Passing The Torch: The End Of An Era For UTG

UTG

I started Under The Gun Review with a $10 loan from my parents that I probably never paid back. At the time, my only goals were to get free music, gain access to concerts I couldn’t afford, meet my heroes, and create something to further bolster my resume. All those things were accomplished in a relatively small amount of time, but here I am nearly eight years later still posting to the same blog I launched during my sophomore year in college while people I grew up with welcome their second or third child, get married, and/or wake every day to pursue a fairly routine 40-hour work week. Of all the things I was involved with at that point in my life, UTG has been the only constant until now. My friends have changed (my best friend actually died), my location changed, my job status has changed, my girlfriend has changed (I’m now engaged to someone I didn’t even know at launch), but through it all UTG has been here. It has been my home in music when I didn’t feel like anyone wanted me around, and if I have my way it will continue to house aspiring industry professionals for a long time to come.

That said, this will be my last major post on Under The Gun Review for the foreseeable future. After seven and a half years of making this site a primary part of who I am, I, James Shotwell, have resigned as Editor-In-Chief of the site. I will remain on board as owner and will continue to advise the current staff as my schedule allows, but from this point forward there will be a new person in charge of day-to-day operations. His name is Brian Leak (Lion to most), and he is probably familiar to anyone who really loves this site. Brian has been the second in command at UTG for a couple years now, and he’s essentially been leading our staff for the better part of that time. When I realized my time with the site was coming to a close, I knew he was the only person I could trust to keep the spirit and soul of UTG in tact. I told him I could only move on if he were ready to step up, and thankfully for me he accepted my offer to become the new EIC of the site.

I did not come to this decision lightly, and I am fairly confident that I will question leaving several times in the months ahead, but deep down I know it is time to move on. For many years I have been afraid of who I was without UTG. I haven’t been posting anywhere near as frequently as I did in my prime, and as my work on other opportunities has become more demanding/rewarding, UTG has continually fallen lower and lower on my list of priorities. That isn’t fair to you, the reader, or the staffers who dedicate time from every single day of their lives to keeping this site alive. Those people exist, and they are saints. I’ve known my time was coming to a close for a while, and in recent weeks I grew to realize it was wrong to be taking as much credit as I have been for the continued success of the site considering how often—or should I say how rarely—I have been able to contribute.

For a long time I didn’t know if there was a place in music for me without UTG. It was the first thing I did in music that led anywhere, and in time it became something that would get me into meetings I might not have otherwise been invited to attend. Job interviews, for example, would come with questions concerning whether or not UTG would be able to post about various releases or promotions. It seemed people only wanted me to be a part of their team if they could also have UTG, so I thought I had to have little or no value without the site. Perhaps that is a very negative way to think about myself, but it is the honest truth.

And while we’re being honest, I still don’t know if there is a place for me without UTG, but I do know it’s high time that I find out. I currently serve as the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix, as I have for over two years, and it’s truly been a dream job thus far. I am still able to write about music almost every single day, but I am also afforded the opportunity to help build a brand I believe in, as well as make appearances all over the country, all while keeping a roof over my head. Haulix has helped me build the kind of career I have always dreamed of having, and I want to pursue it to the best of my abilities.

Who I am today, the people I consider friends, the life I lead, and the way I see the world are all a direct result of this site. This has been my life’s work so far, and it will be quite some time before I accomplish anything similar, if I ever do so again. I have met pretty much all my heroes, interviewed the people who once adorned my walls as a young music fan, helped numerous aspiring professionals get their start in the industry, and begun a professional career in the industry of my dreams all because UTG exists. This site is proof you can do anything you want in this life as long as you give your all to something you truly believe in, and I have all of you to thank for making that a reality. Without you there would probably be no UTG today, and without UTG there is no telling who or what I would have become at this point in my life. As I head towards the next chapter, both anxious and afraid, I can only hope it’s half as fulfilling as the work I have been able to do through this site.

Our WordPress data reveals that I have contributed just over 10,720 posts to UTG with just over 3,206,000 words written. I could never share every article that has meant something special to me, but there are few things I want to touch on…

First and foremost, UTG TV with GWAR from 2010. Dave Brockie is not the only artist I have interviewed to pass away suddenly, but his death hit me incredibly hard. We filmed this interview backstage at The Intersection several years before his passing, and I still joke about it every time I find myself speaking to a class of Music Business majors. The interview isn’t even that great, but this is one moment I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

There are hundreds of moments people will never see from those UTG TV shoots I will carry with me as well. Like the time Dan from The Wonder Years played us a new song in their van just after The Upsides came out. He performed on a ukulele for us, and then never released the song. I still think about it sometimes. There was a mention of North Carolina, I think, and it was definitely raining. You’d have to ask Dan for the rest.

Before UTG TV existed, I would travel from show to show with my best friend Justin and an audio recorder to capture lengthy reviews that I would later transcribe overnight. The first memory that comes to mind is sitting outside the currently defunct DAAC venue in Grand Rapids to interview La Dispute shortly before they signed with No Sleep Records. The band was about to celebrate the release of a two-song 7-inch they had recorded several months prior, and I remember spending way too much time picking apart the literary references in the band’s material. Jordan Dreyer, the band’s vocalist, told me I was “really good” at interviews. I know the site was less than a year old at the time, and there is a slight chance he was being sarcastic, but that was the moment I first felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing with my life. From that moment forward, everything changed.

Escape The Fate made us (and by us I mean myself and another staffer who I will not embarrass) go shot-for-shot with Jägermeister before a show at the Crofoot not long after Craig Mabbitt had joined the band. It was the best worst decision of my life at the time, and I think Craig later felt the same when he began vomiting on stage. You live and you learn, right?

We were also on site at the Crofoot for the debut of the Craig Owens-led supergroup D.R.U.G.S., only this time we were in the tiny venue housed above the main concert hall. I don’t remember what clunky cell phone I had at the time, but I held it as steady as I could over my head when the band took the stage for the very first time just so I could claim UTG was the first site with footage of the group. I think this was also the first time I ever uploaded to YouTube while driving across the state, which probably destroyed my data for the month (sorry, Mom). I don’t think you could pay me to feel that rush to be first for something again. The amount of time I’ve been more preoccupied with capturing great content rather than living in the moment of a great show/event/festival/etc. is ridiculous.

When I moved to Boston following a year of post-grad life spent in West Michigan looking for a way to anywhere else on the map that could better my chances of entering the industry, the one thing that always took me by surprise was encountering artists I had previously met in Michigan who remembered our time together. At most I had been given 15 minutes to speak with them in the past, but if I had made that time count they would often make it a point to remember something about our conversation. This told me that my time spent working on the site up to that point had not been wasted, and it gave me the knowledge that UTG had begun to make a real impact on the music industry at large. We were no longer commenting on the industry, we had become a part of it.

It’s crazy to think back on the countless nights spent criss-crossing the Midwest in the early days of the site, and even crazier to think of how dozens of people around the globe have acted similarly during their time contributing to it. There are people I will likely never meet who have dedicated what amounts to days, weeks, or even months of their lives to developing UTG during their time as a contributor. Some have met their idols, while others have discovered new artists who would later go on to headline the year’s biggest tours and events. At one point we decided to expand into film, and that led to a million new journeys never previously thought possible. We attended film festivals, spoke to filmmakers big and small, and even found ourselves mentioned in promotional materials for a wide variety of titles. It seems everything we set out to do has been accomplished so far, and even though we never found a way to make the site all that profitable during my time in charge, I still have not one regret to share. I’ve given my all, and I’ve been fortunate enough to find others who felt compelled to do the same.

Somewhere along the line UTG became much more than a product of my imagination, and as long as there are readers looking to enjoy it, I have no doubt its evolution will continue. The site no longer needs me to thrive, and that, for me, is a dream come true. This site is more than just one person, and it always will be. It’s a platform that aims to connect the brilliant industry minds of today and tomorrow with music and movie fans of all ages who yearn for something more than clickbait headlines and regurgitated press releases. It’s a launching pad for thought-provoking conversation and new media discovery that has been shaped by dozens of contributors and millions of visitors from all over the globe. I don’t know where the site is going any more than you do, but I know it will continue, and that makes me happy.

Before I depart I want to thank some of the people who helped me get this far. I know I will forget a lot of names, but these are the first people who come to mind when I think of how I got to where I am today. Thank you Chris Hanson (No Sleep Records – the first person to send me a promo from his label), Dan Cronk (Ferris State University), Rey Roldan, Lisa Wanstead, Jamie Coletta, Mike Cubillos, Matt Brown (Haulix), Brian Lion, Justin Proper (RIP), Jacob Tender, Grant Trimboli, Kellie Gannon, Dan Bogosian, Josh Hammond, Tyler Osborne, Craig Silva, Matt Anders, Tina Carlino, Matthew Leimkuehler, Ashley Di Buduo, Laura Haggard, Andrew and Jess Seraphin, Annamarie Geraci, Tom George, Michael McCarron, Eric England, every slice of pizza I have ever had, Dayna Ghilardi, Dan “Soupy” Campbell, Meaghan Allen, Ben Howell, Matt Kleinschmidt, Jesse Richman, Sam Cohen, Zack Zarrillo, Jason Tate, PlayRadioPlay!, Wil Francis, MC Lars, Kate Hutchinson, Fireworks (the band), Lori Armstrong, James Cassar, Ashley Abdenour, Shane Told, That one Secret Secret Dino Club album that Drive-Thru never released, Penny Lane, Nick Martin, Nerissa Judd, Sarah Rodda, Kristin Bredimus, Taking Back Sunday, James and Angie Shotwell, Calibretto 13 (RIP), Jordan Munson, The Burkey Boys, Ken Murray, The Gay Blades, and Abbie Hoffman.

You will still see my name go by on here from time to time, most likely in the form of a random movie review, but if you really want to keep tabs on me you should follow my Twitter and visit my personal website (which is currently under construction). You should also frequent the Haulix blog. If you ever need help getting your music in front of the press without fear of leaks, I’m the guy to contact.

Again, I cannot thank you enough for every opportunity you have provided me by supporting UTG for the better part of the last decade. You gave me a voice, and I promise to use the platform you’ve made possible to influence positive change in the world around me. I hope you continue to read the site, as the staff we have now is one of the finest we’ve ever housed, and I hope you know I too will be reading along. As George Carlin once said, “May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house.”

Best,

James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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