October 2, 2014
"For 41 years I've eaten at the best restaurants, sat in hundreds of limos, stayed at the best hotels and worked with the biggest artists. Maybe now is the time to move on and do something that has greater personal value to me."
That's Mercury Nashville Dir./Southeast Promotion Bruce Shindler, who announced his retirement from the music biz earlier this week -- and holy crap! What a ride it's been. The journey began in 1972, before the end of the Viet Nam war, during the Nixon administration and just as NASA's Apollo program was finishing up.
In short, before some of you reading this were even born (sorry, Bruce!).
It's important to note that as Shindler completes a lengthy, successful and rewarding career in records starting with pop, a stint running his own indie shop and the last 17 years at UMG Nashville, he leaves with a sense of fulfillment and not one ounce of grumpy or bitterness in the mix, assuring us, "I have no ill feeling toward the biz."
That statement is both amazing and admirable to hear after five decades of chasing adds, jousting with PDs, wrangling artists, covering shows, frequent flights, every rental car imaginable and Lord-only-knows how many bonus miles accrued. Did I mention 41 years? Wow. Just wow. I did promotion for a mere 18 months before bailing out. How much of a baby do I feel like after chatting with Shindler?
Anyone who's done it knows record promotion is a challenging, stressful life that can sometimes turn you inside out. Shindler experienced the collateral damage of this crazy racket firsthand. "I did a lot of stuff in the '70s," he explains. "But I later found alcohol. It was legal and easier to do. And I enjoyed it more."
While this business can easily be tagged as an enabler, Shindler told me, "I can't put the responsibility on anybody but me. I know people who never did anything in the middle of all the craziness."
The drinking wasn't obvious to most, he recalls. "Most of it was done at night and at home while unwinding. It was very secret and became routine for me. But it affected my personality and it only got worse. I went through a very bad time that came to a head in 2007. Luckily I had the support of [then UMG President] Luke Lewis, [SVP/Promotion] Royce Risser and [then EVP/GM] Ken Robold, who said, "get better.'"
Exactly six years and seven months later - and still sober - Shindler has continued that process. "We do stuff to deaden the pain; I had to face that through recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-Step program and therapy; I acquired more self-awareness through all that."
Shindler will now transition away from the music business, pursuing a license in alcohol and drug counseling. "There is the 12th step [in AA] and that is service," he explains. "This helps you stay recovered and your job is to help other people. It makes me feel good. Maybe it's a little more important than getting a record on the radio right now."
Hmnnn ... Ya think?
"I've probably been thinking about this for a few months," says Shindler, of his retirement plan. "As you get older, you consider your mortality. I'm still healthy and vital. I don't want to wait until I'm worn into the ground and can't do anything. In dealing with the recovery community here, I got to know a lot of folks and that includes artists, songwriters and musicians. I really dig those people and felt maybe it's time to give back."
So, will he miss the fine meals, lush limos and great hotels after he shuts it down? "I don't look at all that as being a necessity," he says. "I can be at the house with my family and friends, breathe fresh air and be happy. I'll probably enjoy listening to music more, because it will no longer be work for me. Maybe going to a concert will be special to me."
But before Shindler leaves us for a new life in the private sector, I had a few questions that only a 41-year promo vet could possibly answer. Bruce was patience and graceful enough to share a few memories from five decades on the road, on the phone and backstage.
Here now, is Shindler's List:
1. Hardest-ever #1 record you worked:
"Very few are easy. But let's say, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' from Queen. It was over six minutes long. It was from a group on their fourth album and they hadn't really had a big hit. Remember, in those days we had something called 'artist development' where we stuck with an act for many albums when we believed in them. They were selling because AOR played them. 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' at over six minutes on Top 40 radio, was probably the toughest."
2. A record that never hit #1 - but really should have:
"'Daddy's Hands' from Holly Dunn on MTM Records. It still gets some airplay every Father's Day. It defined her career no matter what she did before. I think it got to #8 and it was a disappointment because it was so popular where it got played, but we still had some non-believers. I'd say that should have been #1."
3. Longest-ever road trip:
"Hmmmm. Can I go way back to 1972? I started at Buddha Records and asked, 'What do I do?" The National guy says, 'You're gonna do the Northeast.' He shows me a map up and down the region. New York, Boston, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire ... and says, 'I don't want to see you for two weeks.' I was only 22 and told him 'I don't have a credit card yet.' He answers, 'You don't need one; how much cash do you want? Will $2000 be enough? Here, take it.' I stuffed it in my pocket and was gone for two weeks. Paid everything in cash. Hotels, rental cars. I had nothing left when the trip was done."
4. Worst travel nightmare story:
"We were in Houston with Sugarland. We had to drive to Dallas that night and the bus company was supposed to send a tour bus with bunks to pick us all up, so we could all sleep. For some reason, they misinterpreted the order and they show up with a party bus - like a shuttle bus, one of those nightclubs on wheels. No bunks. They couldn't find another bus because it was late at night. We ended up checking back into the hotel with all of our luggage and everything. Then we had to catch a very early flight the next morning. That was a nightmare and, of course, everyone is looking at each other, asking, 'Okay, whose fault is this?' And I'm like, 'Not me! I didn't do it!'"
5. Most rewarding #1 record:
"Easy. See answer #1."
6. Longest-ever on hold with a PD (No names required here):
"Oh my gosh! Let me think. It was probably for a radio person in San Francisco. And by the way, I realized he forgot about me, so I called back after 25 minutes."
7. Longest a PD has gone without calling you back, again, no names, please:
(Laughing) "I just had two of them! I hadn't spoken to them in a month-and-a-half. Six weeks!"
8. Favorite artist you ever worked with:
"Okay, that is very tough -- I am still working here, you know. But the first one that comes to mind is Charlie Daniels. What a great guy who would work with you, do everything and have fun doing it. It was just a pleasure to be with that man."
9. Favorite venue you went to many times:
"Well, you know, I was an usher at the Fillmore East. I have to say, after that experience, I don't think anything could ever beat it."
10. One mentor that stands out for you:
"Harvey Cooper. He was VP/Promotion at Bell Records. Gave me my first job at Associated Distributors in Phoenix. He believed in me when I went to visit him in California; he invited me for dinner at his house and took me under his wing. We remain close and talk to each other on a weekly basis. I just love him."
11. Best advice you ever got about promotion:
"John Curb said to me on more than one occasion, 'You can get more done with a teaspoon of honey than a teaspoon of vinegar.' I've always believed that and have tried to follow his advice. It hasn't always been successful. Now, if the honey doesn't work, then you can put some vinegar in it! Sometimes you just have to go to the vinegar."
12. Your advice to younger people just starting in promotion:
"It would be very good for them to work in management, or for a manager or booking agent. Eventually, I believe all managers and booking agents will have promotion people working for them, It's happening now in management companies. They may all have full staffs one day. This entire thing may contract into one center point, almost like the 360 deal. Let me add, this is not something I'm wishing for, but if you really want to promote artists, you'll have to be close to particular ones and believe in their music. I do a lot of customer service in promotion now. Tickets, meet & greets, etc. But it's getting harder and harder to get things played. Also, get to know the syndicators."
13. Final words to radio?
"Bottom line is this: I know everybody is busy, but don't lose the passion for the product you are presenting to listeners. That is key. Maintain passion for the music. You can be passionate for radio, but the product is what will get listeners. Listen to the music and stay excited about it, always."
14. What will you miss most about your job?
"My first answer is my expense account (laughs). But my second one is working a new act that nobody knows, then hearing their music on the radio and seeing them eventually sell out arenas. What a great feeling of satisfaction because that's what I do for a living; that's the basic thing: getting records on the radio and making people stars. If that doesn't happen, all the travel and the money spent are for naught. You want to see them all become successful. When that happens, it's the greatest feeling. And that to me, is a promotion person's dream."
Send congrats to Shindler here.