I’ve been doing Mac consulting in one form or another for nearly 12 years now. When I’m between jobs, it’s something I fall back on. And when I have a job, it’s a side hustle that not only makes me some extra cash, but it also helps me at my real job. Helping people with their Macs teaches me to think with a different part of my brain than I usually do. I’m not solving problems at the office like I do when I’m diagnosing why a MacBook Pro is the only computer that can connect to the AirPort Express in some guy’s house when his iMac and Mac TV can’t even see the network. It’s process of elimination. It always works the same way. And in the years that I’ve been solving people’s Mac problems, I’ve never not been able to figure something out. I may have to consult an obscure thread on a message board or even call someone who knows something I don’t, but it’s never impossible. And I guess that’s what’s exciting about it. You know damn well that there’s a solution, but how do you get there? There are no rules. The client isn’t gonna think less of you because you had to call some other guy or look around online. They’re going to think you’re a genius because you thought to do the things you did and they feel like their money was well-spent. You walk away with a wad of cash, another victory under your belt and a recommendation. Happy Mac users talk and for every good job I do, I get at least 2 new customers.
When I was working in music supervision for feature films, I had an awesome boss who taught me a lot. I wasn’t always fond of how he did it, but it’s made me a much better employee. The main things were to pay close attention to detail, exhaust all possibilities and be really nice. If you can’t pay attention to detail, it’s a non-starter. In order to be good at any job, you can’t let details slip through the cracks. We all make mistakes, but there’s no worse mistake that the kind that result from carelessness. Working as a Mac consultant comes with a lot more pressure than my other job, believe it or not. It’s all eyes are on you. Sometimes the client is literally watching everything you do. If you miss a detail, either the client will catch you or you’ll realize what you missed after you’ve spent too much time diagnosing a simple issue. Missing one small detail can make the difference of solving a problem in 1 hour or 4 hours.
I used to think that checking things online or calling someone else that might know a little more than I do would come off as weak to a client. Boy was I wrong. Clients are impressed by it. You know where to look and who to call to solve a problem. Having a second opinion is always nice too. I’ve even called Apple a few times when I’ve gotten real stuck. And the client was happy I did. You have to exhaust all possibilities when you’re trying to problem solve. There’s nothing worse that saying you can’t figure out why a computer won’t power up and then a client notices the power strip isn’t turned on. Many times, it’s the obvious stuff.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with some of the biggest egos in the music and movie business, it’s that being kind, saying thank you and smiling will get you really far. My Mac clients are no different. I would say that the vast majority of Mac users are cool, creative and hospitable people. When you’re kind in return and stay positive even when you’re sweating bullets, it can make a big difference. They may even buy you lunch or dinner.
Sometimes I forget a lot of this stuff when I’m doing my regular job. Doing a little consulting on the side helps keep my brain working and helps me think more critically when I’m at the office. Just like anything, you gotta practice to stay sharp and if practicing means I can make a few extra bucks, then I’ll be doing as much of it as I can.
I was reading the Fashion Rocks magazine insert that came with the latest issue of Wired. In it there’s an excerpt from Danny Goldberg’s new book, Bumping Into Geniuses, which got me thinking about the time that I met Danny.
I don’t think my parents were ever really happy with the choices I made once I left the house and went to college at the University of Kansas. My dad always encouraged me though. My hunch is that he didn’t share all of the details with my mom, who was either more disapproving or just quiet about her disapproval. Either way, I didn’t really talk to her about any of it. I always talked to my dad, particularly about the music business. My dad was pretty much responsible for getting me interested in music at a very early age. Instead of fairy tales, he would tell me stories about Barry Gordy starting Motown or Quincy Jones producing a hit record with Michael Jackson. I assume he read books about these people, but now that I’m thinking about it, I never saw any books on them in the house. But there were lots of records to listen to, and I listened to all of them over and over.
As I grew up, I became obsessed with music. Whether it was listening to Casey Kasem‘s American Top 40 or buying punk rock records at Streetside Records in Overland Park, Kansas, I knew I wanted to be a part of music. Since I wasn’t a talented musician and couldn’t sing, I decided that I was going to work behind the scenes. It all culminated when I went off to college and Lawrence, Kansas was probably one of the best places to be in the 90s if you weren’t in Seattle or Athens. I started working at KJHK in the production department and eventually worked my way up to hosting “Plow The Fields,” which was the local music show. I was also a college marketing rep for Sony Music and started as an intern at Red House Recording Studio (now Black Lodge Recording), but what I really wanted to do was to start a label. I asked my dad if I could take some money from my life savings account and with that deposit and an amazing band called Action Man, I started Barber’s Itch Records.
In 1995, I went to New York for CMJ. My dad was always urging me to meet with people when I went to New York, but I didn’t have any connections. My dad was active in the ACLU and served as the President of the affiliate board. At some point, and I can’t remember when, he testified as a psychologist against the PMRC and if memory serves (and it may not), that’s where my dad met Danny Goldberg. I’m sure he talked his ear off too, but he also used this meeting as a way to get me a meeting with Danny in New York, which he did. I vaguely remember meeting with Danny, playing him some music and seeking his advice on how to get acquired by a major or get my artists signed to Mercury. I think the meeting lasted all of about 15 minutes, but I was anything but discouraged. He told me to work hard, get my music out to as many people as I could and only then might something happen, but chances weren’t good. And that small chance was what drove me to keep at my little label. I didn’t sell many records, but it was an experience that I will never forget and it helped me decided what I was going to do for the rest of my life.