When I decided to launch a music blog, I had absolutely no idea where it would take me. I was a 20-year-old kid just about to finish my sophomore year of college, and decided to create an outlet for myself to share the music I was passionate about, a place where my discoveries could live as a source for others who were also interested. It started because I felt confident that people would be compelled to listen to my opinions on something that I really had no credibility to report on. But somehow, friends and family were curious about what I was listening to, or what I thought about the new song from (insert pop star here), or who had the potential to land on that year’s Lollapalooza lineup.
Luckily, this was right around the time during my collegiate career where I started really finding out what I wanted to study in school. I went in undecided in my major, but quickly decided on a Public Relations and Advertising degree, envisioning myself helping launch the next superstar into the stratosphere. I loved my PR classes, but a year into the program, I realized that my desire to share stories and exploring concepts through writing that I truly believed in fell in line with my school’s journalism program more than anything else. I decided to pursue a second major in journalism, and it helped me gain the confidence to believe in my writing abilities. Public relations was cool, and I certainly still respect the job and what it is in 2021, but I feel far more passionate about reporting and analyzing pop culture than being on the side that shapes it. I’ve also always felt far more capable sharing my thoughts through writing them than by speaking them—and I’m also not the most strategically-brained person (and that’s probably why I am not a Publicist).
Once I started realizing that my passion for writing and music could actually benefit my relationships in the music industry in my own way, it fueled my desire to make Chicago Haze bigger than anything I’ve ever accomplished. After I graduated from college, I moved home, like most of us do, and I was working my first full time job completely remotely for about a year. At the beginning of 2018, I decided to commit to writing a review on every show I went to (it totaled to 37 shows and a slew of festival performances). It was essentially an exercise for myself to improve my writing, but towards the end of that year’s summer, I decided to try something new and pitch my website to an artist’s press team to “host” me at the show (AKA, attend for free on a press pass) in exchange for writing about the event on my website.
I had no idea what I was doing, but I found an email I thought might be the write point to contact for my request, and BAM! It happened. My publication was being viewed (at least by one artist and their team) like it was a place where fans came for credible opinions on music. Once I felt like Chicago Haze’s content could stand on its own, I felt like I could do anything.
Fast forward to 2020, and I was coming off a great 2019, personally, professionally, and with the website. I had just transitioned into my first job strictly as a copywriter, and I had seen a lot of improvement with the website and what it could turn into. I dipped my toes in concert photography, shooting a handful of shows I was also writing about and having so much fun with!
In February 2020, I was granted my first ever press pass for a **FESTIVAL** !!! and in a matter of days, I was booked to go to South By Southwest in Austin, traveling and experiencing the festival by myself and as the “press.” It was an opportunity that I expected to completely change the trajectory of Chicago Haze, allowing me access to other major festivals like I had never gotten the chance at before.
But, like most of the world, COVID had other plans. South By Southwest was canceled less than a month after I was approved to attend, the festival was no longer happening. I felt bad for myself for just a little too long, and once we all realized the true magnitude of this pandemic, I got over it pretty quickly.
In 2019, I covered twenty shows for Chicago Haze and two in 2020 pre-covid, so you can imagine the shock to my system when it hit me that live shows would not be returning for quite some time. The music industry had to reset and resume existing in a new normal, and so did I. I was quickly furloughed at my job after just six months of working there, with hopes of returning to my job at the end of June. I packed a suitcase and my cat (who I sadly had to put down soon thereafter, the song “F2020” by Avenue Beat is literally about my life), and went back to my parents’ house for two months, realizing that the future of my website would being affected negatively if I didn’t make a quick pivot from writing about live music.
It took some time getting used to, but I learned how to write about music news, artist spotlights, new songs and albums, and the current state/future of the music industry post-COVID. In April 2020, I had the great luck of my first contributing writer, Emma Maliborski, reach out to me in hopes of becoming a part of the team. This was right around the time when I decided to grow the writing team and look for other writers to join, and Emma’s proactiveness in reaching out to me first was truly the catalyst for what our team is now. At the five-year anniversary of Chicago Haze (April 23, 2020), I posted an application for writers to join us. One year later, we’re a team of seven people. I still can’t believe it!
In January 2021, I moved to Los Angeles. I have lived in Illinois my entire life, and thought I would eventually move and try a new city when I felt ~ready~ for a change. Post-college, I was set on moving to Nashville, but quickly realized the city was far too small for my liking. New York City was way too overwhelming, which left Los Angeles for an option. It was a no brainer for me to move to a new city and try something new, and thanks to my first job out of furlough (which lasted from March to September of 2020 when I put my two weeks in), was based in LA, I decided to pull the trigger.
I put off changing Chicago Haze’s name for a long time. So long that I had friends and family asking me at random times what my plan was, or the occasional “you’re not in Chicago anymore, so what are you going to do?” yes, I know! I’ve been in Los Angeles for three months now and my publication is still associated with my old home. I get it. I think part of it was accepting that I was letting go of something that gave me so many incredible memories and opportunities and leaving it in the past. Though it’s not something that’s actually “gone,” it is still a chapter of my life I’m closing, but I’m ready to start a new one. I also wanted to give myself as much time as I could brainstorming what I wanted this rebranded publication to be. But today is this website’s six-year anniversary, which means it’s TIME! Welcome to Staged Haze.
Though not much is changing to the point where the publication is completely unfamiliar to our readers, things are going to be different, and I hope that Staged Haze’s mission statement rings true to those who decide to interact with it. What keeps me writing for a publication outside of my 40-hour work week? What gets me going to my desk and writing for hours on a weekend, at night before bed, during any pockets of free time? It’s simple: it’s the music. I have had such an impactful relationship with music for as far as I can remember, it’s simply a part of who I am now and what will forever be with me.
My earliest memories of music are when my mom would drive my sister around during the summers of my childhood, sitting in the backseat with a chapter book. James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, The (Dixie) Chicks, and ABBA were the soundtrack to those drives. The songs I associated with my family, the people I spent the most time with during formative years of my life. Music was there for me as much as it has ever been when I was 12-years-old, and my best friend and her father were killed in a car crash. “Let It Be” by The Beatles was the song I remember the most that played at their funeral as we walked out of the service. It was a comfort to me in a way that I had never known before, and simply became the catalyst for my love and passion for music and how it heals us. I sang in choir from third grade to senior year of high school, the songs being the backbone to some of my closest friendships to this day.
As an adult, music has been the one constant in my life. What I listened to on the earliest version of Spotify (when The Beatles’ catalog wasn’t on it) while I did my math homework as a senior in high school? Vampire Weekend. The music that I fell in love with during my first year of college? Pure Heroine by Lorde. The 1975’s debut album. Experiencing Hozier perform his first album at my first internship, JBTV. The band I saw at Lincoln Hall with a random girl who lived on another floor in my dorm room when I was 19? Bastille. The first album I listened to during and after a difficult first relationship? Absent Sounds by From Indian Lakes. The artist who stayed with me through it all? Taylor Swift, obviously. Her catalog has changed and grown with me more than any other artist: the one whose surprise album was on repeat during the most depressing summer of my life, where all I did was walk to the lakefront every day and made an excuse to get out of my apartment to get a coffee. The songs that still transport me back to months of directionless wandering, looking for meaning, equally hopeful and terrified for the future.
These incredible experiences in music have also taught me a LOT, primarily about music itself, and the industry that we’ve created for it in this country. There’s a lot of gatekeeping involved, which can not only make it incredibly difficult for artists to break through it at all if they don’t have any connections, money, or an estranged family member working high up, but it’s also structured to feel as if it’s impossible for an average human to comprehend its nuances.
This is something that has really begun to frustrate me over the last two years or so, and it’s something I want to emphasize in Staged Haze’s content. Do you understand the name change now? Things can be really fake and fabricated, but they can also be incredibly fascinating and worth watching (on a stage!) But at the root of the meaning, I don’t want our readers to be fed bullshit. I want our content to be clear, concise, and consumable in the ways that a Pitchfork album review is not. Do you want to understand why Scooter Braun bought Taylor’s masters and how she can actually re-record her music? Yeah, I did too! Do you want to know about NFTs and how they’re going to impact the industry? How artists actually get their music on editorial playlists? Let us show you.
Our thirst for sharing artists we’re passionate about will never fade, and it’s in fact the backbone to why this publication still exists. Writing about superstar artists and their new music is certainly still exciting, but we’re here to help you find the artists that are working independently, writing their own pitches, working their own merch tables. This journey has taken a new course, and we hope you’re willing to come along for the ride.
- Kristin Stahlke, founder of Staged Haze Magazine, FKA Chicago Haze.