By Alex Eggleston
HI, I’m Alex, and I’m a folk-music devotee, turned student of the music industry, turned cybersecurity salesperson. The Upnote is a podcast and media platform run by bright, talented, young working classical musicians, and I’m the music industry dropout that they’ve agreed to let write stories for them every once in a while.
Ryan and Jared asked me to put together a brief introduction of myself and how I came to be writing for The Upnote, and while brevity isn’t necessarily my strong suit, talking about myself kind of is. So I’ll spare you recounting my years in choir, college a cappella, and bumming around friends’ townie shows and say that to figure out how we got here, we start at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA.
After undergrad, a weird series of events found me living alone in a haunted house in Woburn, MA, about half an hour north of Boston. I was very cold, very lonely, and very broke. To combat two of the three of those classic 20-something-in-New-England symptoms, I responded to an opening on a non-profit job site for place called Club Passim.
Club Passim is a folk club that can fit about a 130 people on a given night, including the artists and friends of artists that gather around the sound booth at the back of the room. It’s small and unassuming. So unassuming, in fact, that the vast majority of people I met in Boston outside of the the specific folk scene that revolved around the club had never heard of it. Luckily, I was a fairly weird teenager and had been heavily into Bob Dylan and all of the biographical information I could gather about him since I was 17, and so I knew that Passim was an important part of the folk music revival of the 60s and wore my meager role in its current artistic state as a badge of honor.
As a box office attendant and bartender, and later club administrative coordinator, I was starstruck by the strings of wildly talented musicians that graced the stage every night and faded into anonymity as soon as they stepped down from it. I began spending upwards of 10 hours a day in the club and was delighted to find that the artists that I thought of as super humanly talented were actually normal people, some of whom made pretty great friends. I got hooked on the scene, on my every day’s revolution around music and musicians.
After about a year at Passim, I moved west to Denver, and took all of my artist contacts and nostalgia for club life with me. I started doing promotional and event management work remotely for a couple of bands that had plenty of shows to go around, but significantly less time and resources. I called and emailed venues in advance of shows, pestered blogs and newspapers to cover tours, and flew out to manage a few of the bands at a four day long industry event called Folk Alliance - an experience that taught me the true meaning of the term “impostor syndrome”. I was doing all of this on top of my normal 9-5 at a tech company in downtown Denver, and eventually I thought that maybe there’s a way to do the fun stuff all the time, get paid for it, and stop feeling like an impostor.
As it turns out, shaking impostor syndrome is a lot easier said than done, but getting a master’s degree doesn’t hurt. Roughly two and a half years after I began turning the thought over in my head that maybe it was time to go back to school, I was shivering on my air mattress in the corner of the shoebox apartment that I shared with 3 other people in Brooklyn, hitting submit on my final thesis for my Master’s of Science in Music Industry Leadership from Northeastern University. In a few hours, I would have to wake up, catch a sardine-packed subway to the Universal Music building in Midtown, and throw myself into the breakneck pace of life as the lowest rung on the ladder at a major record label in NYC, but for that moment, I was finished. Two years of classes in everything from finance to marketing to intellectual property law, two years of business proposals and thesis prep and all nighters before picking up shifts at the club, finished.
I was fiercely grateful for the opportunity to study the business mechanisms behind the artful industry that I love so much, and even more grateful for the perspective that my taste of major label life afforded me. Looking back now, the half a year I spent in New York working in A&R research for Island records while finishing up my masters feels like one long out of body experience. I was ecstatic, I was miserable, I was busy, I was lonely. When you start going down a path that’s set to end with a life in the music industry, people in the know start to warn you at every turn that this path isn’t for everyone. You have to be ALL IN, you can’t want anything else. And while all of that still strikes me as a bit melodramatic, I will say, it opened my eyes to what I really care about.
So while I can’t say I went through the last five years and came out on the other side with the certainty that the life of an A&R exec was for me, I can say confidently that I know so much more now than I did when I started down that path. I learned new ways to think and talk about music, as well as how to engage with the business behind the music that soundtracks our lives. And I’m very grateful to do all of that here with The Upnote crew.