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My Job At A Record Label Makes Me Cry — But I Won't Quit

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Photographed by Getty Images.
Refinery29’s Assistant Living asks assistants to talk about themselves for once — offering truthful, no-frills insight into the time before fame and fortune. What’s it like working next to the dream job? They talk; we listen.

For our sixth instalment, we talk to L, 23, assistant publicist at a major record label, about the nature of change — and how FaceTiming with parents, nightly beauty masks, and an occasional shower-cry can be tickets to a smooth transition.

What do you do exactly?
"I am a junior publicist at a major music label. So what that means is that I do publicity for new signees, as well as share projects with senior publicists who have too much work. So if there’s a big artist they need help with, then I’ll help them."

How long have you worked there?
"About a year. "

Do you like your job?
"Yes. Well, I have two feelings about my job: I have my weekday feelings and my weekend feelings. My weekday self cries after work pretty much every day. It’s not about anything in particular, but there’s something within me that demands a good post-work cry. So I leave work, go home, have a cathartic sob, usually in the shower, and then I watch TV until I feel like I don’t exist. Sometimes I FaceTime with my mother. I also always do a mask. Every single night.

"Then there’s my weekend self (and occasional Wednesday or Thursday self) who enters into Friday like, 'WHAT’S POPPING I LOVE MY JOB. Let’s party, life is great.'"

How was work today?
"It sucked. I was given a big 'no.' To give you some context: Around the time I started, I was basically asked to make a band that’s uncool cool. Which is a pretty major rebrand. So we spent a lot of time devoted to this — organising shoots in L.A., drawing up contracts, getting the band’s social engagement up. And today it all just fell apart. Something that I’m learning is that people will just say “no” to things with no explanation. 'This is not the right look,' is apparently reason enough to scrap an entire project. But that’s just an aspect of any creative job — it’s all about a feeling. And I know it happens, but it was sort of the first thing that I had nurtured."

Typical 9-5?
"Yes, except for that it’s 10-6. But, for example, if I have an artist who’s performing on a morning show or evening show, I’ll have to be there. So if they’re doing The Today Show or Good Morning America, I have to wake up at 4 a.m. or 3 a.m. and go to the set. This happens once or twice a month. The morning appearances are mostly for artists who are a little less current — and these are my artists. They’re sort of for older artists who we’re trying to keep relevant."

Describe your workspace.
"I work in a cubicle inside a corporate office in Times Square. And let me say, I LOVE having a cubicle. I am ALL ABOUT an office job. I hate working from home. I’ve tried it. It’s just not for me. I end up eating like 14 snacks — I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ll end up at CVS in the middle of the day on Tuesday, just wandering the aisles. But when you’re in an office, working in this cubicle under fluorescent light, you have no option but to do your work. This is not to say I like Times Square. I hate Times Square. It’s horrible. I get spit on most days. Pushed around. And then there are the tourists with their selfie sticks. It’s a fucking nightmare."

Something that I’m learning is that people will just say 'no' to things with no explanation. 'This is not the right look,' is apparently reason enough to scrap an entire project.


What’s your salary?
"It varies. It’s dependent on whether or not I have an artist who’s successful... But my baseline salary is £38k. I haven’t had a hit artist yet, so I’m not sure exactly how it works. But having a hit artist comes with lots of perks. Like if you get the cover of Rolling Stone, they’ll give you a couple more vacation days and a raise."

Did you always know this was the industry for you?
"I have been doing music journalism pretty much since high school, so I’ve always had an interest in the field. But being a journalist is hard, especially as a recent graduate. You’re freelance, you’re not making enough money, you’re constantly looking for the next gig. So music publicity seemed like a nice bridge between what I need and what I want to do. It’s communicating about music. What I’m learning is certainly valuable."

Unexpected nuances to the job?
"What I didn’t really know, and what I’m learning now is that music publicity is a lot less social than publicity in other industries. Like fashion publicity is all about being at the right place at the right time — showing up at this or that show. And even though there is that element in music publicity, it’s a lot more about knowing people at certain websites — and communicating online. It’s all about music blogs.

"I’m learning a lot about the sensitivities surrounding approaches to the music blog world: If you’re reaching out to someone at Pitchfork, you never want them to feel like you’re pitching something to them. You have to sort of plant seeds to make it seem organic — like they discovered it on their own. Because Pitchfork is so obsessed with discovery and pioneering. Whereas a website like Complex — they’re a little bit more open to being pitched to. So it’s figuring out who on the web wants what.

"But when an album comes out, you refer to Pitchfork. When we’re in a board meeting, no one cares what any other publication has to say."

Most disenchanting aspect of the job?
"Everything today, and in the music industry especially, is about engagement factor — what gets a person to learn more about a band after they’ve listened to a song. Yes, a band can get a certain amount of numbers on Spotify, but if they can’t upkeep an engagement factor that makes someone look at an album cover and say, 'Oh wow, this song’s on this playlist', their Instagram is popping, then they aren’t going to be truly 'successful.' It’s all about branding. And it’s all about what’s trendy. And it’s all connected. And it’s all impossible."

Tell me about your bosses.
"I love the people I work for. I feel really grateful toward everyone in my department — they’re pretty much lovely and helpful across the board. I think it’s attributed to the fact that a lot of people who work there have worked there their whole lives. Which is nice because it shows that it’s a place people want to stick around.

"I also feel very fortunate getting to work under two women. Two inspiring powerhouses, I might add. They have the most incredible resumes, and they’ve been working there for 20-something years. They just see me as a young woman trying to figure things out and they want to guide me. I think, at the risk of making a sexist assumption, they feel this maternal responsibility toward me. I mean, they both have kids my age, so they’re inherently caring and I feel very lucky.

"With that being said, I have seen them being super hard on some of the interns. God, the plight of the intern. You couldn’t pay me to go back."

How are the clients?
"Well, I’ve encountered two kinds of talent. The kind that’s old fashioned and doesn’t really understand how the music industry has evolved since their last success. So they’re sort of holding onto this idea of how things worked back then, when it’s no longer how things work now. Because from CD, to digital, to streaming, EVERYTHING has changed. So it’s frustrating because while they’re so much more seasoned than me, and deserve to be treated with respect, at the same time you have to sit them down like children and try and explain how things are different now. But they’re also teaching you so much simultaneously so it’s all about striking this delicate balance.

"The second group of talent are the young industry people. And they’re frustrating in a different way. They’re millennial stereotypes in that they think they know everything. I’m trying to figure out a way to phrase this in a diplomatic way — in a way that articulates how they’re pretty much just huge tools without saying exactly that...Arrogant, rude...I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman and that’s an excuse to dismiss everything I bring to the table, or what. But sometimes I really feel like I have to fight to be taken seriously, and I never really feel that way with older talent. These young kids are so much more interested in socials and engagement factors than they are about the music itself and it’s pretty depressing."

How is your company coping with the changing music industry?
"As well as any large corporation adapts to change. Slowly. But change is happening — even though oftentimes change means sacrifice. Like, for example, I have this artist who is such a talent — beautiful (not that that should be what’s most important) and smart and insanely promising. So I walked into some meetings with some major fashion publications, and their reaction was sort of shocking. After pretending to listen to the music for 30 seconds, they ask their question: How many Instagram followers does she have. And it’s low — because she’s new and this is her first single and she’s 18 years old...and they’re like, I’m sorry, you can come back when she’s gained more traction. It’s crazy."

Do you interact with talent directly?
"Yes. Usually the people I spend time with one-on-one are new signees — artists who, as a rule, barely even know what they want to do. So we sit down and talk and a lot of it is just getting them to trust me and the company and to show that we care about music— their music. But when we’re meeting with larger acts, I’ll shadow one of the senior publicists. And I’ll chime in when I have something to say but for the most part, I’m quiet."

Most outrageous experience?
"I got put on a project for a rapper’s album. The senior publicist who I was working under had a conflict, so I was covering for him by myself. The shoot was at night — it was supposed to be a club scene with everyone drinking and having fun. And it’s customary that after the shoot everyone goes out together afterwards.

"So as I was about to go to the shoot, the senior publicist who shared the project with me called me, and he was like, look, I wanna be honest with you: Be careful. Don’t speak to any of these guys out of office hours, and I recommend that you leave the shoot after because they can get really wild and I don’t want you to be in an uncomfortable position. And even though I knew that this was coming from a good place, it also felt like this incredibly sexist preconceived notion that I can’t fend for myself. And that I don’t know how to protect myself. Like if men are hitting on me, I won’t know how to resist!

"It was a very eye-opening experience. I just also thought that that kind of dynamic would no longer be a part of the industry, which I’m realising is so totally naive. You spend so much time in college learning about the politics surrounding male and female dynamics but you don’t really know how that will apply to the workforce until you’re in it. And it’s really interesting to see what elapses when you’re not in a safe, academic discussion-based environment — it was kind of a rude awakening! I can take care of myself! And the shoot was fine.

Perks of the job? Pitfalls?
"Let me start with the perks: What I love about this job is that you’re working with so many artists — the range is so diverse. But then, shifting quickly to the pitfalls, there are inevitably so many artists who you don’t and just cannot connect with at all--and then you’re in a meeting, trying to pitch their music, this song that you hate, and you have to pretend that you like it, that sucks. Especially because you have to be convincing about it . You’re basically lying, which can feel particularly draining. But then a song that you love will come out and you’ll be like, fuck yes. This is why I work here.

"This rapper who I’m obsessed with came into the office last week. He went to every desk and said thank you to every employee. So gracious. So important. I mean he’s literally our bread and butter. And so to think that he’s also humble is pretty amazing."

What have you learned there about fame?
"I’ve learned that being famous is really hard. You see a lot of young people who are thrust into the spotlight and who immediately crack. It’s anxiety-inducing and depressing. Being famous can make you really paranoid. And it’s just sad to see these super young people, my age, just losing it. It’s confirmed that I definitely do not have any interest in being famous. There are some people who do it right. I think the key is maintaining a measure of privacy.

"I was listening in on an interview with a big boy band, and they start talking about the election. And it’s my job to be like, nope — you are not qualified to talk about that. Please stop. In publicity you get to see how quickly fame can turn on talent — one misstep and you’re dealing with a media shitstorm. But it’s hard because you want them to be their own person, but if they say some dumb shit, that’s on you! So it’s a difficult balance to strike."

Dream job?
"I guess what it’s always been, which is to run a music blog. A successful one."

Any advice to impart upon a young person entering into the workforce?

"When you’re starting out somewhere just be super humble, ask a lot of questions — be curious! Remember that you don’t know shit. You can love something and study something, but it’s a completely other ball game once you start actually working within the industry. I went into this job thinking I knew everything when in fact I knew nothing. And I just have so much to learn. Oh and get in before everyone gets in and leave after everyone leaves. Prove yourself!"

Do you socialise with your coworkers outside of the office?
"Yes! And it’s weird. It’s a strangely competitive environment. Within the music industry all of your goals are linked — so hanging out outside of that is disorienting. It’s like, what’s our goal here?"

Do you see yourself staying with this industry?
"I dunno! Sometimes I wake up and I want to die at the prospect of returning to Times Square, and then other days I’m like this is so cool and I’m so glad that this is what I’m doing. I’m taking the skills that I’ve been fine-tuning since high school and applying them to a very real job — and that feels fucking good. I feel like I’m in the music journalism world, but I’m also getting paid."
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