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Tom Tom Mag: Born From The Womb Of Digital With The Mission Of Giving Female Drummers The Respect That Google Search Engines Didn’t – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mindy Abovitz-Monk, Founder & Publisher…

February 4, 2019

It was really not my decision, it was the people who were already coming to our parties and the people who were looking at our website and really wanted to see our content in print and I really had no idea what that was going to do to my life and how it was going to change everything. But I agreed to do print because I felt like you couldn’t ignore print; you can’t ignore print, it’s an object. And I knew that we were going to make the print quality as high as we could. And we were going to design it really well. So, I figured we would get a lot of respect, that female drummers would get a lot of respect, once we had a print object. More so than if it was just digital.” Mindy Abovitz-Monk (On the print edition being born from digital)…

 In 2009, a young woman decided to put “female drummer” into the Google search engine to see what results came up and was appalled with the content that was available to her. Everything from bikini-clad women standing next to drum sets, to articles about whether or not women could play drums was about her only choices when it came to something that she was passionate about, but nothing substantial or meaningful was to be found. So, she decided to do something about it. And that was eventually to start her own brand; her own movement.

Mindy Abovitz-Monk is a self-taught drummer and drum machine programmer with a Masters in Media Studies from The New School in New York. She started Tom Tom Magazine; the first and only magazine about female drummers, in 2009 with the goal to change Google search results for the word pairing, “female drummer.” And that she did. Tom Tom is now a full color print magazine and media company with global distribution that reaches millions.

I spoke with Mindy recently about Tom Tom and the mega influence it has had on female drummers and women musicians in general. As a feminist and an activist herself, Mindy is determined to take on ethics and morality in media making and to do it across all of Tom Tom’s platforms, including the print magazine. She hopes to impact the music industry through print media, new media, showcases, panels and community interactions and see a large increase of female drummers in the next ten years. The magazine itself has a feminist mission and seeks to raise awareness about female percussionists from all over the world and hopes to inspire women and girls of all ages to drum, while strengthening and building the community of otherwise fragmented female musicians.

To some, it may seem a lofty goal, but to Mindy, it’s a way of life and her message. But more importantly, it’s the worthy message of her brand. And now, without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mindy Abovitz-Monk, founder and publisher, Tom Tom Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On the genesis of Tom Tom Mag: I’m a feminist and I have a degree in media from The New School in New York, and I have been drumming since I was 21-years-old and working in the music industry, both as a volunteer and for paid work since I moved to New York City in 2002. Also, I’ll back up just a little; when I was a teenager I was introduced to Riot grrrl music, which has had a resurgence recently, but it’s basically an unapologetic genre of music made by women. The women were not necessarily adept at their instruments, but they could really create their messaging, and that inspired me really early on. Fast forward to New York City about 20 years later, then my introduction to Riot grrrl, and I had been working in the music industry; I had been volunteering in the music industry and I had been drumming, touring, and I realized that I didn’t think that female drummers were getting very good representation. And specifically in Google search. I Google searched girl drummer back in 2009 and the results were offensive. It was like pictures of girls next to drum sets in bikinis and articles about whether or not girls could play drums. And I decided if things still looked like that in the media, it was going to be up to someone like me to change it.

On Tom Tom Mag, the print edition, being born from the womb of digital: It was really not my decision, it was the people who were already coming to our parties and the people who were looking at our website and really wanted to see our content in print and I really had no idea what that was going to do to my life and how it was going to change everything. But I agreed to do print because I felt like you couldn’t ignore print; you can’t ignore print, it’s an object. And I knew that we were going to make the print quality as high as we could. And we were going to design it really well. So, I figured we would get a lot of respect, that female drummers would get a lot of respect, once we had a print object. More so than if it was just digital.

On whether launching the magazine has been a walk in a rose garden for her or she has had some challenges along the way: No, it was never a walk in a rose garden. The only rose garden part of this entire experience has been the support coming from our fans and from our community. That was an overwhelming blossoming garden and continues to be. Every other part was a challenge and a hurdle; print was difficult in 2009 and it’s difficult today. Monetizing what so many people consider to be a niche subject around a niche market has been challenging and difficult. Prior to us coming along, the majority of the drum industry didn’t even believe that there were female drummers.

On the biggest mistake she made and how she corrected it: I honestly am not going to believe that we make mistakes, so I can’t off the top of my head think of the biggest mistake we made. But I can tell you a mistake that was perceived to be made this past year and the consequences that we faced because of it. We released an issue themed “Sex + Love” at the beginning of last year. We’ve been theming our issues almost the whole time and so we themed that issue “Sex + Love.” Of course we’re still talking about drums, percussion, and beatnikking. We talked about sex toy guide for tours, band names that had racy names like “Thunderpussy” and “Boob Sweat.” We talked about your relationship with your bandmates and being single on the road. We did not inform our advertisers that we were theming our issue “Sex + Love” and we ended up losing close to $50,000 of sponsorship money.

On the most pleasant moment of her journey: I have had many, many pleasant moments. But one really pleasant moment that I had was when I put in a proposal to MoMA PS1, which is a museum in Queens, to show the museum drummers. I put a proposal together, it was a total stab in the dark. I didn’t think that they would agree and they did. And I think that allowed me to broaden my horizons and to realize that we were going to reach people outside of just the music industry. And that the art world saw value in us, by valuing us as the female drummer and also in me as an owner of this magazine and as someone who can use different platforms to articulate a similar message. And that platform was their museum. So, that was an incredible moment for me.

On whether the magazine has given some people not only hope, but also ignited interest in them to get into this field: Yes, 100 percent. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but there’s Tom Tom Magazine, which I started; there’s Hit Like a Girl, which I co-founded, which is a female drummer contest that’s global and based online. She Shreds Magazine started because of Tom Tom and loads of other media companies and organizations kind of sprouted up and felt supported by us or felt inspired by us. And I think Tom Tom itself and all of the other companies that started up because of us has greatly affected the music industry and introduced many more girls and women to it. And they have given the women already there more confidence to stand up and promote themselves. And to ask for things, such as tour money, or whatever it might be.

On what she hopes to accomplish with the brand in 2019: This year is a very big year for us, it’s our 10 year anniversary year. That whole landmark happened for us 10 years ago, which was launching the blog, buying our URL, and finally at the end of the year in 2009, we printed our first issue. So we’re spending the entire year, this year, looking back at what we did, focusing on what we’re doing now and readjusting for 2020 to what we want to do in the future, what impact we want to make moving forward.

On anything she’d like to add: I would add that my main reason for starting this was to infuse ethics and morals into media making. And I do believe as a media maker, and it seems like almost all of us are one now, if you have a social media handle or you have Twitter or Instagram or you have a blog, I feel like we all have a responsibility to portray accurate stories that inspire folks to be themselves. And there was a drought for that when I started the magazine and I feel like in a lot of ways there’s still a need for people to step up and tell their true stories.

On the biggest misconception she thinks people have about her: The biggest misconception that people have about me is if they don’t know me, they might think that I’m just all business and not very friendly actually. When you step into a position like the one I have, you don’t have a lot of time and that may look elusive to someone from the outside, such as if I don’t return an email, which is very often. Or if I don’t have a lot of time to talk at a show or a party. So, I think people might not realize that I’m very warm, very caring, and very generous, but with only a limited amount of time in the day. Maybe that’s the biggest misconception. (Laughs)

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: Back in the day you would have caught me drumming or running to town for a house party, a house show. These days you’re going to find me cooking, playing with my dog, catching up with a friend, or watching some kind of documentary that’s inspiring.

On what she would have tattooed upon her brain that would be there forever and no one could ever forget about her: I want them to think about the power that they have as an individual. In everything I do, I hope to show people that they have, as an individual and as a small group and then a larger group if they can, that they have the power to set change.Years ago I used to love the quote “With great power comes great responsibility.” But these days I think I would say “Be kind and gentle with myself.” That’s where I’m at right now.

On what keeps her up at night: The health of my loved ones. But in relationship to Tom Tom, what keeps me up at night is trying to understand where information is being disseminated to the younger generation most. I am desperate to know where everyone is, what’s the media watering hole, and where is it going to be in two to five years from now, because I want to be wherever it is. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about YouTube , Instagram, and Snapchat, trying to understand how we can be a part of it. That keeps me up at night.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mindy Abovitz-Monk, founder and publisher, Tom Tom Magazine.

Samir Husni: Can you tell me the genesis of Tom Tom Mag?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: I’m a feminist and I have a degree in media from The New School in New York, and I have been drumming since I was 21-years-old and working in the music industry, both as a volunteer and for paid work since I moved to New York City in 2002. Also, I’ll back up just a little; when I was a teenager I was introduced to Riot grrrl music, which has had a resurgence recently, but it’s basically an unapologetic genre of music made by women. The women were not necessarily adept at their instruments, but they could really create their messaging, and that inspired me really early on.

Fast forward to New York City about 20 years later, then my introduction to Riot grrrl, and I had been working in the music industry; I had been volunteering in the music industry and I had been drumming, touring, and I realized that I didn’t think that female drummers were getting very good representation. And specifically in Google search. I Google searched girl drummer back in 2009 and the results were offensive. It was like pictures of girls next to drum sets in bikinis and articles about whether or not girls could play drums. And I decided if things still looked like that in the media, it was going to be up to someone like me to change it.

I knew how to code, per three-level of coding and SCO to search engine documentations. I started a blog with the sole intention to change Google search results around “female drummer,” “woman drummer,” and “girl drummer,” and that very quickly evolved into a website, events, and then within one year, a print magazine focusing on female drummers, beatnikers, and producers, essentially just to give credibility and a home to the women of the past, present and future who were and are going to be drummers, and who didn’t really have a home until then.

Samir Husni: So, Tom Tom Mag, the print edition, was born from the womb of digital?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: Yes. And it was really not my decision, it was the people who were already coming to our parties and the people who were looking at our website and really wanted to see our content in print and I really had no idea what that was going to do to my life and how it was going to change everything. But I agreed to do print because I felt like you couldn’t ignore print; you can’t ignore print, it’s an object. And I knew that we were going to make the print quality as high as we could. And we were going to design it really well. So, I figured we would get a lot of respect, that female drummers would get a lot of respect, once we had a print object. More so than if it was just digital.

Samir Husni: And now 35 quarterly issues later, do you feel your journey has been like a walk in a rose garden, or have you had many challenges along the way? And if so, how did you overcome them?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: No, it was never a walk in a rose garden. The only rose garden part of this entire experience has been the support coming from our fans and from our community. That was an overwhelming blossoming garden and continues to be. Every other part was a challenge and a hurdle; print was difficult in 2009 and it’s difficult today. Monetizing what so many people consider to be a niche subject around a niche market has been challenging and difficult. Prior to us coming along, the majority of the drum industry didn’t even believe that there were female drummers.

And so my biggest challenge was to convince this industry that we existed. And not only that we existed, but to invest in us, so to sponsor and advertise within every platform of our magazine. Distribution and essentially every conversation that you might imagine a business owner having was for the most part challenging and then rewarding. Challenging in that I was pressed to convince people that female drummers are not a niche, we are a viable customer to speak to. And then rewarding when people came around and agreed and actually gave us a chance, opened their doors and let us perform. Larger companies invested in us overtime and that made it all worthwhile.

Samir Husni: If you had to evaluate this journey you’ve been on, what has been the biggest mistake you’ve made and how did you correct it?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: That’s a good question. I honestly am not going to believe that we make mistakes, so I can’t off the top of my head think of the biggest mistake we made. But I can tell you a mistake that was perceived to be made this past year and the consequences that we faced because of it. We released an issue themed “Sex + Love” at the beginning of last year. We’ve been theming our issues almost the whole time and so we themed that issue “Sex + Love.” Of course we’re still talking about drums, percussion, and beatnikking. We talked about sex toy guide for tours, band names that had racy names like “Thunderpussy” and “Boob Sweat.” We talked about your relationship with your bandmates and being single on the road. We did not inform our advertisers that we were theming our issue “Sex + Love” and we ended up losing close to $50,000 of sponsorship money.

When members of the drum industry’s advertisers who lean more conservative and are what they call family-oriented, or whatever they said, gave us a call and said they were not happy and would have to see the advertising piece for the next issue, I gave all of this tons of thought and even wrote out an entire podcast season that addressed the issue of censorship in the media and the relationship between advertisers and media makers.

Some people would say that we made a mistake by printing racy content and not letting our advertisers know what we were doing. And other people, myself included, would say this is the same content that we’ve been printing the whole time. We’re a feminist organization and we’re an activist organization and we always put our readers and our community first. And our readers and our community need to know that positive sexuality exists, that you can be in control of your own sexual narrative and there are lots of ways that that exists and that’s what this issue addressed. How to be safe as a musician and have an intimate lifestyle.

So, we’re true to our mission and we lose some of our sponsors. It was a huge hit for us and we’ve been basically suffering all year, all last year. Was it a mistake? I don’t know. I don’t think so, but it’s a business mistake maybe, if you look at it simply as dollars and cents.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment in this journey? Was it when the first issue came out or when issue 35 came out, or something else?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: I have had many, many pleasant moments. But one really pleasant moment that I had was when I put in a proposal to MoMA PS1, which is a museum in Queens, to show the museum drummers. I put a proposal together, it was a total stab in the dark. I didn’t think that they would agree and they did. And I think that allowed me to broaden my horizons and to realize that we were going to reach people outside of just the music industry. And that the art world saw value in us, by valuing us as the female drummer and also in me as an owner of this magazine and as someone who can use different platforms to articulate a similar message. And that platform was their museum. So, that was an incredible moment for me.

Samir Husni: Have you noticed since the magazine launched whether there has been an increase of female drummers or the audience has stayed the same? Has the magazine given some people not only hope, but also ignited interest in them to get into this field?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: Yes, 100 percent. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but there’s Tom Tom Magazine, which I started; there’s Hit Like a Girl, which I co-founded, which is a female drummer contest that’s global and based online. She Shreds Magazine started because of Tom Tom and loads of other media companies and organizations kind of sprouted up and felt supported by us or felt inspired by us. And I think Tom Tom itself and all of the other companies that started up because of us has greatly affected the music industry and introduced many more girls and women to it. And they have given the women already there more confidence to stand up and promote themselves. And to ask for things, such as tour money, or whatever it might be.

I don’t have a hard number, but I would say at least we’ve grown the female drummer industry by 10 percent, probably more like 20 to 25 percent. And in general, girls and women in music by 10 percent as well, probably more.

Samir Husni: If you and I were having this conversation a year from now, what would you hope to tell me you had accomplished with Tom Tom Mag?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: This year is a very big year for us, it’s our 10 year anniversary year. That whole landmark happened for us 10 years ago, which was launching the blog, buying our URL, and finally at the end of the year in 2009, we printed our first issue. So we’re spending the entire year, this year, looking back at what we did, focusing on what we’re doing now and readjusting for 2020 to what we want to do in the future, what impact we want to make moving forward.

So, this is a very big year for us. It’s evaluation; we’re stepping back from some projects; we’re pushing forward into new projects, doing things that we’ve never done before and pressing pause on things that we’ve done in a rote fashion. All in the hopes of celebrating what we’ve done, celebrating where we are and celebrating where we’re heading in the future. So, I think this time next year I’ll probably tell you a lot that I don’t know right now. But I’m hoping to learn a lot this year.

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: I would add that my main reason for starting this was to infuse ethics and morals into media making. And I do believe as a media maker, and it seems like almost all of us are one now, if you have a social media handle or you have Twitter or Instagram or you have a blog, I feel like we all have a responsibility to portray accurate stories that inspire folks to be themselves. And there was a drought for that when I started the magazine and I feel like in a lot of ways there’s still a need for people to step up and tell their true stories.

I just want to see more of that happen in the future and I hope to continue to do the same, to continue telling stories about real people and inspiring other people to feel good about themselves and confident to be greater than who they are.

Samir Husni: What’s the biggest misconception people have about you?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: The biggest misconception that people have about me is if they don’t know me, they might think that I’m just all business and not very friendly actually. When you step into a position like the one I have, you don’t have a lot of time and that may look elusive to someone from the outside, such as if I don’t return an email, which is very often. Or if I don’t have a lot of time to talk at a show or a party. So, I think people might not realize that I’m very warm, very caring, and very generous, but with only a limited amount of time in the day. Maybe that’s the biggest misconception. (Laughs)

Samir Husni:If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; drumming; or something else? How do you unwind?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: Back in the day you would have caught me drumming or running to town for a house party, a house show. These days you’re going to find me cooking, playing with my dog, catching up with a friend, or watching some kind of documentary that’s inspiring.

Samir Husni: If you could have one thing tattooed upon your brain that no one would ever forget about you, what would it be?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: I want them to think about the power that they have as an individual. In everything I do, I hope to show people that they have, as an individual and as a small group and then a larger group if they can, that they have the power to set change. Years ago I used to love the quote “With great power comes great responsibility.” But these days I think I would say “Be kind and gentle with myself.” That’s where I’m at right now.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Mindy Abovitz-Monk: The health of my loved ones. But in relationship to Tom Tom, what keeps me up at night is trying to understand where information is being disseminated to the younger generation most. I am desperate to know where everyone is, what’s the media watering hole, and where is it going to be in two to five years from now, because I want to be wherever it is. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about YouTube , Instagram, and Snapchat, trying to understand how we can be a part of it. That keeps me up at night.

Samir Husni: Thank you.  

 

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