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 Ayelet Schiffman, senior vp/head of promotion at Island Records.
Ayelet Schiffman: It’s been two days in a row with beautiful weather, so we’ve actually been able to take a Zoom call outside, and it’s been really nice. Last Saturday it was snowing in New York. I think our world is just on a whole other level since this pandemic in so many different ways, from the murder hornets — my daughter was outside today and ran back in and said, “I swear I saw a hornet that was a murderer!” [Laughs] She’s 12.
Our company was preparing for the shutdown; the week before, Eric [Wong, Island’s COO] and Darcus [Beese, Island’s president] were like, “Look, if you don’t feel comfortable coming into the office, we understand, just work from home.” I have to give credit to them. And I happened to be moving into a new house literally the Saturday before the shutdown, so the timing for me was pretty great, because I was like, “Wow, I get to actually be home for the unpacking of 50,000 boxes.”
I think the first week was challenging. It’s my husband and I and we have two daughters, one is 12 and one is nine, and the first week of homeschooling was more than difficult. You have all this social media — Facebook, Instagram — and a lot of the moms in Westchester, where I live, were like, “From nine to 10, my daughter’s doing science! From 11 to 1, we’ve got art classes!” and they had all these schedules. And I just couldn’t do that; my Zoom calls for work start at 10am. So the first week was a little like, How are we gonna balance everything? I finally sat down with my nine-year-old and went through my schedule with her. And once we kind of got into that groove, things worked out and I was able to help her and still do my work. Which I think a lot of moms are juggling.
One of the greatest things out of all this quarantine is the fact that people understand that a flexible work schedule benefits everyone. Even the amount of managers checking in with their staffs. Eric takes the time every day to check in with me, like, “Are you good? Family okay today?” When we were in the office, I don’t think people did that as often. I think we’re just using the time to be a bit more creative and bond with each other in ways other than work.
I was talking to Phil Becker today, who is the head of Alpha [Media’s] programming. He has gone through so much at Alpha, jobs lost, people being furloughed. And one of the things we were talking about was radio getting back to the community and doing a lot more with less.
And honestly, I feel like we’ve had our artists do so much more in the past two months than they did before this all happened. Like, Skip Marley has a song called “Slow Down” with H.E.R. that just went No. 1 this week at urban adult. He was going to do a promo tour before this all started, but now instead we’ve done IG Lives with him, we’ve done Zoom contesting. DJ Enuff runs a weekly call with over 100 DJs from around the country, and Skip got on the call and was able to thank all of them for their support. And what came out of that was they asked to get dubplates done, and I asked Enuff to send me all the people on the call, and Skip that weekend went and did dubplates for all the DJs.
We’ve had The Killers do more things in the past two months than I think they’ve ever done in their career with radio. And that helped us get to No. 1 at Alt and No. 1 at Triple A and now we’re off and running at Hot AC. One of my biggest things was when Toni Braxton decided to change her single and put out a new single in four days. And we approached it like, “Hey, new norm, this is what she wants to do, let’s get the right people on the phone, put the right things in place.” It helped that she was willing to do all these things that she might not have done in the regular schedule. And it enabled us to get her highest debut ever.
So I think it’s just trying to find other avenues. Olivia O’Brien has the song “Josslyn,” the way we’re reintroducing her and letting radio know that this girl has a fan base is by doing this IG Lives and Zoom interviews, and we’re going to now impact the record on June 2. I don’t know that we would’ve done that so quickly had we not been in this pandemic. Someone came up with Zoom graduation parties [with local radio stations] that involve restaurants in that market that we can buy food from, and make those restaurants feel good that a local radio station is helping a local business. So just trying to think of different ways to help radio help their community and also promote our artists.
In the past, it was difficult trying to figure out how to make an hour of “me time,” which for me would be trying to work out. That was super difficult, because you’re traveling into the office, leaving at seven, going to bed at midnight, so for me waking up at five in the morning wasn’t really an option. So now, I take that hour of when I was supposed to commute and, since the parks opened up, I’m playing tennis, and it’s been amazing. This week I’ve played four times and I am so much happier. [Laughs] I come home and I just feel like, Wow, I did something I enjoy doing!
One of the things I’ve really missed out on, pretty much since maternity leave, is being home for dinner, because I live an hour away [from work] and I don’t get home until 8 and my kids have already eaten. So even if I have to work later than 6 now, which I always do, I really take an hour to make dinner with my kids. And I started using Hello Fresh, which brings you every ingredient. It’s the best thing I’ve ever discovered. They should pay me for an advertisement, for sure. [Laughs] But the fact that I’m having dinner with my family every night has been really special.
I don’t see us going back [to the office] any time soon, especially in New York. I live in Westchester, so I gotta get to Grand Central, then from Grand Central to the shuttle, then from the shuttle to the N, and then I’m at the office — that’s three trains. With no vaccine, do I really want to do that? Universal has been so great at understanding that. We’re super lucky to have a company that understands what we’re all going through instead of fighting it, and is coming up with solutions for us.
I feel like the Google Meets, instead of just conference calls, [will continue]. Especially in promotions, your staff is all over the country, and having a Zoom meeting or a Google Meet allows you to see them. Not only that, but for radio, in order to see someone live and play something, you would have to take a trip. This morning, we played music over Zoom. For radio promotion, you know they’re listening to the music; you know they’re watching the video, because you’re doing it together; and you get to see their reaction. I think those two things will happen more often, and I think are welcoming.
This is obviously a horrible, terrible pandemic we’re all going through. But I hope people can find some good in it, because there are some silver linings. And maybe we don’t need the $100 million-a-year, eight-story office building, and hopefully all those people [who were laid off and furloughed] can get their jobs back. I think their jobs are more important than the rent for a building that might not be needed. I think this whole thing has been an eye-opener for people.