INTERVIEW: George Nunes Shares Industry Experience And Knowledge Of The Biz

Cypress Hill came on the radio the other day. It was one of those double-dose deals on Satellite Radio where you hear two songs by the same artist. The second song got me thinking.

Predictably, the first song was none other than “Insane in the brain,” arguably one of the groups most popular songs, coming off their sophomore album in ’93, Black Sunday. Next up, the sound of chimes started and Eminem’s voice began to speak over the track:

“Most people don’t see how much work is really involved in this rap sh*t. I didn’t know, I didn’t see it. I never really saw it until I was actually in it. You really gotta be in it to understand what it’s like.”

It was “Rap Superstar,” a track from Skull & Bones, released in 2000.

“What is the music industry really like,” I wondered.

Obviously I’m not in the rap game, or the music industry for that matter. So, I found someone who is, and has been for some time now – George Nunes.

Nunes, General Manager for Show Dog – Universal Music (a joint venture between artist Toby Keith and Universal Music), has been in the music business for over 30 years. Fishbowl was lucky enough to steal some of his time.

FR: Being that you’ve worked in so many different mediums in the entertainment industry, can you talk a little bit about the benefits of working in each, specially when dealing with music. 

George: I feel like every job I’ve had has prepared me for the next one, and all the jobs I’ve had prepared me to do this. You really do draw on your experiences and translate them into different situations.

My time spent at NBC was very different from my years at Capitol Records, but both of those experiences have helped me navigate through the ever-changing landscape that is the music business today.

I started off playing piano in bands but hadn’t played for a live audience for over 20 years. I got a call from a drummer friend of mine in Arizona who said, “We are playing a show in a few weeks and the piano chair is open. Want to play the gig?” I said “yes.”  Learned the 20 plus tunes (mostly in B flat – damn horn players!), went to Arizona, rehearsed for 2 days, hauled my equipment, set up, played for 3 hours and at the end of the night made $50.00.

That was a real refresher course on what it takes to be a working musician today.  It put me back in touch with just how hard of a job it is, how little you make, and yet here is someone at some record company asking that same musician who has only had a few hours of sleep to get up early so he can be at some radio station to promote his single.  It is always good to see situations from the other person’s point of view.

FR: How did you hook up with Toby Keith and Universal Records?

George:  I met Toby when I was at House of Blues Media Properties. We did a behind the scenes and b-roll video shoot when Toby played at House of Blues in New Orleans for a webcast I was going to use on hob.com.  It turned into a full video shoot, which became the video for “When Country Comes to Town,” released through DreamWorks. I was running an independent label (Sovereign Artists) in Santa Monica, Cali., when Toby was planning to open his label Show Dog.

We got back together when he was in LA shooting a video and talked about what his label was going to be. His excitement about Show Dog hooked me.

We shook hands. I was on a plane to Nashville the following Monday and have been here since.  We merged with Universal South in January of 2010 and it really has been a great pairing.  We are still fiercely independent with the backing of a major label.

FR: You currently live in Nashville. How important is location when looking to become involved in the industry?

George: If you want to surf, you need to live near the ocean.

FR: Since starting you career as a Sales Manager with Cema Distribution in 1980, can you talk about the process you went through in order to achieve the position you’re in today? Joys, pains – the works?

George: I have to say, I have really enjoyed every job I’ve had in the music business.

I have learned so much at each position that has become invaluable. I’ve had great mentors who have shown me the way, and after many years, I still keep in touch and seek their advice.

In the music business you are dealing with artists and the art they create. When I was just staring at Capitol-EMI, the head of the company made a speech where he said, “It is not up to us to determine what the consumer will purchase. It is up to us to find, nurture talent, expose and deliver their music on a medium that the consumer wishes to purchase it.”  That was said over 30 years ago and it hasn’t changed.  That was the job then and now.

FR: When it comes to music, what’s your preferred genre?

George: I like good music in all its many forms. I like music that moves you emotionally:  that makes something happen inside of you which, is indescribable.  I don’t like labels for music, probably because I grew up in a time of “underground” radio in the Bay Area where everything was wide open.  It was rock, jazz, country, blues and soul all together and my ears were wide open and still are. Just make it interesting and I’m in.

FR: Over the years, the industry has changed. From your observation, can you talk about some of the positives and negatives that have come with it?

George: Can you imagine if things didn’t change?  We would be listening to mono or 45s, 8-tracks or cassettes. They say vinyl is making a come back, but it was the state of the art and that too moves forward.

I don’t really care for the lowering of sound standards, i.e. the sound of MP3’s.  The technology is available to have great sound quality within a digital world, but I think people have learned to live with less sound for the sake of convenience.

I think the loss of so many great record stores is sad. They were not just places to shop, but social places to hang and get turned onto new music. That can’t be replicated by Facebook or Twitter. If you’ve spent anytime in an Apple store, that’s what record stores use to feel like: exciting and vibrant, a place where like-minded people came together to have an experience.

FR: After a day at the office, how do you find time to relax? Since your jobs seems to revolve around so many aspects of media, how do you escape what basically consumes everything?

George: It’s really getting hard to unplug with smart phones, iPads and gadgets everywhere.  There is an addictive quality that keeps you coming back to see what’s going on, wondering, “Am I missing something?,” “Did I get an email?,” “I just remembered I need to follow up with someone,” “What’s happening on Facebook?,” or “Did someone Tweet something that I might need to know right now?”

It’s getting harder and harder to get real down time.  I do the best I can to break away and hit the gym, biking, yoga – anything that tends to take me out of “thinking” or “working.”  I still like to play piano.  That has always been a safe place for me to get out of myself and feel creative.  It’s important to find that balance and I’m still working at it.

This article was originally published on Fishbowlrecords.net on October 21, 2011.