Overheard in Starbucks…

Thisbe: By John William Waterhouse 1909

Thisbe: By John William Waterhouse 1909

I came in here this morning to write a post about how to find the email address of an editor you’d like to pitch a story to. (Stay tuned for that one… it’s good.)

And then I remembered that Blender magazine announced yesterday that they were closing. And I immediately started writing about that. (I wrote in the first issue of Blender. I think it was either on Afu-Ra or RZA. Is that bad that I can’t remember which? It was ten years ago…)

So, I’m sitting here at Starbucks, tap-tap-tapping away about Blender and Afu-Ra/RZA. And then two random white guys sit down next to me.

Like most writers, I study people. People I observe become characters in fiction. I also love to listen to how people talk. It helps with writing dialogue. (Real human speech is much more stilted than what we write. It’s very hard to capture.)

And on top of all that, I’m easily distracted. So if I’m not wearing headphones, I will definitely wander into someone else’s conversation and hang out for a while.

TH and I often play a game called Who Is That. We listen and observe strangers in restaurants and then decide if they’re dating or married, kids or no kids. Rich or poor, etc.

I start doing that this morning, watching the two guys and listening closely to the conversation…

The two guys start talking freely about music. They are obviously either music executives or talent managers or both. Guy #1 is clean: a buttery black leather jacket, crisp jeans and brown suede ankle boots. Not flashy at all. But obviously well-tailored stuff. Guy #2 is more messy. Jeans with holes in them, a ratty black sweatshirt and black shell toe Adidas.

I immediately get a desperate vibe from Guy #2. He wants something from Guy #1. But he’s acting like he doesn’t. He keeps mentioning that he just got back from the West Coast. Like, just this morning. And he keeps acting like this is a big deal.

I literally just back from San Francisco. Weather was beautiful.

Yeah, when I was on the flight…. I was on my way to San Francicso.

Missed the show last night. I was still out on the West Coast.

Yeah, I know John. I met him when I was on the west coast.

Guy #1 keeps looking at his watch. He’s obviously trying to be polite but is not really interested in what Guy #2 has to say. Every time he glances at his watch, Guy #2 moves closer, placing his hands on the table and trying to get Guy #1’s attention again. I don’t think he’s conscious of this. Interesting.

What’s scary is how freely they are speaking. It’s tight in this Starbucks. Not a lot of room. Me and Guy #2 are both sitting on a wide bench that spans the store. Guy #1 is sitting across from Guy #2 so I have a clear view of him. There is less than a foot between us. I can feel the steam of Guy #1’s coffee in the air. My laptop is plugged into an outlet right near Guy #2’s feet.

Why on earth would they have a business meeting at Starbucks?

Ryan, if you’re reading this, you better not ever meet with anyone and talk about my career at a Starbucks.

Here’s what I learned today…

The name Laura kept coming up. Sounds like one of them used to manage her or is close to whoever does. And it sounds like she is or used to be signed to Nonesuch Records. I sit right here and Google “Laura” and “Nonesuch” and come up with this chick:


Her name is Laura Veirs. She’s a singer-songwriter from Colorado.

Then Guy #2 starts talking about a British band coming out on Geffen. Their new album will only be released in the UK. The lead singer is named Fife and he’s coming out with a solo record in June.

Guy #1 asks, “Are you managing him?”

Guy #2 starts giving a weasel-y maybe-not-sure-yet answer.

I finally get it. Guy #1 is a talent manager. Sounds like he might be a big dog. Guy #2 is trying to get on in the industry. Either as a manager or an executive of some kind. Dude’s trying to get a job. Trying to make it look like he’s a much bigger deal by throwing out names of other talent managers he knows and what he knows about the industry.

But every time Guy #1 asks him a direct question, (which is not often), Guy #2 doesn’t answer directly.

Guy #1: “Tell me the best agency for managing an indie right now.”

Guy #2: “Yeah. I know a few. Because when I was in San Francisco last week, I met with XYZ and ABC and they are trying to get it together to have the infrastructure to really have an international bent so that they can be the sort-of a one-stop shop, much like what LMNOP are trying to do in that indie sort of way…”

What? Huh? Guy #2 is officially annoying me. I can tell that it’s a big deal for him to meet with Guy #1. Get the marbles out your mouth dude! Answer his questions directly! If you don’t have answers, just say it plainly: I really don’t know.


Then Guy #1 asks: Did you see Ben at the Wellmont last night?

(The Wellmont is a former movie theater in Montclair, New Jersey. It’s now a theater venue for live music. I saw School Daze at the Wellmont in 1988. Had my first real kiss there. So strange to drive up Bloomfield Avenue now and see long lines for rock concerts at the place where your feet used to (literally) stick to the floor and mice would scurry around during the movie.)

I Google Ben and Wellmont and come up with this guy:


This is Ben Folds. I actually remember the band he used to front: Ben Folds Five. We covered him a lot in my Billboard days. Though I know absolutely nothing about his music.

The two guys talk about how Ben Folds’ label didn’t pick up his option. So now he’s label-less.

And of course, Guy #2 says he didn’t go to the show last night, “because I was in San Francisco.”

My god dude, stop! We get it!

Guy #2 starts talking about a new imprint called Playing In Traffic. A talent manager that they both seem to know is starting his own imprint. And his clients will be artists on the new imprint.

Sidebar: is that legal? Isn’t that weird? If Ryan started his own book imprint and then signed me, wouldn’t that be unethical? He’s now a publisher of sorts. How do I know he’s really working for the best deal for me? If anyone knows anything about the inner workings of the music industry, clue me in on how a talent manager can sign their own artists to a label deal.

Anyway. So this new Playing In Traffic imprint is supposed to include acts like this one:


This is a Grammy-winning group called Los Lonely Boys. I’ve heard of them too. I know they’re from Texas. I seem to recall watching them perform at an awards show.

Listening to these names pouring out from Guy #1 and Guy #2 makes me realize how limited my knowledge of music is. I know these names. But don’t know the music at all. I listen to hip-hop and R&B and the occasional pop and rock songs that make it to my side of the radio dial. I don’t like that. I want to broaden my musical horizons.

Guy #2 then spends a lot of time singing the praises of a guy named Gary Clark or Carter. I can’t get the last name. It’s frustrating me. Then he says, “The dude is awesome. Got sort of this Stevie Ray Vaughn vibe. He’s from Austin so he’s got that flavor. He’s amazing. He’s only 24 and he’s been named the Austin Blues Man of the year…”

I Google all that and come up with this guy:


His name is Gary Clark, Jr. And according to Guy #2, he’s the Next Big Thing. Guy #2 says he’s also in a movie with Danny Glover. He sounds like he’s really trying to pitch this guy to Guy #1, for what I’m not sure. But Guy #1’s not interested.

Guy #2 talks a lot about a talent manager named “Kevin.” Kevin’s repping this guy:


His name is Frenchie Smith. And according to Guy #2, he’s the Next Big Thing too. He’s a producer.

Says Guy #2: “He’s really having his moment. He did the Dandy Warhols record that they put out themselves.”

Guy #1 smiles with his mouth closed and nods. He looks at his watch again.

So then, my cell phone rings. And it’s my mom. And I talk to her. And would you believe these two guys shoot me a look? Like, how dare I talk on the phone while they’re having a meeting. What the? I thought maybe I was loud. And yeah, when you’re on your cell phone, you automatically raise your voice a bit. But still. I get off the phone with my mom and Guy #1 is asking Guy #2 point blank:

“So you have an office set up?”

And get this! Guy #1 NODS HIS HEAD.

He doesn’t say yes. He just nods. He’s so obviously lying. Who nods their head in answer to someone’s question in a business meeting?

So Guy #1 says, “where’s the office?”

And Guy #2 says, “it will be in the Flatiron District.”

“Oh,” says Guy #1. “You’re going to be in the same office with him…”

“Yeah,” says Guy #2. “I have a consulting contract for now…I’m cornerstoning things with Kevin. Trying to do a label deal with him.”

“So,” says Guy #1, looking at his watch yet again. “I need to catch this train.”

“I could give you a ride to the station,” Guy #2 says quickly.

“Oh. Okay. ”

An uncomfortable silence. And then, Guy #1 asks:

“So what are you looking for?”

Here it is! The money shot! Come on Guy #2. You can do it! Be direct! Tell him what you want!

Guy #2 clears his throat:

“I’m looking for like minded folks in key territories so that someone can say, if you want to get started here…we’re all set throughout the states in Europe.  [what?! Guy #2 you are losing him you idiot!!] I already got it set up for Ireland, I was in San Francisco to meet with Darius…”

At this, Guy #1 perks up a little bit.

“Oh yeah? How is Darius?”

“He’s doing really well,” says Guy #2. “He picked up Birdmonster who is signed to Fader, and he’s got the Submarines, he signed Drive-By Truckers…”

Guy #1 looks at Guy #2 like maybe he really does know something.

I thought Guy #2 was finished after he started talking about territories and Ireland. But then he starts talking about some guy named Darius and Guy #2 perks up.

I Google. Darius is Darius Zelkha, a talent manager. (No pics of him online.)


This is Birdmonster. One of Darius’ groups.


And these are The Submarines. Another one of Darius’ groups.

Guy #2 goes on and on about Darius. And Guy #1 perks up and listens intently. He says, hmmmm. And ahhh, I see and even strokes his chin at one point.

Then, he leans over the table and says:

“Look. We have some space. I’d like to bring in two more people. I’d like to find a young manager. Not roll up a whole slew of them. Find one guy who has three things or so. And utilize him to take care of some day to day stuff for the other bands. One of the people in my office is getting heavily involved in the licensing side. That’s half of her day. We need two more people. And we want to integrate some of what you’re talking about. That would be an option. When I get to the office, I’ll send you some links…”

While he’s talking, I can see Guy #1’s knees shaking violently under the table. I wonder if Guy #1 notices. Guy #2 is so nervous.

From what I’ve gathered, he wants to manage bands under Guy #1’s company. And he wants this job bad.

“What time is your train,” says Guy #2, his knees still shaking.

Guy #1 looks at his watch one final time.

“Five minutes. Let’s go.”

I watch them leave. Guy #1 is calm, sipping his coffee, nodding. Not smiling. Guy #2 is flittering. Holding the door for Guy #1, his mouth is moving moving moving. I want to send him a text message: yo. dude. calm down.

And then, they’re gone.

And I’m thinking, wait a second. Did I just spend 45 minutes eavesdropping on their conversation? And am I really gonna post this?

Well, yeah, I am.

For a few reasons:

1. We can all go out and listen to some new music this weekend. That is your homework assignment. Look up at least three acts mentioned by Guy #1 and Guy #2. (I’m going to start with the Submarines because I like their picture). On Monday, we will meet back and discuss which bands we like.

2. Let this be a lesson to us all: Be calm and forceful when in a business meeting. Be clear and focused. And if possible, don’t meet at Starbucks.

Unless it really doesn’t matter and it’s not that big of a deal. What do you think?

Here's a picture of the starbucks where this all took place...

Here's a picture of the starbucks where this all took place...

P.S. I got the names of all folks in this post from catching snatches of a conversation and then Googling while still listening to them talk. I could be way off base on every single person they discussed. Who knows. I’d be curious to know how accurate I was….

P.P.S. Is it illegal to eavesdrop? I wonder if I committed a crime by listening to their conversation and taking notes. Spies do it all the time. Right? I’m pretty sure if I had a recorder on and I was taping their conversation without their permission, it would be considered illegal. Does the same rule apply if I’m handwriting or typing their conversation? Hmmm…

If you see this post disappear, you know why…

16 Responses to “Overheard in Starbucks…”

  1. Brian G. Says:

    you truly have a gift!
    No it’s not a crime to eavesdrop (unless U get caught) then it’s embarrassing. WE ALL EVESDROP! we just don’t admit it.
    There’s a better term for what you were doing sleuthing.

    I will start my assignment as soon as I get off work.

    Have a great weekend!!

    Brian G.

  2. elle Says:

    This post just exhibits another one of your amazing journalism skills: eavesdropper extroadinaire. Lol

    The only names that caught my attention were Los Lonely Boys and Ben Folds [who is actually performing at my school on April 4].

    Interesting what you can find out through a conversation. My eavesdropping usually leads me to an unknown pregnant girl, a whoremongering guy, etc. All the typical college things. lol

  3. trace Says:

    i really, really like you!

  4. Lashonda Says:

    interesting post. I was reading like I remember that theater, I saw School Dayz there and I always wondered why my feet stuck to the floor. it was bad. I walked out of a shoe in there and that was gross.

    You are lucky, I have to agree with elle, I never get good conversations when I ease drop…but then again down here in J-Ville nothing good happens. Oh how I miss city life

  5. elle Says:

    J-ville as in Jacksonville, Fl?
    If so, that’s where I am too. And I agree, nothing happens here at all.

  6. Southern_Lady Says:

    Wow! I guess I eavesdrop a lot because I’m just plain nosey. Even if I’m not interested in the people or their conversation, it’s a trip to hear what other people are talking about. I’m thinking: Is this what goes in your world???? Wowww.

    Google is my best friend. You can find out almost anything about a person if you take your time and use good keywords. This is mostly how I cyber-stalk (it’s a joke) editors and writers for their contact info and where they’ve worked for in the past.

    I google my own name often just to see what will come up. Boy, am I out there!

  7. Tremaya Says:

    Why did my heart skip a beat when I had to click “read the rest of this entry”. LOL! All I can say in response to this post is that you never cease to amaze me with your thoroughness. I think this is a great new column for your blog (if you change up the names of course)!:)

  8. Hanif Says:

    You really googled everybody they mentioned? Wow. That’s the beauty of this craft. The ability to create out of thin air. I’m going to ride the train one day with my laptop, and google everybody who’s conversation I hear. Good Times. Lol.

  9. Caila Says:

    Lol at if you see this post disappear. Wow-note to self, be mindful of what you discuss in public. Not that I ever conduct serious meetings out in the open, but sometimes, in the heat of the moment…I just don’t care who might be listening!

  10. jay1 Says:

    they wanted you to over hear them.

  11. Timothy Says:

    @Jay yeah thats what I was thinking too…but man what a gift women have (sexist?)…my wife is always talking about did you hear what that person over there said….and i’m like who? what? where? then she starts hitting me talking about, don’t look at them, you’ll give us away!

    So many rules to eavesdropping, I will never learn.

  12. s Says:

    ben folds, labeless? hopefully THAT doesn’t last for long. his latest record was his best opening sales yet, peaked at 11 on the charts.

  13. Megademus Says:

    Com, moe, dee… but very interesting at the same time.

  14. Ondo Lady Says:

    Damm Girl!! You are too good, I will make it a resolution never ever to discuss my biz in public. Well especially if the next to me has a laptop. Saying that i LOVE people watching and I am the number one eavesdropper. Also I have no idea who any of those people are.

  15. CJ Says:

    wow . . . That really was awesome. They should have a people watching olympics. I was at the Cover to Cover conference this weekend and your blog was the example of a great one to read:)

  16. Elise Says:

    Much ado about nothing…blog reality…brilliant

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