Thursday, 7 May 2009

A&R Man Claims £1000s In Slap-Up Meal Expenses Frenzy

I'm glad I reproduced that Ricky Gervais story last week, largely because I got an email from a reader called Kate, who also remembers Ricky in pre-Office days. I asked her for permission to quote a bit of it here and she said yes, bless her. So here is her brilliant story:

"We all went to the same gym - me, him and Jane, his lovely missus. I used to listen to his shitty bands, year after painful year. I let him have an enormous time of day because he was brilliant at impersonating David Bowie, it broke up the demo tape boredom and also because, like you, I was diligent. Also he let me use the ULU swimming pool! I made Chris Parry take us to dinner (this is probably after listening to his cruddy bands for ten years) because I thought he was so funny and should be on the radio. Quite randomly, Chris said 'yes, you can have a job at XFM we will call it Head of Speech'. No word of a lie, Ricky wept, I did nudge him and say 'pull yourself together' - we were all a bit the worse for wear. Behind every great man is an underpaid somebody or other... "

Well, like I said a couple of weeks ago in the Susan Boyle blog, all some people need is just a little break and then they blossom. And Ricky G must surely be an inspiration to all late developers - just like Boyle is now. Although, now the main story on Susan Boyle seems to be that no one as yet, has made any money out of her - least of all ITV whose clip has now been watched over 100 million times on Youtube.

One business which has probably done well 0ut of Boyle is the restaurant trade - and they probably need it in the economic climate change. Did you notice the pivotal part of Kate's story above? Food. It was the head of Fiction and XFM taking them all out to dinner. I bet there have been a number of substantial 'working' lunches and dinners held between various employees of ITV, Sony and Syco in the name of Susan Boyle. With all manner of starters, desserts and liquid refreshment. And what happens afterwards? Yes, you got it: the expenses claim. Anyone who has ever had a job with expenses - and possibly there are some of you out there who are still blessed with such jobs - will know the combined pleasure and pain. The pleasure of the 'cashback' moment; the pain of the mounting receipts burning a hole in an old envelope in your desk drawer that you know will take half a day to sort out. Fortunately none of you will have experienced the public scrutiny being enjoyed by the government today but then again, the sort of things that A&R men claim rarely involve furniture or decoration costs.

But to sympathise with our beleaguered public servants for a few brief moments, the key thing I remember about expenses is that no matter how hard you try to claim back everything you have spent in the name of your job, you still end up out of pocket. No matter how many receipts you would save, there would never be enough to cover what you had spent. No wonder Gordon Brown had a go at claiming twice for the same thing, eh?

With A&R the primary form of expense is always Entertainment - that's mainly buying people drinks and occasionally food. Now, unless you want to look like a complete tightarse and defeat the purpose of buying booze in the first place, you never ask the bar staff for a receipt. In fact the expression, "Can I have a receipt please?" is so laden with the pain and suffering of boring office life that you may as well say to whoever it is you are getting a drink, "Please don't sign to me/produce this record/ever return my calls again - I am a boring company drone and really not worthy to be in the company of a creative free spirit like yourself."

That's the thing about A&R - half the time you are a dude with a cool record collection and an ear for a hit, and the other half you are a flunky. Unfortunately you are - in my experience at least - usually the latter when you hang out with bands, who tap you for free drinks and only the former when you are in the office surrounded by others who don't get out as much as you. And boy do the folks in Accounts know you go out - they know where, when and exactly what you had.

Expenses, as the man who signed Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine once said, are the most creative part of the A&R job. Incidentally, he went on to make a fortune doing cover-mount music CDs for newspapers, then sold the company, made a pile and is now a happy and successful school teacher. But I digress, the creative part of expenses is the fact that rather like drama in books, film and TV, the truth is often stranger than fiction and of course when you submit your sheets of A4 to Accounts you sure as hell don't want anyone thinking your claim is strange. So if you've been buying large amounts of booze, food and plastic novelty items in order to convince a band that you are without doubt the coolest and most exciting record company you might find yourself fabricating little stories around the receipts you have collected in order to creative believable scenarios.

So many times I would find that for legitimate nights out with bands I would spend £100 or £150 on booze/pinball/entrance to gigs but only come away with a couple of cab receipts. So in order to make up what I'd spent I started using receipts from the occasional time I would go out for a meal with a mate. And then before I knew it EVERY time I went out with friend to eat I would ask for a receipt just in case. But imagine that on the front page of the Daily Telegraph - it wouldn't wash would it? "A&R Man Claims £1000s In Slap-Up Meal Frenzy!" And no, before you ask, apart from that one time when I went to buy 'stimulants to help us work through the night' with a band's money - I never bought a band drugs. Take their drugs, sure! Who didn't?

I've noticed that recently when I see friends from record companies that I end up having tea and biscuits more often than a slap-up meal. This is frankly a welcome development. The thing about expense accounts - and this may just be a bloke thing - is that often they are flaunted like expensive jewellery or cars. Quite often I remember going to meet music publishers and lovely thought they invariably were, we would end up in ludicrously expensive restaurants in West London talking about what we had seen at the Barfly and if we would be able to get on the guest list at The Bull & Gate - it just seemed wrong. And then of course next time we met, I felt duty bound to entertain them in a similar fashion. One record company pal told me recently that they now have to clear all their FUTURE expenses before going out and spending the cash. Surely he was exaggerating, this is madness! - kind of like being asked to predict how many CDs a freshly signed act is going to sell. Oh hang on, we actually did have to do that when I was at BMG and V2.

But really, telling an expenses Tsar how much you think you are going to blow on lunch with a business associate takes all the glamour out of having an expense account doesn't it. Looking back on my expenses days I now realise the real joy of the expense account was the reward every month. After spending an afternoon of going through your pockets for receipts and trying to remember what the hell you had done it was pure pleasure to get that extra bit of cash back in your account. It was my money, I'd spent it, but I could never get used to the fact that I got money back after I had spent it - however legitimately. It was free money. And astute managers recognised this psychology - one manager (who is now extremely powerful) was pretty skint when he managed a band for me in the 90s and made no bones about tapping me for free food every time he saw me, "Where are we going for lunch today, dear boy?" he would enquire on the phone, often before I knew I even had a meeting with him. Fortunately, like Ricky Gervais, he was marvellous company and I never turned him down. Last time I saw him he offered to buy me lunch - it was a lovely moment and even though I'd already eaten I hope he somehow managed to claim for it.


  1. Just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed this blog. A friend passed on the link and I've had a pleasant evening reading through all of the various entries.

    Good luck with everything and please keep this up!

  2. I was in NYC with an old school Scottish manager and when the A&R dude turned up hammered with a limo with full bar for the band, he was promptly grabbed by the throat and told, next time get a fucking people carrier and if you ever do this again your first Scottish lesson will be a malky. I felt sort of sorry for the guy at the time, as there are few perks as you say but the band are still touring, and working as a good business years after many of their peers went bust so I guess he had a point..