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October 24, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Siren song of downtown is music to his ears

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Joe Schoenmann

Justin Graham wants to build his record label, Attain Records, in downtown.

Justin Graham was looking to build his record label, Attain Records, in Las Vegas long before he heard of Zappos, Tony Hsieh or the Downtown Project.

But the fact that community-oriented development is being nurtured downtown strengthened Graham's conviction that downtown was exactly where he wanted to establish roots.

With his hip-hop artist, Que, releasing an album Thursday, Graham is set on finding space downtown by the end of the year to create a label that he says will set a different standard for artists who sign on.

“We’re about empowering artists again and allowing them to have the freedom to create without interference from the business-side of the label,” he said. “We do the business; you do the creation. That’s how it used to be.”

Graham said it is different today, where labels force artists to create music to fit a niche or sound that executives think will sell.

“It’s why everything sounds the same these days,” he said.

Out of college, Graham, from Queens, N.Y., went to work on a cruise ship, where he met his future wife. The two honeymooned in Las Vegas — he’s 27; she’s a year older — then returned for a visit a year later.

“I talked to a lot of people then and it made me realize how precious this place is and how much potential it has, and we had to grow here,” he said.

He was about to rent office space closer to the Strip when he recently learned about what’s going on with downtown redevelopment.

“Someone sent me a link to a story about Tony Hsieh, and I thought: Downtown’s culture is what I’m trying to build. I might as well join, and we can progress together — the music, entertainment and all the other ideas that go hand-in-hand together down here.”

Graham acknowledged the ease of creating music and posting it online could make a young artist doubt the use of signing with a record label: If you can do it for free, why pay someone to help? Having a label can be important, Graham counters, because navigating the business end of recording is a difficult, arduous path. And with hundreds of wannabes posting their music online, good or bad, listeners simply may give up trying to find something worth their time.

“We want to bring back the knowledge and the education because most artists don’t know that end of it anymore,” he said. “We want to be on the ground cultivating and growing them. For too long artists have gotten a raw deal by the recording industry. We’re losing diverse talent to the point that every single song these days sounds about the same.”

Graham said Que’s music will be available on iTunes and other Internet platforms Thursday. For information about the artist, see www.quedaily.com.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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