GERM / G pronounced like G in Good / vb. A Nashville term for a wannabe who harasses someone in the music industry to try to get them to listen to their music. Since it is a close cousin to stalking, it often results in being treated like a pariah, shunned by the recipient from that point forward.
I remember hearing the ultimate GERM story about Kris Kristofferson. Supposedly he had served as a helicopter pilot in the military. Legend has it that Johnny Cash was throwing a barbeque in his backyard and Kris crashed the party in a helicopter and handed Johnny a demo tape. I don’t know whether Johnny ever listened to the tape, or even if it’s true. But there’s one thing I can tell you for sure- it would’ve made an impression.
Next, flash forward to LA in the mid 90’s. I went to pick up my sister, Lori, at LAX and she told me that she thought Jackson Browne was on the flight with his then partner, Daryl Hannah. Both my sister and I were huge fans of Jackson Browne, in my case, almost to the point of idolatry.
My sister plays violin and at the time, we were playing colleges and including his song, “For A Dancer”, in every show. Well, Lori was either too shy or polite to approach him on the plane, but while we were all waiting for baggage, she egged me on to talk to him. Back then, I had never heard of the word GERM, nor would I have cared if I did. Here was my hero, standing there in the flesh- probably my one-and-only chance to meet him. In my younger years, I would have been far too shy to go up and introduce myself. But, living in LA, I had blown several opportunities to meet “important” people because I was too shy. I finally created a trick to get myself to talk to them: I would imagine pushing my own butt, as I literally launched my self forward until I was standing in front of them. Once there, I would have to come up with something to say. I ended up becoming better and better at it. Yet, in this case I was pretty star-struck and mumbled something boring about being a big fan and that I performed some of his songs. He was very gracious, even though by this time I had blown his cover and there was a big crowd gathering around him. I remember one girl asking me if he was Joe Jackson!
Several days later, I tracked down his management from the LP cover (remember those?) and sent Jackson a cassette tape (remember those?) of my latest demo, care of his manager. The songs were well produced because I had finally spent the bucks and sprung for them to be done in a professional demo studio. I had lowered my expectations, so I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t get a reply. Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks later, I received a letter hand-written in pencil on yellow legal paper from Jackson Browne! He started out saying that he doesn’t normally respond to people sending him music, but for some reason he decided to listen and give me his thoughts.
Yes, I was being a GERM. No, I didn’t get rich or famous because I sent Jackson Browne my songs (one could only wish…). Would I have done anything differently? No way! That now faded piece of yellow paper is what the credit card commercials would call- PRICELESS.
Now we jump to 2001, just weeks after 9/11. It was my first music business trip to Nashville and I was basing many of my activities on suggestions from a book by Sherry Bond called “Songwriter’s and Musician’s Guide to Nashville”
The book goes into detail on how to get to know who the players are in Nashville, prior to going there. She tells you what restaurants to eat at to increase your odds of meeting music industry people. And because you did your research in advance, you’ll be able to not only recognize them, but also personalize a conversation with them, if you do meet them. She recommends scheduling appointments in advance with some of those people. And finally, she suggests spending your in-between time dropping off CD’s door-to-door on Music Row.
Wait a minute, I thought that was being a GERM! Well, that’s exactly what I did, and wow did my list of Nashville contacts grow! In fact, in future visits, I hardly ever knocked on doors anymore because I now could call in advance and make appointments with those same people I originally cold-called.
Although I have a slightly different perspective on whether to GERM or not to GERM, I don’t want to negate what Carrie Cunningham said in last week’s post. To that end, I made a list of what I hope will help prevent you from being labeled a GERM:
1. Show respect: If someone is eating dinner, or is out with their family, don’t interrupt.
2. Be sensitive: If you feel you’re intruding or making them uncomfortable, you probably are.
3. Be polite: Always ask permission to get them your music and don’t get angry if they say no.
4. Try to contact them in advance: Often if they don’t want to have a meeting with you, they will say, “Just drop it off.” Don’t take that lightly. That means your material is no longer unsolicited.
5. Ideally, you want a meeting: But, that usually doesn’t happen until you cultivate a relationship.
6. To cultivate a relationship: See Carrie Cunningham’s tips in last week’s post…
© Ron Shaffer 2014