Interview with Josh from Sphere of Hip-Hop
First and foremost, who is Josh?
A regular guy who loves God and hip-hop. I'm honored to serve. I'm married to Janny. She's awesome and supports what I do. I'm a baseball junkie and have taken to a new hobby of BBQ. Right now I own two smokers and have recently figured out how to smoke ribs pretty well. Turkey and pork shoulder are also solid but I still have a way to go before I think either is "perfect". Chicken has been elusive, I suck at that haha. Going to try a brisket later this year.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and later went to live with my father from grade 6 through high school. In 1995, I went off to college in Rochester, Minnesota and that's where my wife and I call home.
How long have you been immersed in hip-hop culture?
My introduction was in grade 2 and I was about 7 years old. That's when I first developed a love and appreciation for the culture. That's about 27 years now... I'm old haha!
You are the brainchild behind Sphere of Hip-Hop and the site has currently been active for 13 years. Talk about the struggles that you encountered when the site was new. What have you learned throughout the years?
Wow, it's been anything but easy... ever. There was no blueprint for it and I had to stumble (and fail) through it as I went. Early on, it was more about figuring out what people were looking for and serving that up. It's changed a lot over the years, for better and for worse, but the core seems to be the same... information.
I've learned many lessons about perseverance and God's faithfulness. The latter being a recurring lesson I seem to re-learn often ;)
Lately I've discovered and settled on doing what we do. No need to worry about occupying a space everyone else is... this is how we do things here... not a persistent reaction to the competition or anything. Finding that resolve has brought a great deal of peace and focus.
About 18 months ago I started over again at ground zero. Everything I was doing music wise needed to be started over. Due to some circumstances that really hurt me professionally and financially, I had allowed myself to get discouraged. That opened the door for me to develop some poor habits and it stole both my focus and my motivation to serve.
At this moment, I'm dangerously close to being a well oiled machine. A lot of processes have been re-thought so that I'm more efficient. I have a better team around me and we all enjoy serving for the same reasons. That's allowed me to unload much of the burden I had been placing on my shoulders.
All in all, things are in a better place with Sphere of Hip-Hop than ever before. It's frustrating to consider what "could have been" had I learned all of this sooner but... I'm thankful for where God has me now and for whatever might be in the future.
It seems that throughout the years the website has continued to adjust to the ever changing music climate. Describe the importance of evolving and the benefits of not being stagnant.
For the most part, we've remained rather progressive. We were able to see the value in MP3 downloads as a high value item for our visitors. That helped build a lot of loyalty for the site and obviously allowed us to accomplish many parts of the vision for Sphere of Hip-Hop.
Change is uncomfortable, especially when it's not on your own terms. Some changes, particularly in how people are supporting music, haven't been easy at all. Music piracy has been a tough matter to figure out. Some valid points are raised (ex. prices too high, desire for previews etc) and others are just flat out wack (ex. it's not a physical product so I'm not really stealing, I wouldn't buy it anyway, I just want to preview it all before I buy etc). I mean, I get all that but it's made things very difficult for artists, record labels and even websites like our own to simply survive. This has forced a great deal of positive and some negative changes.
Not being stagnant is tough to do unless you're well in tune with your audience. It's really easy to simply "do" things without understanding why you're doing it or perhaps the best ways to do it. That has helped us to remain relevant to our audience and adapt to any changes coming.
What did you enjoy most about being a General Manager/Head A & R for Uprok Records?
Being able to do a few things that couldn't have been done at other record labels. Everyone in the market was doing very very "safe" hip-hop music with a few exceptions. Those few short years allowed for much of the receptiveness we have now for the genre. When I started in 2001, it was very closed off and not very open to hip-hop and R&B.
I found a great deal of pride in accomplishing things that everyone said wasn't possible.
What is the most valuable thing that you learned while you were employed there?
A few actually... Being servant minded, not being afraid to ask for things at radio/media/tv, maximizing budgets.
Your marketing expertise provided a platform for a multitude of artists as evidenced by assisting with projects from Mars ILL, Peace 586 and more. When did you come to the conclusion that marketing and promoting artists was your niche?
It's hard to say when exactly but I knew I had a natural feel for it shortly before I got hired on at Uprok. Others saw it before I did. I never felt like any of it was rocket science... I made a plan, learned from my mistakes and worked hard.
What is the hardest part about maintaining an influential website?
Balancing time and finances. There is a constant need to prioritize and be flexible to shift those priorities if the circumstances warrant. Finances can really make or break it. If we saw a consistent flow of extra revenue, we could exponentially do more.
What are your interests outside of hip-hop?
As mentioned earlier... I love baseball and BBQ. For exercise, I play basketball a few times per week. If I had a bit more time, I'd love to travel more. Musically, I enjoy a lot of electronic music especially downbeat stuff. It often helps me through a long work day.
What is your favorite biblical book?
The music climate has shifted from the purchase of physical items to the purchase of downloadable items. How did your store adjust to the change in technology?
Slowly haha! For real, if we had the resources... I'd have done it 3-4 years ago. A custom solution would have consumed an entire years budget to create... and then the time. I sat back a bit too much on it but the current (and new) spot has been good. It's a bit of a change for our customer base but the early feedback is overwhelmingly positive.
I'm still loading in downloadable products and the selection continues to grow. It's a much more flexible format so I'd expect to be able to do some interesting things with it.
Describe the goal for the Sphere of Hip-Hop Podcast.
As with anything, and going back to the starting over bit, it's been consistent. The last few months have been rocky but for good in other areas. It boils down to putting out an excellent episode twice a month that plays music that's fresh. We're willing to play variety that others aren't. We have no image we're trying to uphold in that we only play certain types of artists. I think people are drawn to that. Our listeners are very loyal and we're thankful for that!
What does Josh value the most in this world?
Illect Recordings is...
A cool indie hip-hop label I help out with and one that hip-hop fans need to check out on a consistent basis.
Illect Recordings on Bandcamp
Illect Recordings on Facebook
Any final thoughts?
Support people/artists/labels/websites etc that you appreciate. Pray for them, shop at their retail spots, buy their music and tell your friends about them.