ve backed way off. We still try to get a couple posts up a week, but it’s not something worth stressing over.

What can we expect from your blog in the next year? When I first created the site, I did so in the span of about an hour and didn’t really know what I was doing. I just went with the hosting through WordPress since that was the easiest option. Once the site actually gained some traction I intended to move to self-hosting to give ourselves some move flexibility, but life got in the way and we’re just getting to that now. I would love to add a calendar to the site so that people can go there to see what’s coming up in the future. I also have some ideas bouncing around about making an artist database, so that if we post about a band people can easily find links to their music and social media profiles, that sort of thing. We’ll see what actually happens in the future, though!

What is the must-listen-to song for bloggers? I feel like this is a cop-out answer, but I absolutely cannot listen to music when I write. It’s just too distracting!

Finally, where can we find you on social media?

Facebook: facebook.com/punksburgh412

Instagram: @punksburgh412

Twitter: @punksburgh412

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