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. A More Cynical Letter to Emily White

    Recently, National Public Radio published the thoughts of an unpaid intern on their website as she explained how she didn’t pay for music.  Oh, the irony.  In response David Lowery, of the band Cracker, responded with one of the most well written pieces on illegal downloading to ever hit the internet.  His piece was filled with information and knowledge (all researchable and fully credited by the way) and none of it was a “gut reaction”.  Since then several gut reactions have been written including one filled with idiocy on The Huffington Post, no surprise there since that’s one of the worst sites on the internet to gain any knowledge from and is staffed by people that aren’t being paid.  I caught another one from another person that happened to named Emily White as well at Hypebot this morning.  These two reactions were but visceral.  Defending what they deemed was the defenseless 19 year old intern who in their mind was being demonized.  If you read David Lowery’s piece, actually take that 30 minutes or so, you’d find that this wasn’t the case.  But I’ll say what David couldn’t or wouldn’t to intern Emily White in my letter so that every one can attack me instead since David’s piece is beyond reproach in my mind.


    Please don’t listen to people like that Huff Post “writer” that is trying to create a false equivalency between shoplifting CDs in the 90’s and illegal sharing of music today.  I personally never stole music, even as a teen, even before the internet I had an issue with that.  I had too much respect for the art form.  But I knew plenty that did.  In fact I went to record stores with friends that would literally be stealing tapes and CDs while I was at the counter paying for mine.  If I could do that in the real world, you can do it online and hold yourself to a higher standard.  But let’s look at this equivocation directly.  One person could steal 1,000 CDs and have an incredible collection built up over shoplifting in the course of their 4 years of High School or College.  And while that’s a terrible thing to do for a whole host of reasons, it doesn’t come close to the damage caused by illegal downloading.  Illegally downloading (and uploading) music is more equivocal to someone stealing 1,000 CDs and giving them EACH to 1,000 individual people.  I’m using round numbers, it’s a lot worse then that.

    I would also say this to you Emily, don’t let your defenders distract you from the main theme of David’s piece.  That large corporations are making money off of the poor morals and greedy habits of others.  When someone stole a CD or made a tape recording in the 90’s, no one made any money off of that.  When you steal from a file locker or torrent, adsense and google are making money every day.  They are then using that money to acquire more wealth that feeds into less access and choice in the information you receive via the internet.  This whole thing is a scam, and finding your role in that scam is what’s key.

    I also question some of what you actually wrote, at one point you claim to have not gone through the physical to digital shift that us dinosaurs did.  But you say you’ve gotten a lot of your music through trading mix cds and by dubbing cds at your college radio station.  You clearly have had exposure to the physical world of cds and the differences in those two worlds.  Let’s not kid each other.  You aren’t that unique, you are just like the rest of the older kids that simply like their music free.

    You also talk about how you don’t want to hurt artists, but at the same time you’d like a “Spotify like service” that provides you even more access to more music at a cheaper cost.  I think this is what you are told you want.  I can’t believe any real music fan wants to rent music.  This is exactly what you asking for, the ability to rent music.  All music comes from different sources, some from small indie labels like mine, some from large labels.  All of them have moving parts, like contracts, contract lengths, distribution paths, etc.  In reality, if you listen to Nirvana on Spotify today, depending on the contract it just may not be there tomorrow.  That’s never going to change.  What you are also asking for is to hand over all of your control and ability to choose what YOU want to yet another corporation.  The owner of Spotify is the 2nd richest person in the music related fields in the UK.  While I pour over statements paying us 0.00009 per play from his service.  Keep in mind, I am not signed to a major label, this is the arrangement for indies just as much as it is for the singer of Cracker.  This is because Spotify pays labels and distributors advances for arrangements not in artists and label contracts.  As David pointed out, the longer people steal music and support operations like Spotify, the longer it will be that you won’t have a role in the music business beyond “Public Radio Intern”.

    You’re smart enough to have caused an internet stir, so you are probably thinking, “What about Pandora or Last. FM or public radio?”  Don’t they pay a pittance too?  Yes, they do, but that’s because they are only paying for the airing of the song.  Spotify is on demand, meaning you can listen to the same album repeatedly.  That’s tantamount to ownership, that’s essentially theft.  What Spotify, or any service that you may be dreaming up does is combine the worst aspects of the radio business for artists with the worst aspects of the retail business for the artists into one big nightmare.

    What should you do?  Great question.  You should buy what you love.  If you think something is “just ok”, don’t steal it, don’t buy it.  Let it rot into the mediocrity you feel it deserves.  You do not need to hear every song made, no one owes you that.  You do deserve to enjoy the music you love to the fullest of your ability.  But the artists need to take away something from that too.

    Unfortunately there will be many people writing responses to you, some defending you.  Most of those people will sound really smart.  They will twist things around on me.  Create false equivalencies, but ask yourself a few questions when you read those, or read any blog related to the music business.  Is this writer ACTUALLY in the music business?  Do they run a label?  Do they make music currently?  Then ask, is this writer someone that would have a stake in representing the interests of Silicon Valley and their continued profiting on content creators (Huff Post, *cough*, Hypebot *cough*)? 

    I can promise you that artists can not live on selling t shirts and touring alone.  To the degree that SOME can, it slams the door or makes it almost impossible to open for anyone just starting out.  Think about how high that sets the financial bar for a person your age.  Could you afford to manufacture t shirts and pay to travel for even a regional tour?  Not to mention the money you’ve already spent to record the music, gear, engineers (hopefully), etc. 

    Why would you, Emily White, want to hurt people in your own generation and keep them from that dream of being in the music business as you wish to be? 

    We have the technology now to bring progressive art that has been shunned for decades into the forefront, we have the technology now that levels the playing field from corporate to local.  But the corporate interests in the technology sector are using it against content creators.  Ask yourself Emily, who’s more hurt by all this, the studio that produced “The Avengers” or the independent film company.  Ask yourself Emily, who’s more hurt by all this Lady Gaga or Uncommon Records?  People will make the case that bills like SOPA “stifle innovation”, while those same corporate interests “stifle innovation” from independent creatives with their greedy tactics.

    We will never get the fairness you say you want for artists and we will never achieve an artistic balance culturally if what you desire is reached. 


    Nasa - Owner of Uncommon Records and music business lifer (aka an artist you will never know about)

    PS -

    I’d lastly suggest you read David Lowery’s artful piece once again.  https://thetrichordist.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/letter-to-emily-white-at-npr-all-songs-considered/  He said it best.