Saturday, August 23, 2014

The domino effect

You remember the very beginning, how I first started working at concerts, right?

As I had mentioned, a close friend of mine was the promoter of a huge heavy metal event in 2004, and when I had asked him if he needed any help, he said I could help in hospitality and catering if I wanted to. It was not even a proper offer, and my question was in fact just out of courtesy, anyway.
Just a simple conversation while drinking with friends at a bar changed the direction of my life, a 21 year-old collage girl who just loved music. How amazing is that?

Now fast forward 7 years, to 2011.
I was working as the tour backstage manager of the Queen, the biggest female rock star of the country. Her new album was just released, we were touring extensively, the band and crew were at their best, bonding even closer as the years passed by. Everything was just perfect. Except her manager, Jenny.

She had many characteristics. Being one of the most well-known "successful" managers in the local music industry, having exceptional skills and a refined taste in stage production design, talking too much and too loudly and mostly about herself, and being absolutely, utterly inaccessible whenever she wanted were some of those things that made her who she was.
Everyone in the crew had a bitter story with her, and the one with the most stories was the Queen.
She wanted to stop working with her, but she was that experienced, popular, familiar manager, and wasn't easy to replace. Just as this issue was on the hold, but everyone was already talking about how she had to go, and we would just do that one last concert with Jenny, and then things would change.. a horrible thing happened.
The Queen's mother suddenly died.
We all learnt about it during the soundcheck of that particular concert. I was the one standing in front of her door at the hotel, with a room card in my hand to open the door and hug her the moment I got the cue that she had found out.
It was horrible. For my Queen, "first the heartbeat stopped, then the time".
For us, beside sharing her pain and trying to be there for her, it meant cancellation of many shows, and another 3 months of ambiguity about the Jenny situation.

But the life went on.
That friend of mine, the promoter who was my first boss, was now the promoter of another very big rock concert. He had booked a world-famous band of 30 years, whose songs we all know and love. He wanted the Queen as the only opening act for this concert. That would be convenient as the bass player of that band was a close friend of hers. They had met in Los Angeles, on one of those summers she moved to LA to relax, write new songs, go to big concerts and explore the local scene and the night life. And they kept in touch since.
So the promoter called Jenny, but again, she was impossible to reach. So after too many ignored phone calls, texts, and emails, he asked me, if she would do it. He was dreaming of getting them to perform a song together on stage, and bringing her together with the band in a studio for rehearsals. And he was talking on and on about those spectacular, world-wide PR opportunities it would create. (Ok I admit, we were at a bar again :))

Oh I was so excited! It would be perfect. This collaboration would mean so much..

I called Jenny, she didn't reply as usual, so I wrote directly to Queen, informing her about the offer.
She said she would love to, and that she would call me about the details.

This collaboration never happened.
But Queen's call the next day was the toppler of the first domino stone. Then, the others kept falling one by one, paving the way, and leading me to where I am now.

The last stone fell a few hours ago. And I left the Queen today.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Those were the days

It's been so long since I wrote my last post. Today, a very dear friend of mine reminded me of this blog.
As you know, I'm trying to keep my blog a secret, and I write anonymously. This friend is one of those very few people I trusted with opening up how my true self went through all of the things I tell here. So I shared this link with him.

I remember telling him about this blog the very first time. We had met through the Queen, and all the stories I tell here were very relevant to him, as he was the bass player of a very popular band.
We were out with friends one night, and after we talked about this blog and I sent him the link, he said he had so much to do and had to go home. He texted me his first reactions to every single post all night, telling how he couldn't stop reading.
People who are not shy about appreciating others are always those you'd want to be around, trust me.

We had met  two years ago at the annual party of a music magazine. All the music business people, and most of the artists were there.
My dear Queen was also invited, and we went there together in one of those nights were were out, partying. She was at a strange phase in her life. She had lost her mother 6 months ago, and following a deep grief, -all five stages of it- she had decided all that mattered in life was having a good time with your loved ones. She went through a complete transformation: she cut her hair very short, changed her mood significantly, and started going out almost every night, having fun and making people have hell of a good time. She always asked me to come, and I accepted gladly.
So started the days I partied the most in my life.
We had a deal which was never spoken: I was always having so much fun, but I avoided being very drunk on those nights. She always knew she could count on me.

He was on stage with his band that night, rocking out to some of their hits on their debut album. 24 years old, he was enjoying being the bass player and composer of all the songs of the band, which were right at the top of the charts, and this pop-rock band were the biggest sensation in the local scene at that time.
They had been on the cover of that music magazine several times that year. It was a typical, yet very inspiring success story:
They were from a relatively small town, released an EP and tried out breaking through the scene in the city, but it was a failure and they had decided to go back to their hometown; broke, defeated, and disappointed. On the day they were supposed to leave, a manager called them and said he believed in them, and he could arrange a major record label deal. He really did. My friend composed and wrote the lyrics to all the songs for the album, they worked with one of the best producers of the country, and their debut album was a massive success.
They started out playing at small clubs all around the country, couldn't believe the first time people sang along to their songs.
And now, they were the favorite band of so many fans, and also top sponsors, playing 25 big-production shows a month.

They came right to our table after they went off stage. They were long time fans of the queen, and they wanted to meet her. She was one of his main inspirations, and the sweet female singer of the band was no different. I can even tell she got excited the first time she met the Queen. We immediately clicked, and if someone saw us 1 hour later, they wouldn't believe that we had met just that night.
We had so much fun that night, and continued partying at the Queen's great house. We laughed, sang songs, and drank champagne until the sunrise. The Queen was making a toast, shouting: "Cheers to the band that made us excited again for the first time in a long, long time!". The singer was holding the queens' guitar right at that moment, and she started playing and singing one of the queen's classics.
The band had to go to another country in the morning, so the plan was to arrange their transportation right to the airport. I was on the phone with their tour manager, telling him not to worry, that they were drunk but I was there to make sure they left for the airport on time.
When I went back to the room after I hung up the phone, the plan had changed: The Queen also wanted to go to that show with the band.
So we did.
Following a typical evening I had left home to go to an event with the Queen, I had partied all night, not slept for 30 hours, was still drinking champagne in the plane, and going to another country to party more.

Oh I loved my life! :)

A lot happened since then.
We became very, very close friends with this band. Started going out together all the time. Most of those nights ended up at the Queen's house. We laughed and danced and drank a lot together. I witnessed countless amazing jam sessions during these spontaneously crowded parties, usually a rocker businessman would yell "let's go live!", and suddenly, all those wonderful people around me would start playing guitars or the piano, and singing all those songs that were soundtracks to my memories. I was always in awe of these valuable moments.
And sometimes, very profound conversations took place.
They had so much to talk about. Enjoying that newly earned success was one thing, but they had to face the shitty side of the industry. They were trying to figure out how to cope with all the negativity, and the Queen had gracefully overcome all those things 10 years ago, building a strong fan base, never giving in to industry impositions.
I watched how they listened to every valuable advice she gave, with sparks in their eyes.

All those days are in the past now. The Queen is in another phase in her life, and just like I am not a part of that phase, nor are the band.
I'm still close with them though, and we try to meet as often as we can. Every time, we remember those times, telling how much fun we had and what a strong figure she was in our lives, with a deep sigh.

A lot happened, and I need to tell every one of them. I just don't know where to start.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Alka Seltzer incident

Just like the Queen said, the concerts started soon, and we were busy again.
The first show was amazing as always. Everyone had missed working at a concert of the Queen, and the atmosphere backstage was electric.
Jenny asked me that day if the Queen had spoken to me yet. She hadn't. Jenny said she had some new plans about me.
The Queen was trembling like a leaf in the dressing room all day. I was in no position to ask her about her future plans about me. All our conversation that day was when she gave me a box of Alka Seltzer, and told me to keep it with me from now on, that she'd always drink a glass right when she's off the stage.

I was finally working as the tour manager in these concerts. The title was again never formally recognized, but I was in charge of all accommodation and transportation arrangements, supervision of backstage area, and itineraries. Arrangements in those areas was so much fun, and everything was going so smoothly that I didn't pay enough attention to the needs of the artist.
I forgot Alka Seltzer right on the second show.
In the middle of that concert, one of the rodies told me that the Queen asked for Alka Seltzer. I didn't have it with me. It was a sunday evening, all pharmacies were closed. I told the roadie she probably wanted it after the show, not right now. And I sent the driver to find a pharmacy on duty.
Right at that moment, the power on stage went off, the generator had failed. It was an extremely stressful moment, and we didn't know when the power would be back. The venue was blacked-out for at least 5 minutes. During that time, the Queen asked for Alka Seltzer again. Told the roadie that it was on the way. In reality, I was on the phone with the driver and the nearest pharmacy was 20 minutes' drive.
Of course it all got worse, and the Queen asked me on stage. this time it was me, trembling like a leaf, climbing up the stairs to the stage. Bursting flames on her eyes, she just asked me: "Do you have any idea what I've been going through right now?! "
Trying to keep calm and not to cry, I ran to Jenny, asked her what I could do. She was almost smiling, she just shrugged and told she had no idea.
Oh I hated her so much!

A lot of stressing out, trying to hold that teardrop on the corner of my eye, and 5 songs later, the driver came back with Alka Seltzer. I was waiting holding a glass when the concert was finally over. The Queen grabbed it, went into dressing room, slammed the door on my face. and started crying, I could hear it.

She called me in when she calmed down. She said:
"The most important thing to me in life is enjoying being on stage. I built all my life, all my career upon this. And tonight, for the first time in a long, long time, I hated being on stage. Can you comprehend what this means to me?"
I was out of words. I apologized and promised that would never ever going to happen again.
I arranged the transportation back to the hotel, and everyone went into their rooms. Again, I was a mess.
On the way to the airport, during the flight, and until we arrived home the next day, she never took off her huge sunglasses and didn't talk to me one word.

You can imagine how terrible I felt after this.
I was the one asking for more responsibility, and I had fucked-up on the very beginning.
Looking back now, I can see it clearly that this was much-needed. I never made a similar mistake again. Learnt the hard way that my first and foremost responsibility was to make sure the Queen had everything she needed. Tour managing had to be secondary. And I had to be more focused, and careful.

First I wrote another long mail about what happened, why it happened, and how sorry I was.
Then I decided to text her:
"I wrote a long mail but don't want to occupy you with this matter any longer. Please accept my apologies, I am very sorry for days, and I promise it will never happen again."

She replied:
"Oh my sweetie, please don't be upset. I know you very well, please don't think about what happened any longer, otherwise I will be more upset. It was just the second show, shit happens, don't worry. It will all be fine, no need for an e-mail, we will talk face to face later. Kisses xx"

I was, once again, fascinated by her character, decided NEVER to leave her, unless she wanted.

Winning the break-up

In the next few weeks after I left the label, I was freaking out, worried that I had made a big mistake.
Trying to find out how well the label was doing compared to me, I was desperately trying to win the break-up. I wanted to be in better condition than my ex.

In reality, I was broke, had no job, nothing to do all day, had no plans of any income for the upcoming month.
On the other hand, I could die of happiness and self-proud; I liked it so much that whenever I didn't want to be somewhere, or do something, I just quit! It took a lot of courage, but guaranteed some kind of bliss.
I did it many times in my life. I just trusted my intuition, didn't really stress out about what would happen next,  wished for the best, and got out of any situation I didn't enjoy. My only goal in life has been having a peace of mind, at all times. And you can imagine what a relief it was to get rid of everything I hated at the label.

As I'd experienced it at the label with the rock band, the upcoming month would be very busy for the Queen with photo and video shoots, promotion work, and gala concerts. The first thing I did was to inform Jenny of my new decision, that I was again fully available to work for the Queen. Later I found out that Jenny never told the Queen about it.

While I was patiently waiting for a call from Jenny about video shoot and tour dates, I found out from irrevelant friends that the video had been shot already, and I learnt the dates when I saw them on Ticketmaster.

So I decided to write an e-mail to the Queen myself, and I basically told her how worried I was whether I was still a part of her crew, as I wasn't being informed about anything, and couldn't help but mention my disappointment about the thanks to list which I was not included on the album booklet. I didn't skip telling her that working for her was one of the things that I made me the happiest about my life, and that I didn't want to lose it.I told her I wanted more responsibility, I wanted to work as the tour manager, reminding some things didn't work out on the previous tour.

I immediately got a response from her, thanking sincerely for my words, telling me there was nothing to worry about, that we would soon start working again. She also apologized on her sweet mail, telling in detail how busy and exhausted they were while preparing the thanks to list, that she was deeply sorry she had forgot me along with some others.

There it was:
Everything would be alright, I was winning the break-up.
I realised it when I really no longer cared about my ex.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Leaving someone who loves you...

The strongest memory I have about working at the record label of the band I told you about here is how I felt after I left.

It was like leaving someone who loves you for an impossible love affair.

I started working at that record label as the product manager and tour manager. There were so many things to do, and I had so much to learn. I was lucky that there was this great girl who was working there for a year. There were so many parties to deal with as the record label and also the management company of one of the biggest local rock bands. The label also had a great indie band, their first album had just been released and they were getting great reviews and critics.
First few weeks were great, that girl taught me all about related parties, introduced me to key contact people, explained processes about album release, office tasks, etc.
I was interacting with so many third parties, such as:

* PR Representative
* Ministry of culture
* CD production and printing companies
* Distributor company
* Publishing company
* Collecting societies
* Promoters, booking agents, venue owners
* Accounting firm, banks
* Technical crew and production team about concerts

Just as everything had started to go on track, while we were having beer on our happy hour on a friday afternoon at the office, that great girl told me it was her last day, that she had quit.

At that point, I have to tell you about "the boss". As I told before, he was the manager of bands and the general director of the label. He was 36 years old, high school friends with the band members, lived in the USA for many years to study and work at a major record label, and got back to become the band's manager.
He was an egomaniac. A control freak. He was a lonely, unhappy, dissatisfied, yet very talented and down-to-earth guy.
He liked undermining the local music industry, everyone in it, all the other artists, managers, production people... with an indescribable joy. He believed that they didn't know what they were doing, and had this crazy idea that he was ALWAYS right.
Like anyone else, people who worked for him were also never good enough, no matter how much they devote themselves to work.
I also found him highly hypocritical. He was best friends with all these local music industy people he hated.
Maybe it was because of one of the unwritten rules of working in music business: Always be on good terms with everyone, you can never know when or how someone might help you in your job. Personally I just couldn't stick with that rule, pretending has never been my thing.

But it would be unfair not to mention his know-how about music business. He had experience and great insight about almost every aspect of the industry, and I learnt a lot from him.

Anyway, this mighty boss had exhausted my sweet mentor-friend, and literally consumed her. She wasn't enjoying her job anymore, tired of not being appreciated, feeling that she deserved more.
She was in her mid-30s, had quit her career in finance at the age of 30, she was looking for more. We tossed for her last day at work that afternoon in the office, listening to Amy Winehouse. I thanked her for everything she had taught me. She continued to be a great support since then. I called her everytime I was freaking out to find out how some particular thing was done. She's still a very dear friend of mine. After working in the business for another couple of years, she moved back with her mom, now lives in a great town seaside, works at a completely different sector. She's one of the happiest people I know.

After she left, I was the only person in that "record label" for a while. My typical day at this record label was something like this:

I opened the office at 10 am. Made coffee, checked mails, made a checklist until the boss arrives.
I answered phones and doors all day.
He usually came to the office around 1 pm, unless he had a meeting. We went through daily jobs.
I made and received phone calls and e-mails from the companies and people I listed above all day. It was extremely busy. I was following-up about promotion activities, CD production, bureaucratic procedures, and daily office tasks.
I was also serving tea and coffee, or ordering lunch for our guests at the office.
At the end of the day, I loaded the dishwasher, put garbage out, and left the office at 7 pm.
If any of the bands had a concert, I was also working there as the tour manager.

On October 2008, we went to Berlin with the boss, to attent Popkomm , It was my first time in Berlin, and it was an entirely amazing experience. I visited many companies and met people who visited us in that exhibition, and I attented many seminars about digital music marketing, 360 degree deals, soundtracks, royalty collections, etc. We went to parties, concerts with the boss at nights. He was only fun to hang out with when he was drunk :)

After we came back, I was just at the point of losing it, begging the boss to hire new people everyday, and he hired 2 interns. They were sweet and smart girls with some experience and relevant education. Things got much easier and much more fun then, and I sometimes felt like they were looking up to me, learning things from me. I enjoyed it so much.

The boss also looked happy. After a very busy and successful week of an album release, two tv shoots and a big concert for 30 thousand people,  he thanked me said "the total of what these two girls do cannot even sum up to half of what you've been doing". I will always remember this as one of the best compliments I've ever received. Maybe I remember it that clearly because it well might be the only good thing he has ever said to me.
Usually we just talked about himself and his thoughts and stories of his glorious life in the States. I worked so hard for everything about the band, but whenever an important meeting was held, or whenever it was time to celebrate, I was left out. They all treated me like a secretary sometimes. My ideas, my vision, personality, goals didn't matter to them. It didn't have to, of course, but then I didn't have to be by their side.

What I actually enjoyed doing, tour managing, was the smallest part of my job. I had become an office person, going to meetings, living everyday just like the previous one. That great band image I was such a fan of, disappeared day by day, in front of my eyes. Witnessing their every moment, I couldn't help but compare them to my metal band and the rockstar. It was disappointing to see that they were not enjoying what they were going through, they were literally rock stars, taking themselves a little too seriously. I wasn't a fan anymore.

During our first conversation about this job with the boss, I had told him that I wasn't thinking of quitting my other bands. I explained that they weren't planning of doing anything for at least 6 months, and I was fully available during that time, didn't promise anything for afterwards.
6 months passed quicker than I thought, and I found myself at a very familiar point:
I was exhausted, consumed, wasn't enjoying my job anymore, tired of not being appreciated, feeling that I deserved more.

It was obvious that I wasn't happy there anymore, when he asked what was wrong I told him I wanted to quit. He couldn't believe it! How could anyone want to leave his bands and his label! He asked me to stay a bit longer. I accepted, but then we agreed that it wouldn't be productive at all. So I left.

It was like leaving someone who loves you for an impossible love affair.

It felt like I had left a lover, who needed me and loved me. It was like a safe, caring, and boring relationship I was trying to get out of, just to run to the arms of my long-lasting love I wasn't able to forget, who never let me feel secure. Who I was afraid of losing, with whom I felt the absolute completeness.

Like it always happens in such stories, the one I left  forgot about me very quickly, and found someone else. One of the interns got my position at the record label, and she did just fine. They went to a European tour just after I left. I followed them on Facebook, looking at the pictures of technical crew having fun in Amsterdam.

The other one, my love, my passion, my dear female rock star released a new album just around these days. I bought it the day it came out. Excited, I ripped off the gelatine, checked "thanks to list".
Everyone was on that list.
The driver, hair stylist, lighting designer, all the roadies... everyone.
I wasn't.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Star Struck

All the time I've worked with the artists I've told you so far, I had never been starstruck. It naturally felt normal  - and yet, extremely cool, fun and inspiring - to be around artists.

But there was this one band, which had been my all time favourite. I had grown up listening to them, being a fan all through their journey to fame.
Their first album was released when I was thirteen. It was nothing like what was around in local music scene. And as much as I like international bands, let's face it, there's nothing quite like the feeling, when you listen to a good song in your native language. It somehow resonates more with you.
I've listened to them and followed them for 15 years. All through this time, their songs became soundtracks to my memories. I used to write on their guestbook, which was very primitive (it was 1999, we didn't even have MySpace then!) but the friendliest virtual space I've ever been in. After I moved here, I went to several concerts of them and enjoyed every one of them. I witnessed the songs on their 4th album, and all their albums after that becoming huge hits. They changed the local music industry for good. Rock bands became more popular than ever. They started to sell much more, tour more, earn more, and they simply became the biggest band in the country.
But they never did anything uncool. I guess that's why I still like them so much.
Instead of changing their lifestyle after this great success, they put all they had back into music, and started a record label. They released their own albums, and helped great emerging bands in their stepping into music business.

Now, this label was looking for a product and tour manager. As I told in the Working at a Venue post, I'd met their manager, who was the managing director of their record label. He was one of the band's closest friends from highschool, studied marketing in the States, worked in a major record label there, and came back just to manage the band.  The day I worked as the backstage manager in their concert at the venue, I told him I'd be very interested in this position. We quickly set up a meeting.

It was a great meeting. We knew each other, and we had already worked together. I told him what I had been doing for the last 4 years, showed him the tourbooks and itineraries I had prepared, and how much I liked the band and wanted to work for them. I immediately started working there.

The day I met the band the first time, I was a little bit star struck, for the first and last time during my career.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Working at a venue

Once more, a long tour was over, and our artist had gone away. There were no plans of a new show or tour for at least 6 months, and after that, studio time would start for a new album.
Long story short, I was unemployed, and had no saving at all, as I stupidly accepted working for a ridiculously low fee for that tour.

I definitely had a love-hate relationship with Jenny. After all our conflicts on the tour, she referred me to the manager of a big venue, who was looking for a backstage and artist coordinator for their summer season. The pay was very poor, but it would be an invaluable experience for me.
The first time I went to meet the manager, I thought I was going to a job interview, but instead, he just said welcome to our team, and handed me the all access badge which already had my name on it. 

It was a great open air venue with a capacity of 20K and the most beautiful backstage area I had ever seen with many dressing rooms, spacious catering areas, a small garden, adequate shower and restroom facilities. And it was run by the biggest promotion company here.

Basically my job was to fulfill backstage riders, and host artist crew in the venue. 
I reviewed riders, negotiated with the catering company, forwarded catering quotes to manager, got rejected every time, negotiated again, contacted tour managers and worked with them through advancing (I sent them all the necessary info about the venue, backstage drawing, even the menus to be served, for their confirmation). When artist crew arrived, I met them in the venue, arranged merchandising, meet&greet, helped them in all kinds of situations, in all their last minute requests, and translated for them whenever needed. 
Of course I didn't do everything by myself, we had a large production team and runners. Everyday I was amazed how things were running so smoothly when everything is handled professionally.

I met and worked with great people such as Martin Walker (Judas Priest), Tracy Fraser (Bj√∂rk), Steve Ricalis (Mike Knopfler), Amanda Cunningham and Dana Pennington (Lenny Kravitz) to name a few. 
Of course it was not always a bed of roses, but paying attention to details always helped. Even providing the requested brand of soap for the artist would make a huge difference.

Although I've always dreamt of working within an international crew, and touring all over the world, I didn't even tell anything about this to those people I worked with that summer. I was so happy working with my local artists that hunting for other opportunities didn't even cross my mind. Very stupid of me. 

I also worked with almost all the artists in the local music industry. In those shows, along with the usual backstage management, I was in charge of production, and coordination of local production crews. I started to get familiar with technical production riders. It was the summer of 2008, and we held events starting with  concerts of local bands, and then we broadcast FIFA World Cup matches on the giant screen set up on the stage.
And of course, this experience was a great opportunity for networking, which is always said to be one of the most important things about a music industry career. Indeed, one of the artist managers I met there hired me in a few months, but I'm going to tell about this in the next post.

That summer, I learnt what it meant to work on the promoter side of an event, depending on a limited budget, being the party that does not request things, but fulfills requests. 
I also learnt how to use walkie talkies effectively, working at such a huge venue with a very crowded local crew consisting of venue management, promotion company representatives, PR team, production crew, site managers, ticketing and box office staff, security, and paramedics. Before every show, I watched the venue manager giving great speeches to these teams in the pre-event meetings, explaining the importance of the event, and his expectations from every individual team. I was fascinated by those speeches everytime, imagined myself giving such a speech one day. 

Yes, everything was great, I was learning so much, but I decided to quit.
I worked there 2 months that summer, everyday, under the sun at 35 C, for at least 12 hours. We had an event every other day, but usually I had to be there on those days in-between for preperations as well. I was exhausted, lost 15 pounds, and I was struggling to even pay the rent.

But that's not why I quit.

The metal band was playing at a festival, and leaving for another city at night, for a second festival. But I had to be at the venue to work at a local event of a pop singer. I had told the manager that I had to go to that other city with the metal band as their tour manager, and although he'd said I could go before, he changed his mind on the show day, and told me to stay. 
But I didn't. I couldn't. I made sure everything was arranged, let artist manager and all relevant crew know that I had to go, appointed someone to take care of backstage aftershow, and when the concert started, I left after saying goodbye to the manager, and thanking him for everything.

I went to the festival site while my band was playing their last song. They were all very happy to see me backstage after the show, We immediately set off for the next city, didn't sleep at all, spent the trip drinking and chatting all night.
It felt like I was back home, with my family, after a great vacation.