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PropertyOfZack: The Online Punk Pioneer.

January 7, 2015

PropertyOfZackOnline01Text by Beth Ann Downey. Image by Rachel Del Sordo.

Zack Zarrillo looks up between bites of his Honest Tom’s burrito when he hears his name called. It’s more likely he thinks someone is addressing him in the West Philly taco joint due to the fact that he’s in the Drexel student’s neighborhood, where the majority of his friends live.

However, he probably never knows when he’ll be recognized for the creation of one of the most well respected punk music blogs, which also happens to bear his namesake.

Zarrillo started when he was a 16-year-old high school junior attending what he openly refers to as a private, all-boys “Gossip Girl” school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

“I never really had anyone to talk about music with,” he says. “My best friend [who lived in New Jersey and] was three years older than me showed me Sum 41 and Blink-182 when I was 9 and that was it for me. But in New York, no one I knew liked my music.”

So Zarrillo found people to talk about punk music with online. When his favorite forum closed down, he decided to create his own blog. With 300 initial Tumblr followers, Zarrillo posted the first band interview to PropertyOfZack on November 8, 2009, which he considers the birthday of the site.

“There was no model,” Zarrillo says. “There were sites like AbsolutePunk and Punknews and Alternative Press, but in 2009-2010 there were no music blogs. There were no other websites like PropertyOfZack – just small blogs with a very specific purpose. So I had nothing to model off of. I slowly stumbled upon this model.”

PropertyOfZack remains a Tumblr site to this day, but with a few more followers – more than 85,000, to be exact, Zarillo says. The site now generates millions of pageviews a month.

“That’s our secret weapon,” Zarrillo says of Tumblr’s social nature and reblogging feature. “I think for a few years I was always like, ‘Well maybe we’ll have to go to WordPress one day.’ But eventually, I was like, ‘Why would I ever leave? This is us.’ Tumblr doesn’t inhibit us from doing anything because we’re not some crazy big site or platform, we don’t need some crazy intricate design. We’re just a blog. That’s what Tumblr does best.”

PropertyOfZack started covering bands like Man Overboard, Transit, Modern Baseball and The Wonder Years well before other online punk outlets. In return, those bands allowed the site to premiere albums and music videos, which ultimately contributed to the popularity of both the bands and the site.

“All these kids grew with us,” Zarrillo says of POZ fans. “I hope, or I think, the website is a routine in peoples’ day. They check on it because that’s where they find these bands and through these bands, they go to shows and meet other people in the community. Yeah, we’re on the Internet and that’s a lot different than meeting someone in person but I think it facilitates a lot.”

In 2012, Zarrillo was approached by Buzz Media with an offer to buy the website and fold it into an online punk conglomerate while he continued to run it. He was heading into college and saw the offer as an exciting opportunity for the website to grow, so he accepted. However, Zarrillo describes working with Buzz Media for the past two years as a “miserable experience.” He was able to buy back the site this past November on its fifth birthday.

“The site is my identity,” Zarrillo says. “All I do every day is the website.  I’m tired but it’s what I do. Truly, waking up and posting news is no different for me than brushing my teeth. I’m better at doing the website than I am at brushing my teeth. It’s no different than breathing to me. It’s more of my life than anyone else I’ve met whose work is their life. It’s an extension of me. So to get it back, and to not see it be ruined, was important.”

Jesse Richman, one of PropertyOfZack’s first staff members who has contributed hundreds of reviews, interviews, features and editorials to the site, said it’s been incredible to see POZ take off the way it has, as well as to see Zarillo gain back control of the project.

“I don’t think any of us imagined it would grow to be as big or influential as it’s become and I think the credit falls squarely on Zack’s shoulders,” Richman says. “He’s an absolutely relentless workaholic, knows how to navigate his way through an industry controlled by overgrown kindergartners, and isn’t afraid to pivot the site when that’s what it needs.”

Zarrillo has become a workaholic far outside of his responsibilities to PropertyOfZack. He’s now a band manager for Light Years and Knucklepuck and a co-founder of local label Bad Timing Records. He also helped his Drexel professor resurrect 24-year-old Delaware record label Jade Tree Records, so they made him a label manager.

“I’m 21-years-old and I’m a label manager at Jade Tree, which is kind of dumb because the label is three years older than I am,” Zarrillo says. “Eighteen months ago, all I was planning on doing was the website. Now I’m doing a lot of stuff, and it’s weird. It’s spurred into all this stuff and it’s like a dream. Sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing and it’s great. It’s very weird. It’s because of Philly though. All of that stuff has just come because of Philly.”

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