Saturday, October 4, 2008

Coworkers: Part 10 - Promos‏

   "When the pile is big enough," Diana explained, "and it looks pretty big to me, then everything will be divvied up between all employees."
   I pretended she had alerted me to a sale on clothes pins over at Mott's. Meanwhile, my breathing had completely stopped.
   Free CDs.
   Promos, or promotional CDs, arrived weekly. Boxes of them. Record shops, radio stations, and music columnists were major recipients. Labels hoped stores would place them in rotation and generate sales. Most albums were advance copies, which placed us well ahead of the radio curve.
   Some chains, usually mall fronts, exercised complete control over store airplay. Tunes were chosen, sequenced, and piped from corporate offices. This was why mall stores were so often sterile, soulless places. And why their employees were dead.
   At Sound Warehouse, managers had complete control. The playstack was maintained and rotated by senior employees. Most titles lingered 3 - 6 months, though Charlie Brown's Christmas endured year after year, silent until November.
   Most record shops, managers appropriated all promos. Promos were used as incentives or rewards or gifted to favored employees. Many managers were petty martinets, and promos were cashed out at pawn shops to buy booze, drugs, corn chips, comic books.
   The Boss, a Berserkely refugee, was an enlightened spirit. Promos were shared with all employees. He was extraordinarily generous for instituting this policy. He was also very savvy. Employees who received a periodic windfall of CDs were less likely to steal. In-house theft was a rare event at Camp Bowie.
   The day I saw the first Promo Pull announcement, I asked Dan for particulars. As usual, he was patient with me.
   "Write down what you want," he said. "Arrange by priority. We'll draw lots for the picking order, and arrange lists. Then we'll go through everyone's number ones. Then number twos, and so on. Whenever a title is taken, we'll strike that line and move to the next one."
   Strategy was involved. I desperately wanted Khachaturian's Gayne. Few coworkers would want that, however. I could place it lower on my list. A half dozen people wanted the newest k d lang. Luck of the draw. I'd look at a Rock release, and ponder Rob, Todd, Trina. How high would Diana or James place some neo folkie album?
   Some promos caused free for alls. 90% of employees placed a This Mortal Coil box set as number one. Don't remember who won it -- it wasn't me.
   Labels also sent stores and columnists one-of-a-kind recordings. Advance copies, samplers, unreleased material. Few customers knew those existed.
   Jeri Jo had tired of the music business after four months. She never anticipated actual work. Effort. Like the hibernating sloth, she assumed her duties were listening to music all day (nice choral music, not Rock or Country or Soul) and gracefully promenading up and down the stately aisles of retail. She only stayed for promos. The day after the pull, she departed. I won Gayne.
   Usually two colleagues did the pull. This was done off the clock. Names were written on bags, then slips of paper were drawn to create the order. One individual read off picks, checked or struck off choices, while the other ferried choices to bags. Usually took two to three hours. Often more team members showed with six packs, snacks and smokes. More helpers meant more chaos.
   There were usually 800+ CDs for any given Promo Pull. Of that, 150 might be desirable. The remaining were grab bag. Unknown albums by unknown groups. Most would remain unknown. A few were overlooked jewels. The bulk were derivative, bad, or worst of all, boring. Come what may, the pile was to be annihilated. Coworkers jotted massive wish lists and trusted in luck. Duds were plenty.
   When my unknown gambles proved to be misfires, I gave them away. One Halloween, I plopped over 50 unwanted cassettes into Trick Or Treat sacks in my neighborhood. Kids were thrilled! Later, they would realize those treats were tricks. Sorry life lessons, learned early.
   I never sold off crap. Neither did Pat or John or Diana. Others did, however.
   Usually for booze, drugs, corn chips, comic books.
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