In early 2008 I was laid off from my job. I didn’t work again until almost three years later, or 1,035 days later. Not something I’m proud of but also, who gives a shit really? The government gave me money for two years of that, other times I made money by selling all sorts of collectible stuff, gambling and somehow managing to have every single person I know buy me at least one meal (I swear I’ll buy them all a meal soon).
At the end of the day, I had some great experiences as well as some horrible ones. I moved to Los Angeles and then back to the Boston area, had a couple of significant relationships end, old friends and family members die, quit smoking and above all sat around and pretty much did nothing.
These writings will cover those times, as well as some of the times leading up to being laid off, and the adjusting back to life as a normal working person. When I was hired for my current job I mentioned to a friend how crazy it had been not working for two years, she informed me it was close to three years. I swear I have a strong work ethic, you’ll see.
Pre-Laid Off Life in “The Music Business” Pt. 1
Sure I worked for a pretty prestigious, famous independent record label for a decade, but really this job could have been any job. When you work in fulfillment or service it doesn’t really matter what you’re selling, music or paper towels. It’s a product. I never really considered this working “in the music business”. My whole life has been around the music business since my dad has been in it since before I was born and still is, the vast majority of my friends are musicians or have something to do with it, I’ve played music, recorded music, released music and just spent time immersed in it in some way for as long as I can remember. That part of me is more “music business”, this job was just a job…it just happened to also be a record label. People who work at record labels or in the business in general are pretty gross. While telling the world how awful it is to steal their music they themselves pretty much never pay for music whether recorded or live. There is an entitlement in the music business there that is way beyond art and what music should be about. It’s a different place than it used to be, and as cliche as it sounds, the DIY/underground is where you’re going to find people who are truly doing it for their love of music. The good people who worked with me at the label were these people. Life there would have been awful if it wasn’t for them.
The company I worked for was an independent record label in the Boston area. I’ll refer to the company as “Square Records” since the higher ups were just that, a bunch of fucking squares. The label had a reputation of putting out quality music, also of being a shitty place to work. There were obvious perks to working there. Aside from a small handful of folks that were short lived, the vast majority of people I worked with were great people and remain at the very least friends on whatever the latest social network is right now. Anytime I run into these folks in person it’s great. We spent a lot of good and bad times together. As with any job there was a network of people you associate with that are “in the know”. The ones you complain about work with, talk about other people with, go to lunch with and maybe even hang out with outside of work. These are the people that made going to work everyday okay. In general this place wasn’t as horrible a place to work as I might make it out to be, but how boring would that be to read about?
In close to eleven years I held a few different positions there. Mostly my positions had something to do with fulfillment and direct to consumer sales and customer service. For a good chunk of this time I somehow got promoted into something I’ll never do again: managing a group of people. Everyone who worked under me was pretty cool, we had a nice tight knit group and I really have to say I miss working with them all. Even the woman I fired that one time.
One thing that set the company apart from other record labels was Square Records was a union shop. For a brief period I even became a Union Steward. I kind of got talked into it by fellow employees and then when I discovered a girl I had a slight crush on was also a steward, I joined. Unfortunately I was painfully shy and socially awkward and she had a boyfriend so nothing ever happened there. If someone was disciplined at work or fired I had to “represent” them. My first “case” was the firing of the head Union Steward who had been with the company for years. A recently hired General Manager pretty much fired him for nothing and I had to help him fight it. Even though I got involved with the union for other reasons once I realized how serious of a job I had it became more interesting and serious to me. A few years later I would end up in contract negotiation meetings on the union side of the table up against some of the higher ups including my own boss. Listening to grown men say right to your face that giving people a five cents raise on their hourly wage once a year was okay was beyond disgusting. Eventually I somehow managed to get myself into a position where I negotiated myself out of my job and into a management position. This is when things got real fun.
I was kind of the lead customer service guy in my department. Now I was the manager. Our little group had become pretty tight knit so it was a little difficult having to now be the boss of people who I considered my friends. With the mixture of my employees being union employees and my boss being very detail oriented when it came time to do yearly performance reviews I had to be extra detailed on everything. Dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s. Making sure I justified why this particular person deserved a fifteen cent raise. Reviewing people’s work performance might be the single worst thing one can do. For one thing, you are in control of if someone is going to be getting more money and how much. This is a lot of pressure for someone with no managerial experience whatsoever. My boss was a cool guy if not a little nerdy. He was into auto racing and used a lot of racing metaphors in his management and in training me to become a better manager. I still use some of his ideas to this day, well aside from that time he ran through the office with a big checkered flag because we had a good month in sales.
Oh yeah, it should be noted that during my whole time employed at Square Records I came into work high on marijuana probably every single day aside from maybe ten days out of ten years. There were quite a few people working there that were doing the same thing. Some of them managers. Since my initial position at the company was pretty much mindless warehouse work I was able to get away with being mindless most of the time. I somehow managed to get things done every day, even if it meant delegating it to other people so I could check Facebook, I mean Myspace…or maybe it was Friendster. My boss even told me once his goal for me was to have everything delegated out so I could just put my feet up on the desk and do nothing.
“Wow, management sounds intense!” I thought to myself
The warehouse was a hot disgusting place to work. In the summers it was often just as hot if not hotter than it was outside. Since there was a union that promoted from within, when a coveted office job was posted warehouse folks often scrambled to get their resumes to the particular manager in hopes to finally make it back to the air conditioned heaven of the offices.
Once you made it to the offices you were home free. It was true, people with desk jobs don’t really do much work at all regardless of what they try to tell you. They get stressed out but for the most part, desk people have really bad people skills and can’t work as a team so they are constantly talking about each other and complaining about their job. Every single person I know that works a job that is spent at a desk will often let you know about their shitty day at work or how much crap they had to put up with. You rarely hear this from warehouse workers, laborers, etc. I consider myself one of those people now. I enjoy being tired and dirty when I get home. If I had a shitty day at work or got hurt somehow then I probably did a good job that day. If a desk/office person has a bad day at work it’s probably because they couldn’t log on to the internet or they had to wait seven minutes for the IS guy to come and fix a printer.
When I became an office person and realized how office work was I was initially happy, in retrospect I feel like I learned very little beyond just how petty people can be. Office politics can be a dirty game and I certainly wasn’t willing to play. I was willing to get paid more money for doing things like keeping an online journal with well over fifteen-hundred entries (most of which were written in the office), e-mail friends, take ninety-minute lunch breaks so I could go CD shopping. I even took a four hour lunch break once without telling anyone so I could go to a Red Sox day game (they lost).
In retrospect I really wish I saved some of the ridiculous e-mails from there. In ten plus years there was a vast amount of communications between me and customers, me and artists and of course me and coworkers that would surely make me laugh out loud if I were to read them. For instance what kind of e-mail exchanges did I have with that woman I was secretly sleeping with for a little while there? What were those awkward e-mails from the even more awkward president like? He was like a creepy, younger, extra tall version of Mr Burns from the Simpsons mixed with Bill Gates and someone who looked like they probably never had really disgusting sex. Talking to him was awkward, he had a voice that sounded like Jim Henson or Frank Oz was inside of him. I really did not like this man. After working there for as long as I did he barely ever spoke to me and when he did it was to ask for something to get done for him and his interests. He was another person that basically told me my co-workers and I didn’t deserve more than fifteen cents/hour once a year for a raise (if we did “excellent” in or yearly review) in contract negotiations.
At one point, while I was a manager they had a vote to decertify the union. They brought in these professional union busting guys to train us managers how to talk our employees into voting to decertify the union. We had to meet one on one with this guy. I remember him having longer hair and a mustache, but obviously more put together. He didn’t look like Doug Henning is what I’m saying here. I sat in a small office with him across from me. He held a clipboard with the names of the employees in my department. At the time my office consisted of four people. Three women and one man. Two of the women were former union stewards or active in union activities and the one man was a current steward. He went down the list:
“Okay so these two women used to be stewards so we can forget about them” he tells me
“Probably a good idea”
“And this guy, he is a current steward so we know how he is going to vote”
“What about this other girl here…?”
“I’m not one hundred percent sure about her but I used to also be a steward so the anti-union vibe in our office is pretty much non existent. You guys might want to concentrate on other departments”
The union was decertified shortly thereafter. The company started putting all of its money and time towards a horrible all girl “tween-pop” group which featured our president’s daughter. In my opinion, and I’m sure in many other’s, this is when the company started getting way worse. And then people started losing their jobs.
(to be continued)