How This Music Industry Pro Stays Human

Grant Rindner

The internet is a spam-bot for ways to be more productive. But in this age of “self care” (whatever that means), a lot of us could use more help focusing on the things that keep us feeling grounded and alive. Our ongoing series, How I Stay Human, shares the best work-life balance advice—emphasis on the “life” part—from friends we admire.

Bobby Ramirez really loves what he does. But every job has its demands. Working as a talent buyer in Chicago’s music scene means an unending sea of emails, spreadsheets, and phone calls, with the added pressure of showing up to concerts he’s booked and the necessity of mingling with industry folks. Currently, he's the primary buyer for the Thalia Hall building, perhaps the best spot in town to see a show and part of 16 on Center, a collective featuring some of the city's most beloved venues.

Ramirez, 29, and I met in college when he promoted student music and local acts from Chicagoland. His tremendous charisma and bone-deep love of music were apparent then, but Bobby was also always the hardest-working person in the room—spending hours planning concert lineups and willing to put his own money on the line when necessary. In the decade since, he’s gone on to carve a niche for himself within Chicago’s vibrant music scene.

We recently chatted over the phone about maintaining a pure love for your passion even when it’s your job, keeping work out of your social media, and how to make time spent on your hobbies truly feel like a respite (rather than just squeezing it in). Read on for Ramirez’s insights, in his own words below.

Photo illustration by Brenden Lovejoy

Remembering why he loves what he does in the first place

“Holding onto the romance of music is what makes [this career] fun and exciting. There’s definitely a separation between things I’ll put on heavy rotation and the things I’ll bring in the room. I would never put anything on our stage that I didn’t feel was of cultural significance and artistic excellence. If it’s coming to our stage, we all think there’s something special there.

People that want to be elitist nerds about what good music is annoy me so much—the people that can spot talent the best have broad taste and are willing to give a lot of different sounds and genres and artists a shot. Shedding that [elitist] mentality helps preserve the magic of music; it opens up a massive world of songs you could identify with and really grow close to. Whether it’s a country phase one month then it’s a black metal phase, being able to realize the value across genres helps make it easier to not get jaded.”

Separating work channels from social channels

“I am tethered to my phone all the time. I get calls and texts about what’s happening at the show or people trying to get a hold of me in different time zones. I don’t necessarily set boundaries in terms of when I’m off. But one thing I try to do is reserve my channels of communication for specific uses. I try to keep my personal text messages to a minimum during a work day because it does distract me. If it’s a DJ or a super new act or guest list requests, that will often come in through a Twitter or Instagram DM. I always try to redirect them to my email so I’m not switching modes in my head with every single message.

Sure, I’m keeping an eye on content from bands and people I work with on social media, but I don’t want to have a work-related, two-way interaction on those platforms. I want to know, ‘When I put the email away, I put this portion of work away, and when I pick up my phone, I pick up this portion of my life.’”

Knowing when it’s worth it to “miss out”

“One time around the holidays, I hit a wall pretty bad. We were putting together this big party I’d developed with a local label downstairs in [the restaurant at Thalia Hall] Punch House. They drove a lot of excitement around this cool monthly residency, and we did a giant dance party up in the venue proper. There were a lot of local industry folks and familiar faces I was so excited to see come out. But I was so tapped out from the week that I sat up in the office the entire night, casually working on things. I’d look down through the window and I was so heartwarmed to see all of my friends in the room having so much fun, but I just couldn’t say hello that day. It’s a funny feeling realizing, ‘The moment I do this, I’m in it, so I just have to keep that distance.’”

Silencing notifications during face-to-face time

“I’m not always super great at it, but when I do give my time to someone, I try to commit fully to being as present as possible. So when I have time to catch up with friends, I’m trying to ignore things like my email and phone. Same with work. If I’m working on a specific project, I’m not allowing myself to get distracted by notifications or texts, unless it’s really pressing. If you’re not present for the things you should be present for, how valuable is that time anyways?”

If you’re not present for the things you should be present for, how valuable is that time anyways?

Making an event out of what reinvigorates him

“When I’m busy, cooking is the first thing I throw out the window. I’m like ‘fuck it’ for the sake of convenience and time. But cooking a huge meal is what I do when I finally have a big chunk of time to reclaim, and it always feels so good. It feels like an event when I know, ‘This Sunday I don’t have to be anywhere. I’ve been looking at this recipe on TikTok for a month now. I’m gonna have so much fun picking out the best produce and I’m gonna make an incredible meal for no one but me.’ If I’m trying to do it as part of my week with everything else going on, it becomes more of a frustration by getting in the way of other stuff I want to do.”

Planning out his week, even if it takes time

“I’m pretty meticulous about both my work and social calendars. I keep a healthy balance and really map out both. It’s annoying, but I keep close track of simple things like knowing when you’re getting lunch with somebody, when you’re meeting up with somebody at a show, when this person is gonna be in town and they might swing by. That helps me look at my week and plot out the most exhausting days or the days that are gonna take the most social energy versus the most mental energy. Just really trying to get ahead of when I’m expending that energy.”

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