Uncommon Approach

The Music Business blog of Paul "Nasa" Loverro, Owner of Progressive Hip-Hop label, Uncommon Records. Consider this the "Diary of a Label Owner". It covers the trials and tribulations of running a label in the post-analog era.

Visit the Uncommon Records Website at www.uncommonmusic.net

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  1. Recession Myths and How They Effect Creatives

    There is NO recession. I’ll say that again. There is NO recession. In the coming months with this election fast approaching you’re going to hear a lot about how safe you should play it and how dangerous our economy is. These are fear tactics. Without getting too deep into politics and keeping this on it’s effect on how I’m approaching things with Uncommon, I’ll point out a few things. Major corporations continue to thrive, despite what they say. Companies like Google and Apple make money hand over fist. A tiny company like Instagram was just scooped up by Facebook for an unseemly sum. In my personal life I work for a media company that delivers entertainment content to millions of people that take that content in on shiny expensive devices. The bottom line is that if we were in a true recession, these things wouldn’t be happening. A recession has NOTHING to do with whether you can or can’t get a job, a recession has to do with whether the companies that control power can do what they need to do to grow. I haven’t even mentioned the Oil business or traditional blue chip sectors.

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    In running Uncommon I’ve learned a few things. First, to be patient. I’ve finally reached a point where my two small businesses, Uncommon Records and Nasa Labs (my recording business) are sharing profits and re-investing in each other. This creates the opportunity to actually spend money. I’m pressing up more physical product and travelling more now then I ever have. It took 8 years to get to this point and I’m no where near where I want to be with Uncommon. But it’s all levels, you start spending money and not making it back, then you spend as much money as you earn back, then you make a profit. I think we’re somewhere in between step 2 and 3, but we were in step 1 for almost 5-6 years. That breaks most people and breaks most companies….especially in music.

    I’ve been lucky enough to get us to this point in a “bad economy”, because I run companies that do something specific that specific people want. At this point, it’s just a matter of creating more of those specific items and multiplying the specific people looking for them. At the same time, in my personal life I’ve also been fortunate to stay employed, but mainly because I have a specific skill set and background and have moved with the times to stay fresh.

    I know lots of folks that have no real set of skills that are disgruntled to not be working. I know lots of musicians that are disgruntled that they can’t sell music or tour. Patience is what’s needed and during that time, it’s about crafting out that set of skills that hopefully will keep you working in music (or any field you’d like to be in) through your 50s. I feel like I’ve done that, I’m 33 and I started working humbly at that by the time I was 17. Will I ever be rich? Probably not. But I’m not going to be working some office job or serving fries or escorting people to the electronics department at a Walmart.

    Living humbly is another factor. A lot of the people you see on television or that respond to polls think that they should be filthy rich and might not see how good they have it to have a roof over their head and a stable family under it. As someone the grew up under harsh circumstances I’m at ease knowing that at this moment I have both of those things and that’s what’s important.

    So to wrap this up, if you are in the creative fields, don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. When the economy is perceived to be “down” (you know when Democrats are in office), is the best time to strike. Even if it’s small, even if it’s one show some place new. Even if it’s a short run of CDs. No matter what, it’s a start. There is always a chance of getting burned, I can point to lots of examples where I have been burned, but almost all of those took place during the “boom” years of the 00’s when I started my label.

    More of this running a label/business/staying employed thing is about self determination and life experience then what’s happening in Greece or with the Euro. Don’t let cable news turn you into a corporate drone. Build your own kingdom, even if it’s incredibly small. Good luck.

     
     
  2. My Google Awakening

    I have to warn you ahead of time, I will sound a bit paranoid in this is piece.  But that’s ok, because that’s what they want you to think of me right? 

    Apologies Post Awakening.

    Let me say this, the name of this one is perfect this time, “My Google Awakening”, I have truly been awakened to this company’s true goals now, it all made sense after SOPA (don’t worry, this doesn’t have much to do with SOPA).  I have to apologize, first out, because only a month or so a go I was avidly promoting Google Plus for Uncommon at a time when almost no one else was.  My thought was that Facebook Timeline was going to destroy Facebook and that people would run to Google Plus, add in Google Music and you might have a new….yuck, Myspace.  In terms of musicians, let’s face it, Facebook sucks.  There will be a next website after Facebook, but that’s for another discussion and here’s hoping it’s NOT Google Plus.  That said, we are still there, if you think what I’m about to say is bull shit, feel free to join us there for light updates.

    Google Flexes Muscle.

    How did I go from supporting a Google program to writing a piece that’s about to break down all the reasons why you shouldn’t support Google?  The SOPA debate changed everything.  Forget about the subject matter behind SOPA, think about the power.  Google is gigantic corporation, larger then the entire music industry combined, that’s a fact.  The SOPA defeat was widely celebrated as a “Victory for the Internet”.  That sounds terrific until you stop thinking about YOURSELF as the internet, as idealic as the thought of an open internet controlled soley by the people is, it’s just not the case.  It probably hasn’t been the case in large part for some time now.  Google has done a good job keeping people unaware of it’s massive size, change in leadership and of it’s plans going forward. 

    I see Google the way the Ma Bell companies were in the 1930s, on the verge of creating a monopoly that would last for about 50 years.  If you think that’s a stretch or that the internet is that much different from telephony then I would highly suggest reading Tim Wu’s “The Master Switch”.  Think about what Google is doing, they have Google Search, Google Chrome, Google Plus, Youtube, GMail and of course all of the various Google iOS powered phones.  That’s just scratching the surface, but enough to get us started.  Imagine a world where Google is the dominate player in all of those fields.  Imagine Google being the dominating web browser, social network, phone provider, email service and search provider.  I can’t stress how dangerous that is in text form.  It’s the equivalent of what FOX News has done in New York City by owning 2 Newspapers, a local channel and a cable network in the same city……times a billion!  Without diversification in media, the message can be controlled and don’t ever think that the internet is not a form of media the same as radio or tv are.

    Google’s Search Bubble

    Let’s start with Google Search.  Everyone knows about targeted ads and paid search results.  Frankly, I don’t have a huge problem with Google targeting ads to me, I’d rather see an ad for New Balance sneakers then for teeth whitening solutions anyway.  This isn’t even about privacy for me, although that’s a part of it.  Paid search results are scary considering how far that could go, but I do acknowledge it’s well within Google’s rights to be able to sell one tiny search result as long as it’s marked as such.

    No, this is about the “Search Bubble”, as described best here on DuckDuckGo’s website, a competing Search Engine (more on that later).  As you can see from their chart, a Search Bubble is often used by popular search engines like Google to put you in just that, a bubble.  It might sound like a good idea to tailor results to the users previous searches or web history but what it results in is a limiting of differing opinion.  In their example two people search “Egypt”, one getting news of the revolution, the other getting tourism information.  This ACTUALLY happens.  In a more Uncommon related result, say we release something new, I search the artist and album.  The results will have all the blogs that have previously covered us, that I’ve clicked on before, at the top.  This makes it hard to find NEW coverage from new sites on us, this also makes it impossible to tell which sites are actually getting a lot of hits (as results were previously sorted by this measure).  Music aside, imagine how much you are not being told because of a reliance on Google as the sole source of information on the planet.  Google has no obligation to show you the entire “open internet” and I’m convinced that they don’t.  Do you really think there are only 4-5 viable pages of search results on any given subject on the planet?  I just don’t.  I’ll never believe that. 

    Another example goes back a bit when Google partnered with an online music retailer called Lava Music.  Our distributor had a deal with Lava, they paid minimally because no one had ever heard of them.  After this deal with Google, all of the sudden I would search for one of our artists and Lava Music would come up at the top of Google’s results.  This was pre-Google Music and pre-Bandcamp as well.  At the time, the logical result you’d want would be your own site or at least Itunes.  Instead, Lava Music, a site no one had heard of that had a poor payment history was given this spot and there wasn’t a thing you could do about it.  In time Apple must have gotten tired of the BS, they bought out Lava Music and they were never heard from again.  This is a very under reported story, my account of it is my own, but I’d like to see someone tell me I’m wrong about that series of events.

    Google wants me to sign into what???

    Let’s move on to Google Chrome, this is basically more fuel to the Search fire, now Google can have access to every single website you visit, not just the ones you click on at Google’s website search.  The other day was the final straw, I was asked to “log in to Google Chrome”.  I don’t know what that means, and I sure as hell don’t want to know.  Google Chrome worked really well on a Mac, but that’s not the be all end all.  I need some level of privacy and more importantly we as a society need some level of diversity on the internet, so I deleted Chrome and replaced it, more on that later.

    Google also offers email, and as you already know, electronically mines this email to present you more ads.  These ads based on your personal email can now occur on any of their platforms and their platforms grow every day. 

    The last two pieces of the puzzle, Google’s iOS and Google Plus.  More mining tools basically. 

    In and of itself, none of these things are super dangerous.  Facebook knows more about you then anyone right?  Apple has lots of info on us?  Mozilla?  The list goes on and on.  But here’s the key difference, it’s not all leading to the same source, that information on you is going to different companies that won’t work together to paint the picture of how to advertise to you, and worse yet, control you.

    How did I become Google’s slave?

    Ok, ok, ok……let’s slow down for a second!  How does this even happen?  There was more to my awakening then the SOPA mess.  I, like most people, used Google as my default for search, Google is a damn verb at this point.  This lead to a few Gmails.  I have a Gmail set up for Uncommon Radio submissions, a Gmail for our Orange Army promotion and more.  I never ran my personal email there though, probably for a reason. 

    Time goes on, Firefox was NOT optimized for Mac at all, it got worse and worse so I turned to Google Chrome.  It was lightening fast.  Problem solved there right?

    I of course operate a Youtube account, in fact, I have 3.  Little did I know that Google would eventually buy out Youtube and make it part of their network in the most annoying way possible.  If you have more then one Youtube account, then you know how insane their Google Profile log in procedure is.

    Google Documents is actually a pretty good service, all of their services are pretty good to be honest, but Google Documents is a good one.  I set up my discography there and worked with some interns to build data bases for promotion there as well.  Recently I got a new job, they run the daily duties schedule and our shift schedule through Google docs, so this required me using my Gmail log in to access.  Now I’m in Google all the time, I notice the Google Plus function and slowly get used to it and join.  When they launch “company” pages, as a label owner I feel I must get on there too, so I build out a simple Uncommon page.

    Now I’m only short the Google Phone, Iphone for life kid.  But you see what happened there?  I made strictly independent decisions on each of the functions I needed, slowly, all roads lead back to Google.  This can happen to anyone, but what can you do about it and what should you do about it if you’re concerned?

    Ways to escape Google’s grasp.

    Google controls more access to information then any entity in the history of our planet.  This isn’t hyperbole, it’s true.  If that doesn’t scare you then it should.  Most of the people cheering against “censorship” and feeling Google is a champion of this, don’t realize this fact.  Google has billions of visitors a day, if server space is the actual internet in real life terms, what percentage of that must Google control?  They can and DO change what you know about on a daily basis, most people that signed their petition found out about SOPA that morning, on THEIR site exclusively.  They saw the words “Censorship”, signed and helped shut down legislation.  No disrespect to folks that had problems with the bill, I had problems with the bill as written.  No disrespect to folks that did a lot of research, made a decision prior and were against it.  This isn’t about you.  This is about the majority of people that DIDN’T do that, and for those of you that did do that work, it should scare the shit out of you what Google was able to do to the folks that didn’t.  Is this about censorship by the government only?  I think it’s about the unfair control of information by anyone. 

    I did some research, and found that great website I mentioned above, DuckDuckGo.  It has an “honest search”.  It’s clean in it’s flow, has less ads and more access to the real internet, not the Google Bubble.  It even has a cute duck logo that wears hats and masks on certain days in case you are going to miss the Google art department on holidays.  Take a look at what Google’s power is though….. type www.duck (don’t even complete it with the dot com) into your browser and look where you go.  That’s right!  Google!  So if you don’t auto complete correctly you will get ushered to Google’s site.  Google bought the rights to www.duck.com.  You may say, of course they did, but think about how easy it was to buy that domain, that was surely taken by some duck oriented site previously.  They could buy any site on Earth and shut it down and we are helping make them become this strong.

    I then downloaded Camino, which is a Mozilla product.  It’s a browser optimized for Macs and works just as fast as Chrome without Google’s tentacles attached.  The sad thing is I feel like I’m “off the grid” just by making these simple changes, that’s what they want you to think.  That’s marketing.  Don’t believe me?  Think I’m losing my mind maybe?  Then why would Google invest in a cyber security ad campaign?  I saw one of these ads the other day on the Subway.  It was an ad warning me that when I walk away from a computer that I should log out or it’s like leaving my front door open.  Do you REALLY think Google gives a fuck?  Those ads are meant to build trust and the only companies that need to build trust are usually companies not deserving of your trust.

    It’s About Corporate Dominance Stupid.

    As much as I’ve railed on Google here, I acknowledge other companies are trying to do the same thing.  It’s a business.  It’s our job as consumers to keep our web dealings diversified to encourage a healthy web enviornment that includes a balance of power and not the creation of monopolies.  Google could easily become the next AT & T if we let it.  In fact, they’d be much more powerful then AT & T ever was at their peak of the late 70’s and early 80’s. 

    I still have some Gmail accounts, not my primary though, never that.  I still have our Youtube account.  I still even have the Google Plus page up and running for the time being, I’m just no longer actively promoting it, because doing so helps Google a lot more then it helps Uncommon considering their low activity numbers.  So I’m not saying “Boycott Google”, they do a lot well, but they should only be a PART of the web, not all of it.

    Don’t take my rant as paranoia, listen to what I’m actually saying, use common sense as a customer.  Don’t put you’re trust in one giant corporation over other giant corporations and pretend that they are for the people.  Don’t conflate corporate domination with an open internet.  Protect yourself online by using different partners for different jobs online.  And think outside of the Google Search bubble at the very least.