It can get more than ‘Smelly Cat’ awkward.
This is true for any industry you go for. However, I feel that many assume that working in music, or anything entertainment related, is 100% glamorous and chill. Hold your horses! As mentioned in my last interview, it’s a lot of work and behind the scenes coordination!
As with any job, it is to be taken seriously and with an appropriate level of professionalism. And, with any job, you will have to think on your feet.
1) Serious, Stalker Level Fans. It was my second show for a worldwide tour I had managed to get press and photo passes for. My editor thought that getting a press pass for Boston would be a far fetch, and I got it! I was accepted for the tour, maintained the relationship, and covered press for when the band returned in the summer. I did not want to burn any bridges! Never do, of course. Elvis Costello had just left the stage as the opener, and I was waiting in the pit for the main act. Just as they started to dive into the first song, their lead singer entering on my side of the stage, I saw a woman coming at me. Hair swirling in the wind, waving a bouquet of roses at me, calling for my attention…oh dear. I looked away at first. I was, after all, trying not to get trampled by the camera rolling on the video track. She kept trying to reach for me, so I turned around. I noticed that she not only had a bouquet of roses, but a card attached to it with the lead singer’s name written boldly on the envelope. “Can you give these to…” she motioned toward him. As much as I dislike ignoring people, I have to say I crept back toward center stage. Not about to deliver love letters from not-so-secret admirers. I probably would have been escorted out by security, thus ending any future opportunities.
2) Venues May Get Their Wires Crossed. On this same tour, I showed up at the will call booth, where press tickets are usually held, and tour managers will usually meet me. When I first arrived at this venue, the tour manager was not there yet. I spoke to the individual at the booth, and he was very friendly…too friendly. I received my press pass, and then looked at the rest of the envelope. VIP pass? Tickets? This was not for me! “Are you sure?”, he asked. “This was reserved for family.” These tickets and passes were for one of the musician’s family members! I told him that I didn’t have tickets to the show, only press and photo. He shrugged. I practically had to convince him to take the envelope back. Maybe he just wanted to get his shift over with, I don’t know. Sure, it would have been neat to see the whole show and have a VIP pass. Neat…and sketchy, and totally wrong! Don’t overstep your bounds!
3) Pre Show Banter. I showed up really early for the first big stadium show I covered. Yeah, it ended up being me and a bunch of British men from the tour sitting in security, while they discussed the lead singer’s BO. Sometimes you’ve gotta.
4) Vertically and Facial Hair Challenged. Yeah, no Italian-Iranian jokes here, I can’t grow a beard, ok? Ladies, this is mostly for you, but I suppose we’re all friends here. Aside from tour managers or venue personnel, I’ve never waited at security without being surrounded by a bunch of bearded men. I haven’t really covered more stereotypically girl type shows, I guess, because I have mostly chosen my press gigs, and it’s usually a band I’m really into. It’s a little bit of a Testosterone Town. Beards, mega equipment, and ‘did you see Rush’, to which I’d like to say, “Yes, I have, and they rocked my socks! And shoes!”, but I’m not part of this Testosterone Competition. The main issue with being the only lady is that I am not very tall. I’ve been told that I’m tall for a Persian, but I thought my mom’s Irish genes would have given me some oomph. Still, at 5’4”, you’ve got to get those shots in the pit with the rest of the six foot tall bearded burlymans (I think I just made that word up, but we’re going to keep it there). It starts to feel like some sort of choreographed dance, between avoiding tall people who may not see you and the video track, but the good thing is that you can easily duck under these guy’s armpits. Am I right?
5) Being the Intern. Is it just me, or do studio interns get an especially bad stereotype of being coffee runners and toilet cleaners? I interned in three studios, and happily never scrubbed a toilet. I do remember refilling the toilet paper one day and then returning to the recording session. I was then met by a perturbed engineer, who told me that the toilet paper was on the roll backwards. “Must have been a stupid intern.” Yes, that would be me, and I’m sure he knew that. Me, the Toilet Paper Ruiner. Another time, I worked with a man who repeatedly told me how much he disliked Emerson College students. Yes, that would be me, and I know he knew that, too. Don’t get discouraged, and always be polite. Of course, if someone makes you uncomfortable, talk to your supervisor or career service center. Thankfully, that didn’t happen to me.
6) Being the Intern, Part II. That being said, not everyone will approach you like this. I met many great people at my internships…people who have helped me a great deal in looking for work!
I had told my supervisor that I needed to leave early that day, because I had to get an MRI. He was very understanding, but had to leave for the day, and left his assistant in charge. We were doing a recording session for a well known R&B singer’s family member. And he wanted sushi.
My boss at this studio never made me a food runner. Sometimes I would go get coffee, and he always included me in the coffee order.
But this guy wanted sushi. Now.
The studio assistant asked if he’d like to have it delivered, or if anyone in his entourage (not joking) could pick it up. She didn’t want to leave the studio unattended, and I had to leave for the hospital. He was furious. Why couldn’t I do it, he asked? I was the lowly intern. I was supposed to get his lunch!
Thankfully, my coworker there stuck up for me and dismissed me for my medical test.
7) The Professional. No, not the 1994 Luc Besson film, easily one of Natalie Portman’s best.
I mean…being professional. Early on, while I was maybe a freshman in college, I was volunteering at our radio station, and Regina Spektor came in to do a live set. It was beautiful and I was a little verklempt. ‘Samson’ is a moving song, is it not? When the set wrapped, she was answering some questions and we were getting equipment out and about. I saw her in the hall and told her how much I appreciated her music, and how I respect her training and her mother’s work as a music educator. She responded kindly and chatted, and all the while I felt like a giant next to her, even though I am short myself. I asked if she would sign something and, oddly enough, she signed the back of my student loan statement.
Looking back–and looking at my peers at the moment–I should NOT have done that. At all. It’s hard not to get starstruck sometimes, but crossing that line, in my opinion, reduces your professionalism and demotes you to another level. I immediately regretted it, despite her friendliness, because I thought it was inappropriate and unprofessional. Now I just looked like a fan, not a working peer.
I have kept this in mind going forward, though I see others not heeding that advice. Maybe I am too uptight.
I recall working at a music conference, and every other reporter or writer wanted their photograph with one of the more notable groups there. When it came time for stories to be published, some sources realized they didn’t have a photo of the duo alone. I ended up getting a call on behalf of the Huffington Post because my photo was the only one they could find that didn’t have the reporter mugging for the camera, too.
Again, this goes for any career. I think that big names and the arts tend to convey something more splashy, with lots of name dropping, which isn’t how it should be. You’re still doing a job, and need to respect everyone you’re working with and the quality of your work. It can get awkward. But it’s also exhilarating.
Do you have any awkward work stories? How did you handle it? Would you have done anything differently?