Copyright© 2016 by Jay Cantrell
Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 128 - Travis Blakely had a comfortable existence. He had a decent job and good friends. He was comfortable with what the future held for him. Then he ran into a girl he remembered from high school. His life got a lot more interesting - and infinitely more complicated
“I’m not crazy about having this connected to me,” Liz told us.
“I know,” I admitted. “And it was never supposed to be connected to you. Remember how this started. We had to shift the public focus off convincing some dumbass kid to jump off a bridge and onto something ... worthwhile. We responded to a verbal attack by making it about something more than ... vitriol. It became about substantive issues. That much should be obvious. We pushed the snow down the hill but it was other people that have turned this into an avalanche.
“Now you have people like Randi Raver and Alyssa Grace speaking out publicly about the inequity of their contract situations. You have people like Trey Money opening up about how his label didn’t live up to the promises it made him. You have a lot of young performers that couldn’t get a deal discussing the ... enticements ... people at huge labels wanted in order to sign them to a contract. The corporations are trying to fight a boxer with 13 hands. If the executives protect their heads, they get hit in the body. If they dodge to the left, there’s already a hook waiting for them.
“But the fact remains that this all got started because ... you, Conny and Melissa weren’t willing to let your fans gang up on somebody that probably deserved to be ganged up on. But I think we ... your team in San Diego ... have successfully painted you three in the best possible light.”
“I don’t want to be painted in any light,” Liz said.
“Then you should have let Jordan Featherstone take whatever lumps she had coming,” I replied.
“Or you should have come up with a different strategy to take the pressure off of her,” Liz retorted.
“True,” I said. “And, if I’d have had more than 10 minutes to put something together, I might have been able to do just that. But everything was so fluid that I had to go with what I knew. We’ve spent hours talking about the changes you’d like to see in the industry. I’d already done some preliminary research to see if it was feasible and to find alternatives to those that weren’t. I had the information at my fingertips and, at its heart, this is a matter of inequity.”
I decided sitting down was better so I resumed my seat.
“The girl’s comments were meant to paint you ... and by extension, the other major players ... as bullies,” I said. “Our first goal was to make certain that the tag didn’t stick. Look, this comes back to things from your past. You’ve pushed people around, Liz. You’ve used your status or your influence or your beauty to manipulate people. We couldn’t let that become the focus of any major story ... not right now.”
Liz had crossed her arms defensively and I knew she was formulating a response. I just pinched my nose and waited for whatever she tossed out.
“He’s right,” Jill said instead. “It was never ... forceful ... but you’ve always found a way to get what you really wanted from everybody. If you wanted a front row seat at the Oscars you had no trouble bouncing somebody else to the balcony. If you wanted to rent a certain plane, somebody else got left standing at the airport.”
“I’m not the only one that did things like that!” Liz said angrily.
“But you’re the only one that did things like that and got some half-assed singer calling you names,” I replied. “That’s the thing about public relations that you don’t seem to get. Two events don’t have to be related in reality to be perceived as related by the public. All it would have taken was for the actress that got bumped upstairs to join in with Jordan Featherstone and soon it would have been you trying to dig out from beneath the snow. We had to turn this around and the best way to do that was to ... purposefully misconstrue what that girl was saying.”
Liz’s face was still set in a scowl.
“She meant it when she called you a cunt, Liz,” Jill said. “And she was trying to imply that you’re the one taking what you want and leaving the leftovers for the rest of the world. At least that is the impression I got.”
“Yeah,” Skye said, nodding her agreement.
I knew Liz hated to have more than one person tell her the same story (particularly when it was a story she didn’t want to hear) so I took one for the team.
“It really doesn’t matter how we got here,” I said. “We can sit down and assess blame after we see the other side. For now, we’re here and we have to anticipate what’s coming next. Places like Train and RFN are going to react. It probably won’t be today. They’ll take the weekend to formulate a strategy to fight the financials. What we need to do is keep pecking away and make their arguments moot by Monday morning.”
“How do you plan to do that?” Liz asked in a tight voice.
“I have no idea,” I said. “I’ve been here explaining things to you instead of on a conference call with the people formulating your strategy. Nothing has been done without discussing it with you first. Nothing!”
“But you didn’t tell me about the bigger picture,” Liz said in a loud voice.
“Because I didn’t know about the bigger picture until this morning,” I replied just as loudly.
I took a moment to run my hand though my hair, took a deep breath and continued in quieter tones.
“From the outset, I told you our goal was to keep you from being portrayed as ... a bully,” I said. “To that end, we shifted the conversation away from you ... and by you I mean you, Conny and Melissa.”
“I get that,” Liz said in a voice that was almost her normal speaking tones. “You explained that to me. You said that we didn’t want to be portrayed as the people that push everybody off the playground so we can use it by ourselves. We had to be seen as the ones that make sure the playground was open to everybody. I was OK with that. I’m not OK with how this has steamrolled into an industry-changing event.”
“I know,” I said. “And I’m not real happy about it either. But, again, here we are. We have a lot of disaffected people that are genuinely angry about their treatment. Those same people were too scared or too beholden to their labels to come out by themselves. But once we opened the door a crack ... once Conny and Melissa turned the knob ... they kicked the fucking door down. You’re not under contract to anybody. You’re a free agent and that means you can piss off anybody that you want. Conny and Melissa are signed to two of the largest recording labels in the universe. So when they came out and said that those labels treated fledgling artists unfairly, it held weight.”
“When you said that for them,” Liz cut in.
“They approved every single word that came out of my mouth,” I shot back. “And they didn’t give me a ration of shit this morning.”
Liz continued to glare at me but she finally relented and nodded.
“You are connected to them via your friendship and by what Jordan Featherstone said,” I continued. “And, this isn’t a shocker, you’re the biggest name involved. It’s the same as when you pulled your catalog from the streaming services. A bunch of people did it at the same time but the media focused on you because you’re the news hook. Outside of country music, Conny and Melissa are relatively unknown. You’re not.”
“You’re also the only person involved that has the resources to coordinate this,” Skye pointed out. “Nobody else has their own marketing and public relations team. Look, I’ve sat in on almost every call Travis has made to San Diego this week. No one thought it would get this big. No one thought it would last more than a day or two in the news cycle. Nobody could have foreseen so many artists picking up the gauntlet. But since it has gotten this big, all they’re trying to do now is to keep it from spiraling out of control.”
I gave Skye a look to let her know to just let me take my punishment but she shook her head at me.
“No,” she said to me. “Liz, I’m still a relative outsider so maybe I can see things from a different angle. This is being propelled from somewhere else. Somebody somewhere has an axe to grind and they’re taking this opportunity. All Travis and his team are doing is making sure they control the conversation. They’re setting the parameters about what can be discussed and what can’t. If you pull their hands off the wheel, we’re going to go over a cliff.”
“There are a lot of people out there that feel the same way about you as Jordan Featherstone does,” Jill said. “If they get the chance, they’re going to take a shot at you. Travis has come to me a dozen times this week with questions or scenarios that have come up in conversation out there to see how I thought you’d react. And I gave him my opinion. You know what? He’s never brought anything to you that I told him wouldn’t work. And I know there have been times that my opinion was contrary to what he thought was best. But he didn’t plow ahead. He went back to the team and had them put together something different. It’s working pretty well. The people in the fancy suits need to be held accountable and I think somebody is going to force that whether we’re involved or not.”
Jill’s voice was polite and again I was amazed at the statecraft she had magically acquired seemingly overnight.
Liz rubbed her face and nodded.
“And we have no idea who’s pushing things?” she asked.
“Not only that but we have no idea what their agenda is,” I added.
“Their agenda is pulling the veil of secrecy away from the labels,” Skye said.
“Maybe,” I said. “I hope that’s what it is. But we have to be wary of a secondary motive. We have to make sure that Liz’s head doesn’t get too far out on the chopping block. That’s why we’ve kept her official comments ... mundane. We’ve pointed out that we agree that a lot of young artists are being exploited. We’ve noted that the contract Liz signed at age 20 was weighted heavily in the label’s favor ... not to mention the one she signed at 16. But we haven’t come right out and called anybody a crook or said that we need to blow up the whole enchilada and start over. We’ve been asked, point blank, if that was what we wanted to see happen.”
“Isn’t it?” Jill asked.
“A little at a time,” I said. “It’s like how Liz handled her contract with RFN. She chipped away because she knew that she still needed some help from them. It’s why she’s signing with RaveLand and not opening her own label. We can’t just toss the entire system into the garbage. If we can get a little more for the artists ... particularly those in their first contract ... then this is a huge PR win for us. But if we wind up destroying everything to where no new music is released ... we’re fucked. It’s a tightrope we’re walking and right now we’re only about halfway there. Oh, and we’re blindfolded because we don’t know who’s releasing the information or why.”
“OK,” Liz said, nodding. “I guess I can see that the scope of this is as much of a surprise to you as it was to me. I’m sorry that I got ... angry. Let’s move on so you can make your call. What makes you think the streaming services are next on the hit list?”
“Mostly it’s just intuition,” I said, shrugging slightly. “Look, we started out with the disparity between a first contract and a third contract. Tuesday night ... a bunch of confidential contract information was released to a cable news network that verified our talking points. Then we touched on the cross-breeding of the media markets, pointing out that a lot of the radio stations were owned in whole or in part by the various studios. The next thing we saw was a list of the labels and the radio stations they controlled. By then, we’d already moved on to how much the labels were taking for the services they provided. Voila ... last night the financial ledger of a major label hits the web.”
“And yesterday we noted how young artists and studio musicians aren’t compensated very well by the streaming services,” Liz said. “So you think that’s coming next.”
“If it follows the previous items, yeah,” I said. “Truth is, I can’t tell you what’s coming next. Hell, Liz, this person might have hacked your accountant and it’ll be a list of everything you’ve spent money on since you were 16 years old.”
“I hope not,” Liz said.
“You and me both,” I said. “And I’m sure I don’t know the half of it. But I think the unknown hacker is on our side. That’s what we’re doing now. I texted San Diego this morning that we needed to have a solid idea about what we want the public to know and what we don’t want them to know.”
“Spin,” Liz grumbled.
“To a certain extent,” I admitted. “But it’s not personal information we want to keep out of the public eye. It’s mostly...”
I paused to consider my next words.
“Say it,” Liz commanded.
“It’s mostly the intricacies that the general public won’t understand,” I replied. “Right now, we’ve kept it simple. It’s the big corporate goliath against the struggling young artist. It’s a group of established performers sticking up for those trying to get started in the business. We want to keep the public focused on that. We don’t want to let anybody hijack the message. We don’t want this to become about Liz Larimer wanting to buy a private jet.”
“If I wanted a private jet, I’d own one,” Liz said.
“I know and it was just ... the first opulent thing that hit my brain,” I said. “We saw how the label heads reacted initially. They tried to push the idea that the artists were greedy on to the public. There are people out there that believe that and ... it’s always good to preach to the choir. That backfired on them because of a single comment attributed to Melissa. She said she was giving her label 70 percent off the top ... and it was 80 percent on her first contract. Then other major players jumped in.
“Some Hollywood types tried to steal the story ... your buddies Hiram Davis and Janna Jones among them ... but they got shouted down by the sheer volume of the fans. They willingly pay their money to you. They are not pleased to know that you get to keep two dimes of every dollar they fork out.”
“Hiram Davis is not my buddy,” Liz said.
“He could have been if you’d played your cards right,” I said with a wink.
“Ha-ha,” Liz intoned.
“You have to understand, 90 percent of the people in this fight don’t have the resources you do,” I continued in a more serious tone. “They don’t have a full-time staff of public relations people. They might have one or two but most of those functions are handled...”
“By the labels,” Liz supplied.
“Yes,” I said, nodding. “That’s where the bigwigs fucked up the second time. They sent out a bunch of releases from their PR department but in the names of the acts they controlled. Lucas’s label did that. You saw how that worked out.”
“He was really pissed,” Jill said.
“And he wasn’t the only one,” I said. “Liam said that about 50 people had somebody say something in their names ... big names. When Lucas went on TV, told the world that any statement attributed to him came from somewhere else and was a complete lie, it went a long way to building a foundation of trust between the artists and the public.
“It suddenly became OK to call out the people you worked for. Lenny O said that this is exactly the type of behavior that had the artists upset and he gave specific examples of times when his label had acted against his interests to perpetuate theirs.”
“I was surprised when he jumped in,” Liz said. “He has a new release scheduled to come out this week and that’s when everybody usually plays ball with their minders.”