Fame, Assholes and the Music Business

One of the most interesting, yet sad, things to see is how people can change when they get a taste of fame and fortune. Regardless of how nice you might think you are, there’s a little piece of shit inside of you, always lurking, looking for a moment to come out and shine.

We are obsessed with fame, so much so that many are willing to do just about anything merely to be near someone “famous”. This is the result of a societal change in which we have replaced the nobilities of old (the inbred, hemophiliac royal families) with a new one, made up of sports stars, musicians and actors (and, increasingly, YouTube celebrities).

If you are a "Youtube Celebrity" I hope you'll commit suicide. Especially if you do "let's play" videos.
Are a “Youtube Celebrity”? Please kill yourself. Especially if you do “let’s play” videos. Image by CartoonsByKristopher

There are many who think that if you can’t be famous yourself (or don’t really feel like putting in the hours to achieve that goal) simply being close to someone who is himself famous is enough. Published research backs this assertion, with surveys of teenage girls showing that that the large majority (43.4%) would like to grow up to be “the personal assistant to a very famous celebrity or movie star,” instead of being “the chief of a major company” (9.5%), “a Navy Seal” (9.8%), “a United States Senator” (13.6%) or “the president of a great university like Harvard or Yale” (23.7%).  Not surprisingly, these feelings of desire for fame are particularly strong among unpopular kids, or kids with low self-esteem. Being in the spotlight is rewarding, I’m sure, and if you’ve been at the bottom of the social pyramid all your life, I can see the allure.

The problem comes with the way people behave once they are granted this very special and unique access into the world of fame. They have somehow become something different from what they were before; they are no longer one more member of the unwashed masses who look up to those reveling in fame; they are, if they played their cards right, holding the keys to the kingdom. And while there are those who hold these keys nicely, many become immediately drunk with the power that comes with them.

Bob Hare, the author of the (often controversial) Psychopath Test, has argued that controlling access can be extremely tempting for narcissists, as well as full blown psychopaths. He explains that “a lot of psychopaths become gatekeepers, concierges, security guards, masters of their own domains.” It is this newfound ability of controlling who gets to see the star that often drives people mad with this thing they feel is “power”. It’s “the gatekeeper syndrome”.

By its very nature, the music business is rife with gatekeepers, and it won’t take very long before you have to meet one who enjoys his role a little bit too much, and who’ll enjoy just being an asshole to you. Label representatives, tour managers, security guards, stage managers, photographers, even the dude who has to give you your press pass at the venue; all of them are people who, more often than not, will be quite unlikeable. Just because they can get away with it.

I’ve always taken pride on the fact that I am very nice to people with whom I have a professional relation. From the waiters at a restaurant, to the people in different departments of the company where I work, to my students, to the people I contact because of the magazine; I try to go a little bit above what’s required of me in terms of politeness. This is not because I’m really  a nice person (that’s not for me to decide, and I’m sure there are many who’ll argue that I’m actually shit) but rather because I feel that if you treat people decently, they’re more likely to cooperate with you. It’s a social quid-pro-quo. If you are nice to me, I’m much more likely to give you a hand in the future; at the same time, if I’m nice to you, I expect that you’ll reply in kind.

This system often fails to work in the music business, because you’ll encounter people who will never need you again, or who are in such a dominant position that they know that you have no alternative but to deal with them. You don’t like how an important label treats you? Well, good luck getting access to their promos again if you decide to complain. You think a tour manager is an asshole? Well, let him know and enjoy never again shooting or interviewing the band.

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU WANT AN INTERVIEW!?" Source.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU WANT AN INTERVIEW!?” Source.

While there are many label representatives, managers and tour managers with whom I’ve always had a wonderful relationship (Charles at Nuclear Blast, Wilko, Nikki and Jon at Century Media, Mike and Mona and Napalm records, Ron at Aces High PR, the PR people at Soundwave, Hellfest and Wacken, to name a few), in my experience they are the minority. There is such little incentive to not be an asshole to people, that many simply seem to forget that this is supposed to be a symbiotic relationship. We all have the same interest, to bring nice music, to the great family that is the metal community, and if we can’t even work together in decent terms, then our chances of doing this properly end up being reduced.

Sometimes this also happens with the musicians themselves, who seem to live so high up their own asses, that they look at their fans no longer as the people who brought them there, but just as “clients”. I’ve had great experiences working with some bands, and terrible experiences working with others. For every famous musician who sees you as his equal, there are dozens who see their fanbase as a hunting ground for jailbait fans, or who will not even let a fan take a photo with them.

I’m not asking you to be a great person. Just don’t be a fucking asshole.

Sources:

Halpern, Jake, Fame Junkies, p. xiv.

Gardner, Howard; Davis, Katie, The App Generation, p. 72

Ronson, Jon, The Psychopath Test, p. 255.

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Considered by his mother as the brightest and prettiest boy, J's interest in metal started in his early teens, listening to bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica (coupled with an embarrassing period in which Marilyn Manson "totally represents me, man") eventually moving into the realm of power, black, and death metal. He holds a PhD in law, trains martial arts, practices law, and enjoys coming up with excuses as to why he has to miss work after going to a concert. He also dabbles as a concert photographer, you can see his sub-par work on his instagram.