Surround Yourself

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Have you ever stopped for a second and analyzed the people around you – the people you spend most of your time with? If not you should. Whether it’s in business, your social circle, or something entirely different, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Knowing this may have left you feeling some type of way but it’s also a way for you to assess if you’re where you want to be in life. A way for you to assess if the team behind your company is the right one and you best be sure it is. There are too many stories in the media of companies or musicians who surround themselves with morons and it never plays out very well. Some people get burned, taken advantage of, and ultimately disappear into the void because they never took the time to really analyze the people around them.

I’m sure a few of you can attest to this and have been through something that left you feeling a little puzzled inside, asking yourself all sorts of questions, but in the end its all about how you change your course. Think of them like stepping stones to a larger picture. I feel like that larger picture is here for me at this very moment as my team and I build Illumie. Each person of the team has been handpicked and put together because they’re unique and they bring great things to the table. It’s those proverbial ‘snakes in the grass’ you have to watch out for. The people who may give you a good feeling at first but as time goes on your gut starts to churn and have all these weird feelings happen inside of it. That natural message from the universe saying “hold up, this may not be the best person for the job”. Act on it. Believe in it. Because more than likely the feeling you’re having is right. Of course there is a chance that it’s not right but you’ll find out later – like guessing an answer on a test that you think is right but when the teacher returns it and you see its wrong. Oh well…

I want the brightest and best people on my team and you can bet your ass that I’ll ensure that happens. We’re currently hiring an Engineer in Los Angeles so if any of you are interested in working in the music business, hit that contact button to the left and lets change the game.

2014, You Were Beautiful. 2015, You’ll Be Incredible.

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Tonight 2014 comes to a complete close, page 365 of 365 completed. As I carried in 2014, I knew it would be big. Plans were in motion to leave Chicago and head to warm, sunny Los Angeles. That happened. With the move came a new career opportunity with a startup called Event Farm. Another notch up the ol’ career ladder – check. I hit all new festivals on the west coast, new music venues, and I got to really explore a new side of the country which included a camping session in the Sequoia National Forest. I left my Executive Editor position with the magazine and started a new company that will launch in 2015. My brother got engaged to the love of his life and so did I. Time seems to be flying by but as we propel ourselves into 2015, they’re only looking better. Count your blessings tonight and put the good vibes out there to help guide yourself into an amazing year.

The champagne is ready, the limo arrives at 11, and we’re off to celebrate with my closest Chicago crew and Justin Martin with the Dirtybird crew.

See you in 2015.

Z

Merry Christmas

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It’s been one hell of a year and it’s wild that it’s finally coming to a close in just a week. Time flies doesn’t it? Oh, and for those of you who have been paying attention to the news about The Interview, Sony is finally going to release it on Christmas so you’ll be able to get your fill after all. Who would have thought? But all that ridiculous hacker news aside, I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to visit my site, read my rambling, or view the content I’ve created over the years. Much love to all of you. With 2015 knocking on my door, a new company being built, and just about one year of living LA behind me, big things are coming.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all my Jews out there.

Cheers,

Z

North Korea Hacks Sony: A Tall Tale

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As I sit here in gloomy Indianapolis awaiting Christmas with the family, I can’t help but think about the media surrounding the Sony hacking and the release of James Franco and Seth Rogan’s The Interview. If you were watching the news yesterday, you’d know that Sony has decided to pull the Christmas day release of the film amid threats against theatergoers by the hackers. Hackers: 1, United States: 0, Free Speech: 0. Whomever is truly behind the Sony attacks, they’re not being taken lightly as all of the major movie chains would rather pull the movie vs. facing a real threat of a bombing of sorts. Lets not forget, this is all over a comedy film that shows an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-un.

The NY Times put out a report yesterday that placed direct blame on North Korea and stated they are “centrally involved” in the attack on Sony citing unnamed United States officials. As usual, the US has jumped at the opportunity to point fingers despite actually showing concrete proof outside of some speculation. Another thing to note: Sony and the FBI have announced that they have found no evidence so far to tie North Korea to the hacking. So not only is there no evidence of North Korea’s involvement according to the FBI and Sony, North Korea has flat out denied it as well. So who is behind this menacing display of power surrounding the release of a major film? We can look at the actual evidence and make some speculation but I say follow the money. Who could be behind this that actually could benefit from such a thing. North Korea benefits because the movie gets pulled and the United States doesn’t get to see a fake Kim Jong-un go through an assassination attempt – doesn’t that seem a little ridiculous?

Here’s what we do know: an image of a blazing skeleton was shown on the screen of infected computers. The hackers have said they’re from the Guardians of Peace. Nation-state hackers don’t chastise victims of their attack for having poor security as they’ve done with Sony, nor do they post their hacked data to cloud storage systems for all to access. These little points of evidence seem to be true of other hackivist groups like Anonymous or LulzSec which often do these exact same things under ideological reasons, political reasons, or just for fun. In my opinion, if North Korea was involved in this hacking, they would come out with it and be like “yea, it was us”. Wouldn’t they want recognition for their efforts? Instead, they’re being pulled in by the US government.

“[M]onetary compensation we want,” the email read. “Pay the damage, or Sony Pictures will be bombarded as a whole. You know us very well. We never wait long. You’d better behave wisely.” – Hackers

Without going further into details, we’ll have to wait and see how this plays out. I’m skeptical about it all though. This film has managed to receive an insane amount of publicity due to this hacking and one could only think about that translating to dollar signs in the end of it all. Now that the film has been pulled from theaters though, I’m unsure. The hackers did mention that it has nothing to do with The Interview:

“But it is widely reported as if our activity is related to The Interview. This shows how dangerous film The Interview is. The Interview is very dangerous enough to cause a massive hack attack. Sony Pictures produced the film harming the regional peace and security and violating human rights for money. The news with The Interview fully acquaints us with the crimes of Sony Pictures. Like this, their activity is contrary to our philosophy. We struggle to fight against such greed of Sony Pictures.” (via)

While the US tried to figure out another way into war, the media continues to add fuel to the fire by pointing fingers and showing little to no evidence. It’s amazing that a supposed film could cause such a stir in the day to day operations of the movie business. Maybe the timing is just a coincidence and the hackers had been planning to hit Sony for awhile now – the film release just gave them the spotlight in which to do so. Regardless, free speech is being challenged. The movie was pulled. And we have no idea how this is going to play out. One thing I’m sure of though, we’ll all be sitting back in a few months watching The Interview.

Update: This morning (December 19th at 8:56am PST) the FBI has confirmed that North Korea is behind the Sony hack. As a counter to this, I suggest you watch this video. It should help you stay informed.

Rae Sremmurd

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Last night in Los Angeles I ventured out to Siren Studios for the LINE app party which featured a performance from the upcoming Hip-Hop duo Rae Sremmurd (pronounced “Ray Shrimmer”). The studio space was large and dimly lit with the exception of bright colored lights on the walls – standard party environment as you could imagine. After grabbing a few cocktails, I awaited a performance from the duo that has been steadily making their way up the charts via several tracks from their upcoming studio album SremmLife due out January 6th. Rae Sremmurd is actually ‘Ear Drummers’ spelled backwards and as some of you know, is their home label. Creative? Maybe. Lazy, could be. Either way, brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy have set in motion a train that is showing no signs of slowing down for being such newcomers to the game.

Sporting Gucci goggles while the other donned a varsity jacket with NASA emblems, the two hit the stage with more raw, unfiltered energy than I’ve really ever seen before at a Hip-Hop show. Most of the time at Hip-Hop shows they’re just sort of hanging out on stage with about 8 of their closest homies and casually rapping what they need to. Not Rae Sremmurd. These guys were so hype and that energy found its way out into the crowd. A makeshift mosh pit was started which in turn recruited more people to join in on the jumping around. Part of me was honestly shocked that a group in its infancy has hit the ground running and accomplished as much as they have in such a short period of time. Mike WiLL Made It has been working with them closely and as he stood on stage watching the action, you could tell he was pleased and he has every reason to be. Both of their singles “No Flex Zone” and “No Type” have made it into the top 10 position on the US Rap charts and received love from Nicki Minaj, Big Sean, and Young Thug.

“When I met them, they just had a real young dope energy about them, so we just started to work. So me, P-Nazty and the rest of the Eardrumas team just locked in the studio like we normally do, had a lot of fun, and cooked up a masterpiece for them, and out came “We.” I debuted a snippet on #MikeWiLLBeenTriLL and it’s one of the songs that’s been getting the biggest responses. This is the beginning of our working relationship, but they played me some more of their music, and it was dope music. I believe in them. – Mike WiLL Made It” (Via)

This leads me to my point: what is their recipe for success? If you ask me, I think it’s a combination of things. It’s the energy they bring to the table in their live shows. It’s the production that bangs behind their vocals. It’s that fun, easy to learn, party lyrics that will get people behind them, and it has. Their voices are also a factor here. They’re not your quintessential rapper voices (slightly higher due to being a little younger – born in 1993/1995) but this helps them stand out amongst the crowd. The music business is a monster and in order to battle it and make a name for yourself you’ve got to brainstorm your recipe for success. Be original, stand out, and above all else, be creative. If not, I heard UPS is hiring.

Insert sensationalist headline here?

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I just returned from probably the most laid-back state I’ve ever been to in my life: Hawaii. Aside from this and the fact that it’s incredibly beautiful, I felt like it was missing something. We spent time on the North Shore of Oahu and a couple days in downtown Honolulu which are quite different from each other, but there was a feeling I had about my environment: it’s too chill. I wondered if such a thing could really exist and if you know me personally, this may come as a bit of a shock to you. Part of me fully embraced this newfound relaxed environment – hell I’m on vacation of course but the other part of me missed that raw, competitive, business-oriented nature you derive from being in certain places. Outside of the tourism industry what is left? Are certain companies headquartered here? All questions I asked myself but couldn’t answer. Instead I turned to some nice reading material I packed for my trip – Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday. For those of you who don’t know, Ryan Holiday is a media strategist for clients such as Tucker Max and Dov Charney of American Apparel. “A playbook for the dark arts of exploiting the media” Robert Greene says and he’s absolutely right.

As my team and I prepare to launch our company in Q2 of 2015, I knew this would be good reading material. After-all, getting the media to cover our company will be intricate to establishing our user-base and putting ourselves into the limelight. The question is how to go about it. The book provides many useful “hacks” and unique ways to make it happen but it also discusses the current state of the media and what its driven by. Being the former Executive Editor of a music blog, I fully understand this concept. Today’s modern media is driven by pageviews, clicks, and sharing. Whatever gets the most hits, put it out there! Sensationalist headline? Check. Anonymous tip or semi-verified content? Check. We’re being spoon fed half truths and news content that is not in our best interest but in the best interest of the one producing it. Can you blame them though? The world revolves around money and with public companies who control the media, you have a lot of people to answer to. The equation is simple, more pageviews and clicks = more revenue. Why wouldn’t they continue to churn out content that facilitates that?

We’re going to change this. Maybe not entirely but we’re going to provide the music industry with a platform that gives everyone a voice. Do you know how many music websites posted Kim Kardashian and her ass on the cover of Paper Magazine? All of them. What does this have to do with music? Absolutely nothing, but it does bring traffic so hell, why not right? We’re going to bring it back to the people and focus on what can benefit our industry as a whole instead of focusing on ourselves and doing what is in our best interest. That will be the difference between us and them. It’s time for a change and it’s time to disrupt some shit.

Learning the unknown.

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Such a famous and powerful line. If you don’t know where it comes from I recommend doing some research on Pink Floyd. Education is a topic that is constantly in our faces – from the time we’re able to make sense of what is happening around us as little children all the way up until the day you die. What matters most is what you do with it. Some people need to have a regimented process in how they obtain their education. Spending year after year as most of us do, going through the school system, then we’re off to college, and then maybe some more college depending on what you want to do in life. Other people don’t need to follow this path because they have a clear vision in their mind of what they need to learn, how they’re going to learn it, and then they’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. These are the types of people who stay ahead. Without the end goal, we’re just out here meandering around, living day to day, complacent.

Anything you could ever want to know, read, or learn about can all be found within a fingers reach. Granted some things may be difficult to understand at first, but the internet provides the foundation and the resources to start the process of learning the unknown. So many before me have done it and so many after me will continue to do it. You weren’t born with the knowledge of how to build a company. Sure I went to college at Indiana University but that doesn’t mean I know everything about how to build a multi-million dollar business. I have resources from which to learn. I can plug into the matrix, utilize Google, and find anything, anyone, and use it/them as a resource to progress towards my end goal: owning and running that multi-million dollar business.

It’s all about experience. Putting what you learn to the test and watching the outcome. That’s exactly how it’s been on my previous ventures I’ve started, that’s exactly how it’s been with my new venture. This time I’m doing everything right though. I’m taking my time, researching, learning, bringing on board a great team of likeminded individuals, and hustling towards that end goal. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a process. Starting a company is by no means an easy task, but when you’re like me and you despise building someone else’s dream – it’s all worth it.

The age of music enlightenment is upon us.

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Time, where does it go? About 8 months ago I packed up my bags, put everything I own on one of those trucks you see on the interstate who honk their horns for kids who look like they’re pulling on a rope, and moved to Los Angeles. I actually think since I’ve moved here that I’ve entered some sort of vortex that I like to refer as the Twilight Zone. If you’ve been to LA and experienced all that it has to offer I’m sure you can attest to such a thing existing. The move has been amazing though and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. In fact, as I type this, it’s currently 12 degrees (no typo there) in Chicago. Meanwhile, I’m hanging out without pants on and the windows open in my West Hollywood abode but I digress.

You feel an interesting sense of invigoration out here in la la land. Maybe it’s being surrounded by luxury cars, beautiful people, and mansions in the hills or people constantly out and about discussing what they’re working on or who they’re working with. There’s a beauty in it. A place where the lazy and un-focused get left behind. A place to put your real talents to the test. Where it also happens to be warm all the time. I signed up and I’m not leaving anytime soon.

That being said, lets talk the entertainment industry – specifically the music business. I’ve had the pleasure of working in this fine industry for the past 8 years through various outlets (Atlantic Records, IMF Magazine, Revolt TV, HARD) and you start to really see the ins and outs of the business. Areas for improvement, disruption as they like to say in the ‘tech’ world are wide open for the taking. Bob Lefsetz was recently at a music conference speaking on music tech startups and his quote didn’t sit well with me.

“If you really care that much about music, make a f—–g band, make a hit record. Otherwise you’re a zit on the ass of the business.”

To me, this isn’t helping move the industry forward. It sounds like someone is upset that this business isn’t like what it used to be. When all of the major labels controlled anything and everything pertaining to music and their pockets were fat. Their pockets haven’t been fat in some time and this has been an ongoing conversation since Napster in the 90’s but it seems like not much has changed. The industry is always slow to adapt and then has no problem pointing fingers at scapegoats like Napster or Spotify, blaming them for the problem(s). The industry should embrace change, embrace new ways of doing things, and utilize technology to continue innovating. It’s people like Lefsetz who hinder that progression in a way.

I’m here to join the other side. The side that will bring innovation to the industry. Lets call it music enlightenment.

An idea was born since my move to LA. It has taken many shapes and has many creative individuals fueling it. It will reach every corner of the world, wherever internet goes and music is produced and consumed. Our community will unify and it will change how our content is distributed and consumed. I’m going to use this as a platform to document my journey, through thick and thin, and as a way to give my opinion and commentary on the latest musings of the music business.

We’ll all be connected soon enough.