Hard Work Really Does Pay Off
An Excerpt from my Book, “I Could Be the President.”
The following is an excerpt from my book, I Could Be The President. If you like what you read, you can buy the physical copy on Amazon or get a free PDF copy when you join my weekly newsletter, A Writer’s Notebook. Click here to sign up.) Or you can buy me a coffee!
People always ask me “How can I tour like you?” or “What can I do to get an awesome job like yours?” I always respond with “work hard and do it for free.”
It was something I learned from Adam Carolla years earlier. He is a guy who had no future after high school other than cleaning carpets and digging ditches in 100 degree weather. One day, he was driving and listening to the “Kevin and Bean” show on the radio when he heard they were looking for boxing trainers. He was an amateur boxer and a boxing trainer at the time so he immediately called in saying he wanted to help. They never called him back so he drove to the radio station early one morning and that’s where he met and trained Jimmy Kimmel. He never asked to get paid but wanted to get on the air somehow. Kimmel saw the fire in his eyes and helped him do just that. From there, it was all uphill for him because he later got radio gigs, TV shows, and now hosts the most popular podcast of all time. He found a way into the industry and did what he could to stay without asking for anything in return.
Since I was a kid, I have listened to music, though I mostly listened to pop music and whatever they were playing on the radio at the time. I never listened to Green Day, The Beastie Boys, Nirvana, or any of the iconic bands at that time. I hung out with friends who listened to the trendy, radio music and I didn’t have an older sibling to show me the other different types of bands/music out there.
Then the internet changed everything and without it, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. The first real band I listened to were called The Get Up Kids during my junior year in high school (2001). I remember sitting on the computer and had a friend who I talked to online and they had a lyric on their away message, “Last night on the Mass Pike, though I was losing you. Last night on the Mass Pike, I fell in love with you.” Before that, I don’t think I heard lyrics that were as meaningful to me. I’m sure I was crushing on someone at the time, so the lyrics hit home. I Google’d (maybe even Yahoo’d) the lyrics and found out they were from the song “Mass Pike” by The Get Up Kids. They were a band I’d never heard of before so I had no idea where to get their music. I didn’t even know if they sold their albums in stores. File sharing was starting to take off and everybody used Napster, Audio Galaxy, Morpheus, etc. I downloaded that song and the rest of the songs from the album, “Something to Write Home About”. I remember being excited when I burned those songs to CD and listening to it a couple times a day. There were also a website called Songmeanings.net that was big at the time. That website had lyrics to a lot of bands and users could post their own interpretations of the lyrics. From there, I found out about other bands because it was also sort of a forum where people talked about other bands as well.
My friend, Allen, and I would trade songs/bands that we found on the Internet. I had another friend, Josh, who gave us CDs of bands he liked and thought we would like. One day, he gave me Saves the Day’s “Through Being Cool.” When I got home that day and I popped the CD into my stereo while I worked on homework. The first song “All Star Me” got me hooked on the band for life. I quickly made a copy for myself and threw it into my daily rotation. It’s funny to think that back then when I got a new CD, I would listen to it for days on end, from the beginning to the end. Sometimes, I would become a fan of the album after listening to it multiple times. Those bands changed my life along with other bands like The Ataris, Dashboard Confessional, Death Cab for Cutie, Brand New, and Taking Back Sunday.
My senior year of high school was the turning point in my life. Listening to these bands made me realize there was a whole different world out there. These bands were the outcasts of the music industry. They didn’t need a major label or top 40 airplay to get noticed or sell records. I always changed the way I acted and dressed growing up.
I didn’t really have an identity before so I just copied what everyone else was doing. I felt like I had found my niche and I wasn’t going to let it go. Even another friend of mine, Julio, who was really trendy and wore shirts by “Rocawear” and “Ecko”, started listening to the same bands we did.
Towards the end of our senior year, Allen, Julio, and myself started a clothing line “Apathy Clothing.” It was inspired by music and the entrepreneur in all of us. We had a friend of ours who was good at art draw us some designs which we used for our first shirt and our logo (which we never paid for, sorry Jenna). It was towards the end of our senior year so we made a bunch of flyers to give to our friends, which quickly caught on. I had some HTML experience so I made a quick website so we can have a place to post our shirts. That caught the attention of someone at Warped Tour and they offered us a tent at a couple of the California dates. We jumped on the opportunity and things were looking great, but we didn’t have any shirts printed up yet. Allen’s uncle had some minor experience in making t-shirts so we had to buy equipment to make our first batch of shirts. We quickly agreed on a startup cost of $1500, making it $500 a piece. I remember asking my mom for the cash, which she was not so thrilled about. Before that, she rarely bought my sister and I anything because money was really tight around the house so asking for $500 to start my own business was out of the question. But I convinced her to give me the money since she was a businesswoman herself. We went to downtown LA with a wad of cash in our pockets and sought out to buy blank t-shirts.
Looking back, we were just young kids with a dream and we made it happen. We bought 100 black shirts and a one-color press. With that, Allen’s uncle helped us make our first batch of shirts. I was convinced we were going to sell out of all the shirts our first day at Warped Tour. Allen couldn’t go so Julio and I drove down to Ventura and the people at the Negative Progression Records, who ran the Atomic Stage, gave us a table and a tent. We had a banner made a couple days earlier so we put that up to have some sort of presence. We didn’t bring a tablecloth so the shirts looked kind of funky on the table. People came by and really liked the designs but didn’t buy anything. I was really disappointed but at the same time, I couldn’t complain because we had free passes and a tent on Warped (which I found out later costs thousands of dollars). We got pretty big in our area and sponsored a few bands like Adelphi, With Broken Wings, and Amity. After that, I knew I wanted to work in the music industry. We ended Apathy Clothing after about two or three years because we all grew up and didn’t really have time to commit to it as much as we would like to. At times, I still wished we had it because it represented our youth and how we did things for ourselves instead of “the man.”
My next project was starting a website called The SoCal Scene. It was a website that listed all the shows in the Southern California area. Back in those days, the local scene was thriving and I started it so people could find out what shows were on any night of the week. I had known Evan from Amity for a while so I asked him if he could make the website for me and he did it for free. Since it didn’t have the ability to obtain shows automatically, I had to go to each venue’s website and enter it in individually which was a very tedious task. After a while, I wanted to add more content to the website so I started doing album reviews and interviews. I ended up interviewing a few big bands like Taking Back Sunday and Thrice despite how small my website was. One day, I emailed Jason Tate from Absolute Punk out of the blue and asked him if he was looking for any interviewers. He replied asking for some samples, which I sent him. After a few days, he emailed me back saying I was hired and from there I interviewed many more bands like Steel Train, The Format, Anberlin, etc. I think I did 30+ interviews in one year. I actually started visiting the website back in high school when It was a Blink 182 fan site so working for it was pretty surreal to me.
Evan knew a girl that worked as a marketing rep for Sony and wanted me to meet her so we could coordinate some contests for the website. Once I met her, I asked her about her job and she said there was a similar job available for college students at Sony. I told her I was really interested because I was working at a retail store at the time and I didn’t want to spend another minute folding shirts. She passed along my name to her bosses and I got a call one-day saying they wanted me to send them a cover letter and resume. Once they got that, I had a phone interview was hired as a “College Marketing Rep” for the Inland Empire (the area east of Los Angeles). This was my first real break in the music industry. There was a marketing rep for all major cities/markets in the United States. What we did was help promote and spread the word on artists in a variety of genres. Some you’ve heard of like Kings of Leon and John Mayer and some that are labeled “the next big band.” We did this through grass root/guerrilla marketing which means passing out promotional materials after shows, putting up posters in record stores, and getting their new album played in lifestyle accounts like coffee shops.This was very important to me later on because this helped me learn how to promote a band/record from the ground up. One thing I always tell people is to build a following organically. By doing so, you will have a fan base who will stick with you throughout your career instead of just having them buy one record and see a few shows and thats it.
A month after I was hired, the company flew all the college reps out to New York City for the College Music Journal (CMJ) conference. This was my first time on an airplane and first time leaving the state other than to Vegas and to Texas when I was really young. I gained a lot of knowledge working for Sony BMG (now called Sony Music). I got to experience the industry first hand and met a lot of people who were megastars like Rob Barnett (head of Columbia), Adele, and even Wyclef Jean. One of the many things I took away while at Sony is that working hard does pay off. All of my bosses started from the bottom of the company and worked hard to get to where they are. Unless your pops or uncle is a big wig at a label, you have to start at the bottom and work your ass off. This means being ruthless because there will be TONS of people competing for the same job. You have to find a way to stand out and if you cant, you will definitely get lost in the shuffle.
Through Sony and AbsolutePunk.net, I met tons of people. One of those people was Nathan Leone from the band, Madina Lake. I interviewed his band the previous year and had kept in contact for a while. At that time, I really wanted to tour because I wanted to get away from home for a little bit. Warped Tour was coming up and I was emailing everyone I knew to see if they or anyone they knew were looking for any crew members. I did this every year for about three years straight trying to look for a job on the tour. Nathan replied and said their crew was already full but I could come along for a month and blog/vlog the trip. They said they couldn’t pay me but they would give me my own bunk on the bus. I obviously said yes but I had some doubt that they would change their mind at any moment but I was wrong. I met them at the Fairplex in Pomona, CA the day before Warped Tour started (it was also the day Michael Jackson died). Everyone was really nice and I was really grateful to them for having me on board. I was supposed to be only blogging and what not but decided to help out with other stuff as the days went on. They were playing on the Ernie Ball stage, which meant they had to store their gear in their own trailer instead of semi-trucks like the bigger stages. This meant pushing everything including their marquee lights and equipment through the heat, rain, gravel, mud, uphill, etc. They had a tech and tour manager doing this along with the band members so I decided to help them without anyone asking. I had no idea what I was doing but did what I could and learned as much as I could like setting up guitars, amps, etc. I did this for about a week when Nathan pulled me aside saying how surprised they were at me for helping them and that they wanted me to stay on the whole tour. He said they still couldn’t pay me a salary but could give me per diems, which came out to $10 a day. So now, I went from making $0 a week to a whopping $70 a week. I didn’t care regardless because I was on Warped Tour and was traveling across the United States (and I guess, Canada).
After Warped ended, they asked me to go back out on tour with them on the Silverstein tour but I couldn’t because I was still going school. I told them I would be able to tour again the following spring. They contacted me again a few months later and asked me to come along to document their European tour. I had no idea what I was doing but I bought a $600 camera hoping it would make me look professional. Matthew called me a week before we left and said the guitar tech they were sharing with Mayday Parade bailed on them and they needed me to fill in for him. I am not a musician nor do I know anything about it so I was in over my head. I never tuned a guitar once in my life. I didn’t even know what an out of tune guitar sounded like compared to a tuned one but I said yes because I was a team player. I didn’t care and didn’t complain because they were giving me the opportunity to visit a different continent and I could learn from this experience.
This is going to sound very stupid and they are probably going to make fun of me for this but till this day, I am grateful for what they have done for me, bringing me out on Warped Tour and to Europe (thrice now!). And not to toot my own horn but I proved how hard a worker I was on Warped Tour by helping them push gear in the 100 degree heat every day for ten weeks. I did it knowing I wasn’t going to get paid. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be here today. And credit has to go to Nathan and Matthew too, because we had never met each other face to face before Warped Tour. I had only talked to them online. I remember their manager didn’t want me to come along because it would be a waste of money, which I agree with, but the twins still fought to get me on. This was all before they knew how much of a hard worker I was and I am glad they did it because they are all like brothers to me now and I would do anything for them.
Another band I interviewed while I was at Absolute Punk was Steel Train. I first met Evan Winiker at Bamboozle Left in 2008. I had interviewed the singer, Jack Antonoff, a few months earlier and Absolute Punk had a booth there so he came up and introduced himself to me. We talked for a bit and I added him on Facebook a few days later to keep in contact. After the spring 2010 tour with Madina Lake and Classic Crime, I was looking for another band to tour with since Madina said they were going to take some time off to write their record so I asked Evan asking if they needed any crew members for their upcoming headlining tour. He emailed me back and said they might be looking for someone and would get back to me. I thought he was just saying that to be nice and didn’t want to let me down by saying no but a few weeks later, he said they needed a merch guy so I quickly said yes. They had a festival show out in Huntington Beach two days before the tour started so that was my first official show with them. I got dropped off at Ev’s house and we carpooled to the festival. We got there a little late and all the roads were closed and tried to tell the security guards Evan was in a band that was about to play in 30 minutes. The guards kept telling us to “keep going” even though we didn’t know where to go since all the streets were closed. The conversation ended with Ev yelling, “go fuck yourself” to the security guard which I couldn’t stop laughing at.
After that show, we flew to New York to start the tour. For the first week or so, I just sold merch and that was it. I helped with loading in and out but I didn’t do anything on stage like guitar teching or anything like I did with Madina Lake. I don’t know why I started but I just did at one of the shows because the merch table was usually dead while they were playing. I had a lot of fun on that tour getting to know everyone in the band and traveling across the United States once again. Towards the end of the tour, I asked Ev if he thought the band would be taking me out on the road again and he said absolutely. Once he said that, I brought up the idea of me taking over as tour manager. Up until that point, the guitarist, Daniel, was tour managing the band as well and I knew he didn’t want to do both jobs because it was stressing him out.
I got word that I was going to be taking over as tour manager for our next tour with Fun so I was going to be the merch guy/stage guy/tour manager. This was a really stressful tour because I had no down time at all. Basically, when we would arrive at the venue, I would help load in, set up equipment, and set up merch. Usually, when I was done with those things, it would be time for doors to open so I couldn’t leave the venue or anything because I had to watch the merch table. I learned so much and got help from Daniel like how to advance shows, settling after the show, etc.
I toured with Steel Train for only a year but we went through a lot like getting to be on Conan’s show twice, playing at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the van breaking down and getting stuck in the middle of nowhere with the Wizard’s insulin pump not working. I also got to tour along side some of my favorite bands like The Get Up Kids and Jack’s Mannequin.
Right before I started to tour, I began managing different bands, which taught me a whole different side of the music industry. One day I was talking to my friend Julio and he said there was this new band in our area called The Malheruex and that I should manage them. I checked them out on MySpace and wasn’t a fan of the three song demo they had up on the page but I could hear the potential so I sent them a message asking for their number. Omar, their bassist, responded and I gave him a call a few days later and gave him “the pitch.” It wasn’t much of one but it worked because they became the first real band I managed.
I worked with them for about two years and I learned a lot from the whole experience. Parents always say go to school so you can learn, but that didn’t work out for me. I learned by doing. I am not saying school isn’t important but there are many things you can’t learn in a classroom and vice versa. You need to do it so you can understand it. I tell people to go out there and start doing whatever it is that makes you happy and you will learn a lot. Want to be a photographer? Go outside and start taking pictures. Get a photo-editing program and learn everything about it. You don’t need a fancy camera or computer to do that. Once you mastered everything you know about picture taking, then you can get a high-end camera that suits your needs.
While I was working with The Malheruex, I worked with a few other bands doing publicity for them so I could gain more experience. One of these bands was called The Jakes (now called Young the Giant). This was one of the first bands in my life that I listened to and knew they were going to be HUGE (it’s 2012 and they are on top of the world). Another band was called The Motel Life. They were a newer band and I think they found me through The Jakes, which meant my work was paying off if other bands were recognizing my name (#humblebrag). They have been together as a band for about a year before I started working with them but they haven’t done a lot other than putting out an EP and a short West Coast tour. I did their press for about six months when I decided to see if they wanted me to manage them. One of the main reasons why I wanted to do so was because they were a really hardworking band and booked two tours on their own. They didn’t rely on someone else to book it for them. As of today, they have been on five+ self booked tours, put out a full-length record, and two EP’s. They took matters into their own hands and did whatever they could to promote their band.
I don’t think I would be able to do what I do today if it wasn’t for my motivation and determination. I have no musical background other than playing in concert band in elementary and middle school (I was a percussionist). Other than that, I had absolutely no contacts at all when I started out. My pops wasn’t a big wig at a record label. My uncle wasn’t Berry Gordy. No book, website, blog, etc. could have taught me to do any of these things. I just knew I wanted to work in the music industry and did what I could to do just that. I still don’t make a lot of money but I would never trade any of those moments for anything in the world.