Uncommon Approach

The Music Business blog of Uncommon Nasa, Owner of Progressive Hip-Hop label, Uncommon Records.  This is now an archive as it is a retired blog.  I left the articles up just in case they are useful to anyone.  Check em out and check out my new site www.uncommonnasa.com

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  1. Uncommon Approach turned 2 today!  Here’s to two years of pissing off pirates, nerding out about rap music and adding random pics to stuff I say.

    Uncommon Approach turned 2 today!  Here’s to two years of pissing off pirates, nerding out about rap music and adding random pics to stuff I say.

    (Source: assets)

     
     
  2. Destructive Technology and Music’s New Normal

    The other day I picked up a ticket to go see one of my favorite rock bands, Torche, play in Brooklyn.  It started me thinking about how I first discovered them.  It was back when I had an Emusic account.  Then it occurred to me that you could play the “online service” association game with any artist from the internet era on.  Whether it be as old as Myspace or as recent as a Twitter post, as honest as an Itunes suggestion or as nefarious as the board or torrent site an artist was posted to.  Even if you heard it “on the radio”, that moment would now be traced back to (barf) Spotify or Pandora or Last FM or Youtube. 

    People, even young people, still have those moments.  Those first times where they heard something that they’ll always remember, that’s the joy of music.  It’s not the same as being told, in person, about something though.  It’s not even the same as that late night video show or radio show.  Or hearing a record spun at a club before the acts get on stage.  That was my era.  I can remember certain times from almost the entire 90’s and into the 00’s where I can remember moments like that for them.

    Nowadays that whole process takes place on the internet.  I guess my point is this leads to the worship of companies, corporations and services over the art itself.  It also ties into the cultural shift of what people want around them to be entertained.

    image

    This brings me to today, I guess today was E3, as I bang my proverbial cane, I have no fucking idea.  But as I read my Twitter timeline my afternoon was filled with announcements from Apple.  Then as I traveled home it was filled with announcements from Sony and some from Nintendo regarding their gaming systems.  People were filled with joy and excitement.  Sitting blissfully in front of computers, streaming press conferences and demos live online.  If I let myself wander enough, I could imagine a world where people are this excited about music. 

    I can remember waiting on long lines outside record stores, both large and small for particular releases and just as long lines for live shows as well.  These days, neither is quite the same, but the intensity for video games and other electronic products from Apple and Google burn hot.

    I’ve made the point in the past that illegal file sharing and content distribution bolstered Silicon Valley.  We all hated the old boss, the major label fat cats, but we should all hate the new boss equally.  As content creators we’ve sort of handed over the keys to our car to a different driver and we’ve handed over the course of American Culture with it.

    image

    Everything is now connected to technology on some level.  Hearing a song is a matter of what device you use, what computer you own and what service you employ.  The branding is strong.  If you talk to most kids today, their dream is to “work for Google”.  That’s not a goal, like being a lawyer was to me when I was a kid, that’s the DREAM.  The dream should be to wield an electric guitar like Jimi Hendrix, but often nowadays the dream is to be at the forefront of a start up that makes it easier to access Jimi Hendrix’ archives. 

    But let’s take this from another angle as well, the competition put toward the arts, in particular music, from technology.  I could go on a rant about video games.  The fact that modern adventure games usually require someone to sit in their house for 40 hours straight to complete.  The fact that most “gamers” are playing some form of an army training exercise repeatedly, over and over again in some sick blood thirsty loop.  I’m sure there have been some “artful” or even “thought provoking” releases in the video game world since I hung up my joystick sometime in the mid-00’s, but they clearly aren’t selling the most units or logging the most hours. 

    Add to that mix the “information era” and social media.  We are all constantly bombarded by images, updates, current events, drama, politics, sports and all the rest.  The access we have to all of those things is unprecedented in human history.  Unfortunately, this very same phenomena has lowered the value on music.  Not just financially, but culturally, I’m not sure a time has existed in the post WW2 era of the United States where music has been so wildly irrelevant as a whole.  The frustrating thing about it is theoretically with all this access, it should be just the opposite. 

    image

    All of those things taken together add up to why folks are way more excited about some new piece of something from Apple or Google or about the latest game system.  It’s a confluence of events.  The downfall of the music industry, the rise of “information access”, the competition from interactive as a source of entertainment and the hero worship for corporations large and small make this all possible.  I raised this in 140 character form on Twitter and someone replied “It can still happen” (for music).  I totally disagree.  This is a toothpaste out of the tube situation.  This is a cultural shift that is so far gone that most people will think this piece is 5-10 years too late to have been written.

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    I think as a fan of music, in the traditional sense, where a new release was a life altering event, it’s basically over.  At one time there were lovers of radio.  Radio dramas were at one point high art and certainly sources of high entertainment.  Television ended that, that’s a destructive technology.  At one time almost all television was produced in New York City in the form of the Teleplay.  Teleplays were television shows aired live, mostly starring Broadway players and writers, they were a high form of one and done style artistry.  When film technology advanced in the amount that could be stored, shot and improved upon, the teleplay was dead.  Again, destructive technology.  So here we sit, as true fans of music essentially being destroyed, but in a different way that leaves us in permanent stasis. 

    Of course people still love music, but for 90%, it’s in a far more passive way.  It’s a lame spotify or pandora player playing away the same hits while the listener barely notices or more importantly cares.  It’s the age of free DLs either countlessly dropped by everyone that considers themselves an artist or by way of piracy.  Piracy on the level that numbs the listener into feeling nothing for anything.  What they do feel passion for is only what is forced upon them by major labels, all indie music entering an echo chamber of streams, searches and downloads.

    image

    The hardest pill to swallow from all of this isn’t the destructive technology that is at hold here, it’s the glory bestowed upon the creators of such.  No one celebrated The Edison Trust, no one celebrated Ma Bell, but yet here we are in 2013.  The technologies that destroyed the rock star now ARE the rock star.   Whether it be a coder at Google, a Video Game Designer at EA or a sales clerk at the Apple Store. 

    Art is special, but art is becoming far less a part of our lives, and to the degree that it is there, the internet is marginalizing it all, and not just music.  I’m just glad I was around when the heroes wielded guitars, microphones, drums and turntables instead of degrees from communication and technology institutions. 

    The success of a site like Twitter is the ability for people like myself to go on there to find other music fans to actually share word of mouth experiences with.  In real life these days all people actually speak with words about is their new phone in between blank stares at a Facebook timeline at work.  Music fans are fewer and more spread out and that’s fine.  But don’t get it twisted, this isn’t where music has always lived within our culture and isn’t where it deserves to be.

    Like it or not, more people have had their lives changed by a song then have ever been changed by a video game, web service or mobile device.  This isn’t something to be taken lightly, the power of music to change the world or at least change some attitudes is shrinking and that’s a sad thing.  It’s still there, but it isn’t what it was and that’s a problem, even if you still think music somehow has a larger influence over culture then I do in these times.

     
     
  3. The Good and Bad of Modern Music Writing

    Just read an incredibly brutal piece in the Village Voice by Luke O’Neil about the modern state of music writing and wanted to share it.  For the most part, I agree with everything he said.  I don’t even have anything to add besides an epic quotable:

    "Kickstarter, the patronage model of unrealistic dreams"

    http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2013/02/advice_for_aspiring_music_writers.php

    But, before I burn down the house and declare music writing dead, I decided to rack my brain for the last compelling article I’d read.  Not another list, not another blurb, not another slide show….but actual writing.  I remembered this article I read about the Alaskan Music Scene that was in Spin.  It was truly compelling and I give almost no fucks about what’s going on in Alaska (sorry, Alaska).  Read it, maybe there is hope out there.  It’s called “Call of the Wild” by Jeff Weiss.

    http://www.spin.com/articles/the-call-of-the-wild-alaskas-untamed-music-scene

     
     
  4. The Grammy’s Should Open Your Eyes

    As the Grammy’s approach we can see much more clearly how much of the “music business” is dominated by Major Labels.  We can see how much has NOT changed with the advent of the internet, MP3s, indie success stories and even piracy.  It’s still their stage.

    I mean, nobody cares about the fucking Grammy’s.  That’s not really my point, and this isn’t some railing about the “injustice” of great music going unrecognized.  As Rod Serling said “Award shows amount to back patting competitions” (paraphrase but you get the point).  As an artist, I’m never concerned with awards.  Being able to make music, have people that want to hear it and buy and being able to play shows are awards. 

    What this is about is the mainstream media and the claims that come from so called analysts that “Major Labels are on the ropes” or “suffering” or “scrambling”.  People say these things against all visual indicators. 

    Open your eyes, find me the shining example of an indie label that puts up equal or better numbers then the best of the majors.  Tell me why indie artists are still signing deals with major labels then?  Even anti-copyright fan boy favorite Trent Reznor has decided to sign back with a major label. 

    Majors are still the dominating force in the music business economy.  Turn on the radio, television, or open up a print magazine or a web browser and tell me which artists and products have the greatest impact on overall popular culture.

    Look at the math.  Obviously the gross income for a major label is less, but is their net profit really less?  Or at the least, that much less?  There are now less media outlets to promote too, less shipping that needs to take place, less touring even needs to happen.  There aren’t a hundred thousand music stores in every strip mall of the United States to ship  to and from anymore.  Mass production is cheaper, shooting a video is cheaper.  All the radio stations by and large are programmed by one or two entities, what major label artist is being pushed to college radio anymore?  Even the internet is controlled by a handful of blogs that majors feel they really need to reach and genres outside of Hip-Hop and Alternative Rock don’t even need to reach blogs.

    Look, I’m not saying it’s “cheap” to promote an artist like Adele.  As a long time music industry wonk, I can appreciate the effort that goes into making an artist like that a star.  That said, the money that’s spent by majors these days pails in comparison to what they would have had to have spent back in the days of “old media”.

    Any businessperson will tell you, the gross doesn’t matter as much as the net.  What’s the profit margin?  Is there less of a sum total being earned by Major labels?  Sure, but I’d be willing to bet that in many cases the profit margins have actually risen.  You can see a warning below that was in a Letter to the Senate Anti-Trust Committee regarding the control of the overall market ceded to the UMG-EMI beast (click it to read more on that).image

    I haven’t even taken into account the king’s ransoms majors have taken in from services like Spotify, or the amount of increased revenue they get from sync lisences, or the simple fact that they don’t compete with each other the way they used to.  There are only 3 of them left, so it’s almost reached a triopoly state.

    My overwhelming point is to dispute the hubris shared by many tech blogs, anti-copyright freemium advocates, silicon valley lobbyists and historical revisionists.  Piracy has NOT changed the history of music.  Technology has.  The majors did NOT make a giant blunder in attacking pirates, it’s all gone according to plan.  They are still entrenched with controls over our culture that will seemingly forever go unmatched. 

    They have slimmed down and become a more versatile beast that continues to profit while their brothers and sisters in print media are falling by the way side.

    Whether piracy is good or bad for an individual artist is up for debate and is up to the artist to decide, not the person stealing their music.  What’s not up for debate is the clear case that major labels remain profitable and dominant within our culture, if not more so then ever, and indie labels are suffering and in some cases it’s getting even harder for them to maintain afloat.

    So the next time someone trumpets the “fall of the majors” and thanks some fringe group of hackers, you’ll know, that’s a person that doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

     
     
  5. If making a beat with samples isn’t art, than what is?

    A few quick notes on Lord Finesse, Mac Miller and the art of sampling.  As anyone that knows me knows, I’m an ardent sampler.  I’ve had many people try to call my card on this by comparing sampling to pirating.  The key difference they leave out is that sampling is an art form.  It’s called “derivative art” legally.  It’s no different the collage or pop art.  It borrows existing culture and forms it into a new piece.  Of course there are pitfalls, there have been many songs that were said to be “sampled” that were really just remakes with rappers on them.  But let’s back up for a second.

    image

    I think a lot of people are suddenly and inexplicably enamored with the idea that Oscar Peterson was never “paid” for the original sample that Lord Finesse flipped.  I’m sure Oscar’s family is wondering where all these defenders were while he was getting ripped off by record labels, but I digress.  Typically, this is raised by people that quite simply don’t respect our culture.  The “you don’t own no loops” crowd, the folks that think 3 notes on a keyboard by someone that doesn’t even know how to play a keyboard is more creative then someone killing and cutting up on an MPC.  I get it, it’s ingrained into our society that sampling isn’t music, isn’t art, etc.  If this is truly your belief system then I have some advice.  Stop listening to hip-hop because you don’t understand it.

    Urban decay in New York 1978, when crime and a crack epidemic were sweeping the city
    Hip-Hop, to be brief, was begun in the South Bronx in a time of economic ruin for New York City.  Music programs were cut, so were after school and sports programs.  Even getting to a school itself was likely closer to a scene from “Escape from New York” of “The Warriors” then those fantasies ever intended.  This was a time when fueling an automobile could turn into a long night.  And it was certainly a time when you might just live next to an abandoned building, for a long long period of time.  Hip-Hop was born from necessity.  It was born out of the undying will power of art and music to manifest itself in people, by any means necessary.  So when people deny the art behind sampling or consider it a lesser form, I tend to get offended.

    That’s exactly what people are doing when they bring up Lord Finesse suing over a sample that he sampled.  They are missing the point that what LF did was art.  Lord Finesse took something old and created something new, Mac Miller just used something old.  To compare sampling something and putting it in a whole new beat and context, to rapping over someone else’s beat it lunacy.  It shows a lack of respect for what we do as producers and beat makers. 

    The same thing happened when Pete Rock (only one of the best hip-hop producers of all time) had the nerve to just voice displeasure at Lupe Fiasco making a skeleton of his classic “T.R.O.Y.” instrumental. 

    It’s hard to get angry when you know at the root of the blow back for our legends is a fan boy for a current artist that’s been raised in “everything is free” world.  The lesson from sampling is not to take things for your own use at will.  The lesson of sampling is to create things with the tools given you, no matter your circumstance.  That’s the legacy we leave behind collectively as a cultural movement and the legacy that the pioneers began when NO ONE else could.

    If that isn’t enough then consider hard facts rather then artistic prose.  Oscar Peterson does not own the rights to the sampled work.  His estate won’t get it back until 2067.  Mr. Peterson is deceased.  This means some pie in the sky record label owns this work.  So why didn’t the label sue Lord Finesse?  For a number of reasons.  Lord Finesse’s “Hip 2 the Game” was released in the late 90’s, independently.  It was mostly sold in stores like Fat Beats and other mom & pop shops, it was released just before even online stores were fully operating.  I’d be shocked if it moved more then 100K.  At that time, labels wouldn’t waste their breath on anything that sold under 100K.  It would cost too much for them.

    Awakening by Lord Finesse cover

    A label would also have to decide whether they could prove that the elements of Mr. Peterson’s work were beyond the definition of “derivative”.  To put it very simply, a “derivative” is more the sampling of a note or two, then re-worked.  Even the combining of a larger sample with several others.  As long as the result is more or less “new”.  A copyright infringement is more fitting into the cover category.  Say, a 4 bar loop, left entirely recognizable, in order to capitalize off the imagery and success of the previous work.  The sampling of several lines of lyrics for a chorus.  You get what I’m saying. 

    Is there a grey area?  Of course, this is something that was battled out in courts for close to two decades.  At this point, it’s mostly established law.  The fact that the industry as a whole, and to some extent, infringed upon artists don’t have the resources to raise legal battles has also calmed the waters on this issue over time.

    I would heavily suggest reading this piece at The Stranger, which I pulled some of this data from.  It goes into much better legalese then I am capable of.

    If I had to guess, Finesse did not get the full 10 Million.  We may never know, I’d guess about a mil, but I wouldn’t even be shocked if they broke him off with less.  I could be wrong.  Mac Miller may be a huge fan of Lord Finesse, may respect him, may have grown up dreaming of rapping over that little known beat and had the best of intentions.  But at the end of the day, Lord Finesse is the creator, the ball is in his court and the law is on his side.  Without acknowledging this, you are saying that sampling is not an art worthy of copyright protections. 

    Either way, people need to wake up and start recognizing the art that’s in sampling and at the same time, the rights artists have under copyright.  Those two parameters are not opposed, they have a meeting point that needs to be acknowledged and respected in a far more serious way if we’re ever to secure our art form in the eyes of history.

     
     
  6. The Cold Vein, Great Expectations and Entering the Room

    It’s the end of 2012 and as always, the end of a year brings great reflection to all.  As I sit here on the last day of the year, my internal strategies and thought processes for how to move Uncommon forward have dramatically changed.  I think my expectations are lower, but assuredly my hope and faith in the future and pride in what we do have certainly never been higher.  I feel like we’re entering a 3rd phase (following our pre digital distro and blog driven eras).  But alas, that’s not really want I’m focused on discussing, that’s for another day.  I was inspired to write about expectations by a piece just written by my friend James Jackson Toth for Stereogum, and get into some of my own realities as relates to the piece.

    His piece (and another he linked to) mentioned a comparison between Grizzly Bear and Nirvana and the fact that years later, due to piracy, Grizzly Bear will never take their rightful place financially or culturally as the latter Nirvana.  This is true in hip-hop as well, but the biggest issue I guess is the disconnect between fans on why this is true.  To musicians in the know and in tune with reality, it’s pretty obvious.  It’s exemplified by my recent attendance at the Cannibal Ox reunion in New York City.

    The place was really well attended, the same sort of act coming out today in NYC wouldn’t have nearly the crowd, this we know.  But my role there that night personally is a key example.  A few times during the night I was shouted out on stage by name (thanks Creature and Karniege btw), my role in Can Ox’ classic album, “The Cold Vein” was as recording and mix engineer.  I worked on pretty much every song on the record in some capacity.  This was at a time in my life where I myself was just getting started.  But it’s an album that I’ll forever be associated with and I’m happy about that.

    image

    In any case, after I was mentioned (the guy who engineered it, not produced, not rapped on, not even my pic in the liner notes, just ENGINEERED it) both times I was met with several people that were total strangers that gave me a pound.  One guy at the bar even said to me “I thought that was you, but she (referring to a female companion) said “no way”.  I say this not to be self aggrandizing, although it did make me feel good and I thank those kind folks, I say it to make a point.

    In the days of “Cold Vein” albums were still PURCHASED.  This meant a revenue stream was coming in, which then got turned back around into the record, which made it more well known (via tour support, further promotion, further pressings, 12 inches, merch, etc).  This meant that even a guy like myself could solidify himself a place in the chronology of rap music just by engineering records.  The peripheral role that I had on that record touched people.  Remember, I was still years from establishing myself as a Producer, Emcee or of starting a label when Cold Vein dropped, but still, people appreciated me for that album, not for any of my more personal achievements in larger roles all these years.  That sort of power is no longer present with current releases.

    At my day job, a few people know about my work during that Vein era.  In my early days at the job I would get questions about some of the records I worked on, but it was always sort of under a context that none of those artists or even myself were doing anything relevant anymore.  I came to realize just how powerful those albums were, they were heard around the world by a generation of kids that were now adults.  At the time we were all young folks ourselves, and me not being the artistic creator of course of that stuff, just shrugged all of that off at the time only to face it a decade later on.  The deep connections people felt toward records and the substantial impact that had on artists lives is no longer felt. 

    What’s different today though?  What’s different about all the kids in NYC, including myself, doing left field rap music?  Nothing.  The major difference is exposure.  As much as Cold Vein is an out and out classic record, there’s no reason to believe that other records produced since couldn’t reach that level of notoriety.  It’s almost insane to think that there haven’t been.

    What’s frustrating is that disconnect.  If you’re reading this as a musician, of course all this stated above is actual fact.  It’s as obvious to you as the sky is blue.  If you’re the run of the mill listener, it’s probably all just a bunch of BS speculation as murky as an ocean, and that’s the problem.

    image

    That said, as an artist I have to come to grips with the fact that some people will never get it.  They will never understand commerce’s place in culture.  They will never stop wanting to impose impossible to attain moral capacity on musicians while adhering to none themselves.  Its apathy and it’s been around since the invention of electricity, maybe even the creation of fire.  It can’t be beaten.

    So I face the New Year learning harsh lessons.  Learning that a label solely built alone as an agent of A & R talent and promotion is no longer compatible with this world.  I’ve learned that if I want to change things I need to go back to what I tell others, I have to actually do it myself.  I’ve learned that worrying about the “business side” of things and how many blogs cover us is a fruitless exercise.  I’ve learned that my satisfaction is going to come more so from my own creative output then from any sort of success with business tactics.  This may seem obvious, especially to an artist, but increasingly we as artists are put into situations where we are more tactician than creative. 

    I’ve been lucky this year personally.  I’ve settled into a day job that I enjoy, that at this moment I feel comfortable striving for more within.  I’ve never had that sort of security from the workplace in all my years.  At the same time I’ve been able to travel to more cities and do more shows then in any other year of my life.  I finally made it to SXSW in 2012 and had an amazing time, growing friendships and making new ones.  It’s easy to get the perspective I’ve referenced when these things all fall into place.  I’ll grant you that.

    But I come away from 2012 with the firm knowledge that while I have strong opinions on IPR and feel it to be the great debate of our time, that I can’t base a career off it.  If I make the music I want to make with the people I want to make it with, it will provide more of a platform to invoke change that can help my fellow musicians.  I’m dedicated to the future, to making things better then what this generation has, but right now, my present is all that matters. 

    image

    Above all in 2012 I learned the future is right now.  There is no more “come up”.  We are here, we have arrived.  There are no more keys, no more doors, my label is already in the room and sitting down, about to take off it’s shoes and have a drink.  We are inside and inside is no longer a mystery.  We have to accept that the accolades aren’t going to come as we deserve them, neither is the money.  But we’re in the room and we’re going to trash it anyway.  This is our moment, and if you don’t get a chance to hear about it, that’s your fault, not ours.  Because the light is on and we are at work.

     
     
  7. Interesting stuff here regarding life “without Twitter”.  I definitely can identify with his thought process and the “over analyzing of things” he touches on.  That’s exactly what makes people like myself and him strong candidates to be Twitter addicts.  I don’t think I have an interest in quitting for a prolonged time, but I think shutting it down for a day or at least a full night more often is something I should try.  And accomplish.

    adambrault:

    I surprised some people when I said I was taking November off Twitter.

    I’ve been using Twitter since July 2006 (user #1568!) with almost completely unbroken usage since late 2007, so that reaction is understandable—most especially from those in my life who consider me addicted to my iPhone.

     
     
  8. Since I’ve Been Gone…

    It’s been a minute since I’ve posted anything here and in the interest of keeping to the “diary” format that I’ve strayed away from so often in this space, I’m just going to write and see what happens.

    I think one of the main things that’s happened is I’ve had several epiphanies that have to do with some of the issues I’ve warned about coming to pass.  The blogging circle of life has almost entirely died, there are of course super amazing rare exceptions, but for the most part, independent music blogging with reach is drying up.  This means the approach has to change, the way we do things as artists has to change.  

    I don’t think as a label or as an artist I’ve ever allowed us to become over dependent on writers or bloggers, etc.  We make products for the people that are dedicated to what we’re doing.  We started the Orange Army street team and we’re working on other innovative ways to actually make this music real.  Not part of a marketing scheme promoted by corporate behemoths.

    I think all of this pressure for more, more, MORE coverage and growth has put a lot on my shoulders over the years.  I’m an outspoken critic of many aspects of culture that I think hurt it.  I feel that comes with the job and I follow in the footsteps of folks like Rod Serling that I felt challenged not just social and political norms, but also cultural ones.  As 2012 comes to a close though, I have to say, I’ve made my peace.  We should all know that stealing music is a selfish thing to do.  We should all know that a world filled exclusively with streaming services will limit culture and options for consumers on an unforseen level.  We should all know that the more we hand over our privacy and the more corporations consolidate that information, the less free we are as a society.

    I’m taking a step back from making those points.  I’m going to stop looking forward to a small degree.  I’m going to stop and let other people stand the fuck up for once, I’m particularly looking at YOU underground/indie rap.  I’m not on the hunt for the next big thing anymore and if I happen to find it, I might just pass it off to the left.

    In 2013, I’m going to make more actual music, make more actual beats, write more actual songs and deliver more actual rap.  I have a lot more to do while I’m lucky enough to be walking around on this planet.  If I am meant to help with a bigger picture, I will only be able to get there by solidifying whatever legacy I can through music.

    This is going to be the vision for myself and for my label going forward.  So yeah, that’s what’s been going on since I’ve been gone.

     
     
  9. A good piece here, it’s 2012 so the fact that this point needs to be made to anyone is beyond ridiculous.  I’ve certainly made it so many times that I’m over even discussing it.  But for the wildly un-initiated, here you go.  

     - Nasa

    Some bad-ass dude replied to Damon Krukowski’s breakdown of how much money he makes from streaming services with a sneer and a windy response that basically boiled down to “duh, quit yer bitching and make your money on the road, old man.” Which… are we really still having these arguments,…

    (Source: pitchfork)

     
     
  10. Blogger Fatigue (As Explained by a Music Journalist)

    A few weeks ago I started to take notice of what I call “Blogger Fatigue”.  The Enthusiasm Gap that effected listeners is now starting to, in my opinion, effect bloggers.  I was about to sit down and write about this myself, but then it occurred to me to just ask a true and living blogger to confirm or deny such a movement and get a behind the scenes look at that world.  So I reached out to Craig S. Jenkins (@CraigSJ on the Tweets) who is a noted writer for Potholes In My Blog, Beats Per Minute, Passion of the Weiss and more.

    I’ve been following Craig on Twitter for a few years, I think we came across each other through some sort of random hip-hop debate on Potholes ages ago that I would never remember the root of.  It’s funny to say, that while we aren’t that far off from each other in many things rap related, as a hip-hop label owner and hip-hop writer we probably agree more on rock music then rap.  That said, Craig is a great follow, a good source of information and one of my few sources of somewhat pop related culture on my timeline.  I do tend to hide from that stuff being a giant backpacker and all.

    To some degree Craig seems to eat and sleep music journalism as seriously as I do the music business side of things.  So I have a kinship in that way in seeing how he approaches things and was glad to sit down with him for this interview which shed light on where bloggers and writers are coming from and how artists should be approaching them.

    N - Recently I’ve noted what I feel is a “blogger fatigue”, the whole cycle is wearing on folks.  You can see it.  The nature of how people post music, the reasons why they do it, the speed of it and where the information comes from all seem to have changed dramatically.  Bloggers themselves seem to want more then the constant chase for some new song.  Some for the better, some of them are moving on to form their own labels, promotion companies and more.  Some are just plain quitting or slowing to the point where their sites aren’t really worth visiting anymore.  Is this something you can verify from that side of the fence so to speak?  Do you feel it yourself?  If so where do you think this phenomenon is coming from and what’s to blame?

    C - The game’s in a crazy place because people think that releasing two and three projects a year is required behavior for rappers on the come up. They’re constantly trying to keep their name on front pages, whether it’s for tracks, videos and albums, or trailers and previews of tracks, videos and albums. Hip-hop is in a state of self-imposed overdrive, and as a result, coverage of the music feels the need to keep the pace. Writing about music is like stepping into an echo chamber, with all the music that’s out there, people’s responses to it, and other people’s responses to those people’s responses. I tried committing to it for a couple months back in 2009, but I always reached a point in the day where I hated writing. I loved music and writing about music, but constantly being plugged in, constantly churning out robotic prose made me resent both the music and the writing at the end of it. And the required speed of it did nothing for the quality of my output.

    N - Where do bloggers go from there?  They get caught up in the churn, but what’s the endgame?  Do you personally see fellow writers moving into A & R or Marketing positions, either full time or freelance? 

    C - Either responsibilities crop up, reality sets in, and you quit, or you worm your way into a position somewhere in the industry. I guess the endgame depends on what you’re in it for. If you write to promote, you maybe have more traction getting a job with a label. If you write to, like, yap about what you do or don’t like, you maybe end up at a somewhat respected publication, print or online. All of this assuming you’re any good at what you do. So few of us have goals for what we want to get out of writing about music that it’s kind of a funny question. It’s more of a compulsory urge, writing, than a means to a specific end, for me anyhow. For 2012, my goal is to work better and faster than I did in 2011. So far so good, I think.

    N - As a label owner, the whole process of submission/review/post (which I go through about 4-7 times a year with releases) gets old and tiring.  So even in a best case scenario, where a writer has discipline and tastes, does the repetition of the process of submission/review/post still loom as an eventual reason to give up that space of the internet?

    C - Sure. Multiply the number of posts you send out by the number of labels in existence, and you get a picture of what our email accounts look like on a daily basis. There aren’t enough hours in the day to actually sit, read and listen to everything, so naturally it’s easier to walk away from it all than it is to fight that uphill battle every day.

    N - Why do you think people start blogging about music?  Why did you?  How have the reasons that you do it changed from when you began to today (if at all)?

    C - I got my start in 1998 writing for the high school newspaper. Loved music and writing, so album reviews were a no-brainer. I’ve rarely gone more than a couple months without some kind of music writing since, and I don’t think my reason I do it has changed very much either. In ‘98, it was a forum to start a dialogue about music, and that still remains the case. Now that I’m considerably older and, some might say, a little more experienced, there’s the added element of metacriticism. Cause sometimes these young bucks need schooling.

    N - Do you think writers/bloggers are mostly looking for something new to write about, there by associating their blog with it, or do you think most of them are just looking to keep up with the Jones’ so to speak?

    C - For the right blog, it’s a combination of the two. You want to turn people onto new stuff, and you also don’t want your site to be left out of the conversation when something you didn’t catch at first bombards the internet. Maybe you have something to add to the discussion that hasn’t been brought by other people covering it. Of course, there’s also a huge portion of the rap blogosphere that is just running every song, video, and mixtape all the bigger sites are running, and I don’t know why those people are in it or what their goals are. I hope they’re at least making some kinda money out of the equation.

    N - I understand what you’re saying as far as the “speed of the internet” and everyone creating an echo chamber.  With that said, are there any other reasons why so few blogs and writers skip the more fulfilling work of hardcore reviewing and in depth interviewing?

    C - Cause it’s challenging and time-consuming, and that’s not something a lot of these cats are interested in. For a lot of these writers, blogging is a fast track to internet notoriety, free promos and event invites. Unfortunately that can be achieved without the nerve wracking work that really good interviews and reviews require. Hip hop interviews in particular have fallen off because most sites are more interested in preserving industry connections than hard journalism. Most coverage major rap artists is straight flattery. Dream Hampton called Dr. Dre a bitch in The Source for slapping Dee Barnes. There’s a DJ Screw interview where the reporter essentially asks if Screw thought his slain friend Fat Pat had his death coming. Those kinds of conversations aren’t possible in 2012 because the rap internet is too scared to burn bridges to speak out.

    N - Why do you think podcasting hasn’t become more of an outlet for people that want to promote, discover, critique music as opposed to blogging?

    C - Blogging is faster and has a smaller learning curve. DIY internet radio as a concept is still in its toddler phase compared to other mediums. Once the proper technology has time to disseminate into the culture at large, once it gets easy enough for the average Joe to grasp it, that corner of the net will inevitably explode.

    N - What happens to the next generation of music journalists, the generation that has ONLY known this world of rapid fire churn? 

    C - The new class of writers is encountering rap in an era where Biggie, 2pac, Big L and Big Pun were always dead, Def Jux was always inactive, Wu-Tang Clan as a group was always in disarray, Rakim was always kind of a recluse, KRS-One was always a self-righteous old head who does more panel discussions than albums, and Ice Cube is the Coors Light guy, an era when pop aspirations and lyrical dexterity have long since parted ways. They’re born into a handicap as far as being able to process rap with perspective. So I can’t fault them for the state of rap when they entered the conversation, and I kinda understand where they’re coming from. I got serious about rap in the ‘90s, and I’m still learning about ‘80s rap to this day.

     I do fault them for making excuses. They always groan about how there’s too much music for them to be able to navigate what’s new while also absorbing the classics, and yet they live in an era where the accessibility of music is higher than it has ever been in history. If I want to hear an older song I’ve never heard before, it’s a five second trip to Youtube. I used to have to find somebody that had the album or a store that sold it. If I want to hear a new track, it’s a five second trip to Google. I used to have to stay up late and hope and pray that Hot 97 Future Flavas played it. So while they came into rap at a weird juncture in the genre’s history, they have tools for accessing music that we never could’ve imagined, and they just need to be smarter about their use of time. It doesn’t seem like that hard of a process, and I personally juggle finding new music with excavating older stuff I’ve never heard like, every day.

    N - Where does all of this leave the artists?  How important is blog coverage in your mind to an artist anyway?  What SHOULD artists be doing in your opinion besides filling your inbox?

    C - Blog coverage is and isn’t important. This Chief Keef kid out of Chicago had a dedicated fan base before any of his music got covered on the usual rap blogs. Odd Future blew up without the blessing of the big rap sites to the point where sites they openly ridiculed on their albums 2-3 years ago for refusing to cover them are now begrudgingly running all of their new releases. Blogs are great for increasing visibility, but they are by no means the only way of getting heard. Playing shows, meeting people, cultivating a personal website with interesting original content, networking on social media, throwing your own tracks on Youtube, Soundcloud and Bandcamp, all of these are great avenues for growing an audience. Blogs are notoriously resistant to certain kinds of rap and often need to see that an artist has an organic following before they’ll give them the time of day, so I don’t think anyone should be relying on them as the main way to get their music out. Especially when a lot of the time, what we see or don’t see in our inboxes is damn near a roll of the dice.

    N - Forget for a minute that you are an active music writer since you are also obviously a fan and supporter of music as well.  Put that hat on and tell me what it is that YOU want from the internet in terms of music discovery and journalism?  In a perfect world, you wake up in the morning, thirsty for something new, what is it you see that leads you to that?

    C - I need writers giving me well written, deeply considered, fair and balanced music writing. I need writers who think outside the box and don’t have boring, predictable biases that taint the way they view and discuss music. I need writers who care about their craft and the craft of making music so much that it shows in everything they do. I need writers who are cool with not running the latest track by the biggest artist cause it ain’t up to snuff, who can stick a microphone in front of a platinum selling artist and ask a question that might get them kicked out of the room. I need writers knowledgeable enough to tell me something I don’t already know. I need creativity, individuality, and fearlessness. I have a dedicated list of sites I follow that tick off most or all of those criteria, so whenever I get that nonspecific new music urge, I check one of them. 80% of rap writing in 2012 is glorified PR and not to be trusted, so my little nerdy rap corner of the net is very necessary.

    N - With that said then, can you tell us some of those sites you think are at least coming close to this vision, regardless of genre?

    C - Aside from the sites I write for whose visions I obviously respect, I really like Hip Hop Wired for their mix of social commentary and music coverage, Complex whenever they publish their more inspired, in depth features and lists, The Mad Bloggers & I Heart Dilla for their commitment to pushing the envelope and promoting artists you don’t see on every other site, Rappers I Know & Producers I Know cause Frank and Dart know more about hip hop than I probably ever will, the Mostly Junk Food kids cause they’re funny as hell, Metal Sucks for metal because the tone of their writing is totally sarcastic and self-deprecating where others are deadly serious, the guys at A Closer Listen for holding it down with the avant garde, electronic, instrumental, and ambient music, Absolute Punk & Alternative Press for carrying the torch for music the indie press is too cool to support, and, to be honest, Pitchfork cause hate em or love em, they’re the Steinbrenner Yankees of the indie rock blog community. Those are all sites that I can sink twenty, thirty minutes or more into reading and whose content is put together carefully by people who care about the music and the writing and aren’t just turning over whatever PR emails they’re receiving. I know I’m probably forgetting somebody… Shout out to any and everybody slaving over laptop keyboards for the love of this shit.

    N - Thanks again to Craig for taking the time to do this.  My thoughts on blogging also manifested themselves in this post a week or so ago if you’d like to check that out.