10 Questions with ... Gus Wenner
June 1, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Gus Wenner is the Director of RollingStone.com, where he oversees all digital initiatives including editorial, product development, social, marketing, advertising sales and partnerships. During his tenure, Wenner managed the launch of several interactive digital features including "The Geeks on the Front Line" and "Inside the Belly of the Beast." Under Wenner's direction, RollingStone.com reached an all-time high of 13.4 million visitors earlier this year. Currently, Wenner is leading the launch of RS Country, a website dedicated to country music, and the opening of a Nashville office for Rolling Stone. He is also responsible for RollingStone.com's redesign in 2014. Wenner graduated from Brown University in 2012.
1. Was there ever any doubt you'd end up working in the family business?
For me, there was. For others, there wasn't.
2. You already oversee rollingstone.com - why is this the time for a country version?
I love Country music, and so do a lot of our readers. I think Rolling Stone can do a beautiful job covering the genre on an ongoing basis with this platform while maintaining the level of journalistic integrity our readers have come to expect. After spending time in Nashville and meeting with major record labels, artist managers, and publicists, it really solidified our thinking that we could offer a unique perspective.
3. How will it be better or different from what's currently out there and consumer focused?
We will treat Country the way we treat every other subject we cover. We will take it seriously, we will look beneath the surface, and we will always focus on what brought us here in the first place - the music.
4. I understand you are also a musician - did you spend much time listening to Country music growing up? If so, who defined your snapshot of what Country music is?
Yes. The first song I ever sang was "Silver Wings" by Merle Haggard. And then my friend Gibby Haynes introduced me to George Jones, Tom T. Hall, Dolly Parton, and Junior Brown. But from a young age Bob Dylan has been my hero and his music opened up a world of songwriting to me - he took so many queues from country.
5. And what is your snapshot now? Why do you think the music is so mainstream?
I don't think it's entirely mainstream, but I do think it's great. Lately, I have listened the most to Eric Church's new record and Miranda Lambert's new record, especially her song "Smokin' and Drinkin'." I like Kip Moore too.
6. Under your direction, the visitor stats for RS.com reached all-time highs - so, do you simply apply some of those mechanics to this new product, or will there be nuances just for Country fans?
There will absolutely be nuances, which is why we opened our first ever offices in Nashville. By no means will this endeavor be formulaic. We want to get to the heart and soul of country music.
7. Speaking of Country music fans, what's your thought on who that is right now? The format has traditionally been about adults 35+, but more 18-34 and even 12-24s are using Country now. What part of a 12-54 audience gets the most attention?
Rolling Stone has always championed youth culture, and this is no different. That said, we write about what we believe in, regardless of audience.
8. More so than any other formats, radio is considered a source for music discovery for Country fans and they love having a genuine, interactive relationship with their radio station. How much coverage, or attention will you spend with this aspect of the format?
If it's important, Rolling Stone Country will cover it.
9. Rolling Stone has always appealed to a more liberal audience - but Country fans - even younger ones - tend to be more conservative. How much will you calibrate your approach?
Rolling Stone has a very unique lens, and always has. Rolling Stone Country will draw from that lens, but will focus primarily on the music.
10. You had skeptics when you took over RS.com at such a young age - now you'll have more skeptics as you venture into relatively uncharted waters for both you and the publication. How will you win over those who might say you're too young, don't fully understand the format and might even be a carpet-bagger?
I am too young for the job; I don't fully understand the format yet; but one thing I certainly am not is a carpetbagger. Rolling Stone has never branched out into specific genres until now. Rolling Stone Country is the first genre-specific venture by the magazine, and I think that says a lot about our dedication to Country music.