I’ve been spending a lot of time in the back office over the past few weeks.
Every line of work has its front office and back office. The front’s the shiny, sparkly stuff, the reasons people are originally drawn to he job. The back’s the unseen paddling below the waterline which keeps the whole show on the road. Not, in other words, the glamorous end of things, nor even – except in its own specific terms – particularly exciting.
In a musical life, the front stuff would be, of course, performing, recording, writing. Perhaps doing the publicity and interview rounds fall in there as well, along with the social media dance. One doesn’t have to take particular enjoyment out of doing this stuff for it to be front office (it’s all work, after all); but anything which involves the manifestation of The Artist’s Wonderfulness is out there, out front.
In the back office the numbers get crunched and more and more numbers are involved in the business of music. Obviously there’s basic accounting, there’s budgeting, there’s that whole bizarre guesstimate world of projected figures for sales and audience attendance. Usually these days margins are fine. A tour can stand up or fall down entirely based upon one single gig coming through or being cancelled and naturally commitment to a tour has to be made long before every element is in place.
(I haven’t, of course, been buried in tour spreadsheets in this period but they’re an important part of Back Office world….)
When it comes to preparing for records to come out there’s a whole welter of numbers which have to be created, sourced, entered correctly in order for the whole thing to run at all, let alone smoothly. Every song has to have a unique numerical I.D. in itself and another one to signify which physical medium it’s present on. It has to have a similar I.D. in the purely digital world. Any slips here – or in the various barcodes which have to be attached – and the downward slope beckons.
Most of the work isn’t numerical but simply organisational. Check and recheck – especially necessary with this ageing brain…. And of course – this is the modern world – wait in, seemingly endlessly, for collections and deliveries.
I don’t mean to whinge about this. I’ve been doing it for years and if I hadn’t taken on the responsibility many years ago I simply wouldn’t have had a career at all. It’s also true to say that it’s doing the back office work which leaves me free in the creative, front office one. That wouldn’t be the case if I was beholden to others.
One strange thing though: from time to time one can mess up creatively (in comparative terms) and still, as a rule, come back unscathed. But it only takes one major error of judgement in the Back Office for the whole house to come down, potentially permanently.
In any event, most of my office work is now done. Expect me to be back stage centre in a matter of days, thumping the tub for the upcoming new recordings….