Features February 6, 2020

Hot Seat: Luke Byatt on four years of Futuremag Music

Hot Seat: Luke Byatt on four years of Futuremag Music
Luke Byatt / by Harry White

Breaking into the world of publishing on your own is no easy feat. Breaking into the world of independent music publishing? Well, that’s even harder.

Luke Byatt has weathered the many familiar challenges that face start-up publications, having founded Futuremag Music four years ago.

To celebrate the milestone, Futuremag is hosting mixes from Wongo, Self Tape, YesYou, KLP, Tina Says, BRUX, and LO’99. There’s also a limited run of t-shirts available.

Byatt is in the Hot Seat with TMN this week, chatting about how he got started, what drives him, and the vital role independent publications play in today’s music industry.

What’s your background and how did you get started in independent publishing?

Music has always been a fundamental aspect of my life. From a very young age, my parents introduced me to a multitude of genres through their diverse, and progressive music collection. Their passion for both the weird and wonderful as well as, the pristine and popular shaped who I am as a music consumer. An album I loved was Garden Path, a compilation of contemporary classical and indie morphed with live recordings of the Australian bush. On the other spectrum of things Booka Shade, Moby, The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy all shaped my love for dance music.

As my scope of tastes broadened throughout high school, I found myself spending five or more hours a day trawling through forums, SoundCloud, and triple J Unearthed to find new and exciting music. During this time blogging and SoundCloud culture were roaring, but these publications, nor international outlets were covering the underground electronic sounds I was loving. During this period of drastic exploration, I met German producer and DJ, Mindsight (Josh Neumann). We began chatting and he approached me with the early concept of Futuremag Music. For the first year, the blog was in a constant state of sink or swim, with Josh and I continually reinventing the mission and purpose. Towards the end of the first year, Josh’s investment in the Futuremag project dwindled as his other endeavours were taking off; he now runs an incredible arts and events space in Munich.

Through a passion, grit and dedication to building the Futuremag Music brand, I have developed a publication that is recognised as a niche tastemaker in the domestic and international marketplaces. I am currently managing a team of photographers and writers who contribute their time to produce content for the site. Futuremag Music wouldn’t be where it is today without the hard work and drive the contributors bring to the table. An innate value is providing a platform for artists, creatives, and aspiring industry to showcase their talent and skills in a scene that is saturated and transient.

Outside of the publication, I work as the digital accounts and streaming manager at TMRW Music Group, manage Adelaide vocalist and producer PNK FME, consult strategy with independent acts DENNIS. & Self Tape, as well as operate as a freelance video editor. Each of the artists I’m working with have a solid future in store, so keep an eye out. I previously handled the publicity for UK wave label, Liquid Ritual and independent art-pop artist Azura.

What motivated you to start your own publication?

Sheer curiosity and naivety was the motivation. I have a love for the underground scene, and that interest wasn’t being met by the media of 2016. When I began, I had no connection to the music industry, nor an understanding of the media landscape; I was traversing technical and intense terrain completely blind. I eventually tapped into the scene and resources became available. Futuremag Music’s history can be boiled down to jumping in with a flexible plan and adapting. 

Vivienne Mellish (Co-Founder at GYROstream), Caspar Harvey (Co-Founder at House of Us), and Jordan Munns (Creative Director at Best Before) entered the fold around the same time I was finding my feet. Viv, Caspar and Jordan took me under their wings, teaching me the ropes and guiding me through their sides of the industry. These early learnings allowed me to focus on the core purpose of Futuremag Music, “to provide personable glimpses into music”. 

Strategy plays a big part in Futuremag Music’s current processes, but the genuine curiosity and dedication to cover interesting music and creatives still underpins everything. It’s exciting to see other young outlets cast their mould in the Australian music media landscape; sharing that same drive and fervour that I did back in 2016.

FMM Core Team (Katy Roubin, Harry White, Luke Byatt) + MUTO + The Culprit Club (Sarah Hazelhurst)

Why do you think independent blogs and publications are an important part of the music ecosystem, and of the wider industry. What role do Futuremag Music and others play in the music cycle?

Independent blogs and publications provide insight to the side of the music ecosystem that larger or more mainstream media do not. Comparing mass media platforms with specialist outlets is like equating chocolate cake to a pavlova; both deliver a delectable experience but they’re in different lanes, catering to different tastes. An audience might love both, have a preference for one over the other, or choose to bypass both options and engage with something else.

Independent publications have the opportunity to risk supporting incredibly niche scenes. For instance, Futuremag Music was an early champion of the wave movement, an avant-garde sector of the bass scene. I’m incredibly thankful to work with Oskar Barczak, and the team at Liquid Ritual to collaborate and form a symbiotic connection to an establishing community. This union led to growth and a partnership that would’ve been inaccessible if Futuremag Music engaged with a well rooted genre such as pop or house. Wave is now being propelled into the sights of a wider audience with media heavyweights such as BBC Radio 1, triple j, Mixmag, and Complex are jumping on board, plus DJ support from RL Grime, Hardwell, Porter Robinson and more.

Independent publications give artists and creatives a foothold in a competitive industry. There are artists that are worldwide sensations because they were discovered on an independent outlet. Billie Eilish was discovered by Interscope Records’ Nick Groff, due to early support from HillyDilly. Another example is A&R and other industry professionals reaching out directly to writers and editors to gain insight into what’s new and fresh. At the end of the day, Independent blogs and outlets are a discovery platform and a fundamental part of the foundation for artists, communities and industry to make their start.

Shifting away from an artist focus, independent publications also work as a launching point for careers in the scene. The music industry isn’t a traditional sector where you’re required to have a degree to get a foot in the door. Blogs, community radio and internships are all valid points of entry. It’s about building experience, a portfolio, solid personal brand, and networking. Independent outlets, especially contributor operated ones provide that ground roots experience in a fairly flexible environment. I highly recommend music industry professionals having an understanding of music media and its operations.

What have been your biggest challenges to date, has there ever been a time when you considered calling it a day?

A challenge that I struggle with is understanding my limits. I jump into everything I do with 100% effort and at times it leads to me overextending myself. Every day in this four-year journey has been an ongoing growth of understanding to what’s achievable as an independent publication.

Futuremag Music has dabbled in various areas but has always returned to its core. None of these experiments were impactful on resources or public perception, but they did provide a taste of what is required to be successful in a particular field. With each new venture, I bolstered an understanding of what’s achievable with available resources. I’m comfortable where Futuremag Music is sitting currently, and I know it doesn’t sit in the same lane as larger media agencies.

Fleeting thoughts of what life would be like if I quit have been alluring when I’ve been incredibly disheartened with the music scene. That said, there’s never been a time where I seriously considered pulling the plug.

At one time I was balancing commitments to Futuremag Music, publicity for UK label Liquid Ritual, management for PNK FME, administration work for QMusic, full-time study at Griffith University and hospitality work. Since graduating my whole life has shifted and I moved to Sydney for a full-time role at the renowned TMRW Music Group. The experience and security TMRW has provided me, has allowed me to be in the strongest position I’ve been in my career yet. I couldn’t be more thankful.

I live for my career, and I’d be frustrated if I slowed down.

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