Hello Everyone, Welcome to the podcast “Close to the Bone.” I’m Carl Vreeland, your host.
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This is episode #22, entitled, Business is Business.
I worked for over forty years in the music business. And like any business—the music business is about making money. And although there are still a few music executives out there that are in it for the love of music, over the last several decades, the MUSIC business has become the music BUSINESS. But that’s neither here nor there. As they say, “business is business.” And that’s what I want to address.
In business, many will do whatever it takes to make a money, to make a profit. Wrong-doing, omission, fudging, it’s all pretty much “acceptable” behavior in the business world. Whether or not someone gets harmed, defamed, or destroyed in some way, is par for the course— “it’s just business.”
When entering the upon the business world, especially the world of big money and huge egos, such as the music industry, Hollywood, and Wall Street, at the start, as a newbie, at some point you’re integrity will be tested. Which is why your principles should be somewhat sound and solid to begin with, before beginning your career. Inevitably, you’ll be put in a position to make the choice of doing something outside of what is ethical, compromising your integrity. And this decision can make the difference between moving up the ladder, as it were, or being looked at as uncooperative and not a team player. These can be tough choices when one has to put bread on the table and pursue their goals and dreams.
We need to have clearly drawn lines, because once we turn a blind eye, once we essentially start lying, once we go down that rabbit hole, it can be hard to find our way back. One lie can lead to another and another, and before one knows it, they have gone down into the abyss of deceit, cover-up, crime, and heartache. Such wasn’t quite the case in regards to the folks I dealt with in the music business, at least not to my knowledge. Nevertheless, there was a great deal of dishonesty and deceit.
Initially, when I started working for the many employers that helped me develop a fruitful career, I found myself becoming friends with them, as was the case with my fellow musicians and business colleagues, such as booking agents, personal managers, and promoters. The people I worked for achieved great success, made names for themselves, and had good reputations. And I was treated like family. All was well—I was traveling the world, meeting influential people, making money, and having fun. Yet as the years went by, and the excitement somewhat passed, things started to seem suspect. It some took time to figure it out, or should I say, it took a awhile to compute it all. Because my gut was telling me one thing, and my mind was telling me another. Could it be so? Could these seemingly sincere, good-hearted people have another side to them, a hidden side? Were they not what they seemed? Were my intuitions misguiding me? Were these people lying to my face? Were they cheating me? Were they befriending in order to manipulate me more easily? It was baffling. How could they caringly smile at me, and turn around and treat me unfairly? How could they act and behave as friends, and on occasion screw me over behind my back? These were good people, with spouses, children, friends, and many devoted fans. I thought, I must be wrong. It must be me. I must have turned jaded, cynical, and paranoid. But as time went on, my suspicions grew. And so I stepped back, I watched, and I listened.
This was around the time I got sober, and started working the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. My depression was dissipating, I was gaining some cleared-headedness, confidence, and clarity. Indeed, it was becoming more and more apparent—there was deception and deceit among the ranks, so to speak. But, I had to be cautious, I had to be sure. So I put off saying anything. Partly because of a lack of hard proof, and partly out of necessity, livelihood, and fear. And so I found myself overlooking what was becoming apparent. I went along with the game. Although, I tried to maintain my integrity.
Over the years, I saw how common this practice was between all of them. No one was immune. They would screw each other over Saturday night, and hug each other with a bright good morning over Sunday brunch, as if nothing had happened. Likewise, we see this within the political system, among politicians, they name-call and harshly criticize either other in debates, but never seem to be bothered in the end. But I digress. . . .
As I began to grow weary and distrustful, I started questioning my employers about the monies and contract details. This was when things started taking a turn. I was stirring the pot, as it were, and they didn’t like it. Things started to shift, they were as friendly. Once even I was unwarrantedly accused of being dishonest. In which I found myself sanctimoniously defending myself. Indeed, in a world of double-dealing and fraud, everyone is looked at with caution and distrust. But, “business is business,” one can’t take it personally or to heart. It’s a game. And as my colleagues used to say, “it is what it is.” It was true, and if I wanted to survive, and perhaps thrive, I had to play the game. Which meant, it was in my best interest to shut up and let go of any anger and resentments I was holding on to.
But this was too difficult for me. Generally speaking, at that time in my life, it was something I was incapable of. I held grudges. And moreover, I was righteous and confrontational. No doubt, I was losing my wits. Still, what might have been a reason to be fired, was quickly forgotten. No one quite cared that I was turning forthright. As long as I did my job, and made them money, they let it slide. You had to really become a big problem to put these folks through the trouble of replacing you. That said, over the following years, I became a very big problem.
I couldn’t play the game any longer nor be around it. I mean, how could I continue to break bread with these folks and their families knowing that they were two-faced, self-serving, unscrupulous liars? It was a difficult decision to make, but I had to leave behind a career which took a lifetime to create. I couldn’t justify their behavior nor accept it. It wasn’t worth the money, nor the toll it was taking on my soul. Yes, I had to make a living, but I also had to live with myself. And it was tearing me up inside, and the resentments I held onto were poisoning me.
As it turned out, I didn’t have much choice in the matter anyway. They were all fed up with me. I was a wrench in the works, jamming up the gears and the messing up the rules of the game. And so I bowed out quietly, in a whisper, and no one said a word. I later heard from a former musician, friend, who told me that everyone was going about their business, as if I never existed.
In the end, fortunately, by way of the Twelve Step work, I was able to let go of the anger and the resentments I held toward them. And deep down, I know they’re not bad people. They are simply just purveyors of a game that was created long ago. And they have had to play it well in order to make it in the business and survive. I just wasn’t cut out for it.
As a recovering alcoholic and depressive, I found a path of sobriety whereas my addictions and depression had lifted. And a component of that path excluded the notion that “business is business.” I had to get honest through and through in order to get sober. It may sound holier than though, but it isn’t. I am humbled by my experience. The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous is clear: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honestly.”1
Be that as it may, I realize it’s difficult to be transparent and totally honest in the business world, and in life for that matter. Why is that so? Why is it difficult to be honest? And are there clear lines that can be drawn between honesty and seemingly necessary omissions or half-truths? Well, for now, I leave those questions for you, the listener, to explore. As for me, I had no choice in the matter. I had to save myself from the depths of addiction and depression. Honesty, as a principle, turned into a life or death situation for me. Through A.A., I learned its utmost importance. Honesty flowered into a foundational principle. Honesty has kept me sober, sane, and serene.
Well, that’s all I have for now, as always, thank you for listening. Again, if you enjoy this podcast, a great way to support it is to leave a Review, or Rate it, Subscribe to it, and Share it with others. And don’t forget to visit my website, carltvreeland.com, you’ll find my Blog post there, YouTube Channel link, and much more. Again, thank you everyone.
1) How It Works, Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book, pg. 58
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