Booking bands when I was a teenager taught me about business and the value of a good partner

A recent visit to my hometown had me reminiscing about one of my favorite high school jobs.

As a teenager, I lucked into a surreal collection of work experiences.

My first job, if you don’t count baby-sitting in middle school, was as a clown. I hosted children’s birthday parties, painting kids’ faces, making balloon animals and running a series of loud, rowdy games, and I did balloonograms, which involved embarrassing someone by delivering a bunch of balloons and singing a birthday song. No, I am not a good singer.

I also worked in the office at an archery store on Sundays. The job itself was pretty routine, answering phones and doing filing, but the environment was noteworthy, since I was the only female on staff, sometimes the only one in the entire massive store. Outdoorsy dudes would come to buy camo, deer urine and tree blinds, or to shoot their bows on our huge range. Thankfully I’d grown up around hunters so I could at least recognize the words in the questions people would ask me.

Perhaps the best gig was booking bands for a teen night my mom and I dreamed up for a bar my mom’s boss owned.

I booked bands for a teen night at Jasper's in Saginaw, Michigan. Sadly, now it's just a boarded up building in Old Town.

I booked bands for a teen night at Jasper’s in Saginaw, Michigan. Sadly, now it’s just a boarded up building in Old Town.

I don’t even recall how the conversation started. I think we were talking about why teens would aimlessly cruise the streets of my hometown and how we didn’t have much to do. It’s also possible we were talking about young musicians I knew whose bands didn’t have many opportunities to play beyond backyard parties or the occasional high school battle of the bands.

The next thing I knew, we were plotting to turn a slow night at a bar my mom’s boss owned into a teen night. My mom, who was a master wheeler-dealer, somehow got a quick yes from her boss. I asked two bands I knew to play, my mom and I made fliers and I hoped like crazy that people would show up.

To my great delight, people did come. I don’t think there was another place in town the under-18 crowd could see live music so it caught on quickly. For that, I’m grateful my go-to bands had strong followings.

I learned a tremendous amount booking bands and promoting that one night a week, like why the bar wanted to pay bands by check instead of cash and how booking a different band could bring in a totally different crowd.

I learned the ups and downs of starting a business. That teen night needed to pull in enough money to cover paying the bartender and the bands, so I watched the door carefully and consulted with my mom on stocking the then-trendy New York Seltzer so we could bring in more sales once people were inside.

Maybe most of all, I learned the value of a good partner. My mom was the one with the access to the bar, the influence to get the approval and the knowledge acquired in her own years as a bartender. I knew teenage bands but that wasn’t going anywhere without someone who could say, “I can help make this happen.”

What did you learn in your high school jobs?

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