A Morgantown native returns home and creates an internationally popular electronic music magazine.
➼ Joseph Wensell has never been afraid of taking chances. He grew up in Morgantown but moved to Washington, D.C., after graduating from high school in the late 1980s, without any plan or connections. He spent some time doing dishes in Irish pubs until he got a job at a record store. Wensell would spend the next five years selling music, ending up running the flagship store for Washington-based Kemp Mill Music. But after a few strong-arm robberies, he decided it was time to get out of retail.
He took an advertising sales job at a local business resource publication. It was a tough gig for someone without any advertising experience, but he excelled at the work, which eventually led to a job at Jazz Times. Although Wensell started out as an assistant in the advertising section, he was soon selling ads to record labels and music festivals, bringing in significant revenue for the publication.
It was the late 1990s—the perfect time to be in the music journalism game. CDs had overtaken LPs and cassettes, and record labels were scrambling to re-release their back catalogs in this new format. “They had tremendous ad budgets,” Wensell says. The magazine swelled with advertising—by the time Wensell left the publication in 2005, Jazz Times was putting out 200-page issues 10 times a year. But he left the publication to follow a love interest to Paris, France. “It was a big risk, but throughout my entire life I’ve taken risks.”
Europe has a robust jazz scene and Wensell noticed U.S. labels didn’t buy ads in publications there, so he figured he could easily parlay his existing business relationships into some advertising sales. The timing wasn’t right, though—the music industry was in turmoil as customers abandoned CDs for music downloads. So, once again, Wensell took a chance. He’d developed an eye for good graphic design during his years in advertising, so he taught himself how to use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, thinking he might get work with music festivals designing posters, programs, backstage passes, and the like. But customers were most interested in his web design skills, so that’s where he shifted his focus.
Wensell had been in France for five years when, taking another chance, he moved to Chicago to help a friend open a jazz club. Wensell was supposed to do all the branding and menus. “Within three months of opening the joint closed.” He then tried to start a multimedia company with another friend, but that venture didn’t get off the ground, either. “I decided I needed to stop working with friends.”
He returned to Morgantown about five years ago after a family member fell ill and, while continuing to do web design and graphic design work, he decided to give magazines another go. His time in Europe had opened his eyes to the EDM scene—that’s “electronic dance music,” for the uninitiated. Wensell noticed the scene was growing larger and larger in the U.S. “It’s a gigantic industry. It’s everywhere. You hear EDM in television commercials. The whole video gaming industry is nothing but electronic music producers doing soundtracks,” he says.
So in 2015 he launched Beat Selector, an online quarterly magazine featuring EDM news, album previews and reviews, and interviews with top DJs, producers, and label runners.
Wensell has produced 13 issues of Beat Selector so far, which are available through his website and the digital magazine platform Issuu. While the magazine isn’t turning profits yet, Wensell is developing relationships inside the scene and is working with writers all over the East Coast and across the Atlantic. “It’s read all over the world,” he says. “I just know it’s going to get better and better.”
And, maybe best of all, he’s doing it all from his hometown. “As long as you have a phone and internet connection, that’s all you need.”