Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Coworkers: Part 18 - Label Reps

   "I wouldn't mess with that if I were you."
   From the bottom of a ladder, Dan gazed up at a rep, tearing down a display.
   "Why? Cause this is a Warners display? One of Ronnie's? I ain't afraid of Ronnie."
   "I just wouldn't mess with that,"
Dan repeated. "And you are right. That is one of Ronnie's."
   "I ain't afraid of no Big Bad Ronnie."

   The guy blowing was a CEMA / EMI / Capitol field rep. We'd never seen him before. Likely, we'd never see him again. CEMA suffered huge staff turnover. Must have paid terrible and offered zero incentives. No matter, he was ripping down one of Ronnie's layouts. One that Ronnie had stapled up only an hour earlier.
   Just before Ronnie went out for lunch.
   And said he'd be back in about an hour.

   Reps were our main links to the record labels. Promos (promotional CDs), concert tickets. Generally, one got into their good graces by attending meet 'n greets, New Release parties, other alcohol soaked publicity functions. Unless you were new.
   For new hires, in-house probation period lasted from a couple of weeks to several months. Depended on ability, intelligence, social skills, attractiveness. Creatures, human and nonhuman, were shallow. Popular models fared better than flawed wamprats.
   Best advice for newbies in approaching reps? Bide your time.
   Katia perched on a ladder high above the Manager's booth. Major display of rolled flats and ad-slicks, splashed at an angle to make the layout pop. Katia was a BMG (RCA) field rep. Twenty feet beneath her, a hypnotized coworker stared.
   "Say, are you one of those music label people?" he asked.
   "No, I practice ladder aerobics," Katia answered wryly.
   "Ha ha. Yeah, you got legs."
   That particular clerk was still on probation. In fact, he would never survive the evaluation period without antagonizing almost every one of his coworkers.
   The Tim.
   Katia ignored the "legs" comment, returned to the advertisement. She still had four other stores to visit.
   "So ... are you going to offer me tickets or what?"
   "Excuse me."
   "Ha ha. You don't need to ask me to be your date this time - - unless you really want to - - but what kind of tickets do you have in that bag of yours?"
   "I have some passes for the Drop Dead Show."
   "Ha ha. Good one."

   The Tim bobbled away from his register and dropped anchor beside her ladder. Katia worked quite high.
   "Not afraid of heights are you?" The Tim grinned, then began to shake her ladder.
   "Stop!" Katia screamed. "Stop right now! You miserable fucker."
   Employees across the floor heard Katia's gasp and rushed to her.
   "Ha ha. Just kidding," The Tim chortled and waddled back to his register.
   Our mindless colleague never scored those tickets from Katia, the rep who got legs. She never forgot him, either. A few years later, arranging a spread over Boutique, she warned all of us to keep that "damn Tim" away from her.
   The Tim, we corrected her.

   For the average music clerk, Ronnie was the promo source. He visited stores every other month. While most field reps were friendly, chatty, gregarious sorts, Ronnie was a cactus. Taciturn, prickly. Then again, other reps gabbed, handed us a CD or two. Ronnie spoke little, arranged multiple layouts, dropped off a brick of CDs - - thirty discs - - saying, "Give these to The Boss."
   Ronnie was CD Santa.
   Was this bonanza simply WEA largess? Was Ronnie simply scrupulously honest? Was it a chain thing? The longer I worked, the more I believed the answer was "D," all of the above.
   Still, Ronnie was moody. Difficult. He spoke with senior crew members, ignored newbies.
   As for other label reps, they avoided Ronnie. There were a dozen ways Ronnie could wreck them. Their assigned display areas might be relocated, marginalized. Buried in Video or Classical, low traffic zones. Ronnie was the most generous to us. Believe me, that carried weight.
   Other reps didn't mess with Ronnie's layouts.
   Except for that fool who had just torn down a display.
   Just before he noticed Ronnie's car roll into the parking lot.

   After awhile, I made my own contacts and learned to hunt down reps who never visited stores. Out of state, office bound. Tracy with Republic, Lonnie with PGD, Rich with Academy. They sent screeners. Advance movie releases.
   Pat was best friends with Christina at UNI, who spotted her tickets to George Strait for years, and Sylvia at WEA, who slipped her backstage to meet Lenny Kravitz, or added her to the Prince ticket guest list.
   Dan and Rob paddled the liquid route. Alcohol. They went to New Release parties, meet 'n greets, drank with reps at clubs, bars, and events. They called Alan, Patrick, Frank, Marshall, Susannah, you name it. They went to shows at arenas, halls, dumps and dives, met artists famous and forgettable, one-shots and future icons.
   I called WEA reps more than others. Ronnie sometimes, Jamel others. Both were great. My main guy was Gus. "Worthy, how the hell are you doing?"
   Gus rocked. He was higher placed, closer to the executive strata. If there was an album out that I wanted, but hadn't seen a promotional copy of, Gus could usually find it. As in box set. I suspected Gus raided Ronnie's closet.
   I spoke with Gus monthly. Sometimes he wanted to know how an artist was selling, how numbers trended. There were professional charts available, but these could be manipulated. I told Gus what was honestly going on in our store with the acts he represented. For all the years I spoke and dealt with Gus, he and I never met.

   Ronnie spotted the vandalism immediately.
   The beauty of Ronnie's reaction was that there was none. He didn't explode, fume, anger. He simply walked slowly toward the offending rep. Much as I would have loved to have stood nearby, I was busy inventorying Classical. Plus, I didn't want to appear completely obvious. Dan was there, however.
   "Sorry, man, I thought that was put up several months ago."
   Ronnie said nothing.
   "I never would have torn it down to begin with if I thought it was one of yours."
   Again, no response. Ronnie simply folded his arms.
   "I could rebuild that, if you like."
   Ronnie pitched him a fat roll of cellophane tape.
   "I'll be done here in an hour," he declared. "I want that tape back."
   Ronnie walked away, and the CEMA rep, ever the brave one, restored the WEA layout. Ronnie departed after an hour, as did the CEMA rep. He never created that Capitol display.

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