Talking To Strangers

23/02/2015 § Leave a comment

As a kid, I had always wanted to sell enough stuff to absolute strangers in order to get those amazing prizes as advertised lavishly in comic books. You know, sell an inordinate amount of Peony seeds, or magazine subscriptions, or wrapping paper, and obtain a shiny new Schwinn Stingray Bike with a banana seat. Unfortunately for both the seed company and my parents, I couldn’t walk up to strangers and sell them junk they didn’t need, even when I was desperate to have that very thing that would make me cooler than my younger brother. I had the dream but not the wherewithal, so I needed my folks to spend real money in order to get the bike.

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I’m not a great salesman for even my own creativity. It feels weird to me to proudly show off my wares, my talents, my ability to do just about anything — or at my ability to at least figure out how to do anything. I can write about that here, but one-on-one with someone gets me all goosebumply and my mind trips on the order of the pre-scripted-in-my-mind presentation. I was able to convince Arish Fyzee of Berkshire Motion Pictures to hire me as the Purchasing Agent for the most expensive film I ever worked on, Back To The Future, The Ride, that ran about 10 million dollars a minute and was chock-full of special effects, stop motion animation, and the like, even an actual Delorean from the movie.

But I had worked with Arish before, and so I could be both honest — no I had never held a job like that — and boastful — Arish, you know I can do just about anything — and he bought it. Obviously, I did a great job as they kept me there for the whole shebang and even used me in the Assistant Director role, one that they knew I held in my former life in a few NYC production companies.

That’s why I work so hard at not needing a resume, I would rather have my work preceed me to smooth out the conversation, be my cool introduction, and have the other person want me more than I need them — or at least that’s what I want to project. Interviews though are part and parcel of the job process, and I’ve been on more than my fair share. And, yes, I’ve even had that “steenkin’” resume and so, I do have a few pointed tips, of course, as it wouldn’t be a Greenberg bloggette without shoving a few your way.

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Research the company! Research the interviewer! Research anything and everything! Even for an internship where you’re going to work for absolutely free. That’s important for your cover letter, but even more crucial for your interview. I don’t know how many prospective interns I had in my office who have a blank Karl Pilkington-like stare when, after going into detail about the internship, dress code (none), office hours, and perks like tickets to some select shows, I ask if they have any more questions.

For my own job interviews in the past, I tried to get a bunch of questions to throw the discussion around onto the other person, and make myself feel more at home with them. My belief is that you gain some points if you have your prospective employer feel comfortable with you during this pressurized meeting. And you must admit a job interview is one of the most artificial situations in the world. You want what they have, you can’t have it, and you have to metaphorically tap dance for them, and that tap dance is never part of the job you are up for, unless you are selling stuff: cars, soap, puffer fish toys, or, like there at The Kurland Agency, live music by Jazz legends.

[At the moment, I AM NOT AT TKA, and I am looking for work. I would expect that in the next iteration of my life, I will be running an intern program, because that’s just how I am. This was written for the Berklee website a few years ago, when there was a steady stream of Berklee-ites who wanted to get some industry-savvy info from our agents, as well as marketing stuff from me. But, since you may indeed have an interview with me in the, hopefully near, future, I won’t switch this gear and either put this into a confusing past-tense or future-tense, but rather the very present, which, without a job for me, is a bit tense.]

I just gave you a few clues for your next interview with me, but obviously if you do drop a question about the Ricky Gervais show, An Idiot Abroad starring Sir Karl, or about the puffer fish toy on the toy weber grill behind my computer, I’ll know you read this article and really, really didn’t research all that well. So no points for you.

One thing I do love is Frank Zappa, as his Hot Rats was the one of the two albums I first bought (the other was Super Session by Berklee’s own Al Kooper) with my own dineros and I try to get my interns to dig deeper than the last decade into the history of music and find out about FZ’s trove of music. So in order to do that and give you some tips, I thought we should send you on an imaginary trip to the Left Coast and to try to intern at UMRK and Barfko-Swill with Gail Zappa out in Los Angeles. To give you an idea of the depth of the interview questions you should take with you on any interview, I’ll load you up with some sample questions for your imaginary talk with GZ, so you get what I’m trying to tell you.

First you need to find out what UMRK means.

Those are the initials for Utility Muffin Research Kitchen and was where FZ created his vast oeuvre for, as noted on the zappa.com website, “virtually his entire adult life and career.” Think about it, the man had an entire studio, crew, and at one point, had an animator doing stop-motion stuff up there at his abode. He worked almost everyday to create and recreate, a mountain-ful of great music, performances, films. How was it possible to keep this army of people around in order for FZ to create? If you are in the office with Gail, you are looking at the person with the how, just ask her. I know it must have been hard to keep UMRK going year after year, and if you ask you might get a good education in the business side of artistry.

How did she like working with Don Rose and Rykodisc? I know the Zappas were not too happy with how Rykodisc–I was not there at that time–slammed two albums, Apostrophe and Overnight Sensation together. I’m sure there’s other dish she’d like to serve up, especially since Rykodisc is no more and how they nabbed the whole shebang back to them. GZ made some tough deals with us, and like all business relationships where big money is concerned, it was rocky. So, by asking, you’d get a good insight in how she works well, or not so well, with others. You can ask about me, but I am sure they have no idea who I am by now. They are on to better things.

How did she and Frank meet? If you read the The Real Frank Zappa Book, available from Barfko-Swill, you would find out, but ask anyway.

The 1988 Zappa tour was phenomenal. It seemed that band knew about 1000 songs and performed them amazingly well. The 12 CDS (!) of the YCDTOSA albums are full of those performances. But that band only lasted for one tour. Why? What happened? Again, you can read about this stuff, but you can get, from her, the first-hand info on when too much is too much, and someone has to pull the plug.

And everyone, everyone like you, needs to know the genius of Calvin Schenkel who created the album covers on early, and some late albums, by FZ, along with the set design of 200 Motels. I wanted to be like Calvin when I was in Jr High School, but I could never draw that well. Cal was also instrumental to the Rykodisc re-release designs of the FZ catalogue when I was there in the 1990s. Ask Gail to see any original artwork of Calvin’s there in the vaults. I, myself, would love to see the sculpture of Burnt Weeny Sandwich if it still exists. I know the Ed Beardsley painting used for the cover of Alice Cooper’s Pretties For You used to hang in the house, so there’s gotta be some Calvin stuff lying around.

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And how’s her brood, Dweezil? Moon-Unit? Ahmet? Diva? Not that I know any of them personally, but since you’re there, you should ask, as Dweezil’s now playing live with Zappa Plays Zappa and is troving through the archives for old tracks and performances to release. I’ve not heard a peep about Moon-Unit since the start of the 2000s, when she published a book. Her website has not been updated since 2001. Ahmet’s doing music, writing books and scripts and such. I know not one whit about Diva. And if Gail says that her family is none of your business, then you know right then and there that, if you get the internship, you better not get too personal. BTW, she might not like the term “brood.”

So there’s the gamut of questions you should ask, from business-minded queries to the up-close-and-personal prods at Gail’s life as a Zappa. Ask interesting questions that show you are interested in more than being a fan of the company, or the product. I know if you say to Gail you love Frank Zappa, she’s going to ask why, which album, and on, to gauge your fandom and honesty. Most anyone would.

You can’t just say you like something, that’s too glib. You need to research more, and get inside the company, the product, the roster, within your head to delineate great questions that you want to ask and NOT what you think they want to hear. They’ve heard it before, and those dudes and dudettes are possibly your competition. From any interview–job, informational, internship–you should come away with more than a glimpse of your prospective employer, some good stories, hopefully, and a conversation between the two of you, so that whoever is interviewing you also gets a better feel for who you are and why you want to work there with them.

By the end of the meeting, you should not be talking to a stranger anymore and you should not be an enigma either. As a bonus, you get to take home a crate full of business acumen that you can haul out the next time you find yourself in another office for another interview.

For more in the ever-intriguing, suspense-driven, series of blogs written for Berklee College of Music, see:

You Don’t Know Anything and Your Ideas Are Worthless (No, Seriously, Get Used To It…)

Listen to Your Parents and Then…

Marketing OneOH!One: Break On Through To The Tangential Side

The Marketing Dance: Doing The Jerk

The Marketing Dance: Doing The Jerk, Part Two

Bio for this bloggette:

David Greenberg WAS Director of Marketing and RAN the internship program for The Kurland Agency, a boutique booking and management agency located in the outskirts of Boston, MA, though across from LiveNation’s cutest Boston venue, The Brighton Music Hall. There is a big WAS in that sentence, which should be a big hint that he is LOOKING for gainful employment at the moment. His background in this industry of entertainment has been multi-hued, (with more bright years than blue-tinged ones) best read on his Facebook or LinkedIn pages, especially if you are hiring and are looking for someone like me, or even someone exactly like me. If so, read no more and get on over there. A few tidbits: Greenberg’s sad to say he never met FZ, GZ, or any of the other Z’s while working as a product manager at Rykodisc. He did interview FZ once about shampoos for a magazine that never saw the light of day. Greenberg did add to the FZ parthenon of consumables when he thunked up the stage box crate thang to house all 6 volumes of the YCDTOSA series; though DG wanted it to be stage box black, which FZ, through his people, nixed as that would look too much like a coffin; as they knew the inevitable then in early 1992. David did meet Calvin though, which tickled him pink, though not the as deep as the pinkish purple PMS swatch FZ finally picked for the crate. And he’s had fun trying to get more FZ into your life, even though subversively.

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