It was 2001 and the Jay-Z / Nas beef was heating up Hot 97 with the release of both “Takeover” and “Ether.” Back then I was just getting into buying ridiculous amounts of albums. In my room I had a small stereo system with a 3-disc CD changer and I would play sections of my favorite artists’ discography. One of those artists was Jay-Z. I remember prior to 2001, I took all of my Christmas money, went out to the record store, and purchased his entire collection up until Blueprint, which was released shortly after on September 11, 2001. One of my friends bought Blueprint for me for my birthday on November 9th, 2001 and for a while that’s all I listened to. Jay-Z had beef with Nas, so I had beef with Nas. I thought “Takeover” was just an incredible diss-record and at the time I was convinced Jay-Z was untouchable.
Around the same year or maybe shortly after, another one of my friends brought over a burned copy of Stillmatic. He was one of the biggest Nas heads I knew and absolutely swore by Stillmatic and “Ether.” We used to get in arguments about Jay-Z and Nas and although he had respect for Jay, we never could get on the same page about who was the better emcee. This was before I was extremely well versed in hip-hop and the deeper components of being an emcee, beyond just commercial success and production value. Perhaps this is why prior to having Stillmatic shoved in my ears, I blocked Nas out. I couldn’t understand Nas. Why was Jay a commercial monster with insane radio and TV play, while Nas always seemed to lag behind?
When I first heard my friend’s copy of Stillmatic I was instantly dragged in by the intro. Nas opened with a sense of nostalgia and a triumphant comeback I really never heard in hip-hop before. He was coming off a hiatus I shamefully knew nothing about. “One Mic” became a song I would play daily, at least once, and really just evoked a spirit of hip-hop I still reflect on today in the music industry. I loved Jay-Z still, but I was convinced after opening my ears, Nas was absolutely the better lyricist. Stillmatic started a trend of uncovering Nas’s discography, like I did for Jay.
Then there was Illmatic. I downloaded Illmatic from the notorious Napster or Kazaa or whatever the thing was back then. Nas was (and still is) a storyteller and Illmatic was his audiobook. At the time I got into Illmatic I was listening to probably every hip-hop artist around from the early 90s up until the early 2000s. Never before (this was before I heard Ready to Die before you gasp) did an album paint a vivid picture and truly present a working collaboration of production and lyrics. I found it difficult to just play a single song off Illmatic because it always felt like something else needed to follow it, move with it, and conclude it. After hearing Illmatic I wanted to be in New York City. I knew there was something special going on there and I needed to be a part of it. Illmatic set a precedent. None of my friends at the time could understand it; they brushed it off like it was meaningless. There was something special Illmatic evoked inside of my head and I’ll never forget the indescribable feeling.
In the next few days, after being in New York City for a little over a year, I will be a part of the logistics of Rock the Bells and Illmatic performed in its entirety in a very different hip-hop world. There’s a feeling of reaching a plateau I really can’t come down from and reinsurance the music industry is exactly where I want to be. I can’t match the genius of Nas with his nostalgic poetry in Stillmatic, but I can reflect on 2001 and the unbelievable circumstances I find myself in now. Before I moved to Toledo to get my Bachelor’s at the University of Toledo, one of my managers at my part-time job told me before I went to college I should stop listening to hip-hop because it was looked down upon and wouldn’t get me anywhere.
He was wrong.
We’re just a couple of kids chasing after childhood fantasies. Music is in our blood, it flows through our lives and connects us as humans. When we go to shows we are able to truly experience the human condition in the purest way possible. Music holds us together, piece-by-piece, and is the ultimate form of a universal language. While there is multiple businesses within the music business, it all comes together in the live scene. The live scene separates artist from performer, music from experience. It’s where the recording artist must break their studio boundaries and jump into the lives of their fans. It’s where a thousand people in the front know every lyric to a song and from those lyrics create their own interpretation and dance. It’s where the world stops for music and encores exist to prolong the experience. While the music business goes through a drastic form of transition, the live scene actually improves. Fan and artist relationships slowly go beyond simply a ‘listen and respond’ experience, but a ‘listen and pursue’ journey. The more personal the artist becomes, the more super fans are created. Technology is enabling fans to interact instantaneously, instead of waiting until they return home. Mobile phones are moving into the forefront of artistic expression and the business that establishes its outreach. There exists literally thousands of mobile phone applications and web based services which make this interaction possible. The classic components of the music business are simplified by entrepreneurial spirits determined to cater to the independent and indie artist. While the majors are still a sought after destination to ultimate artistic success, the fan base created from these services is crucial to any kind of clout during a recording negotiation. The next phase is narrowing these services down to a trusted source and connecting with the appropriate team to make your music move. An artist with an already existent and thriving hunger to put in the necessary time and effort to create an army of super fans will naturally attract those who feel the same. The artist’s team will have naturally transitioned from super fans to super fans dedicated to the dreams and aspirations of the artist creatively and otherwise.
The search begins. Embrace the live scene.
Call it the biggest cluster fuck of the music industry in an extremely condensed place at once, but SXSW 2011 was everything it was cracked up to be and more. My first time, I had absolutely no idea what to expect so I approached Austin with an extremely open and eager mind. Prior to SXSW, I did some work around the buzz worthy bands predicted to shine, but never really developed a concrete game plan. Speaking with several SXSW veterans, planning only paved the way for disappointment, so I jotted down several bands I absolutely could not miss. Luckily, a large amount of my closest friends in the industry were also going, so I was tipped consistently with the plethora of talent coming to Austin. Every day up until my flight Tuesday morning with one of my good friends and business partners was probably one of the most exciting and anticipating moments of my time music. Austin served as a friendly reminder to those in the industry and fans alike why they were in the industry in the first place. Not that I’ve really been in that scene very long, but I get the feeling that initial passionate push that keeps those of us awake at night desperately trying to break into the biz slowly loses its allure as we get deeper into reality. I’m fortunate enough to live in Manhattan, attend a good amount of shows, keep my head in music pretty much all day, and surround myself with music heads of all different goals and walks of life, so Austin served as a collective summary to appeal to the average fan. SXSW took everything still very much alive in the industry and tossed it in one place for both fan and industry head to raise their glasses to. If there was one event that solidified my stance in the industry, SXSW was arguably it. Since my arrival as a permanent resident of NYC last August, my experience has been far from mundane, but SXSW was another breed NYC cannot duplicate in a single week and in one place with everyone aware of its presence. Many aspects of NYC’s music industry is like a hidden gem you have to be “in the know” to really experience, where Austin is like a quick fix and if you look hard enough, a deeply rooted result of what happens when you give music a place to play as hard and loud as it wants.
Something really bothers me to know there were industry heads that could have went to SXSW and chose not to for illegitimate reasons. It should be a requirement at least once. Personally I know I’m still trying to separate ‘music fan’ and ‘music business,’ but who’s to say they can’t work simultaneously? It’s that blend I’m after. Merge the creative and business side and you have one hell of an industry. I still sit here on a musical high and desperately try to sort through the clouded SXSW experience. Blame it on the open bars, BBQ, and exhaustion, but SXSW 2011 will remain to be a turning point in myself personally and professionally.
Austin, first of all, is one massive sigh of relief from leaving the streets of New York City. On an early Tuesday morning, hundreds of industry heads and artists flew out of their music surroundings to roam the streets of Austin, in particular 6th street. Sitting with a morning coffee and croissant in LaGuardia, it was fun to stereotype who was in route to Austin just by what they looked like and what they had with them. It was like a massive deportation of music heads in NYC. Starting my journey with a vodka and orange juice, I landed in beautiful Austin, Texas before noon, thrown into a bunch of unknowns but with many familiar and unfamiliar faces who all shared a similar passion. Cutting through UT’s campus, we made our way into downtown where slowly the streets were filling up with badge holders. Our SXSW homework also helped us identify the venues and bars as we passed by them, probably a similar experience as a newcomer to New York City, but much more condensed in one location within walk-able distance from each other. We stumbled into a few early showcases here and there, just taking it in.
The trenches of 6th street reeked of stale alcohol, BBQ, various drugs, and massive amounts of sweat. SXSW really lucked out with gorgeous weather every day, making the experience that much sweeter as our time continued. As for myself, I refused to stick to a strict schedule, just a very vague idea of what large showcases I knew I was going to go to like PureVolume, Fader Fort, BrooklynVegan, and Don’t Mess with Texas. I also jotted down some artists I felt was necessary to follow and I’m pleased and surprised with how many I was actually able to see. Some note worthy performances included: Odd Future, Machine Gun Kelly, Brother Kite, Mac Miller, The Cool Kids, Chiddy Bang, She Wants Revenge, Oh Land, Jamie Woon, Deer Tick, Walk the Moon, James Blake, LL Cool J (yes, seriously… killed it on stage), DJ Jazzy Jeff, The Vaccines, Andreya Triana, Surfer Blood, Coolrunnings, various death metal bands I never dreamed of getting into, random street acts, wow…. I could go on, and that’s just what I can think of right now… not to mention the open bars, free food giveaways, swag! (yea.. odd future, I’ll be yelling that for awhile), and the other various perks of being a part of the madness. I’m sure there was a point where I was so caught up in every thing every band I saw was great with the adrenaline pumping, alcohol in the system, and the realization this high would continue for the next several days. Although I’m most likely partial deaf, still partially hung over, and ate the oddest and most delicious combinations of food in my life, SXSW will remain to be a permanent milestone in the music industry which is slowly consuming my journey and nurturing a deep passion I’m extremely blessed to harness and maintain. Back to reality, with the many returns to SXSW and other large festivals as fuel to my work efforts. I’ll be posting more as I mentally dig through the week.
It’s very rare I discover an artist I feel truly captures her audience using her own, genuine material. Emily King signed with J. Records and released a studio album in 2007. I can reasonably assume King parted ways with J. Records due to creative differences and perhaps felt some constraints on her versatile abilities. By no means is East Side Story a poor album, it just feels produced and heavily directed by everyone but King. Listening to King’s current singles such as “Radio” or “Georgia” gives me a heartfelt experience her album lacked. In general, King’s vocals are by no means huge, but more importantly they are captivating, soulful, and humble. Recently I saw her perform in the more intimate room at Rockwood Music Hall. The dimly lit room was packed to the door and I couldn’t help but overhear the hype found in every conversation. Many of them brought their friends out because they were familiar with King and wanted to share their experience, mouthing the words to the three singles available to stream on her website. Hopefully we can expect an album soon. Until then, get hip to Emily King.
Kanye West and his speech to the sold out crowd at the Bowery Ballroom. Probably a bit over the top, but necessary. Hate on the man all you want, but it’s impossible to argue the pure genius of his music. The sampling on My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Fantasy puts it on a higher level than most of the mainstream music reaching the radio. It’s difficult to find an artist nowadays who is able to reach the mainstream audience and still appeal to the small crowd who knows and understands good music. Apparently he sold 100,000 in digital alone the first day, selling out the Best Buy at Union Square and the city of Chicago (whatever that entails). I guess that’s the industry right? It sounds weird to say “sold out a Best Buy” and “digital alone.” Honestly that’s impressive considering most of the album was either leaked or released during his G.O.O.D Friday campaign. Give people new, free music every week and when your album is released, they will buy it. Or is it, generate enough hype and people will buy your record regardless, even if they hate you as a person. Do your thing Kanye, it really is about the music at the end of the day, right?
Change. Probably a word most of us are very uncomfortable with, including myself. We tend to gravitate around things which seem most familiar, safe, and involves no to low risk. We wake up everyday and find minor annoyances within our lives and especially with the things we are most passionate about. It is through these annoyances dreams develop into reality. It is within these annoyances we are able to transcend adulthood and revert back to childhood. When faced with a dream, you must be patient, stubborn and absolutely unrealistic. You must make moves when the rest of the world is sleeping and rest knowing you are already one step ahead of the rest of the world. This is where I stand. This is what eats away at my mind throughout the day, but I still keep it locked inside, until now. In a few weeks I will be making a huge move to New York City. I promised myself I would return and I have kept that promise among much opposition. This is beyond a new chapter in my life; it is really an entirely new book. Better yet, it is a very open book. From this point on, each of you reading this will see a timeline of my journey throughout closing this Ohio chapter, and opening up a new series in New York City. I will not take this for granted and I know I will come out of it victorious. To be honest, I can’t put into words or really explain to you right now where I will end up, all I know is it will be for the betterment of music. I’m chasing not just one dream, but a field of opportunities centered on the arts.
Closing a book in your life and ultimately being satisfied with the results is difficult because you know the book you are about to close is the foundation of yourself. It would be impossible to name off every person who has ever influenced me, but you know who you are or will know who you are because in every thing I do, you will be a part of it in some way. In the entire 22 years of my life, I have seen so much, learned so much, and changed so much. It’s amazing to realize how the people in your life fit into the puzzle of the future. They help foster your dream without you even realizing it. I am blessed to live without blindness to see that. This is why I enjoy writing, I take in everything. I sit in a coffee shop right now, trying not to be creepy, but looking at every person wondering where their feet have been. I could be sitting among undiscovered talent. I could be sitting among unfinished dreams. I start this journey young because I refuse to doubt myself. I refuse to have fear, opposition, or regrets. This is me and you will know me.
Honestly, January seems like just a moment ago. In fact, December seems like a week ago where I was stuck between Toledo and New York and wondering why I felt it was necessary to burden myself with more financial worries if I did decide to move to New York. Now, in the silent, well semi-silent night in Brooklyn, NY, only a few blocks down from where Shawn Carter a.k.a Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G sat on the corners and something in the Brooklyn air inspired them to pick up a microphone and change history, I sit on a lap top in a still, very surreal, urban environment in an old warehouse-turned loft with two random roommates I found on craigslist. I say urban because for almost 21 years my life, my life has been suburban and very ordinary with hardly enough hardship to create a documentary around my struggle to break into the music industry. I say random because although I’ve always been known to act on first impulses, this city directed me into the most random situations I’ve ever, and you will ever, be in.
Indefinitely I am never satisfied because this entire experience was a “better late than never” random, financially stupid decision. I was almost done with school and I could have settled for the carbon-copy. I could have stayed in Toledo, finished my spring semester of my junior year, take out more loans, work two jobs, and once again spend my summer in Toledo selling cell phones. This seemed logically the next stop on my college journey, but I decided to take a little detour. Unknowingly this little detour would evolve into a life-altering change and compose another chapter in your life you can only write when you’re young. This detour would wipe every thing and every person out of my life and replace them with new people and things only to be replaced again. This detour was never at any point easy and in fact, was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
Why did I do it? I ask this question every day I wake up breathing in the Brooklyn air and while on my short walk to the G train. After work I come home and walk up 5 flights of stairs, open the roof door, and light up a cigarette while staring at the Manhattan skyline off in the distance wondering how in the hell I got here and how the hell am I still here. I look down onto the Brooklyn streets, somewhere on Mrytle Avenue, I see life, real people, New York people, and I am a part of that scenery. Then, one last thing blows my mind every time, in the distance I see the skyscrapers within the financial district and I can frame the set of buildings I was able to see outside of my 24th floor apartment on Water Street only a month ago. If I look even closer and think even harder, near the Empire State Building stands another building where I used to spend writing long, strenuous articles for editors for some of the top newspapers in the world, and this was only a short summer ago. In fact, as I sit here, I realize my last summer in Ohio was the summer of 2007 because next summer my final move to New York City will be complete.
The carbon-copy summer still holds true. As of right now, I still took out a loan, although not a very large one, and yes, I still sell cell phones. You could say I have three jobs, but I’d rather have more because currently I feel unproductive. A year ago today, where I sit would be a dream, an impossible height to reach, a silly thought. But right now, I sit in the greatest city in the world, working towards a dream I thought was unreachable. A dream where I needed an immense amount of patience and skill and a dream I never knew what it was. This dream needed to plant its seed in fertile land and although financially America does not seem the richest, New York still seemed to have enough nutrients. In December I doubted myself and fought until I was satisfied with my decision to stay, but judging by the current events, I was not. No one will ever know the logical voices I had to shut-off in my head to make this happen. But, more importantly, I made this happen. There was no suggestion, this opportunity did not come knocking at my door, I sought it, found it, and took advantage of it, period. When something prevented me from leaving, I dealt with it until every possible solution was used up. I turned negatives into positives and restored hope in my mind just by prevailing under immeasurable odds against me. At this point I was unable to be broken and basically had my bags packed, ready-to-roll, and prepared to throw myself into city where I knew basically no one and had to fend for myself.
It is a very interesting time to enter into the real world after college graduation. Besides the recession and a new administration, as humans we seem to be losing the real quality and genuine ability to understand what makes us human and what should unite us. The once powerful and prominent industries have begun a transformation and fallout and once again it seems we must start from the beginning and adapt to the environmental and social changes around us. To be within a city like New York during these historic times is an experience in itself and creates a new understanding of diversity. Although I don’t consider myself to be a true New Yorker, I do feel I have finally broken the threshold of tourist and native. I have become a product of my environment and look at the “New York stereotypes” as a norm, but still can sit back and laugh at them. I’ve made relationships with my morning coffee street vendors, my walk is brisk, I stay to the right on the escalators, I read other people’s newspapers on the subways, I’ve stopped giving to the homeless, and most importantly, I’ve learned to hustle. In only four months I’ve worked as a hip-hop journalist, photographer, theater critic, music critic, club promoter, pre-audio engineer, worked in a studio, worked for Time Warner, and sold cell phones for two different companies in two different boroughs. I’ve probably been to over 40 different clubs or bars, saw about 30 or 40 live shows, and stayed faithful to the worst diet I’ve ever had in a period of 4 months. I’ve been to Starbucks probably hundreds of times and probably only ate at the same restaurant once or twice. I exhausted my loan money, had the time of my life, made lifelong friendships from all over the country, established a large network of music industry professionals, and I promise you I will continue to leap forward until I get exactly what I want and what is to come.
This was four months and I promise you there is no way to step inside my shoes. There is no way when I return home I can explain all of this to you because you couldn’t even comprehend what I put myself through here. But just know this, whoever took the time to read all of this, you can do whatever you want in this world and right now is the time to make that happen. Don’t ever settle and don’t listen to anyone that tells you what you want to do with your life is silly. I don’t care where you’re at, but get somewhere where your passion exists and thrives, especially in these crazy times. We are at a point where the dreamers can dream and the entrepreneurs can win. There’s no job market? Well create one and do what you want to do because there is no longer anything stopping you. This is a time of new ideas and our generation is behind this explosion and responsible for many generations to come. Let’s get it.
I just couldn’t wait to post these up… stay-tuned for the experience!
Through the trenches of disappointment, I once again begin my quest to break into music journalism. Whether I’m spending time in venues absorbing new music or riding the G train in Brooklyn trying to find the spark that ignited legends like Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G, I surround myself with musical bliss every opportunity I can. Ever since I arrived in New York City almost 4 months ago, I’ve jumped into a mix of aspiring artists, producers, writers, executives, and music enthusiasts. As a music journalist, I want to place myself in a position where I can familiarize myself with every aspect of the music industry. Through acting on these intense aspirations, I discovered several opportunities through New York University to expand my knowledge and begin to network. After subscribing myself to the NYU’s Music Business Graduate Student list serve, I found myself attending a networking social at Fat Cat Jazz Club. Beforehand I ordered simple, professional-looking business cards displaying my e-mail, phone number, and blog address.
It was refreshing to finally surround myself with the inspirational dreams of others my age who also wish to be a part of the music industry. After talking to several of the aspiring artists, producers, and managers, I felt a strong connection with their ambitions and dreams. Many of us felt we are the future of music and to be a part of that vision is an indescribable feeling. Yet, even as a semi-experienced journalist, I still find it very difficult to network and contribute to that vision. As a result, I ordered a few beers to calm my nerves before I began to make my way around the bar and introduce myself.
After spending time with a handful of managers, artists, and producers and handing out business cards, I established several ground rules for my future networking experiences. At this point when you are networking the first impression is very important. Possessing a fearless, confident swagger is vital and perfecting your “pitch” in what area of the music business you want to pursue should be your intro. Eye contact, body posture, and even voice infliction are all factors in an effective business relationship. I found the biggest struggle was keeping their focus and attention and I immediately recalled advice that was given to me by a recruitment specialist through my fraternity, “people love to talk about themselves.” This is particularly useful in discovering what makes people “tick” and how you can compliment their talents with your own talents. After making several connections and collecting a stack of business cards a sense of accomplishment was resurrected. A vast city full of opportunities awaits me and I’m only scratching the turntables.