In Conversation with Russell Slater Johnson from Songlines Magazine

Songlines magazine editor Russell Slater Johnson (Left) and music business student, Lee Birch

We caught up with one of our longstanding members and Nottingham Trent University (NTU) alumnus Russell Slater Johnson (pictured left), editor of Songlines Magazine, a leading music magazine covering traditional, contemporary, folk and fusion music from around the world.

Russell shared insights into his career, his passion for music and what it’s like being an Antenna member.

Hi Russell, tell us a bit about yourself.

I started out as a freelance writer over 10 years ago through running my own website, Sounds and Colours, which focuses on South American music and culture. That’s how I got into writing about music. My speciality is music from Latin America, I love music from that region, and it’s helped that I can speak Spanish and Portuguese. I joined Songlines Magazine at the beginning of the year as their Editor. Since then, it’s fair to say, I’ve learnt a lot about music from across the globe.

What sparked your interest in Latin American music and culture?

I needed to get out of England, so I spent time in various places around the world. I first went to India and then to Ecuador, where I spent time speaking to locals about music, food, and football – it was an incredible experience. I instantly felt a connection, and I began learning the basics of Spanish, so I started going to Latin America a lot. Music has always been my passion, but it had never crossed my mind to write about it. However, as I started to discover new things in Latin America and wanted to find out more about them, I struggled to find anything in English and so I began to write it myself.

You founded your own website, Sounds and Colours, in 2010. What made you decide to do this and how has the experience been for you?

Sounds and Colours was a website to begin with and then we created a book and record label later. It was inspired by my travels and my search for information about various artists I had come across once I was back in England. I started it as a blog and people began to read it and get in touch asking to contribute. That’s when it took off and I realised there’s a community of people with a shared interest. That cemented Sounds and Colours because it clarified there was an audience that wanted what I could give them.

You recently became the editor of Songlines Magazine. How does the experience of publishing a whole issue differ from publishing a piece as a writer?

The main difference is the level of organisation. You need to organise the content, the finances, the photos, and the CD that goes alongside our magazine. It’s very much about working with other people and spending time editing their articles to get them as good as possible. It’s my dream in terms of curating, it’s something I really enjoy doing.

What makes Songlines different from other music magazines available?

Each edition covers a range of topics from album reviews to artist interviews, up-and-coming stars, and much more. Because we are a world music magazine, the majority of stuff we cover has an overlap with other fields, such as travel, politics or cultural studies. This makes us different from most music magazines that are just for complete music heads. Songlines is tied to discovering the world as well as new music.

Left to right, Gez Addictive, Emily Bright, Russell Slater Johnson, Lee Birch

How did you discover Antenna and what were your first impressions?

I was working freelance and needed to breakout of the house and find a space to work, so I was on the lookout and came across Antenna. When I went in for the first time there was a sense of people working but it was also very relaxed and not completely quiet. There’s a nice atmosphere, it’s very welcoming and inviting.

I normally get coffee and lunch when I’m in Antenna, which has meant that I talk to staff whenever I’m in the building. Everyone who works at the restaurant are always amazing, very friendly and make the place such a welcoming environment, the same can be said with the reception staff. I’ve also gotten to know other members too – it’s great to be surrounded by other creative people.

You’ve recently been working with some Music Business students from Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies. How has your experience been working with them?

I became aware of the possibility when reading the Antenna newsletter, where there was an article about Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies offering student internships. I liked the idea and so I got speaking to Rob Hoare, Confetti’s Head of Employability, and he helped me to arrange the opportunity.

I chose to get help from students because it gave us a chance to draw on their youthful ideas, and provide them with industry insights and experience of working in a fast-paced environment. I’ve always worked with volunteers and young writers, I feel it’s very important to try and improve their writing and knowledge, which is a process that I enjoy and makes me better at what I do too. I want to continue doing this with Songlines.

The internship helped them to develop their proofing skills, writing news and Q&A articles, as well as doing admin such as sending emails and scheduling interviews. They were really helpful, and it was nice to introduce them to different music – that was the most enjoyable bit!

Tell us more about the student project?

The main purpose of the project was to give Songlines some presence in Nottingham, and also to try and have a team, at least temporarily, based in Nottingham. Songlines has an office in London but our team is actually based in Nottingham, South Africa, Poland and London, and so we are rarely all in a room together. I thought it’d be nice to try and create some kind of presence in Nottingham. Also, I personally enjoy working with students and people who want to learn, and I’m certain that this process makes me better at my job.

Was the project as successful as you hoped it would be?

It certainly was. It was the first time I’ve worked with interns for Songlines, and so it was very much new territory and if I did it again I would make some changes, which I think would make it a better experience for everyone. But, for the first experience it was great. The interns helped us through completing some of our tasks, but more than that, it was about sharing experiences and knowledge, and when you’re doing that with people outside of your field, you gain even more knowledge and perspective from it. Confetti’s written an article about the students’ experience. If you’d like to find out more, I’d recommend checking it out.

Would this be something you would be looking to do again in the future?

Yes, I would love to be able to continue this in the future. Obviously, the interns helped in the short term with the various tasks we asked them to complete. In the long term, I hope that we can maintain a strong relationship with Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, Antenna and Metronome, and embed ourselves within the Nottingham community.

Russell (left) and Lee (right)

What are your plans for the future of Songlines Magazine?

To get more readers and to try and make it more popular, whether that’s reading the print or digital version. I want to retain our core audience but also get some younger readers involved. There aren’t many music magazines like Songlines and so it’ll be great to introduce new people to it.

If people want to get in touch, are you happy for them to reach out?

Of course! I am always open to hear from people with new ideas who want to get involved. You can contact me at [email protected].

Can you offer a student or graduate work opportunity?

Join other Antenna members and tenants enjoying the positive impact a student placement or graduate internship can bring to your business.

If you have a project in mind, speak to Robert Hoare Confetti’s Head of Employability, email [email protected] to start the conversation.

Not an Antenna member or tenant?

Antenna is Nottingham’s most established co-working and flexible office space. Whether you’re a freelancer or small creative company looking for space, Antenna offers flexible memberships from only £8.95 per month and a great city-centre location.

Find out more by heading over to our membership page.