F is for filter in this online jukebox

In just a few short years, FMagazine has become the digital music outlet of choice for the discerning downloader. And now it's heading to Los Angeles. By Meg Carter
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The Independent Online

The tiny Covent Garden flat which is the office of digital music bible FMagazine is in disarray. Removal men are packing boxes next door ahead of a move to leafy Kensington, and FMagazine co-founders Marquis Luca Bosurgi and Chrissie Adams are preparing to leave for Los Angeles to open FMagazine's Bel Air office before attending a convention in Las Vegas as guests of Microsoft. Their excitement, however, is palpable. "At last," says Adams, "after seven tough years, it seems our time has come."

FMagazine is what a magazine should be for a 21st-century media marketplace, its founders insist: independent, informed, passionate, eclectic, and accessible via different digital media platforms. It offers high-quality album-track audio streams from latest releases spanning a broad range of musical genres, and feisty editorial written by a team of independent music editors. A new feature - FMagazineTV - is "MTV for the 21st century", they not so humbly claim.

The British pair are unlikely leaders of a music TV revolution. Bosurgi, a former venture capitalist, and Adams, one-time model and founder of Nineties fashion industry magazine New Generation, met in 1998. Having spent a year in New York at the height of the dotcom boom, Adams was eager to move into digital publishing. Bosurgi, who had capital to invest, agreed to help her to create a high-quality online entertainment "experience". Their ambition was ahead of its time. Conceived as a multimedia music, art and culture magazine for students, FMagazine was first launched on CD-Rom.

Bosurgi and Adams quickly refined their product for an audience of 25-45 year-old urban dwellers, and moved it on to the internet where it established itself as a bit of an oddity: a website that called itself a magazine which mixed streamed audio and video with more conventional text and images. Content appeared within a traditional double-page spread format, and users navigated by clicking on the bottom right corner to turn to the next page. An online jukebox, meanwhile, allowed users to stream new and yet to be released tracks while browsing the 200-odd pages of content.

The glossy magazine production style, however, appealed to advertisers, including Adidas, Beck's and Harvey Nichols. And record labels quickly latched on to the opportunity that FMagazine's upmarket audience of early adopters provided for generating word of mouth for new albums and breakthrough acts.

As broadband internet access went mainstream, however, FMagazine changed again. "The format has now evolved into a form of interactive TV," explains Bosurgi. "Today, it's an entertainment experience which challenges the definition of 'magazine' - although I firmly believe that ours is the appropriate definition for tomorrow's media landscape."

A grand claim, perhaps, but one endorsed by Microsoft when, last autumn, the computer giant invited FMagazine on to its roster of content partners - which also include media goliaths AOL, MSN, Reuters and Napster - for the Windows XP Media Centre. The Media Centre lets you connect your home PC to your TV and even games console, enabling you to consume TV, DVDs, CDs and internet content as if it all came from just a single source using a simple remote control.

Suddenly, FMagazine was hanging out with the big boys; it has since been bundled into Microsoft's latest games console, the XBox 360. And this, along with increased availability of broadband internet access and the phenomenal success of the iPod, is behind Adams's claim that their time has come.

"The iPod presents people with a fundamental challenge, and us with a big opportunity," she explains. "How can you find out about the best new music, and where can you get it. Not so long ago how many tracks you had on your iPod was what counted. Now, however, people have grown more discerning: it's what those tracks are that counts. Music has become such common currency nowadays that everyone's expected to have an opinion."

Despite the proliferation of music-related websites jostling for attention, finding good new music has become harder, not easier, she claims. Music radio stations revolve around computer-generated playlists. Most music-related websites focus on news and gossip. Record labels, meanwhile, still rely heavily on plugging certain acts while those without deep enough pockets risk languishing in obscurity.

"The 'F' in FMagazine stands for filter," Adams explains, "and that's our role - to cream off the best new music that we feature not because we're paid to, but because our editors believe it's truly great."

"We have good relationships with all the major record labels and many of the independents, but we reject 90 per cent of what we receive - we prefer to reflect what our editors believe is the best new music.

"Other music sites go for quantity; they feature whatever music they can get hold of; we're more choosy."

The music policy is simple, if subjective: good music across a selection of genres ranging from pop to reggae, drum'n'bass, metal, or rock. "Editorial is dictated by quality, not numbers," she insists. "Although that's not to say we're not into anything commercial - cool pop like the Sugababes, for example, could make it into FMagazine. But what we don't want is cheesy pop, like Chico."

Adams, who is also FMagazine's managing editor, oversees a virtual editorial team whose experience spans established titles such as NME, Melody Maker and Ministry. Rock editor Viv Craske is a former editor of Mixmag; metal and punk editor Ashley Bird used to edit Kerrang!. Some combine journalism with other music-related activities - house editor Lynda Phoenix is an established club DJ; Bird, meanwhile, plays in his own band, Iodine. A handful of US music editors will be recruited as soon as FMagazine has finalised the details of its new office in LA.

Editorial content changes every two weeks on a rolling basis to keep the site fresh. Altogether 150 albums are featured at any one time, with three tracks from each available for users to hear in full. Advertisers, meanwhile, can place either static ads or TV commercials on the site - users encounter a randomly scheduled full-screen commercial every three editorial pages they navigate.

Seven years in and FMagazine's regular readership exceeds 100,000; daily visits to the site are growing monthly by 20 per cent, and up to nine advertisers use the site at any time - each paying up to £10,000 a month.

"It's become a respectable business, but it's unlikely ever to become part of any establishment," Adams declares. "We love being an independent oddity." And with that they're off: Bosurgi and Adams have got a plane to catch.

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