I’ve been writing this post in my head for about six months. Now that I’m finally typing it up, I realize I should probably have written down a few notes. Oh well.
You know how people bemoan the humdrum, doing the same thing every day, no surprises lifestyle? I am not one of those people. I do not like riding rollercoasters or jumping out of airplanes, I like coming to work, the same job I’ve been doing pretty much my entire adult life, and doing the exact thing I expected to do. When I go on vacation, as you’ll no doubt remember (although it’s been a long time since I’ve been on a vacation), I like to have everything planned. No showing up and hunting down a hotel for me. I know what time the buses are leaving and where the station is long before I even set foot there. I never understood why Trent Reznor sings “Every Day is Exactly the Same” like it’s a bad thing.
I say all this to help you understand the momentous nature of the next thing I am about to say. I am chucking about 50% of my current life out the window. I am writing this at the weekend (or since January, depending on how you look at it) but by the time you read it, I will have quit my job. You know, the job that the sidebar box there makes clear to you is a large part of my identity. The only industry I’ve ever worked in since I started at age 16. I did four months of work-study in an accounting office and also clerked a Barnes & Noble alongside my record store gig one summer when there weren’t enough hours for me at the latter. But other than that, music is my life, and I’ve somehow parlayed that into a career. And it’s been a good one, for the most part. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have my hobby also be the thing that supports me. I not only get to help make bands successful and be part of the reason you hear the songs you do, but I work surrounded by music lovers in a poster-covered, pot-scented office where rock stars pop in, the CD’s are free, and concerts are part of the job description. I’ve met some of my heroes and some that are your heroes. I get to hear much of the music before it makes it out into the world. And when I do a spreadsheet, it’s about something that has interested me all my life, how much a record is selling and why.
You may have read that Kasey Casem retired from American Top 40 last week (I think he only did the Top 20 show these days) and I can trace this interest back all the way to my childhood and listening to him every single Sunday. To the point where I once had a fight with my Mom who wanted to take me to a warehouse clothing sale on a Sunday morning and I wouldn’t get out of the car till the countdown was over. As the songs would be counted down, I’d revise my estimates of what was coming by what had already been played and what hadn’t. Later, I caught on to the fact that Billboard Magazine listed them two days before but I couldn’t always get to the bookstore to see it. When I worked at Musicland, we had an instore copy and I’d read it from cover to cover. Exactly twenty years ago this week, Love & Rockets’ So Alive was #5 on the Hot 100. What’s significant about this is that I really remember the article in Billboard about this fact inspiring me to want to work at a label. That issue isn’t online, but I remember the record company executive saying something like, “when we decided to take Love & Rockets top 5….” This statement just blew my mind. The fact that a band which was a cult favorite without mainstream success in the US could by means of a “decision” make the Top 5 revolutionized how I had thought of the Top 40 all my life: as a list of the songs that people simply liked best. Not only did I want to find out how one could cause one song to do better than another, I wanted to be part of that process. Now I know it’s not as simple as that, but essentially, that’s what labels still do. And if you are a Twitter follower of mine, you know that every Wednesday morning, when the numbers really come out, I Tweet the top debuts of the week. Soon that will stop.
Once, some friends and I were chatting about what people on an online forum had in common. I posited that what really unites all of us with our geographic, political, educational, ethnic, and religious differences is the fact that we’re all bored at work. How else would we have time to spend our days chatting away online? So, let’s revise my picture to say, I loved my job but was unchallenged by it and because of my “I don’t want to change” attitude, that only vaguely bothered me. I am not ambitious. Once I got out of the “So-and-so’s office, how may I help you?” part of my career, I never cared about titles or windowed offices. Plus, I don’t want to give my life to my employer, I want to go home and have a life. As long as I enjoy my job and can afford to live, that’s all I really cared about.
Then my job was changed and it took me until recently to realize why I dislike it now so much. It’s because now I really am selling stuff. And I don’t want your money for things that you may not really want. I am not a hyper – I like things that are so good they just speak for themselves. The hype makes me feel fake and a liar, even if it’s partially true. I found this out years ago at Musicland. I was great at showing you stuff you might enjoy and I was happy that you left with a great CD and I left with your money. We were both satisfied. But I was never the person to push stuff on you that you wouldn’t really enjoy just so I could “make the day” for the people at headquarters. And I don’t want to now either. I just want to help other people and have them be better off, all the while living on “enough” rather than a lot. I don’t need a lot. When I was little, I used to want to be a millionaire so I could afford one of the estates in the back section of the New York Times Magazine. But as an adult, I dress in jeans and t-shirts and the only thing I find myself wishing I had more money for is concert tickets.
There are other reasons I’m leaving and I won’t list them here but, as you probably have noticed, this industry is in a slow death spiral and it’s probably better to leave sooner rather than later anyway. I’ve had a good run and I’ll always have the memories.
As I mentioned earlier, the reasons people do things on the Internet interest me. So does computer stuff in general. Music is my first love but as the daughter of an IBM exec in the 70′s and 80′s who brought prototype PC’s home, that bug bit me early too. (One of the first things I did, on this computer, was make lists of the Top 40, naturally). So, as a person who really would like to live life in a non-profit environment, or at least one where people are the primary motivator rather than money, and someone who loves computers and the effect they have on society and cognition, what do you think I should do?
Good idea! I thought so too. So I’ve quit my job and will begin a Master’s program in educational technology at Columbia University’s Teachers College in the Fall. I may not become a teacher and, in fact, the degree doesn’t lead to certification. But there’s lots of things you can do with it and hopefully one of them will grab me in the same way the music industry did in the beginning. We’ll see!
And how will I live without that whole “job” and “income” thing? Good question! I’ve saved a bit, I plan on getting a part-time job, and I plan on opening an Etsy shop so you can buy my rugelach and other goodies year round! And, I intend to be very, very frugal. I already live on less than I bring in and my love of spreadsheets has enabled me to figure out how to survive on what I’ll have. It can be done. I haven’t been in school since 1993 (it was Teachers College, if you recall, and luckily, some of my work from then will count towards this degree) and I find the idea of being back in class scary, but hey, everything seems scary right now. And that’s OK! Because I’ve taken it all into my own hands and am making a proactive change where one is needed. So it will be all right, I know.
I am going to miss having long-lost friends on Facebook saying, “I knew you’d end up doing that!” and new people I meet telling me what a cool job I have. Once, after work at Musicland, I was waiting outside the mall for my ride home when some kids drove by, whooping and hollering. It was late and dark and deserted and I was scared. The car slowed and one guy yelled, “hey! It’s the girl from the record store!” Then they all started to wave and cheer. Yes, I’ll miss that. But Bob (remember Bob? She left our company a year ago) told me, “the only thing I miss about working at a record company is telling people I work at a record company.”
But I think I’ll miss more than that. I’ll miss having all the research websites at my fingertips so I can look up any song and what stations are playing it and how much it has sold. I’ll miss backstage passes. I’ll miss free CD’s. I’ll miss knowing why things happen in music and why they don’t. I’ll miss the community of people I now know and interact with. But I’m burnt out. I’m tired. I have no more energy and passion for this. More importantly, I wasn’t treated well and I spend my days doing work I don’t enjoy. There comes a time where you just have to walk away.
So, look for some different types of posts, posts by a blogger who is a poor student rather than a music industry executive, and after that, who knows? Because the only sure thing right now is that there are no sure things but the fact that taking a risk to get yourself away from an unhappy situation is always the right thing.
I just want to take a few words to thank people who really helped me in this endeavor. Sarpon, who helped me write my grad school essay which my adviser told me was “intriguing,” and talked me through moments of self-doubt. Lisatagio, who gave me great advice on the teaching profession and even let me observe tech classes at her school, a private academy with such smart, motivated students they ought to use it to advertise education as a career. And several other people who have read and listened to meandering tripe on mid-life crises and career change for the last six months. You know who you are! And someone, who I don’t know if she’s reading this, but helped me realize the confidence to do this. I miss you! But as you can see, I am A-OK. Huge heartfelt thanks to everyone.
Title comes from:
George Michael – Freedom