THIS IS US.
our bridge is made of notes + feelings + lyrics + things
a perfect recipe for bridging the age gap = music
We were looking for each other but didn't know it. I desperately needed a summer intern. She desperately wanted a summer internship. Sadly we had both given up as it was late June and all interns & internships worth anything were taken, booked, gone, zippo. We're both know-it-alls and knew we were out of luck.
My name is Val Haller. The New York Times describes me as a "music-obsessed baby boomer and the founder of the Web site Valslist.com that matches [music] tracks from her generation to those of her 20-something sons' generation." You heard it right, I launched a music startup (a playlist website) at age 50, with one mission: to help busy adults keep up with new music. Although this post isn't about me, I'll quickly set the stage so when you meet the protagonist of this story you'll understand why she's so important to me, and the unlikely synergy between us. In a nutshell, I love my job so much that I've worked tirelessly, non-stop, 18 hour days (as all entrepreneurs do) for the past ten years. I'm obsessed with discovering new music and showcasing new artists. If I'm not listening to music I'm talking about it. My business has grown in myriad directions over the past ten years; I wrote for the New York Times for two and half years (ironically called Music Match where I bridged the gap between vintage bands and new bands with a similar vibe.) We launched a playlist mobile app, ValslistRadio, created a successful six year (and running) branded Valslist House Concert Series that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for emerging artists, including expansion to country clubs, corporate events, an indie concert series at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and most recently launched a premier boutique music festival in my hometown, Winnetka Music Festival, which will become an annual destination fest on the N. Shore of Chicago (Father's Day Weekend.) I do monthly TV/radio spots, speaking engagements, music event press coverage, and interview bands and host them in my home. Basically I'm a backstage boomer. Category of one. An enigma. I'm the mother of four grown sons (was a stay-at-home-mom for 24 yrs), I've been married to Mark for 37 years, and I just became a grandmother to a baby Maggie - a girl!! Life has been rich and blessed.
But I still have a few things to do... And I need good people on my team.
As karma always does, my gift arrived unexpectedly. She appeared in the form of a suggestion that rolled off her mother's tongue whom I met at a women's charity shopping event. I don't have time for shopping events but I attended this one for my friend who hosted. I lingered for the required hour and in my exit path I was introduced to Caroline's mom. As karma always does, her story caught my ear. She said, "... my daughter... she's still in Australia. stayed an additional month to hike/travel on her own. she's a photographer. she's a nature girl. she's an extreme music lover. wants a music industry internship..." But what I heard was: "this girl's different. she's intrigued by the new. she's independent. she's not a follower. she's creative. she's down to earth. she speaks music. she's driven." Exactly what I was looking for. I needed to meet + hire this girl Caroline now. And so I did.
Caroline returned to the States with a big dose of homeland culture shock and an even bigger dose of our music startup's insane busy season (summer festival season), Chicago's Lollapalooza (for which we were running press), our new website build, the launch of our new mobile playlist app, a quickly expanding live concert series, managing a team of younger interns, and a boss (me) who was crazed at the helm of this wonderful ride called mayhem. But remember, Caroline is brave. And lucky for me, non-judgemental. She swan dived into the tsunami of projects without even looking first. She got along with the team right away, but she has a trait that I've only seen in a handful of people. She sits quietly for long periods of time while the chaos swirls around her. At first I worried that something was wrong - was she mad? bored? exhausted? confused? I soon discovered it was D) none of the above. She was intently listening. And thinking. Humans get nervous around humans who are quiet. We worry. I quickly learned that my Caroline was creating a masterpiece in her head. She would wait until the others were finished speaking, and then throw out an idea to the team in an understated way. Boom. Just like that. She'd solve the problem or organize the group -- and get sh** done! It became her signature deliverable. You'll never see this one dancing on tables or screaming with excitable girly-girls. On the contrary, she surveys, digests, processes, and spews out beautiful products in any medium: photographs, videos, graphics, playlists, signage, marketing docs, pitch decks, kid tattoos, you name it.
In the first few weeks she spearheaded our prep for Lollapalooza marketing and worked tirelessly on our mobile app launch where we spent days going over playlist titles and various user personas and the music they'd want.. We had personalities of all types on our intern team, from the bold to the beautiful... and Caroline continued to listen + process + produce + deliver. ALWAYS.
from caroline i've learned to listen more intently
These are the things I most admire about Caroline and her work ethic:
She's a YES person. Most millennials are and I love it. No matter what I asked her to do - or if she knows how to do it, she'd reply 'sure!' Even if she didn't know how to do it or what I was talking about, she would try with a can do attitude and usually always figure it out. I love being around young people like this because it equals getting things done fast. It's the best. When they have good taste or good sense on top of tech skills, an added bonus.
Everything is simple. She'd bring her computer and her phone for taking notes. I'm a product of the spiral notebook era so I lug lots 'o paper to meetings. You know, the lists of lists kind of thing. I'm better now. But honestly I exhaust myself sometimes.
We are complete concert nerds. Caroline and I went to lots of live music together and we act exactly the same in the audience - we stand still, look straight at the stage, analyzing everything we see and hear. We're really fun to go to a show with. Not. We know we both do this and love being together at shows. We'll glance and make eyes about the show, grading the band's stage presence, complain about the sound engineer, etc. True music sound NERDS.
Caroline is never embarrassed to hang with me.
She paraded me around Seattle like I was a college friend when I visited last year. I appreciated that. It's hard to be my age! And visiting Starbucks headquarters was a bucket list item of mine (thanks Caroline :)
No judging from her end. Ever.
No matter what I screwed up, messed up, needed help with on social media, she'd gladly take my phone or ask me to send her the photo and post and boom, she'd send it. On all platforms. Heaven. No rolling her eyes, no huffing and puffing, just type click send post. I thank her for every click she's ever done on my behalf.
Surprise gifts like videos and pretty photos.
It's nice to have a creative tech wiz on the team. Not only does it sound good, it looks good.
Offers the millennial point of view.
This is an important vote in our business. She's even-keeled and fair.
the artist and her eye
Everything Caroline touches turns to gold. She has an incredible design eye. She sees things that regular people like me pass right over. You should see her videography; she did a video of one of our house concerts (a surprise gift to me) and the parts I marveled at most were the close up shot of my booted foot tapping to the music and the the back of the audience in applause. With Caroline it's the little things that are magic. Who knew? Her photography is the same. Most take a picture of a boat on the water.. Not Caroline -- her photo is 98% the water ... with a tiny boat in the lower 1/8 of the photo. It's absolutely stunning and so unconventional and perfect. Who thinks like this? Caroline does. Here's some of her work:
from caroline i've learned to value the minimal
Valslist house concert promo video -by Caroline Kerr
Caroline interned for me for a few years handling special projects that required design, music expertise, and of course anything having to do with social media. As a business owner I basically don't delegate the design or music projects to anyone. Those are my domain. But something was different with Caroline. I actually valued her opinion over my own. It was a game-changer for me and I knew I was dealing with a true artist. I started to depend on her eye more than mine. She took over my social media and for months when we went to music together she was literally "the tech kid attached to my hip" that I always dream of and tell everyone I need... She never judged. She'd stand next to me for long minutes patiently (aka painfully) waiting while I fumbled with my phone, my glasses, the instagram app, the filters, the writing... until I'd throw my phone at her, flustered, muttering, 'can you just post this for me?' and she would. In 5 seconds. Caroline's from a really great family. Like me, she's surrounded by men - brothers and a dad whom she adores. She's super close to her mom. Fun fact: when Caroline was in junior high and started watching TV shows like One Tree Hill, OC, where music started to play a big part in the show, she became very interested in how the music was picked. Her mom encouraged her to watch the credits after every show to find the "music supervisors" and she began writing to them one by one, hoping to learn more. She even enrolled herself in Berklee School of Music on line while in college at DePauw University as an English/Writing major. Not all millennials are this resourceful! Her parents have raised her well. It's a challenging tightrope to raise strong but gentle, lean-in but not too far, pragmatic but sensitive women. Boys seemed easier to raise, not as many mixed messages from society. I commend all girl moms.
from caroline i've learned to delegate and be resourceful
I watched Caroline climb up the music industry ladder quickly. She was hungry - her original dream job was attainable and she had a strategic plan. We stayed in touch and I watched her grow with each stepping stone and job pivot. At Music Dealers she launched an outdoor summer concert series in a premier section of the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue) Chicago - for commuters at rush hour. I attended those and she packed the place. She continued to land at impressive places. Chicago Athletic Association (CAA), a premier club/restaurant in Chicago hired her when newly opened; a coveted job for anyone in the industry. And she plowed ahead, making her own impact when Sofar Sounds, an urban house concert series that targets millennials, was new in town. Her experience with my live events created a framework to build on, even if the business models were different. She still loves the music-supervision (choosing songs for film/TV, etc.) and licensing side of the music industry. Fun fact: she wanted to do this even as a little girl.
from caroline i've learned to plow ahead no matter what
And then it happened. She landed the dream opportunity. Then the dream interview. Then the dream job: Starbucks Music! From the first call back to the job offer I was with her all the way. She prepped and planned and studied articles about the industry and the corporate culture of this iconic brand. And as much as she prepared, I kept reminding her that she had experience that few in the industry had: the challenge of discovering and getting the right kind of music to an educated adult population, their target audience. Same as the Valslist target audience. The more she prepared, I kept reminding her that she knows this audience. She knows it well. She's made playlists and hosted live events for this audience. She's created marketing campaigns and has been at concerts among this audience. She can bridge the gap between the younger and older segments of this audience -- basically her age and her parents' age. She sat in so many long discussions and strategy meetings with our teams to discuss playlist moods, user needs, user experience, user habits. She understands that louder isn't better. She understands that not every music fan wants a driving beat. She understands that people will engage with the artist and pay the artist - if they're moved by the artist. Off she went to use her experience and knowledge at one of the best brands in the world. Fun fact: When Caroline saw that there was a position open at Starbucks she wanted the job so badly she took two days off of her real job to work on the application. Finally when she submitted it she learned to her dismay that the job had been pulled, no more applications would be accepted. She went directly to HR and begged them to look at her resume. They did and the rest is history with a happy ending.
from caroline i've learned to take what I know and go for it
Perks of the Job
During the interview process Starbucks called me as a reference for Caroline. I spoke with her future boss for an hour - about her. It was so easy to do - so easy to describe this fearless 25 year old woman, who wanted only this for so long, the adjectives kept flowing - "independent, focused, pragmatic, creative, problem solver, confident, brave, sure-footed, level-headed, mature, conscientious, kind, reserved, grounded, not impulsive, driven, thoughtful." When they asked about the fact that they'd be moving her cross country to a new city/environment, alone, to a small work team, would she be steady and not falter, could she jump right in and not look back? I replied unequivocally, "yes. of all the girls I know, this is the one who can do this." And she did. She moved, swan dived into the brilliance that I can only imagine the Starbucks Music Dept is (my dream job too of course) and she's adopted them as her new family. She spends most of her time scouring Spotify for new music and also tends to a variety of playlists that then get programmed overhead to play in the Starbucks stores globally (8000+ in US alone!) They plan a programming schedule with their partner PlayNetwork (licensing side) -- and here's a fun fact: the baristas are really the ones who control what a store plays! They take the playlists that corporate makes for them and are encouraged to "DJ" based on mood, moments or events at the store. Corporate loves to hear their feedback on favorite tracks. Caroline says she thinks of her barista-partners with every track she picks. One of Caroline's pet projects is her "dinner party" playlist on Spotify. The # of followers for Starbucks' playlists is 500,000+ it's a thrill to create playlists for such a huge audience. Starbucks also sometimes pair up with their favorite bigger artists for campaigns like Guest DJ (artists make their own playlists based on what they're listening to.) Artists like Leon Bridges, Tony Bennett, The Lumineers, Lady GaGa, Halsey, to name a few. All of these are on Spotify under Starbucks' branded playlists! (see links at the end of this post)
from caroline i've learned to step out of my comfort zone a bit more
the millennial life
Some of the things that impress me about Caroline - and actually surprise me a bit - are making me wonder if millennials are beginning to push back and say "enough!" on certain things... Caroline says that one of the things she values most about her move to Seattle was to give herself the ability to slow down. She's getting back to nature, the calm and peace of the outdoors, hiking and spending time on her beloved hobby of photography again. She's also taken up yoga, meditates more regularly, spends time cooking and reading more. Ironically, she says she's slowed down a bit going out to live music (from 4 times a week to maybe one). She and I have a favorite new artist Christine and the Queens (see video below) I'm jealous because Caroline got to see their live show and I haven't yet :( I know the city life that Caroline left here in Chicago (she's the same age as my sons and knows them) -she had a big base of college and high school friends as well as family. She says that moving to a new city leaves more time to be alone. She says that part of her wanted that - she's finding her work/life balance and finding herself -- which in this world of "group-think" probably feels wonderfully liberating. I think that the Pacific Northwest has drawn Caroline in and is taking good care of her!
Women are a sisterhood that need to unite and support each other more, unconditionally. There still exists an unspoken but virile competition among us: old and young, working and non-working, single and married, mothers and those without children, the list goes on. Why?
I know I'm guilty. I judge what I don't understand. Making a quick assumption based on a quick assessment is most likely inaccurate. What a waste of time..
While writing this piece about my millennial sister, Caroline, I discovered that she deliberately chose to slow down, smell the roses, meditate, think, read... I assume that millennials don't make time for that. My assessment was wrong and now I know. A step in the right direction.
I'm learning to bridge the gap even more
Caroline and I would like to share one of our favorite artists with you:
Christine and the Queens -
(because we all are just a little bit)
FOR SOME OF THE BEST MUSIC ON THE PLANET!