Tommy Osuna - The Master Plan
Tommy Osuna is a man with a vision.
In this world of one-hit wonders and day-to-day loyalty, Osuna has a
long-term plan which could very well change the way music is produced,
distributed, marketed and viewed, both by those who create it and those who
Simply put, Osuna wants to "get the unity together;" to combine the
different aspects of the music business (e.g., writers, performers,
managers, etc.) into centralized fronts which will be able to affect their
less-organized counterparts and the industry as a whole with a combination
of sheer mass and focused talent.
As a writer, composer, award-winning guitarist, manager, producer and
publisher, Osuna has seen many sides of the music business. Now he wants to
combine them into a single, concentrated corporation which will change the
music business as a whole from the inside.
Born and raised in California, Osuna first got into music thanks to a
schoolboy crush on a grade school music professor. Having tried the trumpet,
piano and percussion, Osuna settled on the guitar and worked at it steadily.
After high school, Osuna attended the Guitar Institute of Technology (a
school which Osuna claims to be "very much like [the movie] 'Fame,' except
without the dancing"), where he was repeatedly named "Guitarist of the
Hoping to share what he had learned with others, Osuna toured briefly
with Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell, then came east to the famed Berklee
School of Music to study music education and the fledgling field of music
therapy. As a dyslexic, Osuna dreamed of using his acquired passion for and
knowledge of music as a means to instruct others not only about performance
and practice but about life in general.
Figuring the best way to reach his desired ends was through financial
support, Tommy left Berklee after three years and took over as publisher of
Rhythm Music magazine, turning what had been an eight-page pamphlet into a
world-renowned publication. During a trip to the Midem Music Conference in
France, the successful publisher met ex-Wailer and ever-Reggae legend Earl
"Chinna" Smith. Having played with the likes of Bob and Ziggy Marley, Jimmy
Cliff and, most recently, Grammy-winner Lauryn Hill, Smith was intrigued
with Osuna's multi-cultural stylings and invited Osuna to come back to
Jamaica with him. There, Osuna met other greats such as Sly Dunbar, who had
also played with David Bowie and The Rolling Stones. Though Osuna was often
awe-struck by his new patrons, Smith and Dunbar were likewise astounded by
Osuna's talents and especially by his abilities to incorporate hitherto
unmarried styles, such as Arabic and Reggae
"They really flipped for the style," Tommy recalls. "They had never
heard a 'Rock' guitar player that was able to play that way. So when I
started to play the Arabic Reggae stuff, they started to do the Reggae stuff
and we put it together. And it was something that they had never been able
to do and I don't think that anyone has been able to put it together. The
only other person I know is Jimmy Page, but he's never went into the Reggae
versions or other versions -- except for "D'yer Mak'r" -- but that doesn't
sound like much Reggae. It sounds great! But it's not Reggae."
Before allowing Osuna to return to the States, Dunbar and Smith made
Tommy agree to record with them. Unfortunately, Osuna did not have an
outlet through which to deliver on his part of the bargain.
Leaving Rhythm Music, Osuna teamed-up with world-traveling
bassist/businessman Kyle Russell and formed OSBC entertainment (a name
culled from the maiden names of the principle's mothers) in 1998. Together
with the assistance of drummer/engineer Jay Fitzgibbons and
keyboardist/production assistant Rider McCoy, Osuna has created a
collaborative corporation which includes not only production, but education,
management and many other vital parts of what makes the modern music
One thing OSBC does not have, though, is limits. Tired of the
traditional systems of classification which he considers to be outdated and
stultifying, Osuna bases his roster picks on talent and potential. Gathering
together the best writers, performers and production staff he can, Tommy
hopes to create a union (in the truest sense of the word) which will force
the rest of the industry to look at itself and change to a new way of
recording, distributing, marketing and perceiving the music of the world.
"Because everybody's trying to shoot for themselves [in today's
market]," Osuna explains, "the possibility of them penetrating is a lot
slimmer than if we got a lot of songs together - and then I put together the
publishing deals and took these songs to record companies and say
'Look-purchase these.' Instead of trying to penetrate it all by themselves,
[the unified artists] can penetrate it with a movement, with something that
actually has more of a business commodity. Because I think major companies
don't want to screw around with small potatoes."
Though OSBC may itself be "small potatoes" at this point, Osuna is
confident in his staff and in the talent he has chosen to work with. After
releasing his own multi-cultural guitar album Third Stream, Osuna's first
production project was the Boston Music Award-winning group Dub Station.
While Dub Station was winning rave reviews from all over the country, Osuna
met singer/songwriter Phil Pemberton at a local Blues jam. After reworking
some of Pemberton's original material to make it more suitable for Phil's
wide-ranging voice, the two recorded Dreamers, a new album which has been
well-received throughout the area and which is soon to be followed-up by
Pemberton's sophomore release on Mystic 7, the recording arm of OSBC. In
addition to Pemberton's next album, 1999 promises new albums from Chinna and
Sly, as well as Pop artist Jim Fini, Ska performer Ned Richardson and an R&B
artist so hot she goes only by the name "Roz." Though these may not be
household names now, the year is still young, as is Osuna and OSBC.
"I haven't done a lot," says the Midas-touched Osuna "but everything
I've touched so far has risen to another level."
While Osuna is looking to take OSBC as a whole to "another level," he is
not looking to expand only for expansion's sake. "With people like Phil and
Roz and all these other people that are writing music in all these different
directions," Tommy reasons, "it can be just four or five people working
there -- like Motown -- and then you have the back-up band. You write the
songs during the day. You get them produced. I produce them, push them out
to radio, then boom! There you go!"
Not satisfied with sheer numbers, Osuna promises to do all he can to
find "good songs." However, he appears to define "good" in a new, perhaps
even revolutionary way.
"The key," Osuna explains, "is I know how to create that sound. So if I
can get these people, I can put them through MY funnel- through MY vision
and put them together towards a common goal. If we come up with so much
music, there's only so much room on the airwaves that, if you come up with a
percentage of it, people are going to start gravitating towards it and it
will start making a lot of money."
And where will this money go to? Fortunately, despite the many complex
steps he has had to take along the way, Osuna has not lost sight of his
original goal; to create a music-based educational center for children who,
like Tommy, face obstacles to learning. While such a claim may lead to puppy
dog "aww"s, Osuna is quite serious about this venture, and has already
enlisted the services of a number of "heavy cats" -- leading doctors and
specialists in music therapy -- to join his faculty when the time comes.
"If I can penetrate the music industry and make money at it," Osuna
explains, "my hope is to open up a school for learning disabled children. A
music school that integrates music with literature and how to teach everyday
life situations through music instead of how to problem-solve with just
literature and other things. I'd like to teach all the problem-solving
skills through music. Because music and literature are almost exactly the
same. A good musician is the same as a good writer. They silence properly.
They use good grammar. It's all basically the same. It's just two different
While he works on financing his larger aspiration, Osuna is already
pursuing his dreams through educating and edifying the music world one
member at a time.
"If somebody comes through the door and they're at a certain level
musically, I'll give them guitar lessons. I'll enhance their talent. I might
even cut a record for them through OSBC. So basically, I'm like a musical
director at my music firm."
In addition to the OSBC roster, Osuna is also working with unsigned
performers who, without outside assistance, might never be heard. A regular
at The Cantab Lounge in Cambridge's Central Square, Osuna has had the
opportunity to meet and perform with some of the area's greatest Blues men.
Tommy recently gathered a firm dozen of these local legends at the OSBC
studios the first of what he hopes to be a series of one-of-a-kind
recordings tracking music from all points of the compass and all walks of
"There's a lot of local people that have just never made it," Osuna
explains. "They could be respected in [their particular genre], but they
just frankly have never made it. There's a lot of artists there that have a
lot of talent but they don't do anything about it. So I got [who I thought
to be] the best players around to come in and focus on just having fun. Not
about any specific marketing. Just about making music for the fact of making
music. And my vision is that, in the end result, I'd like to be able to do
that on a daily basis- Take big concepts like that - the American Indian
industry, the Latino industry - heavy people that have just never made it,
and just start making compilations."
Combining the roles of ethnomusicologist and generous patron, Osuna
hopes to "produce these particular idioms and bring the young and new
up-and-coming crowd along with the old generation that really hasn't made
it, but they're very seasoned. I'd try to bridge that gap and put them both
Despite his devout love of "Classic" Rock, Osuna is too clairvoyant and
shrewd a businessman to let the coming changes in the music industry pass
"I know that in the year 2000 or the year 2010 it's going to be World
music-influenced. Rock is growing stale. I love Rock," claims Osuna (who
credits the likes of Page, Beck and Santana as influences), "but the fact of
the matter is that, unless it's infused with different World elements, it's
going to run stale. So, you're getting so many different people coming in
from Mexico and Europe that want a piece of their heritage, but they don't
want it exactly. So what you'll be able to do is you'll be able to do Rock
like Zeppelin did with Arabic influence, and then boom- you have this new
idiom. So, you're getting all these cross-cultural bands together. And
that's what I'm globally hoping to do is to bring all different styles of
music -- whether it's straight Pop to African guitar players to belly
dancing to Flamenco -- and bring it to a musical front."
Though, in the past, fringe publications like Osuna's Rhythm Music were
the only places for people to learn about non-Western (read "non-American")
artists and styles, Osuna is pleasantly noticing a change in the global
"Now," Osuna notes, "'Ethnic' is the cool thing, whereas before it
Unfortunately, Osuna realizes that the change will not be without
"Frank Zappa said that his main issue with his music was the possibility
of getting it. He was bummed-out that his distribution company wouldn't let
somebody have the chance to buy it. Whether somebody wanted to buy it was up
to them, but his problem was that, when you come to certain types of music,
sometimes nobody can even get it! So my issue is how do you get people
together and unify this movement to try and get out exotic and eclectic
music and Pop and Blues?"
Stylistically, Osuna has one answer. "I'm using the Pop element as a way to
puncture the market to then bring all these other musics along with it, but
I'm writing Pop in a way that's not cheesy. It still has some hair on it!"
In the larger sense, Osuna also has ideas regarding how to most
effectively market the new expanded catalog of "World" music. As opposed to
companies such as Putamayo Records, which Osuna claims "take the tradition
from the tradition" by leading non-Western musicians to "cross over" to more
familiar and acceptable Western (i.e., American) styles, Tommy's idea is "to
take the musicians from here and make them cross-over to there;" to take the
"Americanized" styles back to where the music comes from.
As America has no musical "tradition" of its own (even Jazz was
imported, and through very unpleasant means), Osuna does not see why it has
the right to determine how the world should perceive music, especially its
own! While he has no problem with the term "World Music," Osuna feels that
it should include what it truly implies, as opposed to only those parts of
the world that UMG does not control.
"In America," Tommy explains, "they're saying 'World' as opposed to
American Pop. 'World' means 'Ethnic' nowadays- 'Third World.' To me- I think
the coined phrase 'World Music' should include everyone because it's the
music of the world.
Though Osuna thinks that his combination of Spanish, Native American and
Italian heritage, along with partner Richardson's global education (which
came from being a diplomat's son) will be a great advantage in the coming
global music industry, he realizes that many new difficulties will arise
from the unlimited expansion of the market. For example, how would record
stores be classified and subdivided and how (more importantly to many in the
industry) would precious shelf space be allotted?
"I think it should just be ran alphabetically. Not in different styles.
Not where it's from. Just alphabetically by artist's name."
When asked what a consumer would do if they did not know the name of the
artist or style they were looking for, Osuna smiles assuredly.
"That's the whole idea!" he claims. "Because if you don't know the
artist's name- if you run through the 'B's' and you find out that you may
have a 'B' here that you've never seen before, you may find that you can
maybe use that 'B' and listen to that 'B.' Think of all the music you would
find out about while you look!"
While this process may not be the solution, Osuna posits it to be as
good as any other.
"If you change the way people think," he reasons, "it's going to be a little
difficult, but there's problems with every specific way of doing this.
There's going to be holes. But what's best for the music is if it all
becomes under the 'World' market and I think if it is really run
Not only would Osuna's proposal allow for new marketing classification,
but it would also have much greater benefits as well.
"That's what music's all about! Because you'd actually have to think and
I think that, in America, what people don't want to have to do any more is
think. It would be a process and it would be hard, but the fact of the
matter is that you'd get rid of the classifications just by alphabetizing
people. And then people might want to come up with funky names, just so they
could have less people in that area - you know, like 'Z's' or 'Q's'." It
In addition to making consumers think for themselves, Osuna's plan would
also allow artists to do the same.
"This is about music for music. This way when somebody writes music,
they write. They don't write with a specific agenda except to write."
And once the system was introduced, wouldn't certain songs rise to
popularity in the same way as they do today within each category?
"Yes, the highest-selling records would rise," Osuna admits. "But they
could be anything. That's the whole idea again!"
As a result, the "prejudice" surrounding 'World Music' would be
eradicated and artists would be known as artists, instead of as members of a
genre or cogs in a marketing machine.
"When you call something a specific area and somebody doesn't want to
believe in it," Osuna concludes, "you have to understand the artist. You
have to know who the artist is. That's how it's driven so people can
publicize their artists. If you want to publicize them in a certain style,
that's fine! But then everybody can have an equal chance."
Considering the additional issues which might not be so shakable, such
as which artists would end-up with the most support and therefore the most
space in the newly alphabetized bins, etc., Osuna demurs somewhat, but still
appears to be quite dedicated to his cause, or at least to its general
"It would have to be a whole new system," he explains. "Not that this
system is going to be perfect. I don't know if it's a solution, but I know
that it gives more chance for more people to get in. That's really the
issue- How do you get yourself into the music store or into the market? How
can you? That's the real issue. All I know is that this gives it more. Is it
the 'right' way? Maybe not necessarily, but I think it's a better way than
it is now."
As he is wise enough to see how to "improve" the music industry, Osuna
is also wise enough to know that he cannot do it alone.
"I think that when people put armies together," he muses, only slightly
metaphorically, "they put these up-front troops to go in and kill themselves
and get destroyed before the generals come in. So my idea is that I'm trying
to create this project which will have all these different types of people
to go on the front lines. And if you have an army, it's just a fact that, if
your army is bigger than someone else's army, you will humble them. It works
out that way. And then with intelligence back there putting the pawns in the
right places discreetly, you can be even more powerful! So within this
situation, it's the same thing. You get together heavy amounts of artists
that are very, very intelligent and that produce really good music. This is
Instead of separate, nationalized battalions, however, Tommy is looking
for a united global force.
"I want to bring in Boston, New York- I want to bring in all over the
world. I want people to know about this. There's a lot of people trying to
do this on their own and the fact of the matter is that they're not going to
be able to. There's going to be a lot of people that aren't going to be able
to- not because they aren't using this system but just because the fact of
the matter is one person with a commodity, it's not as good as a thousand
people with the same commodity put in one particular situation that one
businessman can purchase."
Ever the forward-thinker, Osuna already has a system devised to reward
his most loyal "troops."
"Whoever comes into the situation and whoever I want as my core of
people who are willing to give up a lot of their rights right now, I'm
definitely going to give them better benefits to try to hire them to sit and
write music all day. For instance, if we get a song to where somebody wants
it and wants to pay $100,000 for it, and the writer takes $50,000 and I take
$50,000, I could give half of that to someone like Phil and say 'You know
what? I want you for this year and next year to write songs,' even though
his song didn't 'do it.' And it might not just be him. It might be five
other people that we can hire because the amount of money could have been
$200,000 to buy a song outright."
Such a reward system, Tommy hopes, will reap and produce its own
"Basically," Osuna explains, "we want to get enough money to then hire
these groups writers to then produce more music on a continuous basis in
this particular style."
Though OSBC may have the makings and the plausible plans for one, Osuna
also has a way to avoid a self-promulgating 'hit factory.'
"If everyone goes just for 'hits,'" Tommy reasons, "then we can help
finance all the other writers" (i.e., those who write for the sake of
creating "good" music, as is Tommy's wish).
And that's not to say the "hits" are all bad!
"I'm going to do Pop," Tommy notes, "but the Pop stuff I put in is going
to be good- It's going to have that sound. I'm not going to put out Pop that
sounds like shit. I'm going to put out Pop because it has some sack and it's
going to be different from the R&B-Pop stuff that comes out nowadays. So
frankly, anything that comes out of my office is going to be at a very high
level. And I don't really care whether it's the Pop stuff, whether it's the
African stuff, whether it's the Indian stuff- it doesn't really matter."
As becomes evident from talking to Tommy, he is not one to be
narrow-minded in any element of his business. In the same way as OSBC
umbrellas a publishing company (World Rhythm), a recording company (7
Mystic) and even booking (Upbeat Productions), he is looking to create a
company that others will perceive as a whole as well. Therefore, whether it
results in Pop, World or some completely new and "other" type of musical
production (which would not be a surprise, coming from Osuna), OSBC is a
multi-faced, multi-faceted, multi-tasking entity which its creator hopes
will be seen and considered as a whole as well as by the creations of its
"Whatever hits," Osuna explains, "I want people paying attention to the
company. That way, they'll come looking for other things, thinking 'Hey-
this Tommy guy works with good people. Let's see what else he has!'"
At present, Osuna is banking on 'known entities' such as Chinna and Sly.
However, he is also hoping that his uncanny 'Midas touch' continues to serve
him as he searches for tomorrow's legends.
One of Osuna's greatest "finds" is poet Patricia Smith, who has agreed
to a live tour and recording project with Osuna and Pemberton. Osuna is also
looking to theater as another possible branch of the OSBC tree.
"We haven't sank our teeth into anything yet," he explains, "but one of
the guys -- Ned Richardson, who is producing for us -- a large part of his
background is in theater. So that would be a global step to put this
together as an entertainment firm as a whole."
At what will come of all this?
"The school idea is definitely going to happen."
For more information on OSBC and its may projects and services, contact
Tommy at (781) 641 2945.