The New York Review of Magazines


By Zachary Sniderman

Circulation: 85,000
Date of Birth: 2002
Frequency: Five times a year
Price: $4.99

If you can find it in a store, Filter is hard to miss on the shelf. Filter sticks out, and not just because it is physically larger and usually much thicker than Rolling Stone or Spin. It is also not just about mainstream music culture. Filter focuses on “good” music, freely translated to mean “indie” music and the culture that surrounds it.

Each issue of Filter is stacked with long-form artist Q&A’s, photo portfolios and profiles of well-known acts like Julian Casablancas and Peter Gabriel. A healthy chunk of space is reserved for “Getting to Know” new bands and spotlighting bands “You Should Already Know.” The back of the magazine is liberally sprinkled with bite-size album reviews and an eclectic mix of pop and indie culture events, updates and news.

The real draw of Filter is its approach to the indie scene. Big-name magazines like Rolling Stone, Spin, Q and NME are fantastic resources but usually focus on established acts and rock aristocracy. Indie publications devoted solely to uncovering unknown new acts are often snarky or appear condescending. This is why most people don’t like hipsters in the first place.

Explaining Filter’s approach, publisher Alan Miller, who founded the magazine along with Alan Sartirana, said, “We felt at the time that there were no magazines paying any attention to what we perceived to be good music . . . not what’s most popular but what’s actually of substance and quality.” This outlook gave birth to the magazine’s motto, mandate and raison-d’être: “Good Music Will Prevail.”

Filter is still very much in the business of telling you what is current and interesting, but it doesn’t make you feel like an idiot in the process. The emphasis is on narrative writing and nuanced interviews. “We always aim to be smart,” Miller said. “We’re not about top ten lists.… [Filter’s] really about giving the opportunity for people to learn [and] to have a creative forum to discuss music and culture.”

Snobbish snark is replaced with intimate looks at the music world. An interview with the L.A.-based artist AM ends with this captured insight: “I don’t know anybody who responds to lighthearted lyrics — what’s there to grab onto? I think human beings can relate more to pain than they can to pleasure.…”

A candid profile of Mos Def, the rap artist and sometimes political pundit, had this pull-quote: “It’s one thing to be the greatest; it’s another thing to be necessary. The best are the most necessary: those who take less than they give and love more than they hate.”

Almost every interview, snippet and feature reaches for those culturally expansive, almost existential moments in which musicians contemplate their own art. Even more surprising is Filter’s ability to draw those moments out of their subjects and then lay them on paper.

But Filter does have its failings. The “good” music Miller espouses is a certain narrow brand of rock ’n’ roll, with only brief forays into other genres like hip-hop. The magazine’s focus on long features and its seasonal publication — just five issues per year — also limits how much news it can carry.

Filter has spawned several offshoots, including a Good Music Guide, a regional e-newsletter and Filter Unbound, an online-only supplement to the magazine. Resources are most clearly focused on Filter, the magazine, with these offshoots acting more like repositories for print content. The website pales in comparison to news-focused sites like and, which quickly break and spread music news online.

That is by design. Filter has always put its stock in print. Miller compared buying each print issue to going out and buying a memorable album. It may be too late to point out that nowadays most albums are downloaded in seconds with just a couple of clicks and that the era of buying tangible products — music and music magazines among them — at real stores is fading. But Filter’s defiant insistence on print, quality content and music is what makes it stand out from its peers.

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