10 Years and Counting
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that most of my friends will tell you that if you look up the word “curmudgeon” in the dictionary, you will find my picture as the illustration. But I have never really understood the lure and appeal in consumer culture of the idea of the “overnight sensation.”
Mostly because it is BS, but also because it makes people with little talent and no work ethic really believe that they can be a star and rich and famous if they can just get seen by the right people.
It probably goes back to the story of actress Lana Turner who ditched a typing class one day in 1937 (when she was a student at Hollywood High School) to get a Coke at the ice-cream shop around the corner. The editor of the HollyWood Reporter happened to come in for the same reason. (Legend has it that the guy drank 20 Cokes a day… So he was in there a lot.) He saw the 16-year old hottie and asked if she wanted to be in the movies.
It’s a great story. But it leaves out the fact that she did 55 movies in a career that spanned more than 40 years and had done 25 movies in ten years before her major success and Oscar nomination in 1947.
We have been running a series of “How Did They Make It” blogs by Lisa Popeil, In it she outlines the journeys that “overnight sensation” pop artists took to get to the big show. And to anyone with an actual brain and especially if you have a brain and have been around this business for a while, it is not a surprise that these young sensations who seemed to come out of nowhere worked for years to get their shot. And they all continue to work like Ms Turner did with 25 pics in 10 years. Because they know that the fall from fame can happen at any second and that the fall is really fast. The build takes time. The fall can happen in days our even hours. Example: Cee Lo Green was on top of the world with hit tunes and a reality show and tours and a slot on a hugely popular singing show as a judge. Then he said something really stupid on Twitter. And … When was the last time you heard anything about him?
It applies to engineers and not just artists. When we did the recent video interview with Big Mick and Pooch, it would be easy for someone who does not know the history to think that each of these guys just lucked out by getting hired by an act with a lengthy career and hanging on to the gig. But that does not take into account the decade and a half (approx) that each of them put into other, smaller and less cool gigs with other (often smaller and less cool) artists before they hooked up with their current clients. And everyone I know with long term success worked some pretty crappy gigs trying to get to where they are now and the level of success and comfort.
I have been thinking a lot about this because of my own personal journey over the past decade. We’ll look at two sides. Music and the publishing thing.
In the publishing thing, When I got to Gig Magazine in the mid-90s, I may have seemed to be a guy who came out of nowhere. But I had been slogging it out working for newspapers for about 10 years. And before that, I was part of the skeleton crew that put out the original version of Gig as an independent publication run out of a crappy office above a bar in a crappy area of Northridge, CA.
When I got downsized at Gig and made the move to FOH, I was in a new market. No one knew me. I remember running into Mark Herman at my first InfoComm show right after I got hired while Mark still owned Live Sound International. He lit into me like… Hmmm, no good comparison comes to mind. But he lit into me. Demanded that I give him my qualifications for doing a magazine that was going to compete with his for the all important ad dollars. But it was understandable. He had no idea who I was. He did not know about GIG or my longer publishing experience or that I had been assembling, setting up and running PA systems for myself and others for about 25 years at that point.
The danger of having some success and building a name for a specific thing is that it is too easy to assume that your reputation and name will carry you if you leave that successful thing and try something else. It can be seen in the countless band members over the years who have “gone solo” and disappeared. In my case I made the mistake of thinking that the fact that I had built the content side of a successful magazine and had name recognition would mean that supporters would flock to the next thing I did. Not the case.
On the music side. This last year has been amazing. We have gone from begging for bar gigs to working with three different agents and doing 60 gigs in 2015. And most of the people who see us think we just came out of nowhere about 18 months ago. But they do not know about my doing versions of this band for more than 30 years or about how one of the reasons we moved to Las Vegas was because I thought I could get more band work. They do not know about the fewer than 10 gigs in 8 and a half years. They do not know about the 30-ish people who have been in an 8-piece band over that time period.
But, given my other situation, I know this. It is not a ride that will last forever. I need to work as hard as I can and take every bit of work I can and hope that we can keep it going for at least five years. And I make sure to be very cool and nice to the people booking the local bars where we started out and to be open to doing those gigs despite the fact that they are more work and pay less than half of a decent casino gig.
Because when the casino jobs dry up and they go on to whatever the next cool thing is, we will be back in those small bars. The old saw about being cool to the people you meet while on the rise because you will see the same people on the downside of your career arc? It’s 100% true.
So whether it is about music or audio work, a couple of things to keep in mind. 1) Do not expect to start at the top. I would strongly advise subscribing to the Lefsetz Letter by music biz blogger Bob Lefsetz. He constantly talks about a generation of bands and artists with marginal talent and ability who think they are supposed to start at the top and not put in the work to get there. And, 2) Again, musician or tech… Don’t be a dick to those around you when you start to get a bit of success. Because it may last a year or it may last 30 years. But eventually the arc will peak and you will—unless you are one of those rare ones who get out at the top of the game—deal with all of those you were a dick to as they make their way up. It could be ugly.