Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Black Rocker and The A&R Man

Charles and I at Boston Warped Tour, 2007

Charles, member of UnderOath, me, Boston Warped Tour 2007

Me, guy from Hawthorne Heights, Charles. Boston Warped Tour 2007

My work day today has been mostly sending e-mails and following up on current projects, so I've spent a lot of time under my head phones listening to music from 9-10 years ago. All of the nostalgia reminded me of a time in 2007 when I realized how utterly done I was with the ripe old age of 16.

Luke(my "boss") and I had driven to Manhattan from northern Massachusetts with a now-deceased musician called Charles. Charles was the member of a band called Easton Legacy, a band whose music sounded like many of the other "scene" bands of that era. Charles, as a person, was smart, quick-witted, and charming, as well as a talented musician.

Charles was also black.

We arrived to the office of Hollywood Records, a record label owned by Disney. I don't remember much about the place, other than that it was awfully dark, and that we took the fastest elevator I'd ever been on to get there.

We went into a room with a guy who was, at the time, head of A&R. I want to say his named started with a V. Before we began alking, Mr. V made a comment about how Hollywood "mostly only worked with pop artists", and I thought nothing of it. Charles placed a copy of his band's CD on Mr. V's desk, and we began to talk a bit about the band.

After about 15 minutes, Mr. V looked right at us and said "This all sounds nice, but we don't really work with rap artists."

I looked over at Charles, who was dressed as plain as could be, wearing a basic t-shirt and jeans. The hat he'd been wearing outside was placed in his lap, and his backpack was resting against his chair. During this entire encounter, Charles had spoken as clearly and eloquently as a 20-something musician could. Nothing about how he acted, or what he wore,or how he presented himself would have given anyone the impression that he was a rap artist, or even trying to market himself as anything near a rap artist.

To the head of A&R for one of the world's most successful and profitable record companies, however, the color of Charles's skin was enough to somehow automatically "know" what kind of artist he was, and that Hollywood Records would have no place for him or any of his projects.

We spent the rest of the day showcasing to a few other people, even getting to go to Big Blue Meanie studios and meet Geoff Rickly and Sal Villanueva, and headed back to Massachusetts in the evening, never to speak of what had happened in that office again.

Charles has been dead for a few years now, so I'll never have the chance to ask him how this experience made him feel. As for me, though, it helped me, a young, enthusiastic, curious, and albeit naive industry hopeful realize that racism and prejudices against people of color are everywhere, and that even those who are assumed to be knowledgeable and open to new things aren't always as open as they'd want one to believe.

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