I’ve worked in a couple of music stores. Back in the day. The first time around I was a student and it was part-time work and it was great and the perks (beyond the then-crucial “Staff Discount”) amounted to some signed CDs now and then, a few promo/advance copies and a few free gig tickets. All great perks by the way. I’m not knocking it – it was a big part of how I got by then, and it was always a treat. I got to take home a copy of Faith No More’s Album of The Year before it was sale, same too with Radiohead’s OK Computer. This was a big deal back then. I appreciated it.
Flash forward a few years – I’ve finished uni, I’ve been supporting myself by playing covers, touring around the central north island as part of an Irish band. I’m starting to do a bit of freelance writing. But I need a job – again.
I’ve worked in a bookstore and a video store – and that early experience of working in a music store. So I apply for a job at a CD store. And I get it. Happy days. I start right at the very end of the year (I think New Year’s Eve might have been my first day actually, I vaguely recall negotiating an early finish to go and set up for a marathon New Year’s Eve gig with the Irish Band). Anyway, I hit the ground running with this new job – in the new year – and in a matter of 8 or 10 weeks or something I get promoted to store manager. My own shop to run. And hopefully not run into the ground.
And at this point I’m getting established as a reviewer too. I’m in the paper every week with CD reviews – the odd feature and gig review too. I’ll get up early in the morning to do a phone interview with one of the members of a band called Doves. I talk to Shaznay from The All Saints on the phone. So it’s nothing too exciting…
Although one time I talk to Alex Van Halen. That’s quite exciting!
But it’s all straight forward. I work the day job – and love it. I sell CDs. And – particularly – DVDs. They’re the new format and they’re racing out the door as people decide they need to have every concert film ever and all the old movies. And that’s a big part of the business. And it’s going great.
The wee store hums along just nicely, thanks. I import a bunch of jazz records – for one or two keen customers, but mostly for myself. And we have a good crew. They know what to do. They can help in any emergency – need a song from a soundtrack, can’t find the right compilation, inquiring about a single from 17 years earlier and wondering why it can’t just be magicked up for you on the spot; these guys and girls behind the counter have the answer. Usually. Or can get it. Or get close to it. Even if you are only humming a single line that never quite existed from an utter obscurity.
The perks are much the same – staff discount, a few promo copies, the odd gig ticket. Good-good.
But then something happens. These sales competitions start. The head office does deals with record companies – gets freebies to offer as incentives…
Carly Binding was in the band TrueBliss – a Reality TV construct that aimed to be taken nearly-seriously for a bit. Carly’s reputation was as one of the bitchy TV characters. She was painted that way, anyway.
She was also breaking out as a ‘serious’ solo artist. Putting the show and the band behind her and singing her songs with her guitar…
Her album was pretty middling, pretty bland. Girl with a guitar, dime a dozen – nothing to stand out. Not in that crowd. Not when you could play anything by Aimee Mann in an instant. Or anyone else, pretty much…
Anyway, the head office sets up this contest with the record company; an in-house thing for our stores. It’s simple. Play the album every lunch-hour – in retail a lunch-hour is two hours, by the way. So, play Carly’s barely legally binding set of middle-of-the-road originals for some part of the two-hour lunch rush and hope to receive a call from the record company. They ask you what is playing. You turn it up and tell them, with pride, “Oh, it’s only Carly Binding’s terrific new album, Passenger; yours for just $24.99, it’s got this pretty fly single, ‘We Kissed’, that’s dope-as-shit right there”. Or, erm, you know, whatever it is you say…
You get the call, you prove you’re playing it, you get a tick. This goes on for two weeks. And some of the stores in the chain declare themselves out – can’t be fucked listening to this shit when there’s anything else.
Others go hard – in the name of friendly competition and the aim of driving sales.
The prize is a DVD player with home theatre surround sound speakers. This is pretty blingy in 2003!
Look it probably fell off the back of a truck and into the hands of a record company MD – and if it didn’t it wasn’t a lot of money for all the free marketing…26 stores all playing the album during peak-traffic at a time when people forked over $20-30 for a CD or two once or twice a week or so…
I am in it to win it. I’m sole charge in the store during those hours and I don’t give a fuck what I listen to. I’ve been reviewing music for a few years already and have listened to all sorts of hideous garbage. You want me to listen to Vengaboys, New Kids, R. Kelly, Take That…I’ll take it. Take it all. I’ll play Coltrane or Coldplay. I don’t care. It’s for the customers first and foremost and to ease the boredom occasionally. You tune it out pretty quickly.
Oh – I forgot to mention – completely unrelated to all of this I am also reviewing the new Carly Binding CD, Passenger. Yeah, the newspaper’s given me a copy…
So this is pretty good timing. I get to listen to it more than I normally would with a review-album and I’m on the clock. It’s like the best-paid reviewing gig ever.
The record company rings me every day for 10 days or 15 days or 20 days and every fucking day, every fucking time, I am playing the shit out of this Carly Binding CD (and there’s a LOT of shit on it. But, hey, it’s Alright With Me…
I win the prize. It’s announced. It’s official. I win the DVD-thingy. Jubilation!
On that very same day that it’s announced, my review of the Carly Binding album is in Wellington’s newspaper. 1 star. A total dud. A fucking turkey. A piece of shit. Embarrassment. Why did she bother? And who thought this was a good idea? And fuck those idiots, and she’s awful and this isn’t music and if you think it is much less like it you’re a wally. Or whatever…can’t remember what I said but I’m sure that’s how it was interpreted.
Holy shit-and-fuck the people at the record company were not happy! They Were Not Happy. (They weren’t often that happy).
They rang my boss and said no way. He’s not getting the fucking thing. He’s not worthy. He’s a piece of shit. He set this up.
My boss emails me: you did this on purpose? You planned this? They’re not happy. (Are they ever that happy?) Etc…
I write back, “C’mon bub, gimme the damn shiny thing. I won that shit so fair, so square. The competition never said I couldn’t review it – you think I plan when the reviews run then you definitely do know more than me. a the album is a piece of shit in quite another forum has nothing to do with me playing that shit all the time for a time. Gimme that DVD thing. And its speakers too. Me want!”
So, me got.
But only after they yelled on about it being a conflict-of-interest. That they saw it as a conflict was, I guess, mildly interesting. And I would go on to have many other issues and examples where people who talked all day about how reviews didn’t matter would decide, in a random-instant, that suddenly – and for a limited time only – reviews did fucking matter!
But fuck they whinged. They whined. And I dined out on it. Remarkably, some 14 years later I decided it’d be worth telling the story. Not sure if it was worth it. But it’s done now. You can tell me if you thought it was worth it.
But one thing is certain. This was never about Carly Binding. A nearly innocent bystander. A passenger.