What my side jobs taught me about music: part 2

This is a sequel to my previous post about lessons I learned in my random jobs. You’ll see…I’ve had quite a few. Let’s continue, shall we?

The limits of technology and order: lessons as a library book shelver

My very first job was shelving books at the local library. Once books were checked in, they were placed on different carts: adult fiction, adult nonfiction, and children’s books. My job was to organize a cart, then put the books out on the shelves. If there was extra time, I did “shelf reading”–going through the stacks to see if books were misplaced. Obviously, the kids area needed this the most, because it’s fun to pull out all of the books at once, right?

I was also dispatched by information specialists to find requested books, and occasionally, to fax over photocopies or microfiche slides. You may not remember fax machines, but these encoded pictures and sent them over the phone lines. They weren’t exactly hi-definition. And when you were sending a photocopy over fax…it looked like crap on the other end. I remember many times people making me send these over and over, when they were at another library only 15 minutes away. They could have just swung by and picked up a clear copy. I learned early on that people expect miracles from technology and really don’t understand its limitations.

The customer is wrong: lessons as a record store clerk

I worked for about three years as a record store clerk, at 3 different stores (2 different companies). With discounts and used items, it really helped me expand my music collection (we used to pay for music–what a thought!). In some ways, I look back on these jobs as a necessary paying-of-dues for any musician. Records store clerk and barista are the default “day jobs,” right? 

Some days have very few customers, very little inventory to put out, etc. But you needed to be ready, just in case. I learned how to deal with tedium. I also learned a lot about dealing with customers. People won’t read signs, assume every price is negotiable, think they are smarter than you, and demand satisfaction in ways you can’t provide. If you work in a corporate store, you have no control over policies and prices. You say “I’m sorry, that’s just the policy” a lot.

“Customer is not always right” probably needs its own post…

At the third record store I worked, I was on the shipping & receiving team. Mostly I dealt with inventory, scanning in new items, and assembling marketing displays. At first, I worked starting at 7am and the store opened at 10am. Those 3 hours without customers were always so productive. 

This was right after college and before grad school. I essentially worked full-time, but the “retail” version of full time. In other words, I worked something like 34.5 hours a week–just under the threshold for paying benefits. I was still on my parent’s health insurance, but this taught me clearly how the corporate world does not care one whit about its workers. Did I mention it was just barely above minimum wage? I saw people have their hours reduced, just to get them to quit. If these tactics don’t get you to be on the workers’ side rather than owners/management side, I don’t know what will.

The joy of autonomy: lessons in newspaper delivery

Two summers during college I delivered newspapers. At that time, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a morning and afternoon edition. I worked in the afternoon so I didn’t need to be up at 4am, thankfully. This was a roughly 3-4 hour shift. I show up, stuff the newspapers in bags, and load them into my car’s front seat. Then I had a little book which had turn-by-turn directions and helpful hints like “no number visible–green mailbox.”

I really enjoyed the autonomy of this job. I was done as quickly as I could get it done. I listened to tons of radio, but also popped in these tapes of “great composers” my parents had laying around. As a music student, it was great to help me internalize more repertoire. After a couple weeks of the same route, I had it memorized, which was freeing because I didn’t have to think too much. Although I didn’t have managers watching every move, they would receive calls from customers who didn’t get their paper. So I learned to do my job well even without supervision.

Variety within monotony: playing in a band at Six Flags

The summer before my senior year of college, I had an awesome job playing keyboards in a band at Six Flags. While the theme park has a number of theatrical shows, having a band playing outside was a new experiment. We played covers of middle-of-the-road songs, old and new. Huey Lewis, Santana, Train, things like that. After two weeks of rehearsals, we played four 20-minute sets a day, then played backup for a different show at closing time.

This job paid $11 an hour, the most I had ever made, and of course, it was for playing music! Naturally I had a blast. It taught me two important lessons: the joy of “having it down” and the joy of variety in repetition. We basically played the same set every time, so we knew the songs very well. However, we took short solos during an “introduce the band” bit, and we goofed around, traded instruments, and did Muppet impressions. I’d lose my mind playing the same set of songs any longer, but for one summer, it was great.

What odd jobs have you had, and what did you learn from them?

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