You Don’t Know Anything and Your Ideas Are Worthless (No, Seriously, Get Used To It…)
23/08/2011 § 5 Comments
In your first job (out here in the business world) there will be times when people are not going to listen to you. Many times. Or worse, tell you how wrong you are to your face, if not in an all-caps email that gets circulated throughout the company. Get used to it because it never ends, even when you get that so-called “experience” under your proverbial belt. For whatever reason, and there are multitudes of them that I could not possibly list here and stay within my allotted 400 words. Let me just say the personal successes and failures of your co-workers and, most importantly for today’s blog, YOUR FUTURE BOSSES, gives them their own specific, personal tunnel-vision that you cannot expect to fully perceive, much less fathom.
Which is also why all the book learning you did, or should be doing while you are on the internet reading stuff like this, will do you little good in these kinds of situations. (Unless you intern for the diplomatic corps in a war zone, or take a few psychology courses, that is.) I’m not suggesting that you don’t need school. Most of the film courses I took at Ithaca—majoring in Communications—I have been able to utilize in my music career. (Even the Accounting course, where my almost-passing grade showed me I should become the lead guy, a producer, and hire accountants, has helped when researching label acquisitions and big-ticket item purchases for my department.) No, what I was trying to get across is that your schooling will not help in arguments. The facts of the situation, which you can learn about, will not help you while the arguments are playing out. Many times you will be right, but it seems no one can understand your version of the facts. Since you are starting out in the biz, at an entry level position let’s say, you don’t have the “experience” yet to argue with the professionals. Even though your professors here at Berklee have experience up the ying-yang and, if you are taking good notes, you may even be able to grasp a few great tidbits to use in these “real-life” situations.
Sometimes your opinion will not matter one whit, even though you know you are right. You have to live with being the newbie in the house. As your mom might say, pick your battles. I should know. In my day, I surely didn’t listen to her or anyone else. I fought more than a few battles that I should have walked away from; made a fool of myself, even when, or more importantly, because I knew there were bad business decisions going down and moral consequences to be wrought. It pays to also understand how your bosses boss. Some will love you to be emotional about the business and will listen to your ideas, many others will not. Go with their flow, make them successful, and…learn from their mistakes and yours. Be creative and do everything to help them accomplish their goals, but only if they give you credit and pull you up with them. If they don’t, get the hell out of there. Fast. Though, try and stay in your first job at least a year for your resume’s sake.
Even after racking up some reasonable successes, get used to being told you are wrong. During my tenure at Rykodisc, one of the many hats I wore was that of product manager for the New Age label they dreamed up, Candescence. We had a few albums fitting that label already in the catalog, but we wanted a bigger share of the market and were ready to spend marketing dineros to do so. A&R had signed artists to suit our Rykodisc idea of what it meant to wear the New Age label. First up was Lanterna; a driving trance-like affair from guitarist Henry Frayne, akin to my faves Scenic. With real drums and swirling rock guitars this was, most-assuredly, not a stereotypical New Age album. Though, If we marketed this right we would achieve our objective of getting the “Granolas” to venture outside the “newage” ghetto to buy their music. But A&R insisted this be labeled New Age, which made no sense. At least, no sense to me. We were supposed to be expanding the category outside the norm, not contracting it. As a Rykodisc release, rock and mainstream media were going to “get it” first. After that we would be able to chip at the hardened New Age mind-set to have them slowly concede their category could hold a bit more than what it did back then; breezy neo-classical suites and bland imitations of world music. I suggested that Lanterna was not the “newage” cup of chamomile easily considered by the hard-lined “newage” specialists. Very little of those buyers would think to bring the release into their stores, and if they did bring a few CDs in, it would most-certainly die in that ghetto area of the store. The early-adapters of Rykodisc releases, in this case, alternative rockers, would not even think to look there. Most importantly, the artist, Henry was not happy to be labeled as one of “those.” My thoughts held to a point during the ensuing meetings, but then A&R told the powers-to-be just how wrong I was and A&R ultimately got their way. I was NOT a newbie; this came after successfully marketing music for almost a decade. Unfortunately, and sadly, I was right. I was not happy to be right, nor can I gloat. I still wish it did not go down so badly as this release was someone’s art being subverted and sidelined in a very bone-headed way. (Although with my marketing hat still on, I can send you over to iTunes where you can buy Lanterna under the genre of, ahem, Alternative.)
And just to give you pause, I leave you with these incredulously “wrong” decisions. In 1962 some poor sap emphatically did not sign the Beatles to Decca Records. The proverbial quote from the Decca A&R guy was that “guitar bands are on the way out.” Decca did own up to their mistake and sign the Rolling Stones later, but supposedly to a higher royalty rate and under other onerous conditions. While Decca was missing alot back then, most importantly they did not employ George Martin nor have those studios on Abbey Road. In 2005, at Columbia Records, more than a few people helped create the wrong album for the Jonas Brothers; the punk-encrusted “It’s About Time.” The marketing department allowed the album to flounder in the Christian market during the fall of 2006 and then some well-paid executives dropped the brothers from their label, leaving them with 75K in debt. Columbia did not and still does not have any components of the incredible Disney machine; the multi-media cross-merchandising platforms and where-with-all that could blow up the JoBros into a worldwide phenomenon in 2007. Those decisions, that bone-headedness, turned out from this perch in history to be some very apt decisions for THOSE people and THAT corporate entity.
Note: A tip of the hat to ex-TKA intern Nick Venti, who read a draft of this bloggette and gave me this title. After being gainfully employed a few times now, Nick has been through this very wringer and thought his stronger, sarcastic title would get more of the “smartest-kids-in-the-class” (e.g. himself) to actually read the piece.
Bio for this bloggette
DAVID GREENBERG is Director of Marketing for, and runs the internship program of Ted Kurland Associates, a boutique booking and management agency located in the Allston environs of Boston, MA. His background in this industry of entertainment is a long and circuitous one, (some say a littered one) best read on his Facebook or LinkedIn pages. A few tidbits: he was responsible for the script to the Platinum-selling Kiss – eXposed home-video, was nominated for a Grammy for his Rubber Rodeo : Scenic Views short-form video, and among his many titles there, he ran the revived Tradition label for Rykodisc, re-releasing seminal albums by The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, Tradition Masters, Lightnin Hopkins, Coleman Hawkins and Ed McCurdy as well as the fully non-essential albums of the cocktail-infused HiFi Label.
[Originally posted in the Berklee Internship Blog for my ongoing Blogging For Berklee Series.]