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. The Enthusiasm Gap

    Sometimes I tend to day dream.  I’ll be at a show and remember good times from the 90’s.  At times, I can compare things I experienced in 1997 to thinks I’m experiencing now.  Other times, I fail to make that connection and end a despondent old fool grasping at a time that is no more.  

    For example, we just threw our 5th Annual Yule Prog about a week ago.  It was a great show, about a dozen or so artists sharing the same stage, all killing it.  It’s what we expect every year, what we aim for and what we delivered.  It got me thinking about old times, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay to any show, much less something I’m directly a part of.

    The memory started flowing though, I had this flashback of being a kid, all of 21 or so, getting to shows EARLY.  Me and my friends would usually be some of the first people on line, yes I said “line”.  Ok, let’s start from the beginning.  Back then there would be a wait outside.  This still happens at some venues, I think the whole line thing is more about the venue then the acts and the way they work the door the the times.  I think the laws in NYC these days make it so that venues do NOT want people out on the street all that much.  That’s a whole other story though.

    I remembered though, WHY we would get to shows early.  We wanted to hear the DJ spin.  DJs would get about an hour, sometimes more and there was so much new shit out on wax then that you were bound to hear brand new joints.  Sometimes, the underground bangers you wanted to hear that would connect crowds of people that all thought “they were the only ones up on that”.  Sometimes, you’d hear something brand new, you’d sit with your friends trying to figure out “who’s voice is this?  It sounds so familiar, but I haven’t heard this before”.  Sometimes, you’d end up hearing an old school set and people would literally shout out the lyrics to classics together as if they’d never seen someone in 1997 play Top Billin’ back to back with Dwyck before.  Well, I guess in 1997, that was the first time cats started doing shit like that.

    I wonder how many people that are under 25 can share that experience?  I just can’t fathom that being the case anymore anywhere.  What was different about my generation and this generation?

    I’m sure many will jump out quickly and say “THE INTERNET!!!!!”.  But I’d consider this as well before jumping to the obvious conclusion.  Firstly, I’m not harping about turnout at shows per se.  Turnout was good for Yule Prog, perhaps the best it’s been in it’s 5 years.  Turn out for other underground shows I’ve been to in 2011 have been good too.  So this isn’t another one of those “people don’t go outside anymore” types of pieces.  I’m getting to more of the WHY do people go to shows and WHAT is it that they expect.

    But let’s visit the internet directly as well.  Look at most of your popular websites, which have supplanted magazines.  Many of the most popular hip-hop blogs are simple cut and paste style presentations.  Here’s the song, click this, peace.  That’s the post.  No incite, no theory, no story.  Nothing.  Some sites will copy and paste the info presented by the label, that’s even a stretch for many.

    Where is the enthusiasm?  The love for hip-hop?  The love for music?  Where are the sites with lengthy reviews.  Where are the sites with a healthy discussion of issues in our genre?  Where are the interviews?  Where are the creative pieces examining new angles and ways of taking in our culture?  I can name you a few, I’m proud that a lot of our music lands on sites like these most often actually.  I won’t partake in a self serving mention of them, but they know who they are.  When I actually take the time to read their sites besides checking out my own posts, I get filled with passion.  I get excited to see that on display, to see someone else out there gives a fuck enough to put time and THOUGHT into what they say and think about this music that I’ve spent my whole life working on.

    But, is this the norm?  No.  So you can see, it’s not as if that old fashioned passion of showing up early at shows to get a good location and hear a DJ spin has been replaced with diatribes of passion preaching to the web about a new found love of music.  That’s not what’s taking place here.  

    This is MUCH bigger then the internet.  This is a generational gap.  There is a flat out difference between people in my age group and people in the age group that followed us, even more so in the generation after that.  This isn’t to shit on younger heads, there are lots of people younger then myself that have just as much passion as I do.  There are lots of heads older then myself that have no passion for music left in them.  It’s not about agism.  It’s about the facts.

    Is it something about the 9/11 generation that has made them dispassionate?  Is it the Bush years?  Is it our Reality TV based culture?  Is it partly because of the internet?  Is there just too much information?  

    I could go on and on about how I feel the bar has lowered, not just in hip-hop, but in our culture.  But throw out the bar, what about the way we feel about things we supposedly DO enjoy?  Why aren’t they enjoyed with the full intention that they used to be?  All I can do is keep showing my passion.  I run a label, I host a podcast, I sqwuak on Twitter, I share my thoughts, I do this blog itself.  Hopefully the cup runneth over and inspires others to feel and believe in this shit as much as I do, regardless of their age.

     
     
  2. Get Back to Me When This is Done (2 Ideas for the Digi Music Biz)

    There was a time in my life when I really wanted to start, eh hum, a start up.  I had an idea, one that still hasn’t been done exactly how I had my plan laid out, but to be honest, Bandcamp covered about 75% of the bases of my start up.  At this point, I’m really focused on my label, within Uncommon I’ve got lots of creative ideas floating around for 2012 without even starting a brand new business to run side by side with it.  For some reason, I think about this stuff all day, every day and as an active business person in the music business I run into issues that have what I think are obvious solutions.  Why I won’t get into the on coming ideas for Uncommon specifically, I did have two random ideas that I will give away here, all for FREE.  I got more where these came from.  Just read this, make it happen and let me use these services for free once you make your first million.

    1 - Pre Sale Ticket Service for Indie Bands/Labels

    I’m just now starting the promotion for Uncommon’s annual Yule Prog show here in NYC on December 8th (more on this in a future post).  This year I really wanted pre order ability for tickets.  I knew that I could set up a Paypal button, print out the list of paid folks and bring it to the venue.  Pretty easy and that’s exactly what I had us do.  BUT, before I went ahead I did a quick search of google and found NO ONE doing this for bands already.  Every band would love the opportunity to pre sale tickets.  Whether it’s for a show in Williamsburg or Fredricksburg, 300 capacity or 30, why wouldn’t you want this?

    Am I missing something here?  It should be simple.  You have a company, let’s call it BandTix.  You enter the info into BandTix, they link you with your Paypal account or direct to your Checking account and set this up for you without having to set up your own Paypal button or some other means.  It would streamline everything, this company could then peal off some sort of percentage.  They would make it so there’d be an easy to use widget that you could slap on a website or a Facebook page and BAM!  You’re selling tickets online.  You could also have it auto update sites like Last.FM or ReverbNation as well when you set up a pre-sale.  All through one easy interface.  Why doesn’t BandTix exist?  I’m assuming it has something to do with the monopoly known as Ticketmaster and people not wanting to play David in this scenario, but that’s just hyperbole on my part.

    2 - Email Filtering by Preference for Music Bloggers

    I’ve come to realize that bloggers get WAY too many submissions.  Especially as the internet continues, yes I said continues, to grow.  I’ll be honest, when I first got on Twitter, there were still many blogs that JUMPED at the chance to review our music.  Even those that hadn’t heard of us before.  And while that still happens, for the most part a lot bloggers are more and more cynical.  You get less interaction when you honestly approach a blogger and genuinely want to add their email to your list nowadays.  Why is this?  Are they jerks?  No.  They just have 100 people hitting them up per day, most of which aren’t worth their time. 

    I also run a podcast myself, called Uncommon Radio, which is really healthy for me because I get some incite into the volume of email that’s out there and how to and not to write emails.  You know what would help?  An email filter that’s based on some sort of ratings system.  Say you LOVE Uncommon, you can rate my email address “5 stars” and all my emails will appear at the top.  If you like us, but not everything we do, you could rate us “3 stars” and we’d come up somewhere in the middle.  At least then you could sift through it all to your liking. 

    Going through mounds of emails in chronological order sucks, it can be very daunting.  I know a lot of bloggers who probably will be away for a week and then feel like they can’t possibly post something from a week ago.  I’ve always thought that was horrible logic, and part of it has evolved from the chronological email lists.

    Maybe, again, I’m missing something.  Maybe this exists.  Hip me to it then.  But I think this sort of preference based email system, when you used for the right tasks could be useful for a lot of businesses, particularly media sites of any kind, not just music.

    Like Jean Luc Picard famously said, MAKE IT SO.  And remember where you got these ideas from when you hit it rich.

     
     
  3. Yule Prog

    One of the better things that’s kept me busy is throwing an event called “Yule Prog”.  I’ve been doing it for 3 years now.  Organizing it is a beast.  Let’s start at the beginning.  In 2007, I wanted to throw a show- pretty simple.  I ended up getting a date close to the holidays, so I decided to make it Holiday themed. I came up with “Yule Prog”. I wanted to create a show that featured the best of NYC’s Progressive Hip Hop scene.

    By the time that first show was taking place, I had already decided that I wanted to turn it into an annual event in NYC.  New York really needed something like that, I thought. I had seen other annual events in other places like Scribble Jam and even Mr. Lif’s “Lifmas” shows up in Boston, but NYC never had anything resembling either event. The only example I can think of is Rocksteady, which is also an influence.

    A Reunion
    I wanted to cater to the scene I was a part of, and really make it like an Uncommon “Holiday Party” and reunion. Over time, I can feel from people that they look forward to the event. No matter how large or small the circle is from year to year, just knowing that certain people mark it on their calender and put a lot of effort into their sets for that particular show really makes me feel good. 

    The shows are crazy! Usually, I book like 13-15 acts to rock. This started as a way to bring out that much more people to the venue.  Times are tough, you literally have to fill cards to get all the small amount of people each act can bring to add up to something. It’s just part of the reality in 2009. 

    A New Experience
    In 2007, it was insane. I had never done anything like that before EVER. I had barely even thrown many regular shows, much less something on that level.  Balancing the time, egos and personalities was totally new to me and at times I shined under pressure, and at times I fell flat on my face and made some mistakes. Honestly, after that first year, I said to myself “I’m never doing that EVER again!” haha. But as the year passed, the hunger grew again to make something that could become a landmark in NYC.  So I pushed on.

    In 2008 (as well as this past year), I worked with Backwoodz Studioz co-throwing the show. Sharing the weight really helps. The second year we did Yule Prog, we did 2 nights!! We did an emcee battle with two performances and then we did a full on 11 or so act show the next night! We took over 2 different venues in 2 nights and tore it down both times! The emcee battle, won by Chaz Kangaz, was honestly one of the best Battles I had ever been to. It was fun to be a part of. Then we rocked at Southpaw for the first time the next night. Southpaw is one of the best venues in NYC, and clearly the best venue in Brooklyn. It’s an honor to have done the last two Yule Prog’s there.

    Emcee Battles
    What ends up happening with these things is you end up trying to top yourself each year. You have to resist that. I think we started out trying to do that this year after incredible success last year. We were putting ourselves in bad spots trying to get bigger and bigger acts. Eventually we decided wisely to keep 2009′s event primarily in the family.

    In 2009, we had to X the battle. There were 2 main reasons for this, as I said earlier, some personal issues got in the way, and in turn also kept me from putting the time into booking a battle night  and organizing it. But, with that said, when we did the first Yule Prog Battle I think there was a huge void for emcee battles. In that year since, I feel like they’ve come back into vogue and me throwing one, just ads to what’s out there instead of standing out. That’s not to say we won’t bring back a Battle, but it is what it is.

    Three Years Strong
    We just did our 3rd Annual event last night and it was a blast as usual! I’ve gotten a lot more used to balancing a large amount of artists, keeping my cool and getting the job done. It’s tough when you have to rock too, but I think I’ve gotten better with that too. 

    I think once you do something this many years in a row, people start to get used to it. Hearing “Yule Prog” used as slang really warms my heart, for real. Knowing that I’ve created something that means something to people is amazing, no matter how far reaching it is. We’re in year 3 and have lots of room to grow, and that’s fine, that’s what it’s all about!

    Incredible Memories
    Over the 3 years we’ve had Beans from Anti-Pop Consortium, L.I.F.E. Long, Megalon from M.I.C., Homeboy Sandman, Despot, Vast Aire, Brown Bag All-Stars, Elucid and many more rock our stage.  Besides all that, it’s a platform for all of our NYC based acts on Uncommon to rock. A few artists have done all 3 events and that’s amazing in and of itself. Bottom line is, it’s a great way to end the year with an event like this and always gives me a boost heading into the new year to make shit happen.

    I would suggest doing an annual event to anyone in any town. It doesn’t have to be around the holidays, it can be any time of year. I think it’s something that can really rally a city’s scene, and it’s great to see the same people every year, it builds bonds that hopefully don’t ever break.

    My top lessons
    1)
     Work with people you know (for the most part).  You want to reach outside of your circle a bit to bring other crowds in, but don’t over reach.  Some people are just not fun to work with, for real.
    2) Be VERY CLEAR with people and be HONEST.  Make sure you communicate well.  If you only can give someone 15 minutes, TELL THEM!  If you aren’t looking to pay them up front money, make sure that’s implied or TOLD.  If you need certain acts there early, TELL THEM.  The more acts you book for a “Festival” styled event, the more can go wrong with timing.
    3) Always be appreciative with the club, shout out the bar tender, sound man, etc.  Keep that relationship solid, cuz you may need a favor.  You may run late, etc.  Who knows?
    4) Build hype and fan fare.  Name your event, let it rep you and what your doing to the fullest you can.  Make sure that it’s the kind of event that people that are there will talk about afterwards and that’s it’s the kind of event that if people weren’t there, they feel like they damn well should have been.  They’ll remember next year and come out.