Monday, February 18, 2013

Writing Pop Hits

The name Bonnie McKee might not ring a bell, but these songs will have you humming: "California Gurls," "Last Friday Night" and "Teenage Dream" for Katy Perry and "Hold It Against Me" for Britney Spears. 

She might not be the voice for the songs, but the songs wouldn't exist if she had not written them for some of pop's current leading ladies. It doesn't quite surprise me that McKee wanted to be a pop star herself--her 2004 debut album tanked. As she says in this Hollywood Reporter interview, "My experience in the industry was that you put all this heart and soul into shit and then it never happens." But as they say, lemons to lemonade. She knew music, she could write, and write she did. 

Her turning point was "California Gurls," which I vaguely remember was said to be written as a response to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind." Katy Perry wanted a West Coast equivalent that was fun and bubbly--and probably something to prove that "I Kissed A Girl" wasn't just a fluke. McKee describes the semi-unreal feeling of hearing the song you wrote on the radio: 

"Well, maybe this will work; maybe it won’t." And then when it came on the radio I was, like, "Wow I did that a couple months ago and I can’t believe it’s actually on the radio and it actually worked!" When that started playing a lot I was just in shock. I couldn’t believe it … I think ‘California Gurls’ is the first one that really showed me that.

It really surprised me that she wrote some of Katy Perry's biggest hits. I had been under the impression that Katy Perry wrote most of her songs. But "Teenage Dream?" Man, that is major:

That’s a title I’d had bouncing around in my head for years that I had been holding onto for myself … So that was tough one to give up. There’s a lot of little Bonnie-isms in "Teenage Dream" that I was hoping to keep for myself. But at that moment I didn’t have hot water, I didn’t have a cell phone, I didn’t have a car. So it was now or never. I’m glad that I did it. 

McKee says "Teenage Dream" is the song she is most proud of having written. And I have to agree. It's the right mix of vulnerability and braveness and oh, youth! That she was hoping to sing it herself, but there were bills to pay. She wouldn't have written it if she weren't poor and desperate. Literally, this is a money for food moment. All we hear is Katy Perry's name and voice and pop sugar outfits, but where would she be if it weren't for the songs, yeah?

I'm also glad that she has not completely given up on her own pop dreams. She is working on her next album. My bet is that she got tons of goodwill from the work she did for others, and now she has another shot at it. She describes her work as something like "what Blondie would sound like in 2013." I would be looking forward to that. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Top 10 Highest Paying Jobs in the Philippines

The Department of Labor and Employment recently bared a list for the highest paying jobs in the country. It was based on the study made by the Bureau of Local Employment, and they defined the current Pinoy workforce as made up of "young, creative and dynamic people." 

I was not surprised that "geologist" made it to #2. There aren't that many geology majors in the country,  which makes their rarity and brand of expertise extremely prized. (I know or knew one geologist in real life.  He died. But when he was alive, his consultancy fees from mining and oil companies certainly were his bread and butter--not the teaching job he held at the university. Anyway, RIP Geologist. But don't worry, kids, his death had nothing to do with rocks. Science is cool; geology rocks!) 

But I certainly wasn't counting on "art director" to be on top of the list. So what does an art director do, exactly? The BLE has an answer: 

"[A]rt directors in the film industry typically work with production designers and serve as the head of the art department. He attends production meetings, oversees the film sets and special effects, supervises the production staff, and is responsible for allocating and maximizing the budget for the art department.
It added that depending on the qualifications and experience, art directors could earn a monthly salary of as much as P70,000, particularly those who work in big budget films."

Again, I've worked in that creative industry and production designers earn enough to buy a van and a house with nine rooms. But that is for someone who has worked for a long time, so this is not necessarily true for everyone. Perhaps the rates are different in commercials, but film and television, probably not as much. This somehow makes me consider the veracity of the BLE's study. 

If you would look at the list carefully, almost all the jobs require a very specific area of expertise which most likely requires higher education. The bare minimum would be a college course with a healthy dosage of science and math (geologist, pilot, mining/metallurgical engineer*, statistician, system analyst, computer programmer.**) 

DOLE Secretary Baldoz admits as much, that "the salaries and jobs identified are not entry-level wages. She says, “The compensation are obtained after years of work experience and after attaining some level of competency, as most employers in the identified industries would require. Also, occupants of these high-paying positions need to have bachelor’s degrees related to the field, at the very least." You can't just apply and say, I can do that. It needs real skills and a diploma. Imagine if your surgeon says he studied heart bypass operations in the internet. You wouldn't trust him with a cross-stitching needle, what more your heart. 

I might be wrong with this, but I think "General foreman" is a job you can learn from the ground up. You still need (construction?) skills and then build on that experience. 

Of all the top jobs, "call center agent" is the most free-wheeling. A decade ago, call centers (or BPOs) were just starting to get attention. They recruited college graduates who knew how to operate computers. But mostly, one must have a command of English. Accents are neutralized, and because Pinoys are great mimics, so that's a piece of cake. Also, you need a great deal of patience. You guide people through what needs to be solved, and there will be "irate callers" who will demand to talk to the manager and a hefty refund. 

It's a nice job to have if you don't mind the tedium and the hours--you have to follow Eastern or European time. It fills the bread basket and gives young people a job. But what happens when you no longer want to be a vampire on night shift? What other options are often? 

I might be the last person to champion a skills-only education, but now I can also recognize that not everyone needs to go to college. We put such a high premium on a college diploma that we lose sight of the fact that a country can't all be made up of desk slaves. But we've had enough of by-the-numbers people. We can't be all accountants.  Look where bureaucracy has brought us. If not everyone has the aptitude to study rocks, then we need to push technical vocational courses. 

And yes, we do need artists and poets and historians. But that's for telling the story later. If there's an apocalypse, what will happen to us? For that, we need people who know how to build bridges, operate heavy machinery, cultivate crops so we won't go hungry, save lives in case of emergencies. For that we need our scientists and skilled laborers. 

But we can't all be singing when the ships go down. Some of us would have to use labor and skill, some need math and sharp logic, some will have to write it all down. So really, a well-rounded education still wins the game for the country. 

*Entering college, I knew two people from my school who elected "metallurgical engineer" as their major and we were all, "What is the hell is that?" Later, the guy spent a lot of his time in a rig in the middle of the sea. 

**Some people would argue that all it needs is a decent computer and the internet and in the spirit of free knowledge sharing, one could learn to code and program on one's own. But in a country that has STI and AMA colleges on every corner, I would like to think that people go to school for that as well. Also note that most computer colleges boast of programs where they have E2E or enrolment to employment protocols, ie, they guarantee that you can get a job immediately afterwards. It won't be a well rounded education, but most people don't go to college now just "to learn." And that's sad.