Curious about how your favorite local publication started? Founder and Editor in Chief, Robert Castro gives us a personal, inside look at how our little music blog turned into the accredited, thriving, local publication it is today.
Kelly: Can you give the readers an introduction on who we are and what we do?
Castro: We are a music, lifestyle and film, online publication. We write about Denver’s community and other events around the country relating to the specific genres that we cover.
Kelly: What inspired to you establish the publication initially?
Castro: Music has always been a big passion of mine. I was never brave enough to get an instrument and actually play but you can thoroughly enjoy music without being a musician. I was always the guy at parties with my mix CDs getting the party started. As I grew older, I got into photography. I wanted to combine both passions of mine. I started doing freelance for a large magazine out of LA called Filter Magazine. I was basically their Denver rep. I would do promo for touring artists in Denver, go to record stores and put up posters, do giveaways, etc. I had great perks. I would get tickets to these shows. That was great but it didn’t give me a lot of experience with photography. After, I started freelancing for a couple of local publications like The Denver Post and Westword. I did that for about a year and a half to two years. I got to meet a lot of people, network and gain experience. One day I thought it would be cool to do this on my own , have my own deadlines and be my own boss. One year I was down at SXSW and got to see these amazing artists before they blow up. Artists like Bon Iver, Ellie Goulding, Big Sean, Future, etc. SXSW provides an outlet for all of these record industry professionals to gather great artists and see who the next big discovery is. When I came back it really sparked my creativity and the start of Ultra5280. I was very passionate to kick off the company when I came back that year. For about two years I was doing everything myself which was very challenging. I wasn’t able to go to every show myself. I had to strategize and decide what readers would like as well as myself. At first I would have to pay for every show I went to. They don’t start to give you press passes until you’re an accredited publication. I did that for about two years, building Ultra’s reputation. The most important thing was networking and getting to know as many people working in promo, like AEG and Live Nation, as I could. Networking is thankfully a strong quality I have. We started growing and I needed more help. At first it was just freelancers but a lot of the time they turned into staff. We started back in 2011 with just myself and today we have 10 people on staff whether that be photographers or writers. We’re able to post a lot more content and cover a lot more shows. We added our lifestyle section about two years ago. In this great city, music branches into a lot of other things. Everywhere you go whether it be an art show, restaurant opening, or a brewery on a Friday night, there’s always music happening. We started seeing growth from the booming events, not necessarily concerts, and decided to add a lifestyle section. Our traction in the last few years has doubled, almost tripled. There’s always something to do in Denver. You can find us everywhere: wine festivals, The Great American Beer Festival, concerts, music festivals. We’re able to send more of our staff out to cover more ground. I’ve kind of taken a step back and let our staff take over more events. I wanted to give the opportunity for them to do it and have that experience. It’s a labor of love but there are plenty of perks included with being a member of the staff. I want them to network, branch out, and possibly start projects of their own. I want them to take something from their experience at Ultra to showcase their own talent.
Kelly: How do you think the publication has an effect on Denver as a community?
Castro: Our number one priority has always been supporting local music which, in turn, for a lot of these bands, they’re not used to getting a lot of press. For us to write about them and cover their shows is a pretty big deal. For one, because they know what kind of traffic we have. Two, they know that they’ll probably reach people that haven’t listened to them before. Again, our number one goal has been to support local music. We do that in a lot of ways: We cover local artists and go to the shows, conduct interviews. One of the biggest things we do is encourage artists to reach out to us if they have a new video, single or album out. We want to promote local musicians. Ultra has a pretty significant fan base that will get to hear new local music before anyone else. We get our most traffic when we write about a local band. It gets shared on social media and it’s like a domino effect.
Kelly: What’s been your favorite part about your job as founder and editor in chief?
Castro: For me it’s been the extension of the photography side of the company. I’ve photographed some amazing artists. We get approved for about 90% of the shows that we apply to, whether it’s a local show or a sold out concert at the Pepsi Center. I’ve photographed artists like Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Outkast, Radiohead, The Weekend, LCD Soundsystem. These are the awesome things that present itself when you run a publication. The most amazing experience I’ve had this far is an opportunity I got after shooting Alt-J a few summers ago. I was contacted by their team. They told me they wanted to put out an LP vinyl set based on their Red Rocks performance and asked if I could send a few of my pictures to potentially be included in the set. I sent them about 10-15 photos. They ended up choosing five of them. They paid me for my photos and sent me a free box set. That’s probably been my biggest highlight of my live concert photography.
Kelly: How have you seen the community grow in your time with the publication?
Castro: When I moved to Denver over 10 years ago, I wasn’t really that familiar with the local scene but if I could compare the Denver scene then to what it’s developed into now, it’s grown drastically. People would ask me where I’m from after I told them they would say things like “Oh, Denver! I know The Fray and Flobots." Now it’s amazing there’s so much more hidden talent that doesn’t at all get the same kind of press that the bigger bands do even though they’re just as talented. Nathaniel Rateliff is a good example of growth. He’s been playing music in Denver for 10 years. The first time I saw him perform was in a backyard at the UMS. Now he’s headlining major festivals. It’s interesting to see where that scene is kind of shifting. One of the cool things about Denver compared to other cities is that there’s not a lot of competitiveness in the scene. Everyone supports each other. I just wish they had more means to promote their music outside of Denver. The ones that are doing it are touring and doing it right. Take a band like In The Whale that’s been touring non-stop for the last five years, they just announced their European tour. This is a band that never stops. I’ll use those two guys as an example. They spend more time on the road then they do at home. If you wanna get to where you want to be as a musician, you gotta put in the work.
Kelly: Would you ever consider moving to print? Do you think there’s a market in Denver for print?
Castro: Yeah it’s something we’ve talked about. There is a cliche that print is dead which I can believe. You always hear about these news papers that are closing down. The thing with print is that it’s a huge start up cost, it’s a huge cost to maintain. Everyone’s online now. You can check everything from a mobile source. I’m not gonna walk a few blocks to get a paper if I have access to it on my phone. We’ve talked about doing print kind of quarterly. It would be a recap of everything we have on our website, very eye catching and appealing. I would like to think of it as a coffee table book. It’s still on our agenda down the road. We also have to figure cost, advertising, etc. I don’t want it just to be full of ads, I want it to be content heavy focused on Denver. I’ve been messing around with that idea the last 6 months. We’ll see where it goes.
Kelly: Where do you see the publication going in the next 5 years? What are you overall goals? How do you see the company growing?
Castro: I want to continue what we’re doing now. I don’t anticipate changing a whole lot because it’s working. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But at the same time, how do we get more readers? Like I said, adding lifestyle was huge for us. It doubled our traffic. What else can we cover aside from music and lifestyle? I think there’s a lot of untapped resources out there. I would love to focus more on restaurants, theatre, art, fashion, and definitely one that’s on our website that we really don’t touch, film. I think that’s where we can get more readers. Our staff is always growing. Right now we add about 2-3 people every year which is awesome because we get to cover more events.