The letter below first appeared in the November 10 issue of Billboard, which features an in-depth package on Hurricane Sandy's enormous economic impact on the music business (see an article from that package here). You can buy this issue -- which also features a cover story on Alicia Keys, lyric videos as a revenue stream, Taylor Swift's big sales for her "Red" LP and more -- right here or a yearly Billboard subscription here.
I was mesmerized by Sandy. Mesmerized by the thousands of micro-reports on Twitter. Mesmerized by the images in rotation on local news channels and the ever-growing height of swells buffeting nearby coastlines. So when Joe Levy, the magazine's editor, emailed me early Tuesday morning to ask if I knew how we'd close the book this week, I had to turn the question over a few times in my head. Billboard's office is at 770 Broadway, actually on Ninth Street. As in, deep in the heart of hundreds of downtown Manhattan blocks that still lack power as we approach our weekly Thursday evening close. No power for our designers' and editors' workstations. No power to run our servers with our fonts and templates. No power for, uh, lights.
We also had key employees scattered around each borough, Jersey and Connecticut, most with no simple way into Manhattan and many with no power or phone at home.
Hurricane Sandy Relief: Where You Can Donate, Help or Get Help
I'm a thickheaded guy, though, as most who know me would readily attest. And I work for a brand that turned 118 years old this week. Billboard publishes. It's what we do. Ed Christman, a reporter at Billboard for 23 years, called John Sippel, 92, who worked several stints at Billboard during more than 40 years between 1945 and 1986. Sippel recalled when Billboard was based in Chicago, and editors boarded the local Monon train every Thursday to bring pages to the printer in Cincinnati. We published two days after 9-11, with Timothy White, our longtime and erstwhile editor in chief (may he rest in peace) stranded in Italy. As Thom Duffy, an editor at Billboard for 23 years, told me Wednesday, "I've now helped close Billboard through a blizzard, a blackout, a terrorist attack and a hurricane."
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All over the Northeast, we're still figuring out what Sandy has meant and will mean to our lives, our businesses and yes, our commutes. Billboard doesn't have it half as bad as some in the music business who have lost their venues, their stores and other essentials. And any problems the music business may have do not compare to those who have lost homes or, worse, loved ones. But in times of crisis or chaos we all have our roles to play. Media provides some normalcy--a sense that not all of the clockwork's gears and springs are on the floor. The New York Times website keeps publishing. You turn on your radio and hear songs and news. You get your weekly Billboard. We've been tracking No. 1 songs for more than 70 years and there was always going to be a chart-topper this week, come hell or high water, or even, in this case, a bit of both.
And so it was that Wednesday at 9 a.m., a Billboard SWAT team approached our darkened building and talked our way in, flashlights in hand. We spent hours taking data from servers, and hauled about a dozen computers down a freight elevator powered by a backup generator to a conference room in midtown donated by Quad Graphics, excellent printers we've worked with in the past.
Like so many other New Yorkers in times like these, they were happy to help.
Bit by bit, staff all checked in, and found ways to contribute, many despite the loss of personal property, displaced family members and a distinct inability to shower. They moved, laptops in hand, to the homes of family and friends with power. Alex Vitoulis from charts, stranded out in Lynbrook, Long Island, was welcomed by a just-opened Vision Quest eyeglass store to use their offices. Our head of production, Meghan Milkowski, worked at least a 15-hour day, stopping only long enough to get antibiotics for a throat infection. Our new chief technology officer, Chris Roe, started his very first day trying to locate powerless servers by flashlight. Managing editor Chris Woods left his Orange County house at five in the morning, despite the tree leaning on his roof. Core editors and production staff and designers stayed in our jerry-rigged offices until well past one in the morning Wednesday night, and were back at it early Thursday.
It's cliche, but it's amazing what you learn about your team when you lose two days of a five-day close, spend eight hours of the third day creating a new office from scratch, and still have unforgiving deadlines to meet. Who shows up without being asked? Who amazes you with their calm competence and leadership? And yes, who disappoints?
I tell this story, yes, because I'm proud that we accomplished a task that only now am I willing to admit to staff was likely impossible when we began. But I also tell this story because I know it is your story. Bit by bit, we're all pushing forward, doing what we have to do. Fourth-quarter releases and concert tickets aren't going to sell themselves. Tracks need recording. Songs need writing. Studios and venues need rebuilding, offices need relocating. If the music business of the last 10 years knows anything, it's resiliency, and the post-Sandy news unfolding on these pages this week and in future weeks is only testament to that. I hope that whatever your slice of this business, you take a moment to appreciate what we're all accomplishing in the face of great odds, and the spirit that most of us bring to the challenge. As ever, as always, the show must go on.
Did you or anyone you know suffer losses in Hurricane Sandy? Tell your story in the comments below; here are ways you can help or get help.