Learning to trust ‘The Pinch’

Next March will be a major occasion for me. I don’t know the date specifically, but that month will mark seven years of full-time employment in the music industry. I will be thirty when it happens and, hopefully, it won’t be the last year that I get to celebrate.

I still remember getting the call that changed everything, and it could not have come at a more opportune time. My friend and frequent collaborator, Ben Howell, was seated across from me inside a gas station in rural Arkansas when my cell phone rang. We had spent the night in a motel we could barely afford after my car blew a rod and left us stranded on the side of the freeway the night before. We were broke, hungry, upset, and – according to a kind mechanic who woke us to break the news that the car could not be fixed – stranded.

When the call came in, I was expecting the worst. If the past twenty-four hours had lead me to believe anything it was that the music industry might not be as interested in me as I was in it. Ben and I had spent the several days prior attending SXSW in Texas, which was fun and filled with networking, but ultimately did not provide any leads to paid work. Then the debacle with my car happened, not to mention the fact we were over one-thousand miles from home and several hundred miles from anyone we knew in a town of less than 1,000 people that was not easily found on a map. If the universe or God or whatever really gives people signs, this felt like a big one.

But then I answered, and within a few minutes I was offered a thirty-hour a week job in Boston at a music discovery startup that wanted to leverage my writing talents to help grow their business. It was exactly what I had always wanted to do, the very job I felt I had been training my entire life to do, and here it was being offered to me at a rate that would allow me to pay my bills and live away from my parents. I excitedly told Ben the news, but considering the fact everything good I had to say would do nothing to free us from our Arkansas predicament, he was less than amused.

Several years later, trouble struck again. The same job offer that brought me to Boston turned into a source of constant trouble after the business ran into trouble securing and maintaining investors. Weeks would pass without anyone below top ranking staff being paid, often with a handful of people being furloughed (a fancy term where you’re not really fired, but you’re also not getting compensated for any recent work you’ve done). If us lower lower employees did get paid it was usually a fraction of what we were owed, with promises that everything would come to as us funds were made available.

After a months of these erratic fluctuations with cash flow the company came to a crossroads where those in charge either had to close things entirely or cut the staff to a small skeleton crew. They chose the latter, keeping me on board, and cut more than a dozen people. They also sold our longtime offer, which was a sprawling space just outside of Boston, and moved the remaining eight employees into a shared working space in a different town. I soon found myself working in a windowless room smaller than my childhood bedroom with another individual, and between the two of us we were doing the work a team of six or more had been assigned just weeks prior.

As humans, we are often able to sense trouble is on the horizon. Something in our DNA alerts us to the fact that we are standing on unsteady ground and need to make changes. I could feel that uneasiness when the Boston gig lost its main office, then again when I found myself spending eight hours in artificial light working for a company that might not be able to pay more for the time I was putting in. To make matters worse, the financial uncertainty had put strains on my home life, including my relationships. I knew something needed to be done, but I was so set on continuing to work in the music business that I refused to sever ties until something else came along.

It was on a day like any other, tucked away from the sun in that tiny office shared office with bills piling up, that my life changed once more. For reasons I still don’t fully understand I chose to contact Haulix and inquire about their marketing efforts. I think my interventions were to attempt securing freelance work to cover bills while my primary job found funding, but after only a few email exchanges I was offered a role in the company that matched the pay I was supposed to be receiving from my current career. Better yet, I could work from home.

Over four years later, I still have that job at Haulix, and my position in the company has grown over time. There is still a lot of uncertainty about the music industry and where it is headed in the years to come, but for now we are a leader in our market and a trendsetter for promotional distribution. I would never dare take credit for all of that, but I do like to think I have found a home in this business that will welcome me as long as it can afford to do so. In this business, that is as close to ‘making it’ as any professional can hope to come.

But recently, something changed in another part of my life. After sever years together my partner, who only became my wife in the last year, decided she needed to leave. It hit me as a complete shock, one which I am still recovering from as I write this entry. In a moment I needed to find a new home and a new life without her. I never planned on having to do the latter, and I had yet to even consider where we might move next. Now I needed answers quickly, but I had no idea where to start. I packed my belongings, and in the process split our possessions into two piles of stuff.  I loaded my cats into my car and headed to my parents’ home three states away so that I might get out from under the roof my wife and I once shared.

I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t scared about the future. The thought alone keeps me up at night. My brain tells me that if I could not predict her leaving me then there must be other things on the way in my life that I don’t foresee at this point. Maybe I lose my job due to an evolving industry, which would make me an unemployed divorcee on the edge of turning thirty who currently lives with his parents. The likelihood all that comes to pass is very low, but still — it could happen and that is more than enough to prevent me from finding any sense of peace.

But last night I had a thought, and that thought lead to this entry. Every time I have found myself cornered  in ‘the pinch,’ which here means any situation I do not know my way out of, something happens to renew my faith in the path I am on. Sometimes it comes in the form of a phone call, an email, or maybe just a conversation with a close friend about how you’re really feeling. When you find the strength to admit you do not have control over the situation, but continue to do everything in your power to influence it in a positive sense, change happens. It might not be what you thought you wanted, and it might demand sacrifices on your part, but your path is much longer than it appears to be at this moment. You have more stories to write, more adventures to go on, and a lifetime of memories to make. I do too, and sometimes I need to remind myself of that.

Trust ‘the pinch’. Feeling pinched by life does not mean you made the wrong choice, it just means you are due for a change. Whether you believe it in the moment or not, change is good for you, and if you continue to pour your heart into everything you do the changes in life will not stop you from becoming the person you aspire to be. Just believe in yourself and it will all work out in the end.

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement for Haulix. He is also a ten-year veteran of music journalism, host of the Inside Music podcast, and a frequent commentator on the future of the music business. You should follow him on Twitter if you enjoy business talk, cats, The Simpsons, and in-depth discussion of the latest Law & Order: SVU episodes.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.