Why I hope the pointless Zoom meeting sticks around for good

The following blog comes from music journalist and Popjustice Editor Peter Robinson (pictured inset). Robinson’s article originally appeared in the Q2/Q3 2020 edition of quarterly magazine Music Business UK, which is available via subscription through here.

Christ knows what will have happened in the world in the time between me writing these words and you reading them, but I’m guessing that if you’re still in work you’re not properly back in the office yet and are increasingly resigned to a fact many freelancers knew long before lockdown: working from home actually means living at work.

But back in March, when many office-based industry types were still getting to grips with working in their pants, there was a lot of excitement about one small upside to an unprecedented pandemic: the sudden end of the pointless meeting.

Strangely, with the exception of live music, it’s the pointless meetings I’ve missed most about my work. It’s been an unexpected realisation. As a freelancer, I’d usually find myself going to meetings rather than hosting them myself, meaning a half-hour commitment from whoever’s hosting would mean half a day from me. What I’d give now, though, for a 90-minute traipse across London to Kensington High Street for an interview that ends up being delayed or cancelled, or a multi-day odyssey to the furthest reaches of north-east London for a forty minute catch-up.

Though I’m generally socially awkward and invariably find the best approach to meetings is to do some breathing exercises and hope for the best, I miss the human contact. By April, I’d have given anything for an excruciating handshake vs hug dilemma, or the messy aftermath of someone else’s botched attempt at a single or double air kiss. I missed the friendly faces, the idle chitchat and the feeling of being part of something.

But I didn’t miss it completely. In the place of those meetings, we’ve now landed on what’s been described widely on social media as something approaching Zoomageddon. The theory goes that meetings that could have been phone calls that should have been emails have been replaced by Zooms that would have been meetings that could have been phone calls that should have been emails. The thing is, emails are a nightmare and in 2020 phone calls are for parents and psychopaths, so right now we’re left with Zoom.

“Mid-ranking label A&Rs stand to save an absolute fortune on limited edition sneakers.”

I’ve seen people complaining of Zoom fatigue and I’m sure daily team meetings have taken their toll on many, but on the whole this shift has been an enjoyably frictionless move. It’s blown the notion that You Have To Be In London To Do Anything In The UK Music Industry out of the water, meetings last precisely as long as they need to, you get to see inside people’s houses or meet their parents, and it’s about 90% as ‘real’ as face-to-face interaction. Which is pretty good, considering a sizeable portion of the remaining 10% is the ability to assess footwear. (Another happy upside of the Zoom revolution is that mid-ranking major label A&Rs stand to save an absolute fortune on limited edition sneakers.)

Looking back now, one of my favourite work-related moments during lockdown involved a last-minute decision to throw open my Zoom one Thursday afternoon to anyone who had a single out the following day. With my blogging hat on I thought meeting artists face to face in fifteen-minute chunks would be a good way to find some clarity in the hundreds of new release emails I’d received that week. Technically the whole thing was a failure due to some participants having released their music earlier in the week, in direct contravention of New Music Friday’s most sacred law. (New music on a Friday — it’s not hard.)

But on another level this music journalism version of speed dating was unexpectedly rewarding and, in the chaos of lockdown, very moving. I spoke to 12 people in three hours. It was fun that a couple of platinum-sellers dialled in, but the best part was meeting new artists I’d never otherwise have had face time with.

I spoke to singers in Australia, The Netherlands, New York and LA; I met one who, strangely, was a mile from my home, who said he’d spent most of lockdown trespassing on a golf course. I met CMAT, a ludicrously charismatic Irish singer who was releasing a song about KFC (and has since released another song about the actor Rodney Dangerfield). While none of the artists were exactly going The Full Charli XCX, they were each finding new ways to work, negotiating a path through a difficult time, making the best of it all.

I resisted doing it again the following week in case the second attempt didn’t quite recapture the magic of that impulsive first outing. That said, I’ve been suggesting ‘pointless’ Zoom calls (that could have been phone calls that should have been emails) ever since. Possibly, to be fair, to widespread dismay from the other parties. But during a chaotic and emotional time, it’s left me feeling connected to my work, and connected to more artists and their teams than ever before.

It’s strange how March onwards seems to have simultaneously gone on forever and whizzed by in the blink of an eye. Some things came and went and feel like they happened in a different lifetime: the barrage of quizzes, the awkwardly phrased emails opening with an earnest reference to This Difficult Time followed immediately by a paragraph beginning “Anyway…”, the weekly view of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s kitchen.

But the power of that Zoom speed-dating exercise has stayed with me and I hope the pointless Zoom meeting stays, even when things begin to approach some sense of normality. However the future looks, I’m committed to being more available to meet more people, even if it’s just briefly on Zoom, and even if out of shot I’m wearing clown shoes.Music Business Worldwide

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