Press Lives Matter: Max Kulchinsky, Program Director at Stationhead, A&R at Island Records
Written by Greg Harris
Press Lives Matters continues to keep the ball rolling with more unique personalities that bring unique perspectives to the forefront for our readers to enjoy. As we recently just did a Press Lives Matters with Tyler Benz, the trail-blazing videographer from Noisey/VICE who has been one of this era's culture whispers, we follow up with another unique talent who's making his own lane in regards of new technology and music.
This would be none other than Stationhead tastemaker and program director, Max Kulchinsky. The 20-year old music maven has been generating vibes for the budding radio app that's been making game-changing efforts in the way listeners engage + listen to on-demand radio. Aside from his role of directing vibes for the app, Max has been one of the key voices as far as hosts go with his show, "Year of Max" that has been an open-platform for powerful dialogue along with putting listeners to new and old music. Not only has Max played a pivotal role into the company, but he also grew in the ranks of Sony and Island Records and implemented key plays in the music industry. Max's flair to the music industry develops a new perspective on where music and technology is going to and how this merge will birth the stars of tomorrow in this artistic space.
We recently had the opportunity to talk to Max about his upbringing, his unique role in the Stationhead family, how he sees himself as a tastemaker, and more.
Read the interview below.
How’s your Modern Life?
My life is surreal. I honestly cannot fathom where I’m at. It feels like I’m dead and living in some sort of lucid dream. This is more than I imagined in my mom’s basement and I’m just getting started. It’s crazy to consider how young I am right now and the fact that I’m still in school. The only reasons I haven’t dropped out, honestly, are that I’m on a full scholarship and doing so would devastate my mom. I’ve been learning more outside of the classroom for years at this point. In the context of a modern life, it’s wild to think of the times I can remember before the internet explosion, considering how digital my life is. I’m a part of the last generation to have grown up with and without the very devices and mediums, this interview is happening though.
Shoutout to all my friends I’ve met online or because the internet, including but not limited to my brother Jason, Matt and Kyle from FashionablyEarly, Ashley, Eli, Hallway, John, Rodney, Sobe, Russell, Jack, Jamie and Ben holding it down in London Town...I’m so sorry to everyone I left out, you know who you are. We really met IRL but I have to show love to my bro Jacob aka Jumpseut, too. Oh and I’d be remiss to not mention the incredibly talented Elias Abid—so excited for my guy and everything he’s working on.
What are three things you have to do when you first wake up?
Blast some music, *coffee*, and go straight to work (catching up on all things on my phone or physically commuting to a space).
How would you describe your upbringing?
Privileged. Not as much as most of the people I grew up around, but privileged nonetheless. Being a white kid from the suburbs, you don’t realize how truly lucky you are until you leave and go experience things outside the bubble. Most of my friends not from there grew up in completely different circumstances. Despite a lot of adversity in my formative years, I was fortunate to have the best mother in the world, who would do literally whatever it took to support me and my passions. I was definitely an outsider, though. Always on some other shit and doing my own thing.
During that process of your growth, what profound moments made you fall in love with music?
Growing up, I played with cassette tapes and CDs, not toys. So I was always recording radio broadcasts off my tape decks and messing with Hit Clips, etc. My sisters put me on to NSYNC, Britney, JT, Avril and all that heavy. As soon as LimeWire and Bearshare came out, it was set in stone. Once I heard “Stronger” on Z100 and fell for Ye’s music, I saw the world differently. Nothing I’d heard before sounded like that at all. I didn’t know music could be so ambiguous, or just not fitting in one box or vibe. So I dug through everything he had out at the time, and that led me down a beautiful rabbit hole of Hov, Nas and all the other greats of hip-hop, as well as a lot of soulful shit and other genres.
When it comes to gems in your catalog, what were some albums that have special moments attached to them in your lifetime?
Man...honestly, everything on “year of max” episode 18 and more. I’ve got a playlist of all the songs I’ve played on the show this year, so hit that to hear everything I’ve fucked within 2018. “Graduation” was the album that made me want to pursue a career in music. But, for real, I have musical bibles. “What’s Going On”, “Yeezus”, “Donuts”, “Kid A”, “Because The Internet”, “A Love Supreme”, “Currents”, “Man on the Moon I + II”, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, “James Blake”, “Songs in the Key of Life”, “Causers of This”, “Pure Heroine”, “In Utero”, “DS2”, “Blonde”...I can go on and on.
Growing up, you dove face first in the music industry with being apart of Sony for some time and doing it at a young age. What were some things you learned during this opportunity and how have they helped you?
I actually got my start in the industry as a marketing intern at Island Records, but Sony was the first company to pay me. I got so much love for all my people at Sony. Big shout out to them for believing in me and giving me a shot when I was 17 years old. I had some amazing bosses and colleagues there. The main takeaway from my time there really was learning to function in a massive team and corporate structure, while also maintaining a sense of community and creativity. I learned quickly that being complacent in a place like that will get you nowhere and that by pushing yourself, you will directly see your impact and new opportunities arise.
In relation to building your network, you came across the opportunity to work with the innovative radio streaming app, Stationhead. How did you come across the company and how does it feel to be apart of a forward-thinking team?
Stationhead is the family, literally. Ryan aka RSTAR is my first cousin. And I say that proudly because I love Ryan like a brother, and my position at the company is anything but a handout. It took me years of grinding and proving myself as a creative to get a formal position there. It took a lot of personal and professional growth to earn that spot, and I’ve never been happier doing what I’m currently doing. The early days of what would later become Stationhead were me, Ryan and Jace just brainstorming and plotting what this new version of radio should be.
Back before we made Jace homeless by turning his apartment into the office! It really touches my heart to see how far we’ve all come both as a team and agnostic platform. We’ve truly built a family and a place for people, be it famous artists or kids from different corners of the world, to speak their minds freely without judgment, feel loved and bond thru the greatest social glue there is: music.
Another plus in your work with Stationhead, is you playing a vital role as one of the tastemakers for the brand. What do you feel like your responsibility is when it comes to such a grand role in a rising company?
It’s a truly humbling responsibility and afforded me so many opportunities I cannot fully understand nor process yet. I feel the pressure of being the person to go to for what’s good, but I thrive under pressure. Taking this on my shoulders has forced me to discover so much more dope new music and people in general. However, I’m very conscious of the fact that not everyone shares my taste and I do have to balance my own preferences with what the people need.
What excites me the most is finding kids like you and me, who live for all this stuff, and empowering them by supporting their stations or giving them slots on our flagship station ZERØ, or even internships if they’re really hungry and capable. It’s so fulfilling to be able to give back to kids who are looking for their starts in all this the way I did at 17. Above all, I’ve made some of my realest and closest friends off this app.
In the midst of its growth and seeing its potential, how do you feel like Stationhead will evolve over time and how would you want to contribute to that process of evolution?
In my mind, there’s AM, FM and now ON. Stationhead is radio for the digital age. I for-see some really sick new designs and features in the future, which will only make the experience more seamless and addictive. But over everything, I see myself and the community as a whole producing a bonafide star. Be it a musician or host, we’re so close. Whether that’s myself or any of the amazing people we’ve got as hosts, or an incredible undiscovered musical talent (I’ve interviewed quite a few of these artists before they’ve gotten to dropping any music publicly), Stationhead will be the mechanism for a new star. Since we sit on top of the streaming platforms and every listener counts as a paid stream, there will be a day where I press play on a new song and send it directly up the charts overnight.
Aside from your occupation, you have a great ear for various sounds that carry versatility. What elements of your music expertise you think makes you an outlier in today’s industry?
I appreciate that so much. Hmmm. I think I can thank my curiosity or my desire to discover things I’m unaware of for that. I prefer to be uncomfortable in favor of operating in an echo chamber. If there’s a sound or idea I’m not hip to, I’ve gotta hear it! And I operate that way as much as possible in all aspects of my life. If I’m ignorant to something, please school me! I don’t take that personally. I actively seek it out. And that’s what separates me from my peers. Everyone wants to compete and play this dumb clout game. It’s tiring seeing my peers stuck in their own ways instead of educating themselves and passing that information to the next great kid. All I do is just express myself honestly and very publicly support the people and music I love. Everything is transparent and open source. That’s it. It’s all love. That’s what freeclout is about.
Literally, the moment I decided to love myself fully, surrender to the process and trust my intuition, I started doing exactly what I always wanted to do. It completely changed my life. Even typing this right now on a train from Paris to London...I decided on Thursday to cop a train ticket to Paris, left Friday morning and that same night met some of my biggest idols like Cudi and Murakami.
That’s why I say life feels surreal right now. The more I trust myself and the universe, the more unbelievable shit occurs. The more Max I am, the more Max improves. And that’s all I can ask for. I don’t want to be the new this person or that person. I don’t want to be anyone else but me. Just figure out what’s important to you, work on your craft and do that shit!
In relation to that, you do have a big announcement regarding your taste. What would you like to tell our readers?
*jadakiss laughs* Well, here it goes. I was not trying to work at a major record label for a minute. But given what I’ve been on, some offers to A&R came in and I’ve gotta do what feels right. So, I’m hype to announce I’ll be returning to where it all started at UMG / Island Records. I’ve gotta give a huge shoutout to Ziggy, Eric and Darcus for this opportunity, as well as all the other family who reached out. Island is entering a really exciting new phase of their brand and I’m honored to be a part of building it with them.
Being an influencer with your taste, what advice would you provide to those who would want to follow you in a similar path?
I cannot say the following enough and if you follow me on social media, heard me speak at a college or tuned in to the “year of max” show on Stationhead, you’ve already heard this and may be sick of me for it but...BE YOURSELF.
Literally, the moment I decided to love myself fully, surrender to the process and trust my intuition, I started doing exactly what I always wanted to do. It completely changed my life. Even typing this right now on a train from Paris to London...I decided on Thursday to cop a train ticket to Paris, left Friday morning and that same night met some of my biggest idols like Cudi and Murakami. That’s why I say life feels surreal right now. The more I trust myself and the universe, the more unbelievable shit occurs. The more Max I am, the more Max improves. And that’s all I can ask for. I don’t want to be the new this person or that person. I don’t want to be anyone else but me. Just figure out what’s important to you, work on your craft and do that shit!
Before the year is over, what are three things you want to get accomplished?
Would say I want to do these things, but I’m holding myself accountable and saying I will do the following:
First, I will do my first art show when I return to New York City. The project is almost done and I couldn’t be more excited to finally finish it, get it off and move on to the next one. This was a long and draining process because it took so long for me to feel comfortable showing people my art, let alone creating. Especially because this project is so personal and took so much to do on every level. So, finally doing that gallery show will feel amazing. Wish I could tell you more about that one, but you’ll know all about it sooner than you think. I just hope at least one person gets something out of it.
When it’s all said and done, how do you want to be remembered?
Great way to leave it off. At an earlier time, I might have said I want to be remembered as a cool kid or someone everyone loves, but at this point, my own awareness of my talents and qualities, as well as my flaws, is enough. I just want to be remembered as someone who really cares and thinks about this all a lot. As someone who did the absolute fucking most because I don’t know when I’ll go, or where the next destination is. But right now, I’m here and I’m gonna do everything I can for myself and the people and things I truly care about. That’s what year of max is all about; it’s not just a big ego trip, though this is a huge year for me and 18 is my number.
It’s really year of you, whoever you are, reading this. Own your talents and amplify them to the world. I live to chase a feeling, and I hope when it’s all said and done everyone knows that’s why I do everything, love or hate me. But like Ash said at the end of your interview with her, let me know how you feel now. I may get hit by a bus tomorrow, and I’d much rather know you love me (even if we’re not close) or be encouraged to grow as a person before then than be stuck in my own ways and die the same Max.