"Rawker-ad-hawkers" Lead Double Lives at AAN Papers
For every musician who makes enough money to play music and tour full time, there are hundreds of others who play for the love, fun or the endless dream of it all. And that usually means holding down another job to make ends meet. The quest to find a position that doesn’t conflict with their artistic ambitions has landed a number of performers in the classified sales departments of alternative newsweeklies. By day they may be mild-mannered ad reps, but by night they roll up their sleeves, unveil their tattoos, let down their hair and transform themselves into what Chuck Davis, classified manager at Cincinnati CityBeat, has dubbed “rawker-ad-hawkers”.
Why classified ad sales? “Good job, good pay, good hours, good environment,” says Davis, who has been with CityBeat for more than six years and has played in a wide variety of alt-rock bands. While the devil-bearded Davis spends his 9-to-5s selling line ads and enforcing deadlines, he’s spent many evenings shaking bottles off the shelves at bars with his guitar licks, performing with the recently defunct hard rock/metal band Semi-automatic.
Independent Weekly account executive Leslie Land is one of the founding members of the white-trash-a-billy cult favorite rock band Southern Culture on the Skids (during their mid-80s incarnation). She still plays bass and sings with a variety of other bands, including the zydeco outfit Mel Melton and the Wicked Mojosa. But she says her classified sales job at the Durham, N.C., alt-weekly offers the stability that life in a band could never provide. She counts among her day job’s major perks health insurance benefits, having weekends off and “numerous schmoozing opportunities.” Plus, says Land, “I’m much too old  and jaded to dream of ‘making it.’ Besides, I’ve been a founding member of a cool band, and been on the road, which is pure hell most of the time. I like living one mile from work, owning my own house, being respected in my musical world, and not doing road gigs!”
Land also points out the painfully obvious fact that many truly talented musicians just won’t reach the Linkin-Park-loving, mediocrity-mongering masses. And even if an artist is lucky enough to find an audience, success doesn’t necessarily mean endless sun-bleached days of sipping cocktails poolside.
Paul Sanchez played guitar for the internationally renowned Jim Carroll Band on the albums “Dry Dreams” and “I Write Your Name” before joining L.A. Weekly, where he’s now a classified sales representative. “It started as a day job,” he says. “I had one foot out the door until I realized I’d been there six or seven years.” While holding down the “day job,” Sanchez continues playing music, and has extended into producing. He’s even composed the score for “5150,” a film by Integration Entertainment. The paper (“a fantastic company,” according to Sanchez) has given him the means to make a living and stay true to his creative principles.
Rapper’s politics fit alt-weekly mold
Joel Aigner, aka ArticleExit in the hip-hop crew Idiolectic, has only been a classified sales rep at the Colorado Springs Independent since November 2003, but for him the job meshes nicely with the political and philosophical ideals he conveys as a rapper.
“Our music is pretty political, as is the paper, so the parallels of the two opened the door,” says the clean-cut Aigner, who keeps his tattoos tucked beneath the starchy sleeves of button-down shirts during the day. The lyrics from his songs clearly reach beyond the bounds of commercial gangsta rap appeal. In “Is It Possible?” he protests the way government protects harmful corporations:
So they privatize energy; soon they’ll charge you for your breath.
They’re raping the planet until there is nothing left.
So embrace your death so they can make a profit
Off the apocalypse…
The song ends with this warning:
Slavery’s abolition was a subtle illusion.
We’re enslaved by taxes, utility bills and chaotic confusion.
I’ve come to the conclusion they’re trying to conquer my consciousness.
That’s why I’m ready to make a fucking mess.
While such lines might not necessarily make the greatest sales pitch, the consciousness of social issues and community awareness meshes well with the alt-weekly ethos.
Ultimate fame is elusive — at least for now
Marc Desilets (who prefers to be called Ace), the senior classified sales representative at Tucson Weekly, doesn’t think the music he plays in his metal band Ash Black is anything most alt-weekly readers would be interested in, but he likes working in classifieds because “it definitely gels with my appearance.” Desilets notes that his long black hair, his tattoo of a burning pot plant on his arm and his many piercings don’t go over so well in the image-conscious retail sales arena but work just fine in classifieds. Sure, he may sing about sex toys and cocaine addiction in a voice he describes as “a cross between James Hetfield of Metallica and Dave Mustaine [of Megadeth],” but he’s a great salesman and recently won a 42-inch plasma-screen TV in an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies sales contest.
And what of fame, fortune, and a custom tour bus? Most rawker-ad-hawkers surveyed are so enamored of their job-security and hip work culture that they are no longer harboring dreams of bigger things.
Joel Aigner, however, was adamant about his ambitions: “I don’t dream about being a full-time musician, I’m working toward it. Whether it’s in the capacity of rapping, managing or producing, it remains to be seen.”
Bob Hite, the classified ad manager for Columbus Alive and guitar player with various rock bands — including The X-Rated Cowboys, Ukuleleman and His Prodigal Sons, and Whoa Nellie — remains starry-eyed but pragmatic about the prospect of becoming a full-time musician: “I wouldn’t turn down a bag of money, but at my age  I’m not counting on anything.”
Tucson Weekly’s Marc Desilets, who is 38, doesn’t think he deserves to get signed or that he will get signed but says “if it happened I wouldn’t turn it down — I could use the money.”
Classifieds take on a musical note
Happily for the AAN papers that employ these rawker-ad-hawkers, almost all those polled agree that their extracurricular musical activities give them an extra edge at work. A relationship between work and music definitely exists, even though none said that they’d directly incorporated any of their work experience into a song as yet.
Desilets used his music industry experience to create a special sales page, called Musician’s Network, at the end of Tucson Weekly’s music section. “Musician’s Network is for people who are into any kind of music, from bluegrass to metal and world music,” he says. The page carries both classifieds and display ads that cover everything from musical instrument sales to people seeking bandmates. There are ads for recording and practice studios, clothing and tattoos.
For others, the influence of their music on their work is less transparent.
“My freestyle ability definitely facilitates me thinking quickly on my feet,” says rapper Joel Aigner. “Every conversation is a different beat, so to speak.”
Leslie Land puts a finer point on it: “It certainly makes Music Merchandise ads easier to take.”
Noel Black is a freelance writer and the editor/publisher of Angry Dog Press.
AAN READER ISO SOUNDS OF RAWKER-AD-HAWKERS:
MP3: Semi-automatic’s ‘Drama Queen’
MP3: Ideolectic’s ‘Damnation Game’
MP3: Ash Black’s ‘Carnal to the Core’
MP3: The X-Rated Cowboys’ ‘Devotion’