In the seven days since my initial Skype meeting with Paneer, I’ve had countless conversations with a veritable parade of Indians, most of them lovely, none of them Kanish. I was beginning to get a little annoyed about that. It’s bad enough Kanish allowed his father to initiate contact on his behalf. He should have at least reached out to me within twenty-four hours of the deal being struck.
Most of my many conversations with the Handler were purely a matter of coordination and of no real consequence to our story. I did, however, manage to gather some information. According to the Handler, young Kanish is a legit bedroom recordist—whatever the hell that means. He even used the term legit.
Well! My imagination ran absolutely wild as I considered the potential size and shape of a Billionaire’s bedroom. At times I found myself daydreaming about stacks of expensive recording gear, and massive drawers upon humongous drawers of valuable German microphones. I can assure you, should my fantasy prove true, then I will most certainly suggest that Kanish immediately ship all of his high-value recording gear to Los Angeles. This way we could include it in his education!
Then I began to wonder. Is it customary for an Indian guest to bring a gift? And if so, shouldn’t that gift be fully commensurate with his wealth? Perhaps young Kanish would bring me a Telefunken ELA M 251, a $24,000 microphone, which I would sell the moment I could, and immediately replace with a $2,000 microphone of nearly equal quality. For those of you who know nothing about microphones, I should probably explain.
There are a short supply of, and a great demand for the Telefunken ELA M 251. As you might expect, this appreciably distorts the value of these rather amazing fifty-year old microphones. And while I will concede that the ELA M 251 is the greatest large-diaphragm condenser microphone ever made, that doesn’t make it worth twenty-four fucking thousand dollars. Frankly, I’d be just as happy to pick up a Lewitt LCT 940 and a brand-new car to drive it home in. I’m sorry, but I’ve been making records for quite some time, and I can tell you that the microphone isn’t nearly as critical to a great recording as the Source. Don’t believe me? Let me put it this way. The best microphone in the world, whatever that is, will pick up the most torturously atrocious singer with absolute clarity. Once you accept that, then you understand. It’s all about the Source.
Of course, if your budget were nearly limitless—if you had say, a billion dollars in your bank account—that would be a different matter entirely. In that case, it might well be worthwhile to have twenty ELA M 251s. At which point, are you really going to miss one? Would this not make a fantastic gift for your new mentor?
Where Kanish’s mentorship is concerned, it’s his recording experience that bodes well for our journey together. This indicates to me that he has both the interest and the motivation needed for the grueling job at hand. Given this, it seems almost silly for him to work as my Intern, when what I really need is an Assistant. Besides, an Assistant appears far more prestigious to your clients than an Intern. Shit, any schmo can pick up an Intern. You’ve got to be bringing in the loot to justify an Assistant.
And so, before young Kanish has even arrived, I’ve made the executive decision to promote him, sight unseen, from Intern to Assistant. I mean, why not? The only difference between the two jobs is the title and the pay. I get paid the same either way!
I’m sure it’s no accident that the initial 25 percent installment from Paneer was in my account (and this is no exaggeration), twenty minutes after I’d given the Handler my banking details. The reason I know it only took twenty minutes? Because my banker called me.
I don’t have a banker. Or at least, I didn’t before today.
An international bank transfer often takes days to clear, sometimes weeks, and I was certainly happy that it could be so easily expedited. I would imagine that someone like Paneer has money all over the world. Which got me to thinking. What do Billionaires do with all their money? I realize much of it will be tied up in various assets, businesses, and markets. But what of the cash?
Just to put this into some perspective, if you have a billion dollars in cash, you could put a million dollars into an account in a thousand different banks. There are fewer than two hundred countries in the entire world. So, if you have a fully liquid billion, then it seems reasonable that you could have a rather large cache of cash accessible anywhere and everywhere, other than perhaps the most remote areas of the planet.
Were I a Billionaire, I’d have all sorts of strategically placed safety-deposit boxes filled with cash, precious metals, foreign currency, bonds, certificates, etc. I’d invest in any financial instrument that could be used to hedge against just about any disaster I could come up with, perhaps even some I couldn’t. Currency collapse? No problem, I got lots of gold. Run on the banks? Whatev. I got scads of cash and hectares of land. I’d even fill an entire safety deposit box with vegetable seeds just in case there’s an agricultural collapse. And why not? It’s not like I’d ever be in danger of running out of money. Hell, it’d be challenging just to spend the interest.
It’s quite staggering when you think about it. If you’re generating a modest 3 percent interest on a billion dollars, you’re accumulating $30 million a year on that money. That means you’re hauling in more than $80,000 every day, $3,500 per hour, or $57 each minute. So basically, if you have a billion in cash in a bank account, your net worth is increasing by nearly $1 every second of the day. By the time you finish eating a $10 sandwich, you made $590 in profit after expenses. You could take a day to find a brand-new Range Rover of your liking, and pay for it with the interest you made while shopping. You could fly from LA to Seattle, take an Uber to a studio, purchase their ELA M 251, Uber back to the airport, and by the time you got back home, the mic and your travel expenses would be fully paid for with the interest you’d earned.
And that’s just on your spare billion. That doesn’t count the other many billions that are surely returning at a far higher rate than 3 percent.
With the initial 25 percent payment from Paneer safely tucked into my account, I was feeling quite liberated. I honestly can’t remember when my checking account was this swollen. As a result, there was a spring in my step. A skip in my stride. I was whistling while I worked. Taking it all in. Smelling the roses. Predictably, I started spending like a drunken sailor.
Between paying all my past-due bills, the long overdue repair of some recording equipment, the purchase of a new mattress and linens for my pending houseguest, far too many groceries from Costco for the size of my household, a 70-inch HDTV for my room, a new Mac, a used VW for my son (which freed up my car again), oh, and seven sushi dinners in six days, I’d already managed to make quite the dent in the initial deposit. And while a little retail therapy is nothing short of invigorating after months of frugality, it’s also rather depressing.
At this stage of my life, I should be in my most robust earning years. The problem is that for most of the projects in my career, I wasn’t in a position to profit-share. And while I do get some royalties, that particular income stream has shrunk significantly over the years, and not just for me. For everyone.
You see, Producers’ royalties have traditionally been based on sales, which are now in a death spiral due to the popularity of Streaming. Why would anyone buy music when they can just Stream it for free? And for a nominal $10 per month you get to avoid annoying commercials too. So, one would buy music and store it locally why?
The problem is that only the Artist and the Songwriter get paid Streaming royalties. And while the rate that Streaming sites pay out to Independent Creators is criticized for being dismally and unsustainably low—which it is—it’s really the only area of growth in this business. Which is great. Wonderful, even. Except, as a Producer I don’t get paid a dime on royalties from Streams, or radio play, or television licensing.
Sales used to be a lucrative way to profit-share when selling a million albums was a reasonably frequent occurrence. Unfortunately, in all of 2014, there were only two albums that sold over a million copies. Two! That’s right. Out of tens of thousands of albums recorded, two sold over a million copies. And one of them was a soundtrack!
Back in the early aughts there were scores of albums certified multi-Platinum on the sales charts. And it wasn’t all that uncommon for the most popular albums of that time to sell over ten million copies. But two? Two albums that sold just over a million copies? That’s a massive contraction, my friends.
I think we can safely declare the CD dead.
This isn’t meant as some sort of bitch-fest or “woe is me” story. I’m doing better than most, and my “broke” isn’t quite the same as for someone who has limited options and no skill set. I’ve spent an entire career adapting to changes in technology, so that’s certainly nothing new. But how does one adapt to a change in technology that completely wipes away the one revenue stream your entire premise of retirement was based upon? Remember, if current sales dry up, then catalog sales dry up too. Poof. No more royalties.
All that said, at the present moment, my income isn’t the big problem. It’s my outcome, as Los Angeles is an exceptionally expensive city to live in, more so now than ever. And with record budgets plummeting alongside sales, it has become difficult to survive from the up-front fees alone. To make matters worse, as the economy has slowly recovered, the real estate market has once again exploded. Which would be beneficial if my divorce hadn’t forced the sale of my house at the bottom of the market.
Google’s relatively new facility in Venice Beach hasn’t helped matters, as an influx of even more multimillionaires to the region has resulted in a 300 percent increase in home values there. This has bled down the coast to my neck of the woods in Redondo Beach. Rents throughout Los Angeles are currently at an all-time high, to the point that we are now experiencing an affordable-housing crisis. Frankly, now that my son is a young adult, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to stay in Los Angeles. At this point, I can work from anywhere. Yet here I am. Admittedly, it’s difficult to leave moderate weather.
The Sit ’n Sleep mattress delivery truck pulled away, and I was just about to close up the front doors when a black Mercedes-Benz sporting a white Consul license plate pulled up to the curb. An Indian man in his sixties, sporting a white beard and a black suit, exited the car with a clipboard. He was a petite man, but then, most people seem small to me.
“Mr. Mixerman, I presume? I am Rajadut and I work for the Indian Consulate in San Francisco. It is my understanding that you will be sponsoring Kanish Kanish, son of Paneer Kanish, and I would like to go over a few things with you.”
“I believe I’m the one being sponsored here, but whatever you need,” I replied.
“Yes. I’m sure that you are correct about that. May I come in?”
Unprompted, Rajadut entered the house and proceeded to look around. He wandered from room to room through the first floor of the house as he deliberately marked upon his clipboard. It was almost as if he were planning some sort of event.
“How can I help you, Rajadut?”
“Yes, thank you. As I’m sure you are aware, Paneer Kanish of the New Delhi Kanishes is the patriarch of a vehdy important Indian family. We must be sure that the dots are eyed, and the crosses crossed.”
Clearly, he meant “the i’s are dotted,” which is kind of funny when you think about it.
“I am here to take care of security.”
“What are we protecting?”
“The entitled child of a Billionaire. What do you think we are protecting?”
It was a rather bold statement with undertones of bitterness. Apparently, he was also quite serious. I, on the other hand, was slightly confused.
“Are hoodlums after him?”
Rajadut, who was now tossing my kitchen drawers, stopped momentarily to address me.
“Are there guns in the house?”
“What about bullets?”
“Why would I have bullets if I don’t have a gun?”
“Are you not American?”
This was getting a bit insulting.
“There are no weapons of any kind here!” I snapped in irritation.
“And what of this?” Rajadut asked suspiciously as he held up one of my kitchen knives. “This is not a weapon?”
“If you think I’m going to kiddie-proof my house for a fucking adult, you’re sadly mistaken.”
I was growing impatient with the obtrusive nature of his visit. Perhaps sensing this, Rajadut put my large butcher knife back into it’s protective block, then made his way toward the guest bedroom located immediately off the front foyer.
“You purchased a new bed, I see. This will be perfect.”
“You think Kanish will like the room?” I inquired. “I was thinking about decorating the room with Indian tapestries and pillows, you know? There’s a store in Little India—that’s just down the road in Artesia—and they’ll have everything I need to make the room nice and homey for Kanish.”
“I wouldn’t waste your money. Kanish Kanish will not be staying here. This will be for security.”
“Security! Where will Kanish be staying?”
“The Crown Royale Hotel.”
Rajadut surely meant the Crowne Plaza in Redondo Beach. Casino Royale was the name of a rather bad James Bond film (aren’t they all bad?), and Crown Royal is a Canadian whiskey. Still, I didn’t bother to correct him.
Putting Kanish up at the Crowne Plaza didn’t make much sense for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s not all that posh. Not Billionaire posh, anyway. And I really didn’t dig the idea of my Assistant commuting from the Crowne Plaza, even if it is just five minutes away.
Frankly, I’d grown excited at the prospect of having a bona fide full-time Assistant, and I’d concocted all sorts of schemes to accelerate his learning curve. I’d even gone out of my way to find a young Indian singer in need of a production so as to be sure our first recording would be of something familiar to him. I was taking this all quite seriously, and I wanted my Assistant living with me—not his bodyguard. I took a moment to register my complaint.
“I don’t think you understand. I want Kanish here. Living, eating, and breathing recording,” I implored. “It’s critical to his education.”
“This is not of my concern. I am here to collect information, and I believe I have all that I need for the now. I would vehdy much like to thank you for your time.”
The front doors were still wide open, and Rajadut easily slid past me as he made his way to his car.
“Hey, Rajadut,” I called out. “Have you ever met Kanish Kanish?”
“I will be meeting him for the first time at the immigration office tomorrow. I will bring him to you personally. You can expect a text from me then. Thank you for your time, Mr. Mixerman.”
And with that Rajadut was out.
I closed up the house. The spare bedroom was still in full disarray—not that it mattered: I had no intention of preparing it for security. This would be dealt with upon Kanish’s arrival tomorrow. Actually, much would be discussed directly with Kanish Kanish tomorrow, including his complete and total lack of communication.
After all, my pending Assistant will represent me. This is my business, fucked as it may be, and I will run it the way I see fit without an entitled Billionaire or his Handlers dictating the terms.
I’m quite certain I’m entitled to that!