(Original Photo By: Jenny Regan)
Renaissance man. That term doesn’t get thrown around too often in the 21st century. But there truly is no other way to describe Matt Medved, the Founder and Head Editor of Billboard Dance. Between writing $2 million worth of grants for nonprofits and DJing major festivals like Electric Zoo and Sunburn, how he ended up leading one of the most influential taste-making sites is without a doubt a journey. Why did Medved, who received a journalism degree, law degree, and master’s degree choose to create and build up Billboard Dance?
The answer is simple: passion. That passion started early on as Medved listened to The Beatles and Pink Floyd with his father. Throughout his early life, he consumed every type of music. As he grew older, he aspired to be the frontman of his own band, becoming the singer/songwriter of his high school band.
“During that time, I went from being a punk rock purist listening to Crass, The Misfits, and Dead Kennedys to a metal head listening to Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Dream Theater before jumping into the likes of Radiohead and Sigur Ros.”
This is where the long musical journey began for Medved. It wasn’t until much later that he found his way to electronic music. After graduating high school, he set his sights on getting a journalism degree from Northwestern. He had hoped to work as a music journalist. As he was studying for his undergraduate degree, he played shows and produced music as his hobby. He would produce music and DJ some big, local shows around Northwestern. He recounts,
“I first began DJing and producing music back in 2008 while in college. One of my first shows was opening for Third Eye Blind at Northwestern University’s Dillo Day event, then I played a bunch of fraternity and sorority formals.”
As his studies became more serious, and as Medved looked on towards graduation, he came upon the opportunity to travel. He ventured to Cape Town, South Africa during his junior year for an internship with a newspaper. He covered stories relating to social and human rights in the area, a topic that he was very passionate about. It was then that he began to realize the impact that words have. He remembers,
“I was covering social and human rights’ issues like the Zimbabwean refugee crisis, service delivery riots, street children, and prison gangs. I began to see journalism not only as an outlet for my passion for music, but also as a means of contributing to positive change.”
After his work in Cape Town, Medved was offered another grant to continue his work there. However, he saw another important story developing in Zimbabwe.
“I received a grant to go back to South Africa the next year to continue my work related to prison gangs, but I ended up making a game-time decision to go to Harare, Zimbabwe to cover the 2008 election aftermath instead. The challenger to the country’s longtime dictator, Robert Mugabe, had beaten him in the first round and forced a run-off vote. My school and parents were freaking out because the state security forces were raiding hotels to detain and deport foreign journalists. But I stayed with the family of one of my refugee friends and managed to do some quality coverage on the ground and help capture the fleeting sense of optimism that existed then (and was sadly crushed by the subsequent crackdown) in a feature for The Zimbabwean newspaper.”
The helplessness Medved experienced in Zimbabwe led him to get more involved with non-governmental organizations (NGOs). He began working with Search for Common Ground (SFCG), an NGO centered around resolving global conflicts. He was conducting field research into human rights abuse in Jos, Nigeria – where SFCG Nigeria had an office. He subsequently wrote a series of grants that secured more than $2 million of funding from USAID and the State Department for conflict transformation programs.
These major successes were accompanied by his ongoing passion for music, something that he wanted to pursue more after working with NGOs. Medved spent a lot of time DJing Rhythm 93.7 FM, Africa’s biggest radio station, and hung out with Nigerian hip-hop producers regularly. He relates,
“I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t accomplish everything I wanted in all of my different passion areas while in such a conflict context. And I just could never stay away from music. Even while there, I was DJing regularly at Rhythm 93.7 FM, which is Africa’s biggest radio station, and hanging in the studio with Nigerian hip hop producers.”
This passion for music could be seen in his writing with Dancing Astronaut and Beatport around that time. This writing was done on the side, just a passion project Medved engaged in. It was this passionate writing that altered the course of his career for the better, however.
“I finished my graduate degrees in 2014 with back-to-back exchange programs in Milan and Berlin. I’d been writing for sites like Dancing Astronaut and Beatport on the side, mostly for fun and purely coming from a place of passion. I wasn’t trying to make it my career then. During that time, Billboard’s longtime dance writer Kerri Mason reached out to me saying she loved my writing and asked about my interest in contributing to Billboard. In an industry that’s often about who you know, I’m still amazed that my big break came from someone I’d never met. Plus the most important email of my life went to junk mail so… yeah always check that.”
He began freelance writing with them, helping break new and exciting acts emerging in the electronic space like Kygo and The Chainsmokers. It was then that Medved realized Billboard could really use its own independent Dance division, an observation that has led to his booming success.
“I began seeing so many ways we could leverage Billboard’s brand in the dance music space, so I pitched the idea of Billboard Dance to our editorial director, Mike Bruno when I returned stateside. Pretty sure I dropped a 15-page outline on his desk (laughs). I feel very fortunate that he and the other higher-ups at Billboard believed in and supported my vision. I joined full-time in March 2015, launched Billboard Dance in May, and we just passed 2 million unique visits in December last year.”
It’s safe to say that Medved’s platform is now one of the biggest in dance music. Medved chooses to use this large platform to further his goal of creating positive change in the world through journalism. I asked Medved what his proudest moment with Billboard was, to which he replied,
“After the Pulse nightclub shooting, Billboard penned an open letter to Congress urging a sane and safe end to gun violence that a ton of major artists and music industry execs signed on our magazine cover. I was so proud of our team for doing that, because the tragedy hit so close to home for many in the dance music community. It felt like an attack on the values of equality and tolerance that lie at the heart of this culture. I think it’s very important that we use our influence to support positive change, and unfortunately it’s more vital now than ever in the Trump era. This is not a PLUR presidency.”
As you can see, Medved combines his various passions through music. This not only demonstrates his humility in a glitz and glamour industry, it shows the true power of music and the positive influence a large platform can have on a community. Throughout all the work that Medved has done, one thing has remained consistent; he has wanted to cultivate positivity in the world.
“I will always be passionate about harnessing music’s power for positive change and plan on continuing to support likeminded individuals and organizations within my role at Billboard and in my spare time. While I’m realistic about the limitations of my own influence, I also recognize that attention is the currency that drives our current climate. I believe we, as music industry actors, should be lifting up those who are making their music career’s impact about more than just themselves.”
He attributes his drive and optimism to some of his personal heroes, one of them being his grandfather. In the course of our interview, he opened up about how hard it was to lose one of his role models.
“The death of my grandfather in 2014 hit me hard; it was my first real experience with the loss of a loved one. He served in the Korean War and was a true self-made man, rising to become the vice president of menswear firm, Hickey Freeman before starting his own business. He didn’t live to see me accept the Billboard position (I actually got the call the week of his funeral), but I think channeling the example he set in my current work has helped me overcome that. I’d like to think he would’ve been proud of me, but he’d also probably be like “so when are you doing a Frank Sinatra remix roundup? [laughs]”
As you can see, even in times of hardship, Medved always is able to find the silver lining, a trait that is necessary in the wild west of the music industry. He has that ability to push through in the toughest of times. I asked him what some words of advice would be that he carries around with him, to which he replied,
“Fortunately, I’ve had some great mentors in my life. SFCG Nigeria’s country director, Chom Bagu, taught me some enduring lessons that have shaped me to this day. I’ve adopted his saying “stay open and don’t force things” as some of my life’s guiding principles. He also introduced me to Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, the most important of which I’ve internalized are ‘don’t take anything personally’ and ‘don’t make assumptions.’”
From a journalism degree, to a law degree, master’s degree, and making his way back to music journalism, Medved has gone with every twist and turn that has been thrown in front of him. Through perseverance and a little patience, Medved has accomplished many great things and will undoubtedly accomplish many more throughout his lifetime.