Interview: Jeff Hamada – BOOOOOOOM!
Jeff Hamada is from the global city of Vancouver, British Columbia, where he currently resides and enjoys riding his bike to unwind. Among many other things, he is the father of BOOOOOOOM!, the internationally acclaimed art blog that has shed light on many many talented and undiscovered artists.
Jeff started BOOOOOOOM! in 2008 and quickly saw his page hits go up in the millions per month. As one of the pioneers of art blogging, he seized this opportunity to transform what was a personal blog into a booming resource for niche art, eventually making it his full time job. We had the pleasure to ask him some Q’s to dig a little deeper…
Interviewed by Kenji B.
You worked in the fashion industry before starting Booooom, you’re also a photographer, videographer, designer, illustrator… How do you juggle all these mediums?
I don’t really feel like I’m juggling all these different things. I think it’s more that I enjoy learning new things, so I’ll try something and in the process I’ll come across something else and I’ll become sidetracked with the new thing. I actually find it difficult to stay motivated if I’m doing something I’ve already done before.
How did you decide to make Booooom your full time job? What was this experience like and what were the challenges in generating an income to live off of?
I decided to try and make it my full time job when there was pretty significant daily traffic to the site. I remember actually trying to Google ‘how do you make money from a blog’ and it took me to a bunch of sites that had a million banner ads and never explained how to make money. Ironically, that was how I learned how to make money from a blog because I could right-click on the ads and see where they were serving from. After I figured out how to serve ads I just hit up people who I had done design work for to see if they would want to run some free ads and after a few were running other brands noticed and asked to run ads. I didn’t really find the process too difficult, all the work was in making sure the content was interesting.
There is such a wide variety of mediums and styles in your blog, how much time do you dedicate in doing the necessary research to find all these awesome artists? What is the process like?
Well, the short answer is that it’s been 9 years now and I’m now directly connected to a lot of artists so a lot of the work is sent in, versus having to go search for it. I still search for work every day though, I just think curation these days is almost more about what you don’t feature than it is about what you do. Images and videos are being blasted at our eyeballs from all angles and it’s not that hard to find interesting things that have been posted everywhere already, the difficult part is filtering through all the noise to end up with something coherent.
How much marketing was involved in the initial stages or did people naturally catch on?
I was going to say zero marketing, but I guess it depends on your definition of marketing. I’ve never paid for advertising or boosted a Facebook post, but I’ve sent a lot of emails to people. Not spam, but I mean, personal emails where I would say ‘hey I like your work”. Hundreds and hundreds of emails like that — actually probably thousands. I’ve posted over 11,000 articles in 9 years. Nothing just happens, you have to be dedicated.
Have you ever considered adding a music component to Booooom?
I used to post music here and there but music is tough. At least in terms of running a site, it’s tough. Music has a shelf life that art does not. I can post art from yesterday, last month, 5 years ago and no one will blink. If I post a song that’s even a month old it’s already completely irrelevant and people will make sure you know this.
What is the weirdest interview/feature you’ve done throughout the years?
I can’t really think of any super weird ones. I just did a video interview when I was in Portugal a few weeks ago where I was standing high up on a balcony and the interviewer was asking the questions from super far away on these steps. It was just an awkward way to have a conversation but I think that’s what they were going for.
Booooom encourages community involvement and challenges people to edge away from all the preconceived notions of art. Do you intend to eventually push this further into something more impactful?
I’m glad it feels like that, the community part is the most interesting to me and will be even more of a focus in the near future. We have a brand new site coming in August and one of our main goals is to better amplify work that our community is making and offer more resources and opportunities to young emerging artists.
You started an account called chillwildlife which has gained a lot of followers, what was the premise for this? Did you expect how popular it would get? What have you learned from it?
It was honestly just a joke for my friends. Soon after I started it I was interviewed by Oyster Magazine and featured by Vogue so I think a lot of fashion people are the reason it grew really fast. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve learned anything from it haha. It just kinda shows that certain aspects of the Internet will never change.
I just read in a book written by Ryan Holiday that “virality is not an accident. It is engineered.” How does this resonate with you?
I think virality still happens by accident, like the lady who invented those fidget spinner things. She didn’t even get the patent! But most things are probably designed to be.
So you are Japanese, do you go back there often? Would you say there is Japanese influence in your work or way of thinking?
I’m third generation. My parents were born in Canada and my grandparents were born in Japan. I don’t think there’s anything particularly Japanese about my work but I did get engaged earlier this year and my fiance was born in Japan so maybe I’m becoming more Japanese without realising it.
What was it like growing up in Vancouver? If you had to recommend three things to do or places to go what would they be?
1) Ride a bike around the seawall, not just around Stanley Park but continue around False Creek, past Granville Island to Spanish Banks. 2) Go for a hike, there’s a free suspension bridge in Lynn Canyon. 3) Eat sushi at Ajisai.
You have a post called “5 questions you must answer,” so we prepared our own:
1. What do you do to relax?
Ride my bike and take photos.
2. If you could be fluent in any other language what would it be?
Japanese – I can read and write better than I can speak and I feel like a disgrace.
3. If music is the language of the soul, then the internet is the Conveyor Belt of the Soul.
4. What is your favorite fruit?
I think it would have to be tomatoes. I’m eating some form of salsa or tomato sauce every other day at least.
What does the word Massflow make you think of?
A backpack hip hop messageboard (I used to lurk on lots of them).
“So much of what we interact with online operates like an echo chamber. Netflix recommends a movie you’ll like based on other movies you like. Facebook’s feed reinforces political and religious views by showing people more of what they already agree with. Everyone is getting stuck in these really narrow ways of thinking and this is problematic for creative people who are trying to generate new ideas. I am not just being critical of Hypebeast, this exists everywhere. There may be artists who will make work that they think I’ll like just to be featured on Booooooom. This represents the same problem.
So the question I continually struggle with is how do I actually make Booooooom something that is helpful for people? How do I prevent it from being a pointless echo. If everyone likes everything I post, then I’m only doing what a computer could do better than me. I think a curator’s job is to gently push people, challenging them to look at things they don’t necessarily like in an effort to understand what it is that other people see in it. And most importantly a curator has try to help people understand things, share their own insights. Many contemporary art publications leave this part out and come off douchey, elitist, exclusive, and ultimately inaccessible.”
– Jeff Hamada (In his interview w/ It’s Nice That)