Be Nice. And Don't Call Record Labels.

I once had a job that required me to call clubs all over the country and ask them whether or not they had a mechanical bull.  If there’s any question in the world that sounds more like a prank call than that one, please tell me what it is, because I have yet to encounter one that even comes close.  I got some interesting responses.  Especially when I had the wrong number.  It's one thing if you call a bar and ask if they have a mechanical bull.  It’s a whole other, weirder thing if you call a jazz lounge or a Mexican immigrant (both numbers I actually called) and present this inquiry.  

For weeks I sat at my phone, dialing numbers and bracing myself for unpleasant conversation.  Some people hung up without a word.  Most people made me feel like a crazy person.  One guy made me feel a little less crazy (relative to him) when he told me he did not have a mechanical bull, but he had a real bull… does that count?  No sir.  That does not count.  And very rarely, someone would be really nice and say sorry, they didn’t have one, and then we would have a little conversation about my project.  In about sixty seconds these martyrs gave me enough cheer to get me through four more hours of calls.  That’s when I learned it’s not inconvenient to be nice.  It’s just not.   

Those enchanted weeks spent as a professional prank-caller prepared me for a future job I would hold: being a receptionist.  Once on the other end of the receiver, I was almost annoyingly friendly to every caller, desperate to add a little cheer to his or her day.  Or at the very least, not take any away.  Most of my day was spent transferring calls from people with lots of money to people with lots money, so they could have conversations about getting more money.  (Sadly, they never included me on these little talks).  Those calls were easy to handle.  Then, approximately one out of every ten calls was a wrong number.  Among those callers, there were two main groups.

First, there was the spider enthusiast.  The Museum of Natural History misprinted their number in a pamphlet about a spider exhibit, and it turns out that people actually read those things, because I got over a hundred calls from people wanting to learn more about spiders.  I could have hung up on them or been like, “I don’t know anything about spiders, you freak” and then hung up on them.  Or I could have shared my plethora of spider fun facts, like if you step on it, it dies.  But instead, I gave them the correct number in the jolliest tone, and off they went, skipping all the way to the spider exhibit.    

The second group was the wannabe music star.  My people.  (Except not really).  One of our lines used to belong to a record label, and the mumbly men of America don’t seem to have updated phone books.  98 percent of them would call asking for a record deal, sounding like they just woke up from a winter-long snooze and hadn’t yet removed the pillow from over their mouths.  And I'm ashamed to say, after all my pledges to be nice on the phone, it took a lot of effort to keep from listing off advice in a very annoyed voice.  Here's what I wanted to say:

Piece of advice #1: Do not call a record label.  They will never accept an artist from an unsolicited call.

Piece of advice #2: Should you choose to ignore my first piece of advice, do 30 seconds of research and find out if the label is still in existence.  It’s unlikely they’ll sign you if they don’t exist.

Piece of advice #3: Again, if you’re foolishly ignoring the #1 rule here, at least sit up straight and speak clearly.  I can’t see you through the phone, but I know you're not sitting at a desk.  You sound like you’re getting a full-body massage.  Give me a reason not to hang up on you.

Piece of advice #4: Stop ignoring my first piece of advice!  Don’t call a record label!!!

But I didn’t say these things.  Instead I gathered up all the fake pep I could and said, “I’m sorry, but this isn’t a record label.  I think you have an old number.”  And occasionally, when I was feeling generous, I’d say, “Good luck!”  And then I'd hang up before they could hear "you're gonna need it" following just behind.   

People don't always make it easy to be nice.  Like the person who interrupts your day to ask if you have a mechanical bull, for example.  It can take a lot of effort to understand why that person is bothering you with such nonsense.  But it doesn't take a lot of effort to smile, say something simple and kind, and keep moving along.  It could mean so much more to that person than we realize.

And for the days when we need a little extra incentive than merely making someone's day... a week after I started giving out the correct number to the Museum of Natural History, they called and gave me a free membership to the museum!  Now I can look at spiders for free in places other than my apartment any time I want.  You see?  Being nice benefits everyone.

Morals of the story:  Be nice.  And don’t call record labels.

Love Love Love,

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  1. I have been thinking a lot about having these short business interactions with people, receptionists, cashiers, wait staff, etc. It makes a big difference when they treat me like a person so I try to treat them like people. I make eye contact and at least pleasantries if not conversation. .

    Advice #2 is phrased exactly the way I write. Please do not go and rethink your entire life now.

  2. Totally! It makes SUCH a big difference :) And hahaha, Gordon. I'm not rethinking, don't worry :) Thanks for reading and commenting!!

  3. I'm gonna hit it big! Just have to call all these labels....

    1. Hahaha.. please see Rules Number 1 and 4 ;)

  4. Why would anyone ever call a record label? That's insanity! Believe me, as a booking person, I am totally fed up with people bugging me for gigs when a) they are heavy metal, rap, or midget wrestlers, etc. b) we have a gig already booked for that night, or c) they're asking for a gig on a night or even a month when we don't have shows. Do your homework people! Why waste anyone's time? It doesn't take much to look at a website and gather what kind of music they present and when they present and to read their booking guiidelines. Don't come looking for gigs for a 225 seat room when you've only played the farmer's market 150 mile away. Common sense goes a long way. End of rant.