Tom Johnson smiling.
Tom Johnson has been working on Gold Flake Paint for over a decade. Credit: Tom Johnson.

Tom Johnson, Founder & Editor of award-winning Gold Flake Paint, tells Dan Fauzi how he’s quietly breaking the mould of music journalism at 35 years old.

You grew up in South Devon, far from any music scene. How did you get into music journalism?

I always felt I should do something with my passion for music, so I started a blog, back when there were hundreds of them. We put a lot of thought and energy into what we were posting. Even if it wasn’t well written we gave it the time, space and substance that helped it stand out. We outstayed a lot of the other blogs, so a community grew around us. There are people all over the world who have been reading GFP for over 10 years. I know them really well and we’ve never even met.

How did GFP become a magazine?

I was sat in a café on the outskirts of Austin, Texas after a label flew me out to SXSW. The waitress started chatting to me and after I mentioned GFP she went ‘Oh I love GFP! I read it all the time!’ Three and a half thousand miles from home someone knew my silly little blog.

Then I returned home where I was uploading three or four pieces a day while working 40 hours a week in a kitchen. I needed to make it a full-time job, but it was a whole new set of skills to learn. I’d run a blog but never edited a magazine. The way I approach music has always been very heartfelt, so we did something different that kept with the well-curated and thought-through nature of the blog.

We’re based outside of Glasgow now, on the West coast. Seeing the mountain views from our window while we’re still close enough to gigs is perfect.

How do you set yourselves apart from the big music mags?

It’s because we’re such a small team. The well-established magazines have huge teams to support so they have to sell tonnes of adverts to exist. We do have adverts but they’re DIY record labels or new releases. We want to shine a light on those labels while they help us make the magazine. It’s important to let people know you can make something sustainable in the music industry.

What can we do to change? I’ve always been conscious of platforming non-white, non-male writers, who are still severely under-represented. Committing to 50% female and non-binary representation with Keychange holds us to account. By making it official, hopefully other publications will pay more notice.

How did it feel to win ‘Launch of the Year’ at the 2019 PPA Scottish Magazine Awards?

It felt real. People were telling us that most of the magazines listed were owned by the same company. We were one of the only truly independent winners.

We don’t have a background in magazines, we’re all music folk. To be recognised from the magazine industry was special.

How has the job changed since COVID?

My days really aren’t that different. It’s just the logistics of putting the stuff together. We move in cycles. We’ll have two months of planning and building the magazine then a month of selling it. Maybe a week off then we start the cycle again.

For issues six and seven, with Phoebe Bridgers and Moses Sumney on the covers, all the photos were selfies by the artists. We’d planned everything up to that point and we were like ‘what do we do if these are unusable?’

Phoebe’s PR told us she could do the photos herself. We asked if she had a good set up and they said: “She’s just got an iPhone but she’s quite creative.” Same with Moses, they said: “He can shoot the cover photo and do all the photos himself, he’s been practicing photography during lockdown.” We were terrified but I remember getting the photos through like ‘what the fuck?!’ We got lucky that all the photos were amazing because it could’ve been a disaster.

What future do you see in music journalism?

It’s definitely a difficult and changing world to exist in. It’s similar to being a band. It’s so easy now that there’re so many people making music. There isn’t the space for everyone to be successful.

I do feel very lucky to be in this position and I wish I could wave a magic wand and help the industry massively. It’s not like we’re this beautiful castle on top of the hill – it often feels like we’re sinking along with everyone else.

What’s next for GFP?

By the end of this year we’ll have done 10 issues, so maybe then I can finally feel like it’s time to have a little rest. It’s been three years without stopping.

We don’t have any grand ideas of taking over the music industry or becoming the biggest or the best. You have to give up so much to get there. If it’s sustainable and we’re able to do charity events, that’s enough.

It sounds stupid but music changed and saved my life. If you can help someone get to that stage, or find a new favourite song or artist, that’s a nice feeling. There could definitely be worse jobs!