This isn't a landmark post. It's just a story that I've been wanting to tell. Really, there is one person who is greatly responsible for my entire choice of career. I'm about to go out to dinner with my friends, and then we're going to camp outside the liquor store until midnight, so I'm only posting part of this now. I'll probably come back and finish it tomorrow.
I’m turning twenty-one, and I’m starting grad school in less than six months. I’m getting my first bachelor’s soon. My assigned graduation date is Spring ’06. Then I plan to work on a second bachelor’s while I get my MBA.
I’ve done some pretty cool things in my short life. I’ve had ridiculous opportunities. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve accomplished so far, and lately, I’ve been thinking about just how many people are responsible for getting me where I am now. Obviously, my family is a big factor. So is my faith. But there are a lot of people who haven’t been given their dues, and I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge many of the people who’ve treated me well in timeline form. You may have heard of a couple of them; I’ll include their names.
Actually, it’s more a chronicle of the evolution of my career ambitions than anything else.
I was a social outcast in high school. I was kind of friends with two girls who were a year older. Other than that, I had absolutely no social interaction with any of my peers. I went to school and went home. That was it. I didn’t really feel like I fit in anywhere, and it seemed that everyone I met was very critical and cold towards me.
I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do with my life. The traditional path of students at my school generally led toward the sciences. I was good at pretty much every subject. I had a ridiculously high GPA. I had absolutely no problem picking up on things. At the same time, I didn’t have any real passion for anything that I was doing. Sure, I was good at it. And I didn’t really mind doing it. I didn’t love it, either.
I went to my first concert at fifteen. A couple of friends wanted to see Good Charlotte, so I tagged along. We ended up having rather lengthy conversations with the band, who flat-out ignored the cute, scantily clad girls throwing themselves at them in favor of communicating with us. I should really try to find those pictures sometime. Looking back, I think the whole thing was a small indication of things to come.
Later that year, I went to a huge festival show with one of the same girls. We ran into the lead singer of a band called Disturbed, who had just released their first major single. He was very soft-spoken and came off as extremely intelligent. A woman who was strung out on something walked up to us and started ranting, trying to get his attention. She lost her patience and yelled something along the lines of, “Oh, I see. You got them groupies, man, they gon’ be givin’ you…” and such. He turned to her, raising his voice a little, and said, “You need to leave them alone.”
At sixteen, I went back to the same festival, which naturally featured different bands. The same girl was with me. We were wandering around and noticed a guy in his late twenties standing around holding stacks of demo CDs. I went up to him and asked him what he was doing. He told me that he was a promoter (actually, he's an artist development guy) for EMI/Virgin, and that day, he was handling a band called 30 Seconds to Mars. Most of the people there had no idea who they were. I said something along the lines of, “You know, you really suck at this. Can we do it for you?” We spent the rest of the day handing things out, hyping up the band, talking to people. “Can-can” (as I nicknamed him) was really nice. He had an degree in marketing. Later that day, he came to us and asked us to meet him in an hour because “the band wants to meet you.” The singer escorted us backstage, and we had sodas on the tour bus and talked about what kinds of peanut butter had the most sugar in them. I didn’t recognize him at the time. His name was Jared Leto. I realized, talking to everyone I ran into that day, that I really liked this kind of thing. There was an energy about it that was incredible. I really, honestly was (and still am) a people person. As socially awkward as I was with my peers, I was very, very good at connecting with these people and getting the audience excited.
I stood on stage for the first time that day. I looked out at over ten thousand people singing along and letting themselves be completely caught up in the music. At that point, it was one of the most amazing moments of my sixteen years.
Can-can and I kept in touch. He was my mentor of sorts. He taught me a lot about the music industry, and I, in turn, helped him by giving suggestions that came to me instinctively. I’d help him out at big shows, especially. He introduced me to a lot of people. In fact, nearly all of my “connections” can be traced back to him in one way or another. He’s the one who showed me that you actually can be educated in this kind of thing. He taught me the importance of networking. He went way out of his way for me, and I am forever in his debt. He even wrote me a recommendation for college, which, aside from my academics, apparently had a lot of weight when it came to scholarships and the like.
At seventeen, I helped out at a concert called the Next Big Thing. The band we were handling was called N.E.R.D. They’d released their first single, “Lapdance.” I loved the song, but I didn’t know much about the group itself. This was in late 2002. Earlier that year, the Neptunes had been named producers of the year at the Billboard Music Awards. I knew nothing about that. I’d never heard of Pharrell Williams in my life. I had no idea what the guys’ names were or what they looked like. In fact, the drummer had dinner with me in the tent that evening (and by “dinner,” I mean that I was pigging out on various chocolate desserts and chugging Red Bull like it was my job), and I had no idea who he was until Can-can came up to me and said, “You know who that is, don’t you?”
They were really nice guys. I thought Pharrell was awesome, and he made a huge impression on me even though we didn’t talk much. I later researched him and Star Trak and was very, very impressed.
I stood on the stage a lot that day. I saw Everclear, N.E.R.D., tons and tons of different artists. Cypress Hill was there, too.
I talked to a lot of other people that day. Most of them were crew and managers. We discussed our impressions of the industry, where it was heading, and where it should try to go. A couple of them asked me where I’d gone to school or something along those lines. They were shocked when they discovered that I had yet to graduate high school. It was such an encouragement to me. I couldn’t make a good friend at school to save my life, but I could impress these people who were ten or more years older than I.
Everyone I met was very supportive of me. The music industry has a general reputation for being full of sleazebags who like to exploit power and harass women, but I had extremely few experiences like that. Everyone with whom I associated really wanted me to get involved in the business side of the industry. It was really good for me; I felt like I'd found my niche.
I shall continue this later, as my friends are now eagerly awaiting my arrival at the pseudo-Mexican restaurant.
I left out some details because I figured you guys wouldn't find them too interesting, but perhaps I'll throw them in when I finish this up later today.
And I've never heard anyone mention Almost Famous in relation to me WITHOUT meaning Penny Lane before now. But I can get more into the female = groupie (or "band aid," which the general populus seemed to think I would find less offensive) thing shortly.
There was really sort of more than one thing going on for me in music, like in many parts of life. I apologize if this gets a little disjointed because I’m realizing that this isn’t really a very linear tale at all.
I started helping out with promotions for local bands in Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale. I made friends. One of the bands invited me to come out to a show they had in Vero Beach, and that night I volunteered to sell merch for the first time.
Here’s the thing about music. Bands, especially smaller bands, really make the most money off the things they sell at their shows. So even though they often don’t realize it, merch sales are a big deal for them. This particular band had had one of their crew just sort of casually waving CDs about during the set. I told them that I thought I could do better. I mean, I already knew how to promote one-on-one, and on top of that, I’m a girl.
There was only a crowd of maybe thirty that night. I sold twenty CDs. Then I went back to Tampa. The next night, the band played in front of several hundred people in Ft. Lauderdale. They sold four CDs. They called me the next day and said that they’d love for me to keep working for them.
While I was doing that 30 Seconds to Mars promotion, I discovered that the 30 Seconds to Mars tour bus was right next to the Lostprophets bus. Well, the Welsh accents certainly caught my attention. I spent plenty of time over there, too. In fact, I still have the Office Space DVD that their merch boy (who apparently also worked for the Backstreet Boys) gave me out of the movie collection on their bus. His email address is written on the inside of it.
They were friendly. Not extremely nice, but friendly. And they came back for Ozzfest 2002 (I think; I might be getting the years mixed up). This was after Livestock (the first festival) but before the Next Big Thing. The point is, they had some vague recollection of me when I, at seventeen, casually strolled past the security guard and through the backstage gate with absolutely no credentials whatsoever. Later in the day, during the course of my comings and goings, some guy who actually DID have passes (I think he was a tech, and I think he’d hit on me or something, and I’d turned him down) came up to the guard and said, “Why are you letting HER back here? She doesn’t have a pass!”
The guard, with whom I’d by this point held a few conversations and to whom I’d brought water and sunscreen, shrugged, smiled, and said, “She’s cute.” The man even told me when he was going on break and what to say to his replacement so that no one would hassle me. Another reinforcement that it pays to be nice. Well, maybe cute, too, but I really think that if I’d just been some cute girl trying to get backstage to get to the OMGZ BAND BOYZ!!!! it wouldn’t have mattered how cute I was.
Anyways, before I’d brought my security guard friend water or anything, I’d wandered around a bit. There was a boy who was maybe twelve standing around looking lost. I walked up to him, and we started talking. He was a huge Andrew WK fan, and during their set, he’d started to get heat stroke pretty badly. Andrew WK’s manager pulled him out of the crowd, brought him backstage, and gave him water. We were standing right next to the band’s bus, but he was too shy to try to talk to them. So I knocked on the door for him. The manager recognized him and tracked down every one of the band members so that they could come talk to him. This boy was so incredibly happy.
I promised a few examples of people equating girls with groupies. Well, here’s one, but I won’t mention the name of the band. They’re broken up now, but I think it’d be bad policy to start badmouthing artists on a public forum.
I had to pee. There was a Port-a-Potty backstage, at the end of the line of busses. When I opened it up, my senses were immediately assaulted by….well, you know. It was disgusting. I jumped back and let the door slam shut. Just then, a guy leaned out of the window of a bus and said, “Nasty, isn’t it?” “Yeah. It’s totally gross. Hey, you guys have a bathroom on there, right?” “Yeah, but you can’t flush anything solid.” ”That’s okay; I just have to pee really bad.”
So he let me onto the bus, and I peed. Afterwards, I sat on one of the couches and started talking to the guys. Mostly to the tour manager, really. He was cute and nice and told me about his girlfriend. The guy who’d invited me on the bus scooted over onto the couch with me and put his arm around my shoulders. He started asking me how I felt about performing various sexual favors. I was absolutely appalled.
The tour manager made him move to the other side of the bus, but he kept talking. The manager said, “I don’t care what you do outside this bus, but when you’re here, you’re on label property, and we’re liable. She’s seventeen, dude.”
So the horny guitarist started asking me to come to the showers with him. Or just to step outside the bus.
Finally, the manager kicked him out. Seriously, he kicked the guy off his own tour bus. He said something like, “You really need to go.” And when the guy protested, he said, “I’m not kicking HER off. She hasn’t done anything. You’re being a prick. Leave.” Then the lead singer showed up. I recognized him; he was the guy who’d been lounging in a lawn chair outside and who’d started making comments about my legs (I was already tall then, probably about 5’10”, and I was wearing black pinstripe pants that just emphasized that fact). I said goodbye to the manager and left.
Most of the day, when I wasn’t wandering around in the crowd, I was hanging out with the Lostprophets and eating their food. Well, really I was hanging out with the crew. They had this drum tech named Stubz. He was a short, bald, 37-year-old man with an accent. I think he told me he was from London.
I really did want to go see some of the main stage bands. The thing about Ozzfest is that it’s divided into a second stage and a main stage. They’re often in two entirely different parts of the venue. On top of that, even if you have second stage passes, it’s still really hard to get any privileges at all for main stage, so I was basically counting on ending up out in the grass. The stage was set up at the bottom of a sort of pit. There were tables at the very front, then seats, and then way, way up at the top, there was just this sort of grass field where everyone with regular tickets watched.
Stubz asked me who I really wanted to go see, and I said System of a Down. So we ate some more (I think they delivered a fruit plate or something, and we intercepted it before the band got their hands on it), and finally, he said, “You wanna go watch System?” “Yeah, let’s go watch System.”
So we walked out the gate through the crowd towards the main stage. I was ready to head up the hill when he turned to me and asked in a deliberately casual tone, “So, do you want to watch from the VIP, or do you want to go stand on the stage?”
The….excuse me…we can…uh…what?
He walked me through the main stage gate. Whenever anyone tried to stop me, he’d tell him that it was okay, I was with him. He bought me a drink at the bar, and he led me through the hallways and up. Onto. The stage.
I found out shortly after that the people I knew who were also at the show actually did see me up there. It was great. We watched the whole set, and then we left so that the techs could set up the next band. Actually, come to think of it, Ozzy was next. We went out to the VIP area to have a drink or two and watch Ozzy play a few songs. Then we left.
We'd talked a lot about music and industry-related things during the day. Stubz gave me a hug and his email address, and I went back to the hotel room I was sharing with my friend Jake. By this point, I was juggling merch for a LOT of local bands, and he was the guitarist of one of them. We’d both wanted to go to Ozzfest, and he didn’t have gas money, and I couldn't get a hotel reservation, so we traded. Jake was drunk and spent half the night telling me how he wanted to be a rockstar but only for four years because he wanted to have a family and teach math to high school kids.
Wow, this is way, way longer than I thought it would be. But hey, as long as you guys are interested. I've gotta run to Best Buy at the moment, though.
Dear, it seems to me that the universe has conspired to put you in this vocation. I think it's great when people are nice and just let the world lead them. Don't lose that.
Posts: 9293 | Registered: Aug 2000
| IP: Logged |
Yes, pH, this is really interesting! Please tell us more.
I'm in week two of a crash course on pretty much everything we learned in Engineering undergrad, and today we did Chemistry and they kept talking about you in that class. Seriously, I kept seeing your name and then having to remember that they didn't mean you after all but something about ions and stuff. It was pretty funny.
Posts: 6245 | Registered: Aug 2004
| IP: Logged |
Ha, yeah I have a chemistry final tomorrow, and another one next week. You've been keeping me company all quarter, pH. Sorry I haven't been paying you as much attention as I should. I mean, you're cute.
Anywho, happy birthday! happy party, and thanks for sharing your story. Count me in as one with the preconceived notion that people in the music industry aren't all that nice. I sorta knew you were involved though, so I should have figured it out. I hope you keep it up - I'm interested.
O, and I just got an email update from my local club/venue that 30 Seconds to Mars is playing here in a month.
Posts: 1056 | Registered: Mar 2002
| IP: Logged |
pH. You've led an amazing life. I think that it works out both ways: you can give tribute to those people that changed your life, and we can hear about what an incredible life you've had. Best of both worlds, I think.
And happy birthday pH! Hope it's a good one!
Posts: 1789 | Registered: Jul 2003
| IP: Logged |
There are two parts on which I want to elaborate.
First of all, the drum tech. It never occurred to me that he was being treated with an abnormal amount of respect by everyone around him. Several months later, I was at a Mudvayne show taking place at one of the venues which by that time never charged me for concerts and let me in through the backstage door. I was standing just inside the door, leaning against it with my hands tucked at the small of my back, watching everything.
A man came through the door. He looked familiar, but I couldn't figure out why. He immediately started angrily ordering EVERYONE (even the opening bands) out of the backstage area, one by one. When he got to me, he eyed me up and down for a moment...and moved on without a word.
For the rest of the night, as I wandered about, I noticed that he was watching me from the sound booth. I had no idea why. I couldn't place him.
The next day, I was at a different concert, and I heard some guys talking about the previous night's show. They started talking about how Stubz was really strict because one of the band guys had been really sick and throwing up offstage, or something. The name caught my attention. "Excuse me, what did you say was the name of that tour manager?" "Stubz." "...STUBZ?" "Yeah. He's like from England or something. He's kind of a bigshot." "....oh. Cool."
He'd never mentioned to me that he'd be back in Florida (I'd emailed him). He'd never mentioned anything about tour managing or any of that. I felt so, so bad for not being friendly to him. I still feel bad; he probably thought I'd just been using him at Ozzfest. But I really, honestly had no idea.
Well, now back to the N.E.R.D. show. That actually had some pretty big reprecussions for me. In the evening, it started to get a little chilly (I was wearing a spaghetti strap top), and they'd promised to give me a sweatshirt or something out of their merch box to wear. But I'd wandered off, and by the time I caught up with them again, they were packed up and ready to go. So I went to say goodbye, and I asked them about the shirt. They felt bad, but they'd packed everything up, so I told them not to worry about it. I believe my exact words were, "I'll just borrow one from the next guy I see in a hoodie."
Then I turned around to leave. At that PRECISE moment, the most gorgeous creature ever to walk the earth strolled into my field of vision wearing a black zip-up hoodie.
It was one of those slow-motion, light-shining-down-from-heaven, cheesy-music-playing moments in my head. You know, like when the girl comes down the stairs, and they pan up from her killer heels to her spectacular dress, and then she flips her hair around and flashes a perfect smile? Yeah, like that.
Well, clearly this was a sign from above. I sidled up to him (he'd stopped to watch a set), smiled, and said, "I'll be your best friend if you'll let me borrow your jacket."
Turns out, he was a guitar tech for another band that was playing that day. It wasn't a romantic thing so much as a me gawking at the hotness thing. Well, and he was really friendly. Turns out, he'd been an accountant and gotten bored and decided to start working for a band instead. I gave him my number, and he called a couple of months later to tell me that he'd be in town that night.
I went to the show. The band themselves were absolute pricks. I'm sure I didn't help much, though. He'd called me from the lead singer's cell phone, and I bet the singer was kind of pissed when some girl called to ask the guitar tech a question. Anyways, the band were mean, and they had a really horrible attitude about girls. They made desparaging comments about the female "friends" who were driving over an hour to come see them. The tech went way out of his way to try to keep them from getting an attitude with me. He also introduced me to Goya.
Goya was the sound guy for the band. He also happened to live about forty-five minutes from my house. Goya and I kept in touch. For the first two or three conversations, he didn't quite know what to make of me. He made a few kind of weird sexual comments; I think he thought I'd been hooking up with the guitar tech and was one of THOSE girls, but as soon as he figured out otherwise, we became friends. He called me one night and insisted that I come to some show he was working. He said I had to meet his roommate; she was a manager, and it was her band that was playing. That's how I met Heather.
Heather and Goya are awesome people. They're not roommates anymore, though. And between the two of them, they know, like, EVERYONE. It's scary. And Goya especially insists that if I want to go to a show, I call him. Heather, when I still lived in Florida, called me whenever there was some band about to pass through Florida that she thought could use my unique merchandising touch.
The reason that this is so jumbled is because it all happened so QUICKLY. Most of these things happened between my seventeenth birthday and my leaving for college. Really, within a few months, I went from having very little in the way of a social life to attending four shows a week, never standing in line, and never paying a cent for admission.
It's really strange, and a lot of it was pure luck.
The thing is, yeah, it pretty much absolutely exploded. Especially once I transitioned from promotions into merchandise. I still did promotions, especially for Can-can, don't get me wrong. But the grand majority of what I was doing was merch. As a result of this combination of experience, I'm pretty sure I'd now make a spectacular salesperson, although I'm not sure that's really what I want to do.
There are a bunch of reasons why I did so well at merch. In fact, I had a couple of bands fire the people they had doing merch so that they could get me.
First of all, I'm female, and I won't hook up with the bands with whom I'm working. This, believe it or not, is a HUGE plus. Most merch people are male. The ones who are female are generally a girlfriend of someone in the band who didn't want to stay home and miss her man for months, so they gave her a "job" so that she could come along. And on top of that, a lot of the male merch people have some other goal in mind. Maybe they have bands of their own and want to make connections. Whatever. I was in a band, yes, but the band did pretty well on its own. I did merch because I wanted to make connections, but I also did it because it was fun. Plus, it's really a whole lot easier for people to buy band things from a girl than it is to buy them from a guy, for some reason. I guess maybe the guys are more intimidating or less friendly.
I was VERY organized. Bands don't know the first thing about inventory, even if they know they need to keep one. They generally throw all their tshirts willy-nilly into a bin, which means that if someone wants a medium, I have to spend a long time sifting through the shirts to find it. I reorganized the whole thing for almost every band. I sorted out the shirts by size, type, and color. Then I rolled them up neatly and wrapped masking tape around the roll. On the masking tape, I'd write the type of shirt (there were often different designs available, babydolls, tanks, that kind of thing) and the size in shorthand. For example, one band I worked for had a "tribal" shirt design. An extra large in that design would be marked T XL. I'd write it four times around the masking tape so that however the shirt ended up in the bin, I'd be able to see what it was without opening it up and checking the tag.
I made awesome, meticulous displays. In fact, to this day, if I go to a show and I'm just there to watch, I almost always end up going to the merch table and reorganizing their display. I'd create display tshirts, display CD stacks, display sticker arrays, the works. And I'd record all of it, too. In the inventory, if I used two shirts and five CDs for a display, I'd write it down to help with the count-out.
Oh. Count in and count out. Basically, before a show, not only would I set up the displays, but I'd count every merchandise item and write down how many there were. If the band wanted to give away a CD to someone, like a promoter or something, I'd make a "Comp" column on the inventory list and tally what they took. Then at the end of the show, I'd count how many items I had left and match them up with the tallies I'd made (I kept a running tally of sales) and the money I had in the cash box. These practices made it a WHOLE lot easier for bands to see where the money was coming from and kept theft down, too. Heck, just making the tshirts more organized kept theft down because it meant I spent less time preoccupied with digging through shirts and more time keeping an eye on the table.
I'm not going to take all the credit for this system, though. The tshirt type and size system was mine, I believe. It might not've been, though. And count in and count out are standard practice for bigger bands who move more merchandise, so as I started to work for more well-known groups, I started to use it more often. Venues make you do it sometimes, too. When we were out in Los Angeles at the Whiskey, they sent this HUGE GIGANTIC MASSIVE bouncer who was four times my size to tell me, "I need to see your count in now" before the show because the Whiskey took a cut of all the merchandise sales.
Anyways, back to my competitive advantage. I wore skirts and heels. Generally, I overdressed for every show. Eventually, I started doing this whether I was working at the show or not. When you overdress and act like you don't notice, it makes a big impression. Well, skirts and heels make an impression, too. And I started, without realizing it, to sort of treat myself as my own brand. There were people in Florida who would decide whether or not to go to a concert, especially if they didn't really know the band, based on whether or not I was going to be working there.
I instituted "Merch girls need groupies, too!" That amused pretty much everyone. All I did was write, "Merch girls need groupies, too!" in a piece of duct tape and stick it on my shirt. After a while, other people at the show would ask if they could be merch groupies, and I'd write, "Merch groupie" in big letters on a piece of duct tape and give it to them. For some reason, people loved it. People love the word "groupie." I once sold out of a tshirt design that I suggested...the band only had tank tops for girls, and I suggested they print babydolls...and put "groupie" under the band name...anyways, the point is, the shirts sold out in one show.
The biggest drawback, I think, was that I couldn't have a boyfriend. I mean, not that anyone decreed "Thou shalt not have a boyfriend," but guys got a little intimidated by the idea that their potential girlfriend spent so much time with bands. Again, this goes back to the whole "the music industry is sleazy" thing. This isn't to say that I didn't DATE. I dated like eighty gazillion guys between seventeen and eighteen and a half, but I didn't actually have a boyfriend. But my mother had always discouraged me from dating anyone exclusively anyway. Besides, it gave me the chance to date every type of "dream guy" known to man. Motocross boy, professional skateboarder, fetish model, bad boy, good boy, black hair, blonde hair, tall, short, skinny, muscular, you name it. So that was fun. It's not like I really missed having a boyfriend, anyway; the guy I'd last called a "boyfriend" had made out with another girl in front of me at a club that he'd only gotten into because of a band who were MY friends.
Maybe a week after my eighteenth birthday, I worked at a couple of dates on the Zeromancer/Pigface/Dog Fashion Disco tour. Well, I worked at one, and then someone gave me an all-access laminate, so I showed up at another just to watch. I was standing at the bar when a guy came up to me. I kind of recognized him; he already had a band that had been kinda successful. I think I'd just seen them play one of those Hard Rock Live shows or something. Anyways, he said hello, introduced himself, and then said, "I've been asking around about you. You're the real deal." "..uh, what?" "Yeah, you know your stuff. Listen, I have this side project I've been working on, and we need a manager. I wanted to ask you if you were interested."
Insert jaw dropping smiley.
I couldn't really continue to do it while I was away in New Orleans, so I mostly just helped out as much as I could before I left for college. It was a lot of fun, though, and I learned a lot.
This post has become much longer than I intended it to be. I believe I shall perhaps go tear up the mall now.