In 2014, over 6,500 people descended upon the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame for the first annual Alternative Press Music Awards, a ceremony that co-creator Mike Shea explains was two years in the making. “The show had been wanted for a while from our fans. We’d been asked about it for two years before doing the first one. The market wanted it and the community wanted it.” Co-creator Josh Bernstein adds, “I think it was long overdue and much needed. This genre really needs a night of its own.”
It is an award ceremony for fans of the rock and metal genres, a place to see artists who are often shunned by the popular mainstream get the respect and admiration they richly deserve. Essentially, it’s a place where outcasts feel like they not only belong but have a great deal to offer.
On July 22nd, the second annual APMAs will be held in Cleveland at “The Q”, the same arena that hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers. In anticipation and excitement for this event, we caught up with Shea and Bernstein to discuss the ceremony and what it means for fans. Read on for this exclusive interview.
In Jurassic World, Bryce Dallas Howard’s character “Claire” states, “Every time we unveiled a new attraction, attendance has spiked.” It’s a given that an event can’t really stay the same and expect people to love it over and over again. You need to up the ante, make things more exciting. Shea and Bernstein are well aware that with the success of the first APMA, they’d have to bring things up a bit.
“[Last year] we did it outdoors because we thought it’d be cool,” Shea states. “We put it on in the park behind the Rock [And Roll] Hall [of Fame], which had nothing. We had to build everything, just like Riot Fest. It was a tremendous amount of work. Right off the bat, we decided to take this year indoors. The city of Cleveland, the people at “The Q”, were amazing. We were blown away that we’re doing it where LeBron plays, where Katy Perry plays.
“Our show is much bigger than the Golden Gods,” Shea adamantly declares. “So we wanted to make our show bigger, grander, and flashier, which you can’t necessarily do with the metal crowd. But with our crowd we can and they embrace it.”
The 2014 event was such a smash hit that it became the number one trending topic on Twitter for over 24 hours. Shea discussed with me when he knew that things had become bigger than he had imagine: “It was the night before at the main hotel where a lot of the bands and VIPs were congregating. A lot of photos were being taken for their social media accounts. Everyone was smiling and happy with drinks in hand. These were people who didn’t get to see each other often because their tours were always overlapping. It was like a family reunion.” He continues, “It kinda became this viral thing where, by the show the next day, the social media posts became even stronger and it blew up so much that we ended up trending on Twitter for more than 24 hours. We never planned it but hoped for it. The bands took so many pictures hanging out with their friends and the fans were retweeting it all. That’s when we realized this was much bigger than we originally thought.”
Bernstein, who also created the Revolver Golden Gods ceremony, adds, “[The industry] is much like horror. If you’re not in the know, you’re not in the know and that’s it. But if you ARE in the know, it’s everything to you! You know what Wes Craven’s working on, what George Romero had for breakfast. What our numbers proved is that this isn’t a Cleveland phenomenon, it wasn’t an L.A. thing or a New York thing. It’s a global thing. And that’s with the show only having aired in America. It trended worldwide. That showed us that we really on touched the tip of the iceberg on this.
“This year, being able to stream it globally, we’ll be really able to get a true sense of how big this audience is. I think this year we’ll really see the secret being let out. While this scene is very insular, I think we’re going to see a lot more bands becoming household names. It’s kinda like Eli Roth and these guys that are jumping on independent horror films like ‘Paranormal Activity’, bringing them into the mainstream. It’s really exciting to see.”
I questioned Bernstein to expand further upon this idea of the “insular scene”: “My last 10 to 12 years in the business were with the metal side of things. But what I can say is that this scene, be it punk rock or metal or alternative music, is that it’s very insular. It’s pushed aside by country, pop, EDM, and those genres. They don’t get the light shined on them that much or get invited to the “big boy” parties, so it’s nice what we have. That being said, while it’s a very insular scene it’s also a very supportive scene that is, I have to say, utterly refreshing.”
Shea adds his own opinions on the scene and how this generation seems more openminded. “The underground is very diverse, going from very hard metal all the way to over to the emo revival and pop. Kids today seem to get along better today in terms of appreciating each other’s musical tastes. It didn’t always used to be like that. But today it’s very diverse. Everyone has this iPod shuffle mentality when it comes to thinking about music and that’s so much better. People allow each other to have their guilty pleasures a lot more easily.”
I asked Shea how he envisioned the show appearing in 5 or 10 years. “Oh man, I couldn’t even get to that spot right now. We’re thinking in two-year increments because so much in the industry changes. Right now, we just want to make the show more popular and we want to have creative special guests. But we also want to do things that others aren’t doing and it’s because the names aren’t big enough for their show or they don’t think it’d be something most people would be interested in. With our market, we can do it and our audience would love it but if you took it to ABC, they’d be like, “What?” That’s what we’re working on. If somebody couldn’t make it this year, we’re already talking to them about next year.”
Bernstein takes it a step forward, bringing up the power and mission of Alternative Press, stating, “AP has always championed the music of the youth and is the next wave coming up. AP was the first national cover for Nine Inch Nails, The Beastie Boys, Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, My Chemical Romance, on and on. The magazine acts as a kind of crystal ball, being ahead of the curve. We take pride in not only shining the light but also nurturing that talent. We need new rock stars. The Rolling Stones and AC/DC are great but they’re not going to fill stadiums forever. The kids growing up now? They have their own heroes, their own music.”
Perhaps the most important moment was when Bernstein made it clear that budgetary limitations didn’t interfere with his and Shea’s intentions of being honest and true to themselves, the artists, and, most importantly, the fans. “We like the fact that the mold was broken in year one and now there are no rules. I can’t compete with MTV or The Grammys and their budget. The one thing we have DO have is authenticity. We have a name and brand that has always treated the readers, the fans, with respect for 30 years. We focus on that.”
The 2nd annual APMAs will be held in Cleveland, OH on July 22nd. Tickets are still available here.