In a new series amid the coronavirus pandemic, Billboard is asking individuals from all sectors of the music business to share stories of how they work now, with much of the world quarantined at home and unable to take in-person meetings, attend conferences or even go into the office. Submissions for the series can be sent to HowWeWorkNow@Billboard.com. Read the full series here.
This installment is with Nicki Farag, executive vp/head of promotion at Def Jam Recordings.
Nicki Farag: Believe it or not, I’m sitting in a parking lot with half of my staff in Los Angeles right now. We’re six to eight feet apart from each other — every other parking spot — in our cars, which is something that’s more convenient to do here versus New York City. We’ve done this a couple of times now. It’s not something I want anyone to feel obligated to do. And it’s not like we’re having a beer and kicking back. We’re working, with everyone wearing masks and talking on the phone. It’s just nice to be around people; a chance for everyone to get out of the house and take a break from everything.
I’ve also been spending more time with my daughter than I have since maternity leave. She’s two and a half now. I’m eating better and also actually have time to work out. And I believe [my team] is thinking better. It’s an interesting take on life at the moment, because these are all things that we might have wanted to do but didn’t have time. And now that we have the time, we have to take advantage of it.
I’m calling people more now instead of texting and emailing, as well as FaceTiming and Zooming for that human connection. And people are more obliged to do so as well. Before, it was, why FaceTime? Just text. I count my blessings every night. A lot of my friends in radio have either been furloughed or let go. So we’re either talking about our records to their bosses or the new person who’s now filling in or doing six different jobs because half of the station staff is gone.
There’s a silver lining to everything, however. And I choose to take that route instead of wallowing, because I have an entire staff relying on me. I’ve been holding Zoom meetings every day. We look forward to these calls as they’re not always strictly about work. We do have our usual work meetings several times a week. But we’ve literally also hung out on the computer together for a couple of hours while working, holding a happy hour, feeding our kids or cooking. We’re very close knit, so this is a chance to get know each other from another place.
It’s definitely been a better way to really communicate. I hate to say this, because it’s based on technology, but I know moving forward that all of my conference calls are going to be on Google. It’s just been more intimate in bringing together my 11 team members between both coasts.
With projects from Kanye [West], Justin Bieber and Jhené Aiko, it feels great to be in the conversation again, at the forefront. We had a lot of things planned for them this year in terms of touring and appearances, as well as for our rising and new artists like DaniLeigh, 070 Shake, Fredo Bang and Nasty C. It’s been really motivating.
We’re working to get these artists in front of our partners, and more than ever our partners are looking for content. Instagram Live, as everyone knows, has become a huge thing. In another example, Alessia Cara plays the lead and has the lead song in The Willoughbys, an animated film recently released by Netflix. We’re repositioning our artists in ways that make sense for them without compromising their integrity.
As for morale, everyone has their days. I have people on my staff that live alone. I have people on my staff that don’t have help with their kids because daycare was their outlet. I also have staffers that are homeschooling their children. Dividing time between all of that is another level of stress. My whole thing first is that, no matter what, take care of your family. If you don’t return my phone call or text, I’m assuming that you’re dealing with other shit. Get back to me when you can. The level of demand isn’t there right now like it would be at the office. Everyone is split a hundred different ways and you have to be mindful of that.
I hope our return to the new normal is going to be slow and steady. I don’t expect large gatherings or a lot of travel happening right away. Maybe we don’t need to be in the office every day, but perhaps every other day. I’m from New York and this feels like what happened after 9/11. It took a good two years to recover. But still, nothing was the same after that.