There is a long-lost ancient Hindu proverb that states, “A great writer may seek a story, but a great story shall find its writer.” Or maybe it’s a Buddhist saying. It doesn’t really matter. It’s ancient and it’s a proverb, and that would certainly be the case here—a great story found me. I’m just here to tell you about it.
While it’s true that I’m a writer—what with this being my fifth published book thus far—I’m first and foremost a record Producer, and that means a lot of things to a lot of people, most of them wrong. Admittedly, the definition of Producer has expanded somewhat over the course of my two and a half decades making music, and much of that has to do with the plethora of neophyte wannabes distorting the term. I don’t denounce this phenomenon. I accept it. Rank amateurs are exactly what the Music Business was built upon—now more than ever.
Much like my first story—The Daily Adventures of Mixerman—this one contains a serialized documentation of, and commentary on, what I can only classify as extraordinary events. I can assure you, were this the kind of story that required a live daily entry like my first, I’d have run for the hills. I decided long ago that I would never again put myself under that kind of pressure—the kind that comes from too many viewers crashing the servers in wait. This was back when bandwidth could be an issue, mind you. I mean, there were mornings that I couldn’t even get on the site to post my own entry. Hey, the reaction I’m good with. The stress that comes with it? No fucking way.
Setting overall truthiness aside, this story, in many ways is at least as stunning as my first, and I’m hoping you find it even half as riveting as I did going through it. And while this is not a diary per se, it was written like one, such that these entries were hatched at a time when events were freshest in my mind. Unlike a pure fictional work in which a good story is tightly and cleverly weaved into a yarn, this one is a bit more like life. Think of it like a reality show that you read.
Our story begins upon my receipt of a rather strange and somewhat forward email.
I would very much like to speak to you about available internships with Mixerman.
That note made me hungry. What with Paneer being an Indian cheese, and a Knish a tasty potato delicacy found in New Jersey sporting arenas, how could it not? And while I found that particular combination of food somewhat intriguing, this was surely a prank. So, I did what anyone would. I went to breakfast without giving it another thought.
The overt act of ignoring written Internship requests is standard procedure around here. I don’t dare answer these sorts of inquiries, for I know that the moment I turn down the request, I’ll be inundated with a whole slew of follow-up questions in regards to how one gets into this fucked-up business. The answer is, don’t.
Really, I’m just not into the whole slave labor concept. In my experience you tend to get what you pay for, and as a wise friend once told me, when you pay peanuts you get Elephants. Or maybe that’s monkeys. Whatever. The fact of the matter is that Interns tend to be a great big time sap, and there’s really no guarantee that I’ll get any return on my investment.
For starters, I don’t own a multi-room commercial studio complex. I have a private mix room, and I’m the only one that uses it, hence the term private. Then, of course, sometimes I do other things—like write books, or record them as audiobooks, or make supplemental film clips. I’ve got quite a bit going on! Which is slightly problematic, because I could spend months training some kid to do things exactly the way I like, only to lose my perfect Super-Assistant to someone else the moment I find myself between records.
I can tell you exactly how it’ll all go down, too. Somehow, I’ll muster up the Herculean patience necessary to spend months teaching someone the art of assisting me as I endure countless fuck-ups on our journey to Assisting-Me Nirvana. And once we reach the promised land together? My slave will leave me and use all the knowledge I’ve bestowed upon him for someone else’s benefit. Of course, I suppose that’s the whole point of taking an Internship. To get ahead. But what of me? How does training someone expressly for the purpose of leaving help me to get ahead?
You have to understand, things aren’t what they were in the Music Business, and were it not for my ability to hustle—a trait that was handed down by my father—and to do so with a calm demeanor, a trait passed on to me by my mother, I’d probably be working at a TV station right now. Kill me. Seriously. The energy sap of performing a mindless audio job would be a fate worse than death for someone like me. I need to create, and that’s all there is to it.
Surely there’s nothing wrong with taking a job running sound for a TV station. It’s good work if you can get it. You’re paid well because TV makes money. You can even have a life. So who am I to criticize? It’s totally reasonable, particularly when you get into your mid- to late forties, only to realize you’re competing not against other talented individuals with a track record of making great music, but rather against any kid with a computer and a pair of headphones. Oh, and the best part? The kid probably dispenses recording advice on the Internet. Because it’s not bad enough that music is one of the top ten most competitive fields there is; writing also makes the list. I suppose that makes me a verifiable glutton for self-loathing.
It’s kind of funny in a disturbing sort of way, because sometimes I’m asked to produce an album that someone else has already agreed to produce for free. Can you imagine that? A band accepts an offer from a Producer to work on their tracks for free and then they attempt to use that bid to leverage a deal with me. For the same price! Because somehow my free is better than that of my competitor. And guess what? My competitor isn’t necessarily some schmo working out of his mother’s basement. Sometimes the other Producer (this has happened more than once, can you tell?) is a professional with a bona fide track record of multiple Gold and Platinum albums who now finds himself working out of his garage.
Admittedly, this would also describe me, except I can’t and won’t compete with free. I really don’t understand how others do.
As fucked up as the Music Business currently is, this is not the time for me to go into a sickeningly detailed rant about it. So, let me just put this in simple, concise terms for you. These days I’m paid about half as much for twice the work as I was before the crash of 2008. And as if that’s not enough, for whatever reason, everything seems to take twice as long as before. You do the math.
Given this, I could use the help! And so I do occasionally consider accepting an Intern. In fact, I get requests for the position on a weekly basis. I even keep a spare bedroom available for that day that some obnoxious kid does come into my life and then refuses to leave. And while I’d prefer to use the room as a place for clients to crash after a late-night mix session, the reality is, I meet only a small percentage of the Artists and Producers who hire me to mix their records these days.
I certainly think I could justify accepting an Intern. Room and board have value as does the School of Mixerman. But anytime I consider teaching someone what it is that I actually need from them—frankly, I shudder. I find the thought somewhat overwhelming. What I really need is some kid so fucking aggressive that he or she somehow manages to teach me what it is I need. That’s fucked up, I realize. It’s also true.
Breakfast at the Cozy Cafe was delicious as always. There was the usual spirited debate between the patrons seated around the U-shaped counter. I typically stay out of the kibitz-fest, beyond the occasional fake smile, but I was feeling a bit feisty. I suppose the banter had distracted me, because as I paid my check, I noticed that I’d somehow missed four calls, all of them from the same international number. The country code was 91.
The first three messages were identical in nature, delivered by an Indian woman whose exotic accent had a slight British lilt to it.
“Please hold for Mr. Kanish.”
Of course, the voicemail ended abruptly because cellphones don’t continue recording silence. You’d think they’d know that in India, since that’s where all my tech support calls seem to go.
The fourth voicemail started the same way, “Please hold . . .” but this time around the woman was interrupted by an agitated man with an impossibly thick Indian accent. “Give me the motherfucker phone!” he said, followed by the usual static that comes from such a violent physical transfer.
Were it not for the many holidays I’ve spent talking to my nearly indecipherable Indian father-in-law—one sibling removed—I probably would have had no idea what the agitated man was saying. It seemed as though his tongue couldn’t catch up with his brain, and as much as I’d like to relay it to you phonetically, we’d all be working far too hard for that. And so I’ve limited myself to altering just the “verys,” if for no other reason than because he seemed quite fond of the word.
“Mixerman, my name is Paneer Kanish. I am leaving this message because I sent you an email the other day, and am vehdy, vehdy, disappointed to not have heard from you. In fact, I find it rude. It is urgent that I speak to you about an opportunity to mentor my son to become the world-famous Producer of Bollywood music.”
Bollywood music? What the fuck do I know about Bollywood music? Other than the goal. Which as far as I can tell is to cram as many musical parts into the upper midrange as humanly possible so as to exert great auditory pain upon anyone within earshot. This was not a concept that interested me. And what the hell was he playing at calling it my opportunity? How was mentoring his son my opportunity?
“I shall pay you handsomely,” he concluded.
As much as I find the concept of slave labor repulsive, indentured servitude was something I most certainly could get behind.
I’d barely gotten the name Paneer Kanish typed into my search engine when my phone began to squawk in an unfamiliar fashion. It was a Facebook call. Who knew someone could call me from Facebook? Oddly, it was Paneer Kanish. I didn’t even know I’d accepted his ”friendship,” although admittedly, that’s really not all that surprising. I’m pretty liberal with my friendships. Come to think of it, how the hell did he get my phone number?
Who was this Paneer fellow?
I decided to click “Feeling Lucky” on Google, which I haven’t done for, I don’t know, fifteen years? As it turns out, I was lucky! A slick webzine splashed my screen. Headline: “The Top Twenty Wealthiest Men in India.”
Wouldn’t you know it? One of them was Paneer Kanish!
My Facebook app, which was still buzzing the phone, was now also ringing my computer’s Skype, which is somehow and most annoyingly linked to Facebook. Because I would want for total strangers from the other side of the world to reach me so easily. And while I’m clearly being sarcastic with that remark, in this particular case it’s true. Billionaires can call me any time they like.
“Please hold for Mr. Kanish.”
A scowling, perhaps even snarling Mr. Kanish appeared on my screen. It was the same man pictured in the article. Paneer was indeed a Billionaire. Happy days!
“Mixerman. I assume this is what you prefer to be called. I am Paneer Kanish. You are a difficult man to reach.”
I’m not sure he was going to be denied reaching me, but okay. After a quick toss of my hair, I engaged my own camera.
For the most part, Paneer was intense, serious, and presented himself as devoid of joy. His confidence was supreme, as one would expect from a Billionaire, and while he wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination beautiful, he had a certain charisma that popped so ferociously from the screen, I swear it was like he was in the room with me. He also wasn’t one to chitchat. He had a twenty-one-year-old son who—as he described it—was lost. Apparently, his poor child wanted to become a Music Producer.
“Thus far, my son has done what is expected of him, although just barely. He has somehow managed to graduate from Eton and then Oxford, but now he defies my wishes for him to go to Wharton. He insists to me that he is Producer material, whatever the motherfuck that means.”
“It sounds familiar,” I replied.
“What am I to do?” Paneer lamented. “I could cut him off from his Trust, but if music is in his heart, who am I to cremate his dreams before I give him the opportunity to fail of his own volition? Let me tell you, I have been against this from the moment Kanish came to me.”
“You call your son by his last name?”
“I do not! My son’s name is Kanish Kanish. His last name is also his first. Why is it you interrupt me with this stupidity?”
Although I did find it truly fascinating that the boy had the same first and last name, my true aim was to shake Paneer off his most awkward confession. This wasn’t a therapy session, and I’m not his shrink. All I really wanted to determine was the level of pain I would have to endure were I to agree to mentor his son.
“Look, Paneer. Does Kanish Kanish have musical talent?” I asked.
“According to his uncle and his mother yes—both carry Bleating hearts, I might tell you—but they insist he has the gift. I am at my wits’ end!”
Paneer paused the already dramatic moment to pull a red silk handkerchief with lace fringe from what, I swear to you, looked to be a solid-gold tissue box. He unabashedly discharged his nose one nostril at a time into the silk hanky and then immediately tossed it behind his shoulder before returning to his confessional.
“Kanish is the Heir to my fortune. But do not think for a moment that this is a given. I expect my son to be successful, and I will accept no less.”
“And what does success look like?” I inquired.
“What do you mean by this? What does success look like? Success does not have a look.”
“I mean, describe success. Does that mean riches? Fame? Power?”
“Yes. Of course!” Paneer replied.
I was hoping he’d pick one. I should have known he’d take them all. I suppose you don’t get to be a Billionaire by leaving anything on the table.
Really, I’m not sure why the fuck I cared how he defined success. By the time anyone could make that kind of determination, I’d be long out of the picture and fully paid. It’s not like Paneer could get a refund should his child prove talentless. All I could do was introduce the kid to the thinking behind good recording techniques. I can’t turn someone who is ostensibly tone-deaf and with no musical talent whatsoever into a world-class record-maker. There are limits.
“Let me put it this way,” I started. “How do you wish to describe your son a few years from now?”
Paneer rubbed his chin in thought, and then he began to wag his finger at the camera.
“That is a vehdy interesting question that you ask of me. It shows remarkable insight into your personhood. Quite simply, in three years from now, I would vehdy much like to say . . . that my son is the greatest Bollywood Producer the world has ever known!”
“You could say that right now,” I retorted.
“What do you say? How could I make such a claim?”
“You’re a Billionaire. Don’t you just say it and it happens?”
“Yes, yes, vehdy good, you have done your research, just as I have researched you. Frankly, I find you a bit shady.”
“Shady! What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Things happen on the Internet when you’re around.”
I laughed aloud, it was such a preposterously ambiguous claim. What the fuck does that mean, anyway? Things happen on the Internet when I’m around?
“So, if you believe that I’m shady, why do you want me to teach your son?”
“You are not without your redeeming qualities. Besides, Kanish reads your books and watches your videos, and he is big fandom. It vehdy much seems to me that you are in the ideal position to offer him success. And despite your flaws, I find you to be a safe bet.”
There’s no such thing as a safe bet in the Music Business. There never has been. But I certainly wasn’t going to tell him that. He’s a Billionaire. As far as he’s concerned, money fixes everything. And in general, he’s probably right.
“It vehdy much seems to me that you are in the ideal position to offer him success,” Paneer repeated.
“And how much time do you think that’s going to take?”
“How could I possibly answer that question? You are the expert in this matter! I would suggest that you take a year!”
Paneer went from “I can’t answer that question,” to answering it definitively without missing a beat. It was impressive. No wonder the guy was a Billionaire.
“A year!” I scoffed.
“I will pay you handsomely for your time, of course.”
“And what does handsomely look like?” I inquired.
Paneer was once again unable to navigate his way through the idiomatic term of “look like,” and so I asked him if he might just make me a fucking offer already. As it turns out, it was handsome indeed! In fact, the offer was so attractive that I admit, I probably should have accepted it outright. But I didn’t. He was far too desperate for that.
Let’s just evaluate this for a moment. Based on his proposal, not only do I get an Intern, but I also get paid what essentially amounts to half my yearly nut, and that’s before I’ve even earned a dime producing projects. I admit, had I not been staring at Paneer’s net worth in the multi-multi billions of dollars, I might have accepted the job without counter. But to do so would have been to ignore the cardinal rule of a negotiation: Understand your opponent’s ratio of desperation to cash. In the case of Paneer, both seemed to be in endless supply. Sadly, my own desperation was also high and my cash almost depleted, but then, he didn’t know that, and I certainly wasn’t going to tip him off.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about negotiating over the years, it’s that you tend to have the upper hand so long as you’re willing to walk away. Really, you need only give that impression, but this usually means you’re actually willing to do it. Of course, overtly threatening to end the negotiation before determining all the terms of a potential deal is nothing short of foolish. The trick is to portray strength without using threats to do it. This is achieved through vocal tone and body language until such time as you fully nail down all expectations.
It was clear to me in under two minutes time that Paneer was determined to save family face—a concept that I find foreign. I mean, all I can do as a middle-class American parent is expose my child to as much opportunity as possible so that he may find his strengths and passions. This hopefully manifests as success, not as I define it, but as my son might. It’s his life, not mine, and I won’t try to dictate what he chooses to do with it.
It seems to me that Paneer viewed this somewhat differently than I do, and I’m not sure it’s as much an Indian thing as it is an über-rich thing. You see, Paneer was clearly unwilling to leave his child’s success to chance. Destiny is far too risky for the likes of Paneer to depend upon.
As for my situation, if I were to be brutally honest with you, and I suppose I should be, my coffers were low and my need for cash relatively high. The business has been tough in the last eight years, and the toll of operating in the red since the crash of 2008 has left me somewhat behind. The pathetic part is, I’m doing better than most. Still, with no immediate job prospects on the horizon, I had to take Paneer’s offer seriously. At the moment, it was money I could ill afford to turn down.
Since Paneer was under the impression that I was the perfect person to act as a surrogate father to his son, and since he carried immense wealth in combination with a deep-seated need to purchase a father’s pride, I felt as though I was in an exceptionally strong position to counter. Given this, I was willing to draw a line in the sand and accept the results.
You see, setting a price for a deal that you could take or you could leave is as simple as predicting the potential pain and then placing a value upon it. How much money makes the misery worthwhile? So long as you can answer that question accurately, you can make an offer without fear of negative consequence. Regardless of the decision—you’re happy!
“Double it,” I blurted.
“You should want that I double my vehdy generous offer? You greedy American pig! I should have it!”
“What the fuck do you mean you should have it?”
“What the fuck do you mean, what do I mean? I mean I should fucking have it. No wonder we are creaming on you Americans. You don’t understand the basic operation of dividing by two.”
“Dividing by two? What the fuck?” I puzzled. “Oh! You want to cut your offer in half!”
“That is what I have said! I’m about to halve it!”
“I’m about to quadruple it!” I countered.
Obnoxiously forthright people can handle it when you get right back in their grill, and I even find that they positively prefer it. Of course, in this case, we were both calling each other’s bluff; it’s just that I had him so convinced that I knew he was bluffing, he couldn’t possibly call mine. And if he did, I would have no choice but to walk away from the deal. That’s crazy fucked up, I know. Essentially what I’m saying is that I was both bluffing and not bluffing at the very same time. It’s a good trick if you can pull it off.
“Fine. I will pay you what you ask under one condition.”
“This oughta be good,” I chuckled.
“Ah hahah. You are a vehdy cynical person. I embrace this about you.”
It was the first bit of warmth Paneer had displayed, and his accent was inexplicably more singsongy when he smiled. It was a side of Paneer I’d like to know better. As it turns out, his newfound affability was short-lived.
“You have a knack for upsetting people and having them take notice. I want you to use this skill to make my son famous. You will write about your experience and publish it online.”
This was a classic bait and switch. Paneer had it all planned out, and I fell for it. Even with doubling his initial offer, I wasn’t wild about the concept of writing a book too. Paneer had managed to change the terms on me mid-negotiation, and while I could have surely countered, I decided not to push my luck. I’d already gotten him to double his initial bid, and that was going to put me in a somewhat decent financial position again—one I’ve not seen for quite some time. Besides, he didn’t define “writing about it.” It wasn’t like I’d have to draft a full-length novel or anything.
“And just in case you are feeling you can slough it off, your book must be a minimum of a hundred thousand vehdy, vehdy entertaining words.”
A wry smile came over the Billionaire’s face. He’d schooled me, and the motherfucker knew it too. Worse yet, he knew that I knew that he knew it. Which pisses me off to no end, even now.
“I can see by the look on your face that you are not happy with this. Let me tell you not to be a fool. There is a saying in my country, and that is ’Knowledge can only be got in one way, the way of experience; there is no other way to know.’ My son can learn everything he must by being at your service for one year as you are paid for the pleasure of his company. And you get a story too. This is a gift that I give to you.”
Paneer’s little rhyme at the end of his pitch made me chuckle, which may have been my second tactical error given how quickly he closed after that.
“You will get twenty-five percent up front, another twenty-five percent at the end of the second quarter. The remaining fifty percent shall be delivered upon completion of your tenure. Kanish will be there promptly. Thank you vehdy much for your time.”
Before I could protest, Paneer hung up the Skype.
I wasn’t wild about the payment terms. I was even less enthused with my Intern’s estimated time of arrival. What the fuck does “promptly” mean? I was half expecting a knock on the door at that very moment. My phone rang instead. It was India calling.
“Good day, I am seeking Mick Zerman to arrange for the arrival of Kanish Kanish.”
It was Paneer’s Handler. Kanish was to arrive in a week.
All that I required now was a record to produce—a far easier task than when I began the day. What, with me being fully and properly subsidized? I could now compete with free.
So, that’s how they do it.