Uncommon Approach: Building a better mouse trap

Uncommon Approach: Building a better mouse trap

There’s really only one way to battle as a label when you are at a monetary disadvantage, and that’s to innovate harder than your competitors. You have to be creative, “grinding harder” is not enough if you’re doing the same thing as your competition, but just more of the same. For us, the goal is creating a tangibility out of the intangible.

‘Uncommon Approach’ is a column written by Paul “Nasa” Loverro, owner of independent label Uncommon Records. With this frequent column, he gives readers an all access look at the ups and downs of running an independent hip hop label in this day and age. An in-depth column from the perspective of an Indie label owner. 

There’s really only one way to battle as a business when you are at a monetary disadvantage, and that’s to innovate harder than your competitors. You have to be creative, “grinding harder” is not enough if you’re doing the same thing as your competition, but just more of the same.

I want to give a few examples of how we’re doing this this year, in hopes that maybe it will spark more innovation, just not the same exact innovations, ha.

The Return of Tangibility
For us, the goal is creating a tangibility out of the intangible. This is something that has been attempted by others like Apple with its Itunes Album” format. The great failure with their approach is they took the wrong elements of tangibility. You can’t replicate holding an album with a digital booklet, even if it can be full screen, even on the Ipad. I mean, it’s cool, but not life changing and not much more than a short cut for me to avoid going to Wikipedia to look up some production credits.

So what can we do to put music in people’s hands, or to recreate that intimacy with music and our brand? Here are a few ideas that I’ve come up with for us in the last few months.

Orange Army Street Forces
Everybody knows what a street team is. In 2011 a standard street team model won’t work. People don’t want to do shit, hell, they want the music for free, so asking for extra will fall flat. I’ve never had an interest in begging people to help us promote just out of their love for us anyway. What I really wanted to do is create something interactive and fun. Over the course of a few months I developed the concept of having people hook up our stickers (which simply bare our logo) in their neighborhoods all around the world.

Then they could send the pics of their handy work into us and we can post a huge gallery of our mark everywhere from Mesa to Moscow on our Facebook page. And for doing this for us, we’ve created a pool of tracks that are ONLY available by participating in this program. And those songs are NOT available by way of a download, but by way of an unmarked mystery CD that will then get mailed back to you (one of the songs randomly on a CD for each time you complete the mission). So these songs, will really only sit in the listeners hands, until or unless one of them chooses to upload it online. We will never let the song be heard online coming from us. This adds some scarcity and rarity back to things again.

All of this conceptually works into the military aspect of the Orange Army (our main color in our brand) as this is just “Mission #1” and we’ll come up with other missions later, requiring this first Mission to be done first. So basically, this is like a reward based game. It’s all explained in further detail on this page on our site.

The whole thing brings our fans closer to us, makes them a part of what we are doing and gives them a way to identify with us. It also helps us see where our most fervent support is. The response has already been larger than anticipated since we released this program last week. Although it basically costs us money (shipping, sticker manufacturing, CD burning) and we get absolutely nothing back for it directly, I think that personal connection is well worth it. I think the word of mouth advertising and reconnaissance provides us with more than money for money’s sake and money will flow to us from other means thanks to it.

Pop Up Albums
As opposed to the Orange Army idea which I gestated for about six months, the idea for an ongoing series of Pop Up Albums came to me and was out in the world within 48 hours. Inspired by Pop Up Restaurants and Pop Up Record Stores, a Pop Up Album is an album that ONLY appears online for a limited time. Then we take it out of our online store, and it’s not available again.

Our first such project, The Sun Never Sets, was established for the Japan Disaster Relief. All the money raised from it will be donated to a Japanese Charity called Second Harvest. Since we started this project on March 18th, we have raised $224. The project will run for 30 days, so on April 18th, a few days from this writing, it will go away forever and we will donate, proudly, all the money raised. So get it while it’s still available.

The way we assembled this Pop Up Album was to collect a bunch of our back catalog and craft some of our classic tracks into a new concept with new original artwork and a few unreleased tracks mixed in to spice it up. In the future we will continue to use this concept for charity drives (unfortunately, they will likely be needed somewhere), but we also think this is a great idea to accomplish some personal goals as well.

The Pop Up Album concept is a great way to raise some money during a lull in the release schedule by collecting our back catalog into new collections. It also exposes listeners to our back catalog, hopefully leading to further sales of those during the promotion. We have actually seen this happen during ‘The Sun Never Sets’. There are infinite ways of assembling tracks together with a back catalog as large as ours, I have a few great combinations in my head already for the future, all of which will involve a mix of unreleased and hard to find tracks that are available together for a limited time only. Some as short as a week or as long as a month, depending on what we make available.

The way my mind works, I’m big on the order of tracks, their relation to each other and the cover art involved….yes, even in this digital world I still think all that counts. This gives us a great medium to keep re-presenting those elements. This also creates the tangible out of the intangible. It creates a scarcity where there never was one before, because previously the whole point of an album being digital was that there was an unlimited stock of it. Not any more, and that’s a great thing.

Going Merch Crazy
The next idea we’re about to put out there involves Merch. This is one that I can’t get into too deeply yet because it’s still in that gestation period that I described for Orange Army. But the one thing I will say is that if Merch consists only of T-shirts, CDs and a hoodie or two, we will all lose. The market is flooded with all that. We’re trying to develop merch that’s more personal, collectible, unique and above all things FUN. Of course we have all the regular stuff I just mentioned right now (and you need that), but in 2011 for me, we have to push much harder, so look forward to some of those ideas coming together at the end of this year maybe.

Being in Positon
Before I get caught patting myself on the back here, of course as a label we still aren’t putting up big numbers and have certainly not figured anything out when it comes to generating a strong flow of cash. But, I’m a firm believer in putting yourself in position to do such things. You may get to a position and not have it ever pay off, but if you weren’t there waiting, you’d have even less a chance to have something hit.

Point being, sitting in a crowd doing what the crowd does will NOT get us success. The only way people find success,  is if they have trucks full of money, because the money then separates them from the crowd. I really want to stress, if you have an idea, make that idea happen. Don’t be afraid of an idea being too large scale for the position you may currently be sitting in. The power of bold concepts is the strongest tool I think we have at Uncommon Records. The old business phrase for this whole concept is “Building a Better Mouse Trap” and that’s exactly what we are trying to do this year.

Read all columns by Paul “Nasa” Loverro HERE

Just an ordinary guy always on the hunt for extraordinary music. Not just as the founder of The Find Magazine & Rucksack Records, but also as a freelance music journalist (bylines at Tracklib, Bandcamp, Wax Poetics, DIG Mag, among others) and—above all—out of love for all kinds of good music.