Rockin’ Out in The D
Well, it’s my final blog on Metromode, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading thus far. I mentioned that I would touch on the rock scene in Detroit, so here it goes.
I started playing in rock bands back in 1997, with my first group Traction. I was in my early 20s at this time, and didn’t really know what to expect. I also, at this time, thought that’d I’d be a rockstar no later than 25. My goals have since changed, I’m thinking maybe now around 35.
When I was in Traction, my first bar gig was at the Palladium at Frazho/Gratiot (most know it as the old Ritz). I think we brought around 70 people, and went on around 1am. We were mixed with a group of hard rockers, soft rockers and death metalists. It was pretty interesting, however, we loved every second of it.
My last show to date was at the Hayloft Liquor Stand in Mt. Clemens, in October 2006. I was playing with Eos, a much better band, we had about 15 people there, and went on around 11pm (a much better time slot). However, I remember the band not really wanting to do the show, because we weren’t playing with any acts that would draw a big crowd – therefore, no one wanted to promote it.
It’s funny how your attitude changes over the years – about your time slots, how hard you promote yourself, and the show selection process. I remember booking shows, and being nervous to tell the band, cuz I didn’t want to hear any backlash about the show I booked. I knew I’d get the typical questions of “who else is playing”, “when are we going on”, “do we have to sell tickets”, etc.
To be blatantly honest, the whole booking process sucks – and is probably a lot of the reason any of my bands broke up (or guys in the bands lost interest).
Now, since I have a marketing mindset, I have always ended up playing the role of manager, promoter, and marketer, for all the bands I’ve played in. Every single week, I would be hitting up Detroit music websites and message boards to promote the band, shows, etc. Back in 1998 it was DetroitMusic.com, and in 2005 it was HardRockDetroit.com I frequented most. As hypocritical as it was, I used to post show info, and then post reviews of my own shows (back in the late 90s – early 2000 timeframe). This was before they would post your IP address on the site – I remember the first time I got called out on it…I didn’t go back on the boards for awhile (BUSTED!). I’ve never done this since.
In addition to hitting up the boards, I would be going to local shows 2-3 times a week in order to talk with other bands, promoters, sound techs, meet fans, etc. If I had a show coming up, I always had flyers on hand. Each flyer always had a clear call to action – either info for the next show, a link to the band website to get more info.
In 2005 MySpace came out, and it affected the local music scene pretty hardcore. MySpace turned everyone into a promoter, making it easier to network with other bands and promoters, and gave a place to communicate with fans and potential fans. It was nice (for a minute). You could rely on bulletin posts and event notices to get the word out about upcoming events.
However, it also made you lazy on doing all the grassroots marketing (flyers, going out and talking with people, etc.) People started to use their MySpace profile as their official website – which, in my opinion, took away a bit of your unique identity. Once MySpace exploded with marketers and spammers, and 500 billion people (exaggerated), your bulletin posts and event notices got overlooked.
If I were to do it again (which I hope to do so soon), I would develop a marketing plan for my band, and would stick to it. I would still use MySpace, but it would be only one tactic accompanied with a bunch of others.
Everyone is a rockstar
The biggest issue I see in the scene is that every band wants to be treated as if they are rockstars (or going to be rockstars one day). There are a lot of good bands in the area, but you’re always hearing the same complaints (fighting for timeslots, why is there no one at the show, why should I have to pay-to-play). Everyone says the rock scene in Detroit is dead, and there will never be a time again, where the rock clubs are off the hook, like the Ritz was back in the mid 80s.
This may or may not be true. A lot has to do with the current entertainment trends mixed with local promotions, and ultimately you need a lot of HOT local acts.
The problem is, very few people know who the HOT local acts are. Mostly because everyone is promoting themselves the same way – Myspace, templated flyers, frequenting the same venues, etc. Other than the music itself, there are very few differentiators between the hundreds of local bands in the area.
The Welfare era
When I was in a band called Welfare Society in 2003, we promoted ourselves well, and it was working. We used all the same promotional tactics, but in a different way. We had a killer logo, and used to jam at a party house in Mt. Clemens called The Fu. It was a typical party house – pretty run down, had a jam room, a kegerator, horseshoe pits out back, and a yearly house party. There was nothing special about the house, but during the Welfare years, we made everyone want to party there. The band’s anthem was a song titled “Drunk at the Fu”, and spoke to the type of people that hung out at the house. The band’s website had a very Detroit city-scape look and feel, and featured the five members of the band traveling through the website on the people mover. It also included a pretty-active message board where people could talk about parties at the Fu, band happenings, etc. Bring The Noise LiveAdd to My Profile
The band even had an alter-ego, The Goat, who was featured on the band’s demo cd, as well as an unknown identity on the message board. We used to practice on Tues/Thurs nights at the Fu, and in times when there were no shows lined up – we used to pass out flyers to check us out at the Fu on Tues/Thurs nights. Practice jams turned into social gatherings – which turned gatherers into band advocates who would help in show promotion, as well as run merch stands, and other show activities.
We even had a self-proclaimed “flyer bitch” who was in charge of making sure everyone at the show had a chance to sign the email signup list, and was given a flyer to the next show.
In the end, the gimmick worked, but it came down to the music and goals of the other members of the band. We weren’t a group of hardcore musicians – we were partiers who liked to jam. So we often struggled with writing new material, and recording. Also, not everyone in the band had the same goals as everyone else – so things got to be a bit too much for some of the members.
My two cents
In the end, it’s a very difficult task to break through all the clutter of the other bands – in a congested scene with limited venues. So my advice would be to promote yourself in a unique way.
Also, try to make your fans/friends feel like they’re part of a movement that you’ve established. Don’t make them feel like they’re just tagging along. Give them roles, and make sure they clearly understand what you’re trying to accomplish.
We all have goals to become rockstars – if not, then why go through the hell of breaking into the scene. Another very important thing is band communication. If your band is not on the same page as you, with the same goals, then that’s a huge red flag. If you’re all clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, whether it’s a series of little goals, or one major goal – then it’s easier to maintain your band’s focus. However, if one guy in the group has his own agenda, and it doesn’t fall in line with everyone else – you’re going to have some issues.
I understand the whole pay-to-play concept sucks (having to pre-purchase tickets for your own show), however, with a scene that’s not drawing too much attention to itself, the venues need to guarantee they are going to make money. So, you have an option to either fall in line with what every other band is doing, or create a new identity, and prove to the venues/promoters that your band is different. In the end, the music has to be solid, for the following to continue to grow.
However, in the beginning, it’s more about building the perception of an underground movement. Every fan loves to tell the story of how they were listening to the band before they broke.
I wish a lot of luck to some of the bands in the area, which have been busting ass over the years. And I’ll give a shout out to my friends in Critical Bill – they’re on the right path. They actually have a music video release show this Saturday at TNTs in Clinton Twp. (15/Harper).
On that note, it’s been a lot of fun. I want to thank Metromode. And I will leave you with a 2004 video of Welfare Society performing a cover of Anthrax/Public Enemy’s “Bring The Noise” with Powerdise of Critical Bill on guest vocals.
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Don’t be afraid to call in extra firepower
In my previous post, I wrote about the need to find experts in various skill sets. This is definitely a must.
However, companies are usually staffed by the amount of "committed" work for the year. Therefore, most of your staff is usually determined by the amount of day-to-day projects (which MUST remain intact), and there’s usually limited flexibility for new concepts and scope changes.
By, day-to-day, I mean: offers, promotions, brand initiatives, etc. (I’ll apologize now, since some of this will be very marketing/advertising oriented) This day-to-day work is usually the core of your workload. Although not always the most fun, it has a direct impact on sales – which is why the company hired you in the first place (to increase sales).
Who’s going to do the work?
So, what happens when you pitch a new idea that wasn’t scoped for the year?
In an industry like advertising, especially the interactive side, there are new trends being defined everyday. More than ever, with the complex analytics the web provides, it’s easier to determine who is talking about your brand, what they are saying, and where they are located.
For example, there may be multiple community groups of brand advocates scattered across the Internet, and if you know where they are, then you can determine a plan to bring all the advocates together in an effort to put them in contact with potential consumers.
Back to your staffing, if you see an opportunity to maximize on an existing trend, or start a new one – you can’t worry about "who’s going to do it." In reality, there’s not too much that can’t be done these days; for the most part, if you can think it, you can do it.
However, I always hear about companies that are afraid to let their clients know that they can’t complete the work in-house. I’ve even heard stories where vendors are brought in, and given company email addresses, business cards, id badges, etc. – just to make it look like they’re an actual employee. THIS IS HORRIBLE.
In all actuality, your clients can’t expect you to be an expert at EVERY SINGLE SKILL SET out there. Even if you do have all the skills in-house to do the job, if it’s going to impact your day-to-day, you need a game plan. Your clients are paying you for your expert thinking, your ideas, your creative solutions to their business problems – so if you maintain that control, but you say you need to find someone to execute the plan, they should respect that.
At a large company like Campbell-Ewald, there are multiple departments that specialize in different activities (interactive, social media, experience planning, broadcast production, PR, analytics, events, etc.) If you are not aware of all these groups, and how they can help you, then you’re at a huge disadvantage. Even though you may figure it out on your own, and get the job done, odds are you will waste a lot of time and effort going through the same growing pains those groups have already learned from.
So, it’s very important to learn about everything your company has to offer – introduce yourself, and build a relationship with the department leads. That way, when you come up with that brilliant idea, you know who can help you out internally before looking outside.
It’s also just as important to build relationships with local outfits. The Detroit area has a lot to offer the advertising and interactive communities. There are a number of different multi-media, video post-production, 3D modeling, and motion graphics outfits (as well as many others). Establishing a relationship with a local outfit can have tremendous help in times of need (time-crunch, low budget, unique skill sets, etc.)
There are a variety of local companies I’m always using for various needs. If I have an idea, and I know it’s perfect for a vendor of mine – I’ll give them a call and discuss it with them first. Since we have a good relationship, they will be honest in letting me know if this is the right project for them. Nothing is worse than when you vend out a project to an unknown company, and you get crap in return. Now, you’re stuck polishing the crap.
The home run
Every so often, you have an idea, or are in a situation where you need to hit one out of the park. In this case, you need to find the best of the best (regardless of location and money). A great idea will never get the deserved credit, if executed improperly (and shame on you if it is).
There are many of ways to find out who’s the best of the best for a particular skill set. And if they can’t do it, then you need to ask them for a recommendation. The "best-of-the-best" is a rare breed – it’s a title that comes with tons of passion. If the idea is right, they will want to work with you (and you’d be surprised how much you may be able to bring the budget down, and still keep them involved).
Everybody wants to work on passionate projects, because the day-to-day can get a bit boring (but never forget, it’s the reason for our day jobs).
You don’t want to end up like this guy (make sure your boss isn’t over your shoulder when you watch this…well, unless your boss is me. You can say your researching flash video.)
How do you produce top-quality creative work
It’s a very simple answer…
- Know your role.
- Make sure your team knows what you bring to the table.
- Make sure you know all the skills of your team.
- And put EVERY ONE on the team in positions where they can contribute best.
The point I was trying to make with my previous blogs is that if, as a kid, you’re not put in situations to find your talents, you’re going to have trouble finding them.
When I went to St. Clement, my options were pretty limited – your typical Math, English and Science classes, with few electives. When I was a senior, I thought my only option to succeed was to become an engineer. So I went to a university that specialized in engineering – only to find out it wasn’t for me. If luck didn’t come my way, and I didn’t get hired into Campbell-Ewald, I would’ve never known I possess many of the talents I utilize today.
Finding the experts
I don’t try to be a designer. I know I’m not. I know I can concept with a vision of the end in mind, I can transform business strategies into creative solutions, and I can present my ideas to an audience in a way they will understand and get excited. I know I can express passion in my ideas, and I know when a design is straying from the overall objectives. But I was never formally trained in art and design, so I don’t try to be an expert. I often look back and wonder if I was ever presented with options, as a kid and teenager, would I be a top-notch designer today. I don’t know.
I also didn’t grow up with any musicians. Most of my friends were jocks. So, if I hadn’t met Eli (at the engineering university), then I would have never known that I can rock a stage – and would have missed that whole part of my life. It’s funny how everything works out. But unless you’re pushing yourself to try new things --not only try them, but put forth 110%-- you’ll never know. And you’ll be stuck in your comfort, or un-comfort zone.
So, anyway, back to the topic. How do you produce top-quality work?
Well, you assemble teams based on the skill sets that are needed, and you find players that are EXPERTS at those skills. For me, since I’m not a designer, I know that I need an expert designer on each team. Now, obviously, not everyone is an expert (YET). If you’re hiring a junior or entry-level position, they’re probably far from being an expert, so you gotta look for potential. And personality also plays a key role – if this person is great at something, but you know they’re not going to gel with the current team, then that’s a major red flag.
The painful interview process
And yes, it is painful. I don’t care if you’re a junior, a senior, a manager – it all sucks. I’m going to talk a bit about the key things I look for in an interview – and I’m currently looking, so if you’re an interactive creative looking to make a jump, or be part of a rockstar team, then hit me up on myspace.
So, there’s a key thing I see all the time in the junior peeps (and I used to do it too), that seems like a good approach, but really isn’t. When you’re new to interviewing, it’s very intimidating and overwhelming. You read into everything way too much: What questions are they going to ask? How am I going to respond? What clothes should I wear, etc.?
It kinda cracks me up when I walk into an interview to see someone in a nice business suit, and I’m wearing some baggy, ripped jeans that look like I just got back from following the Dead. Now, there are jobs out there that want you to look a certain way, but truth is, I can care less if you walk in wearing a mesh-half-cut shirt and a pair of running pants, as long as you fit the profile I’m looking for. Well, ok, the mesh would be a li'l too much. You should have seen this zuit-suit-wearin’ guy I freelanced last year. I still get crap from the guys for dropping him on them (sorry fellaz, I was in a pinch).
At the end of the day, all anyone wants to know is, how is this person going to make my life better. If you’re the manager, then you want to know that this person fits the role you need. If you’re someone who is going to be working alongside the newbie, then you want to know how this person is going to help relieve you from some of your day-to-day responsibilities.
Here’s the issue – picture yourself as someone who just got out of college, interviewing for a new position. The interviewer asks you what you can bring to the company – you respond with “I’m pretty much willing to try anything, and get my feet wet, doing whatever you want me to”. When you say that, it sounds to you, like you’re telling them that you’re willing to give this job everything you got. Well, what I hear is --- umm, this person doesn’t have a clue what they want to do, or what they’re good at, so I can’t afford to give this position away to someone who "may" have potential, but will definitely be a project.
As sad as that sounds, it’s true. I have very few positions to fill – ranging from junior to senior – and I need people that can walk right through the door, and start to contribute. I don’t want to have to think "what the hell am I going to do with the new guy," cuz that puts more work, on my already-overwhelmed plate.
Now, lets look at it from a different angle. If I ask the same question "what can you do for my team," and you say "well, I’m an entry-to-mid level designer with a lot of room to grow. I’m currently a solid flash tweener, but putting a lot of focus on my ActionScript knowledge (reading and writing to XML and loading external files), and I have some basic AfterEffects skills for minor video editing and flash integration," then I know exactly what I have to work with. If I don’t hire you, it’s not because of you, it’s because I needed something a bit different.
Another issue that is pretty consistent is the materials that people bring to an interview. Bring what you want us to see. Not what some portfolio builder tutorial told you to bring.
We all know that the finished product for most jobs, has been watered down due to clients, and legal, and devils-advocates, etc. – so we want to see the initial designs or concepts. Because that is the point at which you put in YOUR vision, not someone else's.
Now, yes, there are some very good standout campaigns, or solo projects – so if you have one of those, then you should show it. But if you had an idea that you are passionate about, that's never seen the light of day, and you still believe in it – then bring it (even if it’s just some crazy chicken-scratch). I recently had an art director bring in sitemaps, wireframes, and Flash coding examples. I was like hell yeah! And guess what, I hired him.
Jack of some trades, master of one (or two)
Center for Creative Studies (CCS) is a very good school for interactive design, as well as Macomb Community College’s new MACA program. Several months back, I spoke to about 300 potential and current MACA students. I was pretty blown away by their setup. I’ve never been excited about school, but I swear, I wanted to go through their curriculum.
And who would have thought MCC would put together a kickass interactive program? I grew up knowing it as 12 Mile High (I guess now would not be a good time to say I went there….ummm). The MACA curriculum is setup to change with the industry – as new applications and trends roll out into the interactive world, they add it to the program. It’s a program that’s setup to provide you with the skills to do a lot of things, but allow you to determine your own forte.
However, the interactive world isn’t easy – if designing is your thing, or flash, or video – you need to work it on your own time. It’s definitely not a 9-5 job. You may go home at 5, but then you hop online and do some research, or you think about something while talking to your girlfriend/boyfriend (babe, I don’t do that to you, tho').
I remember days when we used to work 60 hours, but only put down that we worked 40, just so we wouldn’t go over budget, trying to make something as cool as it could be. Now, you definitely got to love your job (or at least that project) to do something like that.
So, in the end, it’s good to be a jack of all trades, but you better work towards being a master of one, or two skills. And sometimes this can be very difficult for an interactive creative. For example, it takes a completely different mindset to design, as it does to code ActionScript in Flash (or any coding for that matter). So, odds are, you may know a little of both, but you’re probably only excelling at one or the other.
If you’re reading this, and you’re one of those EXTREMELY RARE people that can flip between both mindsets, and rock great quality on both, hit me up on myspace.
Talk to you tomorrow, as I will address the need for more global warming in Detroit during this wild and crazy winter!
To Live and Die in the D - PART 2
SOMEBODY GIVE A BOY A CHANCE
I moved quick. I whipped up a resume, got my ONE suit dry-cleaned, and called into work that day. I think I told work that I had court or something – it’s funny how at that job court is actually more respected than any other excuse (cuz most excuses assume hangover).
Anyway, I went out to Troy. Was pretty nervous, but not scared. I figured worst case, I’m right where I was (trying to figure out a court story), but any other case, and I’m on to a new life. Also, at this point in time, I had taken and loved speech classes, and was rockin’ out playing shows in the area as a lead singer – so talking to a bunch of strangers was of little concern. I walked into this place with my resumes in hand, looking all spiffy, and talked to EVERY SINGLE employer in the place. I didn’t know who 99% of the companies were, or what they did – but I knew that if I could get my foot in the door, than I could figure it out.
I left feeling really good about myself. And I actually thought I’d get about 3-4 calls back. About three weeks went by, and no call. Finally, I got one call back – the one that would kickstart my career – and that was Compuware. I went to my first interview wearing my suit, and spent about 1 hour 45 mins talking to my recruiter (we talked a lot about Marilyn Manson I remember). She dug the fact that I was in a band. She called me back for a second interview, and I was stuck at work, so I showed up in my oily “shipping and receiving” jeans (I shipped pumps and valves and stuff). She was like OMG!, you’re meeting with one of the managers for this one. I was like "oops, wish you would’ve mentioned that." Anyway, things went fine, and Compuware placed me at Ford Credit in Dearborn. I spent my first 6th months on one assignment doing mainly helpdesk support, before being transferred to another position within Ford where I spent 2 ½ years as a Business Analyst working on Ford’s "very complex" hourly payroll system. It was very challenging to me, and I got to travel to teach plant supervisors that were only a little older than me (I was 21-22 at the time).
AN UNEXPECTED CAREER MOVE
I was starting to get a bit bored of the Compuware position. A lot of it had to do with the drive from Warren to Dearborn (I tend to dose off during rush hour). Plus, I was still playing in the Romeo band, so there was a lot of driving. Again, I didn’t know what I wanted to do – I was looking into IT certification, Project Management and stuff, but wasn’t sure that was what I wanted.
Finally, in mid-2000, a friend of mine said he got hired at some advertising agency in Warren called Campbell-Ewald. I had grown up in Warren, but never heard of this place. He told me I should interview for a Digital Art Director position. My first response was "What’s an art director?" He’s like, it’s easy, I’ll teach you PhotoShop. Somehow that didn’t make sense to me (especially knowing that I don’t draw), so I declined.
A month or so went by, and he called me again saying there’s a Digital Producer position available, and it’s similar to being a Project Manager. It spiked my interest a bit, so I decided to look into it. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but I liked the fact of working in Warren, and working on consumer-facing applications, but I still was a bit new to web development, and didn’t know much about marketing and advertising (other than the management and promotions I did for my band).
I decided to interview for the Campbell-Ewald position, and 7½ years later I’m a Creative Director. I’ve worked on everything from interactive comic books, to video games, to alternate reality games, to music videos, to conspiracy theorys, etc.
I found my home, and I can honestly say I love my job. There’s always some day-to-day BS that you have to deal with, but you’re going to get that anywhere. However, I find new challenges every day, and get to work with the teams I love to find creative solutions to the business challenge. In April 2006, I achieved my goal of getting back to Universal Studios and got the chance to write a cheesy white-boy rap video and do a bit of directing. I’ll leave you for the day with the video: Rollin in Da Man Van
Oh, and by the way – my friend that got me to interview for Campbell-Ewald, got fired after his first three months for overselling his abilities (gotta give him credit for trying). Sorry dude.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. In the next few days, I plan to touch on topics like finding talent in Detroit, the need to network locally, and maybe even talk about the Detroit music scene.
To Live and Die in the D - PART 1
What’s up all my MM readers out there. I have to admit that I’ve been blogging for years, but usually always for the bands I’ve played in, so this is a bit of a challenge. But I’m up for it – rockin’ out to some old skool Michael Jackson while I write (Billy Jean to be specific…haha). Every year, off and on, I usually try to maintain a journal. It’s usually pretty fun to look back on it years later. So, looking for tips on what I want to write about, I pulled it up today – turns out a year ago today, was the day I made the decision to propose to my longtime girlfriend, now fiancé, Margaret (thanks for saying "Yes" babe). I was also in the middle of the planning for what’s currently my biggest creative project to date, Alltel’s Man Cave.
Well, anyway, before I launch into talking about finding talent and effectively using people who are experts at things you're not, I guess I’ll tell you a bit about growing up in the D, and how I managed to get to where I’m at (in regards to my career). For more info about me, feel free to check out one of my social networking profiles on LinkedIn, MySpace, or Facebook.
GROWING UP IN THE D
I guess I grew up like a lot of other eastside suburban Detroit families around my age – divorced household, with a predominantly blue collar family. Both my Dad and Mom worked for Chrysler, as did a lot of my other family members (sister, brother-in-law, uncles, etc.) Other than my Mom, everyone worked in the plants (either on the line, or in the skilled trades). My Dad often worked multiple jobs, so I was always staying at other people’s houses – which I think helped in the development of my social skills.
As a kid, I was always trying to be creative. Lego’s and Erector sets were my favorite. Or, if left alone, I’d take something apart – but couldn’t always figure out how to put it back together. I was also very much into computers…from back in the day with my Commodore 64, then Amiga, then finally a PC. I was always playing games and MUDs, writing code, trying to be like Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science with a modem, and messing with Prodigy and BBS when they first came out. There used to be a really cool BBS that was run out of New Baltimore called "Industry". We also used to run "Super Sunday" football leagues at my house on my C64, way before any fantasy or stat-tracking systems were around. Each year, my aunt and uncle would take my cousins and me on vacation. We went to Florida, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Cancun, and camping at Higgins Lake.
However, my most memorable of the vacations was a trip to Hollywood. We went to Universal Studios, and I managed to get picked to ride the E.T. bike, act in a video skit, and I also entered some joke contest at a pilot airing of some game show. I stood in front of a large audience and told the joke "Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? Cuz he was dead." I was probably only around 7-8 at the time.
SCHOOL & SPORTS
My Dad had always wanted me to go to private school, so he sent me to St. Barnabas in East Detroit from 1st-4th grade (until they closed down). He always wanted me to go to St. Anne’s in Warren (where I grew up), but their waiting list was too long. So, when Barnabas closed, I was transferred to St. Clement in Centerline. Here is where I would spend the rest of my grade and high school years. I was a pretty active kid, so I couldn’t wait to get involved in organized sports. I started playing hardball in 2nd grade, and did the karate thing for a bit, but the thought of playing football and basketball blew me away. As I was getting ready for high school, my Dad was pushing me pretty hard to goto DeLaSalle (which was only a block from the house). I didn’t like the thought of an all guys school, so I purposely bombed the placement test. Whoops…didn’t go over too well with the old man (he got over it). In my years at St. Clement, I was your typical jock. I hung with the in-crowd, partied, got in trouble, had fun, etc. But most importantly, learned some key morals and words to live by that stick with me today (i.e. "Give 110%", "Reckless Abandon" and "Controlled Insanity"). Football was my life through most of high school – we did pretty good too; went to the state semi-finals three years in a row, and broke some county records (but it still hurts all of us, that we never went to, and won the state finals).
THE COLLEGE & CHRYSLER YEARS
When it was time to start making college decisions, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I wasn’t a straight A student, but I took all the college prep courses, and when I wanted to, I would pull good marks (Note: "when I wanted to"). At this time in my life, I really didn’t know much (in regards of options). St. Clement was a small school, with little to offer, when it came to career prepping. All the adult influencers in my life were saying to become an Engineer. With an entire family that worked in the plants, all I ever heard about was pension-this, and pension-that. So much that I had NO CLUE how a person not working for the "big three" would ever be able to retire. It was all very confusing to me (much like the word "equity" when your first buying a house, or "brand" when you first start working in marketing/advertising).
Eventually, I made my decision – me and a friend were sold on Michigan Tech University, after the recruiter mentioned they had a "sky diving" club. My Dad had set me up on the MET program, so I had to attend a school within Michigan. And I knew I would never get a sports scholarship.
During the summer of 1995, before leaving for MTU, I was selected to work in Chrysler’s summer program. The first summer was pretty rough – I worked at Davison/Dequindre, and my hours were 4:30am to 1pm. I was a FREAK. I made really good money for an 18 yr old, would hang out with my friends until pretty late, get an hour or two of sleep, and goto work. By the end of the summer, I was pretty burned out.
I got to MTU, looking to major in “Mechanical Engineering,” but I have to admit that as soon as I stepped into my first ME class, I knew that I wanted no part of it. I later switched majors to “Computer Science.” This was much better since I understood the logic behind coding. But still, I knew in the back of my mind that MTU wasn’t going to last that much longer. I Aced my CS classes, but wasn’t putting much effort in my other courses. I also thought I was superman, and tried to take 18 credits, have a full-time social life, pledge a fraternity…it was only a matter of time.
However, I made it thought my first year, doing alright (but no where near where I should have been). Chrysler had called me back for the next summer. This time I went to work at the McGraw Glass Plant in Dearborn. I worked the afternoon shift from 2pm to 10pm. It was perfect for me – I was 19 now, and going to Canada. I got off work with enough time to go out, and got home with enough time to sleep before work. My job foreman started talking to me about staying on full-time instead of returning to MTU. I was pretty on the fence, since I knew that I probably wasn’t going to be at Tech much longer, but I was scared to commit to a 30 year job. So I chose to return to school.
OUT IN THE REAL WORLD WITHOUT A CLUE
My prediction came true – I was home by Christmas, for good. During college, I met a person who changed my life forever, his name was Eli Parks (from Romeo). He introduced me to music. Eli and I would joke around about starting a punk band, he could play guitar and I would sing (I’ll come back to this in a bit). My only music background was the fact that I was really into early-90s rap, and used to create my own mix-tapes with my dual-cassette recorder boom box. Basically, if it had a “parental advisory” sticker on it, I had it.
I started getting some pressure on the home front, as to what I was going to do with my life. My family had their fingers crossed that Chrysler would call back for another summer, and hire me on full-time. I really didn’t care that much, or have any worries – I was 19-20 and having fun. I worked as a grunt ripping and laying carpet. I did some telemarketing (had some fun with some peoples names). I even sold art – it was a crazy job. I only had it for a weekend. We had to drive out to Fort Wayne Indiana in a crazy storm. I had just leased my first car a week earlier (Dodge Stratus), and on the expressway, the car in front of me ran over some log, and shot it up at my hood and off my windshield. I drove that car for the next 2 years with a caved in hood, and got it fixed a week before lease turn in. Oh, and I quit my art selling job on my third day. It felt weird going into businesses and trying to force art on people. The worst thing was, about 10 frames broke in my trunk, so I actually lost money on the job.
So, I got a call from Chrysler, a bit before the summer. It was to take a placement exam into the skilled trades. I showed up, selected my top three trades (electrician was number one), and took the test. My family was ecstatic. At the same time, Eli had dropped out of MTU, and asked me to start that band. So, I was going out to Romeo 1-3 times a week for jam sessions. It was a blast. I loved the songwriting and lyric writing process. Not to mention the feeling of a good jam.
THE GAME CHANGER
A month or so after taking the skilled trades test, I got something in the mail. It was a letter saying that I passed the test, and will be receiving a call to start an electrician apprenticeship as soon as a plant has an opening. Again, my family was soooo happy. But I wasn’t. I was scared. I knew that if I took the job, then you’re in it for the long 30-year haul. And on the other side, if I didn’t take the job I was stupid.
I continued to jam, and have fun. At this time I was now working for a company called Paragon in Warren, as a Shipping and Receiving clerk. A few weeks went by, and then I got the call from Chrysler. It went a little like this:
Chrysler: Hello, can I speak to Mr. I-E-OIN Lanivich?
Chrysler: Hi, I’m calling on behalf of the electrician apprenticeship you applied for.
Chrysler: Well, we have a position open at the Gear and Axle plant, starting in two weeks.
Me: Oh, that’s great. However, I’m actually going to school this summer, so it wouldn’t be good timing. Can you call me when something else becomes available after the summer?
Chrysler: Are you sure sir? You do realize that there’s a long list of people for this position, so another opening may never happen.
Me: Yeah, I’m aware. I’d just hate to cancel my classes.
Chrysler: <a bit puzzled> Well, alright sir. Good luck.
I hung up that phone and just sat there thinking HOLY S*#T, did I just do that. I can’t say that ever happened. I can’t tell anyone. Did I just mess up. Oh no!
About two or three months went by (early 1998), and I was thinking to myself – “What am I doing? I’m better than this. I know a bunch of stuff about computers. There’s got to be a job for me.” Just when I was thinking that way, I heard a radio commercial on WRIF (101.1 FM) for a computer job fair in Troy, in two days.
...to be continued tomorrow