The Necessary Art of Doing a Solid

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Ray Van Horn, Jr. with the Queen of Metal, Doro Pesch, 2011

We can poke fun at the concept with the amusing exaggerations and a hilarious twist in the form of ramifications from the double-date-gone-to-shreds “Do Me a Solid” episode from Season 2 of Regular Show. We can chuckle like horndogs at the sexual overtures implicated by the same phrase. Hey, Seinfeld junkies say it in their sleep. I can’t say it enough in a serious light; it’s not just good form, good business sense and goodwill; doing solids is paramount to your personal networking.

I recently had a publicist from the music business throw me a shout out, mentioning a music festival she’d listed me for years back, and how she’d needed a ride from the venue to her hotel after the gig. I recalled it upon her saying so and was seriously touched she’d brought it up all this time later. I remember putting my hand up to her at the show’s after party when, with no cabs or alternate pickup options (Uber and Lyft hadn’t yet become a thing), she called out for anyone heading her direction, approximately 30 miles away. It was my pleasure, knowing her all of a few hours, to give someone in need a ride. I mean, in the music business, we take of our own. It’s automatic. It’s what you do. At least before COVID, people shacked up down on their luck, road-dogging bands overnight all the time. You lend a hand. You do a solid. Not only did we have a long, fun chat on that ride back to her hotel, I made a friend. We don’t talk heavily and we haven’t crossed paths in ages, yet we have periodic communication through social media. As she said, we might never meet again face-to-face, but we have a cemented friendship.

There’s a difference being a writer in the music industry to doing freebies and doing solids for people. Freebies are assignments, reviews, interviews and photography you do without compensation to work your rep. It’s about building your profile, boning up your chops, paying your dues. In my time, record labels and video distributors always sent me hard copy promotional material, which was, then anyway, its own reward. As you can see below by my one-time labyrinth of media already a lifetime ago, three houses back in 2015. What the picture doesn’t show is five other shelves with more media, most of it free. It goes the same for press credentials and free concerts, and eventually, the attractive bait of high profile performers suddenly placed before your interview recorder. All incentive enough in the beginning, at least when there was still a vast assortment of hard copy magazines to work your way up the ladder to. I did many freebie pieces and live photo shoots for websites and ‘zines until my rep commanded actual paying gigs in the magazines and later, the higher traffic websites.

Solids, however, are a different beast, and those made all the difference in establishing myself, not merely as a pro music journalist, but a friend to the scene. I’m not out to pat myself on the back here, but for sake of the argument, I am going to reel off a few examples of solids I did that later made the difference in my 13 year career covering music and film.

There was the time I was asked by a record label to pick up a box of a band’s CDs at a local Fedex and take them down to the venue I was covering. The band had run low on merch due to a successful album launch and well-received road campaign. I wasn’t working this band that night, but it was well-noted and appreciated by the band and their label. The label never forgot that and routinely sent me care packages of band t-shirts, autographed posters, glossy pictures and more albums for pleasure listening than I could squeeze into an already hefty itinerary. Funny enough, another band on the same label who’d known what I’d done did me a solid one night by putting me on their guest list last minute when the tour manager of my designated act neglected to add me. Yes, I’d had a terrific interview with the lead singer of the band who helped me and that wasn’t forgotten, either. Across the lines, people learn about and remember you by your good deeds. See how it works?

If I had a dime for every email or phone call I received from a publicist or record label promoter asking me to “do a solid” by giving their new artist signings press coverage, I could’ve funded more than one issue of my digital ‘zine, Retaliate. In my time as a music journalist, I did more than 300 interviews, and my willingness to give new bands and artists love always won me favor when the same publicists offered me key names such as Rob Zombie, System of a Down, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, Slayer or Lita Ford by way of thanks.

There was a time a young college kid reached out to me while I was the height of my time in the industry. A routine reader of my work, he was writing a term paper for his music class and he asked me to fact check and edit his work. Some people might scoff at such a request. “Who has time for that?” you hear so often, and yet I was flattered. I took the time to edit the young man’s paper and I gave him suggestions, some editorial strikes and a few music history timeline corrections, all for free. I can already hear some of you writing professionals groaning at me, but it was a mere 45 minutes of my time between album reviews. I got to multitask by spinning the next album in my queue and get a taste of it for before a more scrutinizing listen. The college kid later contacted me to let me know he’d received an A on his paper, and he then took to social media to give me props. Considering I had just started writing media reviews for Blabbermouth and was immediately torched by the site’s infamous online trolls, the kid’s praise felt amazing and it gave me strength to strap on my armor against my haters. Reward comes in many different fashions, and none of it goes out of style.

There’s a band I’ll keep anonymous whom I’d interviewed many times and we have a handful of now-hilarious stories from backstage and their touring van. Every time they came into my town, they always promptly added me to their guest list and I was almost always there. So often did I see their gigs I ended up leaving the show early once (after their slot, of course) to go buy said band a case of beer, knowing they were cash strapped with just enough gas and dinner money to make it to the next town. The current venue had neglected to comp them grub and drinks, a sad play which does happen as often as the sickening pay-to-play venues. The friends in this band have all gone on to different pastures, but we say hello to each other frequently.

Aside from giving my publicist friend a ride to her hotel, there was a time I met up with a different record label executive for drinks at a high profile music festival showcased in my hometown. Being a stranger to this city, she was lost and needed a sense of direction back to her hotel. I did what any responsible buddy or Good Samaritan should do in such a case; I escorted her the 13 city blocks to deliver her safely to her destination. She bought me dinner another time and later invited me up to Brooklyn, New York for an album release party.

All of this may come off as bragging, but I never did any of the aforementioned for self-serving purposes. Many times a solid given is a solid unreturned. It happens, so reciprocation shouldn’t be expected. Often you do a solid for someone upon request, and watching it in motion is inspirational stuff. A solid endears you to people and sure, it may put a sign around your neck that could put you in a precarious spot of being taken for granted. Yet, doing a solid off-the-cuff, without prompt, from the heart…that is what people often remember and return kindness comes in different forms; some materially, much of it intangibly.

For all the solids I did for a couple of underground music promoters I had a longtime friendship with, they were the ones who put my name in the hat to succeed them when they departed the prestigious Blabbermouth. I had written for a lot of esteemed magazines and sites and maintained monthly columns which were filled with guests months in advance. I was most proud of my six year stint at Blabbermouth, offered to me based on my solids done for others.

Last example, in another industry to which I gave my all and my spare time to my teammates and those on other teams in the company, I was given the finest compliment anyone’s ever given to me: I was called a “mensch,” the Yiddish phrase for someone possessing integrity and honor. I was genuinely choked up when I heard that. It had been noted how many solids I’d done for people in the entire organization, regardless if it was my direct job or not. You don’t need to play office politics when your shoulders are already squared with pride and you give of yourself. It doesn’t need to be Bruce Wayne-like epic bestowments of charity. Hold a door for someone. Let someone into traffic. Give a homeless person a bottle of water or a burger. Listen to someone having a bad day. It’s simpler than you realize.

That, my friends, is a road lesser taken well-worth the effort. Do the solid.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

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