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Tech Support to the Stars 289

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the but-who-won dept.
Carl Bialik writes "The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Prince, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Bon Jovi, and U2 all have used technical support when on the road, when their Wi-Fi or Xbox or Sidekick needs servicing. The Journal takes a look at the lives of the essential, if overlooked, members of the entourage, the support tech. Joshua Kapellen, of Best Buy's Geek Squad, has been on the road with U2 since 2004. From the article: 'Last March, lead singer Bono needed his Xbox connected while the band rehearsed in Canada. Mr. Kapellen got a call. He hooked up the contraption and a few minutes later was playing videogames with Bono. "It was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me," says Mr. Kapellen.'"
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Tech Support to the Stars

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  • by Alaren (682568) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @08:09PM (#14647557)

    Couldn't agree more. I happen to run internal PC support for a major (privately owned) domain name company. The owner is something of a celebrity, and very little is more nerve-wracking than fixing this guy's computer.

    Not that he isn't a nice guy--on the contrary--but having someone who could buy you and sell you a million times... someone who could probably literally kill you and tape the event and never go to jail for it... is a little unnerving. Even without the star-studded ego, people with that kind of power make me nervous.

    Now, once I become one of those people, maybe it will be different! But right now I'm just the little guy who makes things work, and running tech support for billionaires who are used to getting everything they want, when they want it, is not what I would call low-stress.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 05, 2006 @08:10PM (#14647562)
    And yet, most people are fascinated by it.

    There's many reasons why, popularity by association, hero worship, rarity, etc.

    One time I fought over Goldberg's (of WCW/WWE fame) receipt after he came through the drivethrough. I didn't even like prowrestling.

    Lots of people's lives are dull and unhappy. Its nice to hear about rich and wonder what its like.
  • by Mad Martigan (166976) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @08:11PM (#14647564) Homepage
    Reminds me of an anecdote from An Evening with Kevin Smith [imdb.com] where he talks about dealing with one of Prince's handlers while he (Kevin Smith) was making a documentary for Prince:
    She's like, "Prince doesn't comprehend things the way you and I do."

    I was like, "What do you mean?"

    She was like, "Well ... Prince has been living in Prince World for quite some time now." She's like, "So Prince will come to us periodically and say things like: 'It's 3 in the morning in Minnesota. I really need a camel. Go get it.'

    And then we try to explain to Prince, like: 'Prince, it's 3:00 in the morning in Minnesota, it's January ... and you want a camel. That is not physically or psychologically possible.'

    And Prince says, 'Why?"'

    I'm like, "Is he an asshole?"

    She's like, "He's not malicious when he does it. He just doesn't understand why he can't get what he wants. He doesn't understand why someone can't process a request ... like a camel at 3 in the morning in Minnesota."

    I was like, "That's not my problem. I can't do what he wants. I don't know what to do."

    She said, "You'd be doing me a huge favor if you tell him that."

    I was like, "All right, I'll tell him."

    I'm not sure I'd want to be doing tech support for this guy.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 05, 2006 @08:44PM (#14647655)
    "I'm not sure I'd want to be doing tech support for this guy."

    I got my re-start in the music world doing just this sort of thing...I had some minor success (embarasingly so) as a teen and left the industry to pursue computers and schooling and along the way guys I met in the industry would give me calls asking if I knew how to do something or other and I'd try to help...and it slowly grew up the food chain.

    More and more, I got the call the be the guy to break the bad news to the guys that either it wasn't possible OR the price was much more than they wanted to pay (and something they said screw the price and I'd send a team down to LaLaLand and we'd get it done).

    But yeah, it sometimes sucks to be that guy...sometimes the stars are so far in their reality that they refuse to believe you...other times they are so thankful that you aren't one of the yesmen and hangers on that are willing to lie out their teeth and try not to offend them that they love you (this is more often than not -- the camel girl handler was probably a suckup that couldn't really do her job and was just afraid of losing her only access to this lifestyle).

    Luckily, I have my company these days that handles most of this and I can focus on the more important things in life (its still fun to get free shows as friends know to call me if they are within a few hours from me, or occasionally flown out to industy events, but I'd rather stick with my research these days).

    Trying to decide if I should post this anonymously or not...yeah, I think thats the right thing as I'd rather not get my name raked through the mud by geeks who seem to think this is bragging in that 'stars' should be envied...they ain't anyone special except folks with a lot of money who get recognized while walking down the street (and are usually more down to earth than guys that have made money the old fashion way -- getting it from their parents -- in fact the last show I did, I was flown out to do help with guy doing a birthday party for a billionaires daughter...and I ended up decking her husband because he said some racist things about the band members in my presence and getting in my face when I said something about it -- I'd rather deal with new money / reality distorted stars than asshole old money -- and most of the old money is exactly this way).

    Definately anonymous.
  • by MissionAccomplished (951344) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @08:53PM (#14647674)
    I've had the 'pleasure' of providing technical support to several high-profile personalities. In some cases, I dealt with an assistant and in others, with the actual 'star'. In both scenarios, I was promised payment by submitting an invoice to the appropriate person or agency. Good luck trying to collect on those invoices; while I billed at an hourly rate that I would any other client, it has been close to impossible to collect payment. I'm tempted to chalk it up to typical 'star' arrogance, but I'm just plain pissed that they feel they deserve free services simply because they are well known. If they asked for a favor, I would have done so, but in every case, I was promised payment. You just gotta wonder...
  • Re:Slash-crap. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 05, 2006 @08:58PM (#14647687)
    Prince was on SNL last night playing the guitar like Jimi Hendrix back from the grave. Certainly not crap.
  • by sakusha (441986) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @09:08PM (#14647714)
    Oh yeah, I've been on the receiving end of that sort of request. I used to work in a high-end service bureau, one of my jobs was doing Iris inkjet proofs. We had the fastest Iris RIP in town, a MacIIfx, and were known for our ability to turn out rush jobs quickly.
    One day a frantic designer from Warner Brothers Music comes in, he wants a rush Iris print. I said no problem, I can drop everything in the queue and set up your job immediately, for only 2x the usual rate (our standard rush-drop-everything rate). I sit down with the client at the workstation and open up the Quark XPress file, it's the new CD cover for Prince's "Diamonds and Pearls." But it is totally fucked up. The designer has done everything possible that will take forever to rasterize and print, I can immediately see that this job is going to take at least 90 minutes just to RIP. The designer totally loses it, he says, "but.. but.. I have to get a print done and back to my office before Prince gets there to see it, I need it in the next 15 minutes, Prince is already in a limo on his way to my office! Money is no object, can't you get 5 or 6 people to work on it and get it done sooner?" I wasn't in the mood to explain the Mythical Man-month to him, I said, "look, we've only got one Iris printer and one RIP, but even if I had 6 of them, they don't work cooperatively, we would still only get your first print in 90 minutes, not 1 print in 15 minutes. You really should have gotten this job to us sooner if you wanted a print sooner. This job is going to take exactly as long as it takes, and no less. If you'd set this job up properly, it could complete in 20 minutes, and we go to a lot of work to educate our customers to prepare jobs to run efficiently, so if you'd like, I can explain that to you while we wait for your job to finish."
    The designer broke down into tears, and ran out of my office and left the building. I decided to complete the job (there was nothing else really urgent in the queue, it could run unattended while I did other jobs), and about 2 hours later it was done (my estimate was a little low). I called the designer at Warner's but nobody could find him, I eventually spoke to his manager. He said Prince was still in the building and was ready to review the proof, so I had it sent over by my fastest, craziest motorcycle courier. I called the manager later to insure the proof was delivered promptly, he said Prince saw it and loved it. However, I noticed that the CD cover that was released for sale was a completely different design. Sheesh!
  • by guildsolutions (707603) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @09:17PM (#14647736)
    for the time I spent working tech support at a college, all I know is that some of the faculty teaching computers was more computer illiterate than a lot of the students. All the faculty knew how to do was teach from a book, nothing more.

    For example, one graphics arts teacher who taught photoshop thought that our server was just a group of files that we copied to each computer and assigned that group of files a drive letter.

    Another ( I am not joking ) Assumed that email was printed out and delivered to various faculty on campus by the recipients secretaries. (His, actually did that from time to time.)

    Then the Dean of Information Technology would tell one person to do something, turn around and tell another person to assist but what they told the person who was supposed to be assisting was two completely different things, and latter one of the two would get asked why they didn't do what was asked of them.

    With as much moolah as some of these stars rake in, I am seriously surprised that they dont retain their own tech support to go with them and live with them.

    Who needs technology when you have someone to do it for you.
  • by ShyGuy91284 (701108) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @09:20PM (#14647743)
    Am I the only one that thinks that seems a bit strange? IT is really all you need for standard technical assistance. CS tends to deal more with the code and mathematics/science behind the code (not pretty), and unless he's writing special software for Ludacris, it would seem unnecessary. Although a CS person can do stuff like that (and IT can do basic programming a lot of the time), I would think he learned more then he needed to know. Oh well. Maybe it was just a general word, and he meant IT courses (I've seen very few if any courses that would help him with basic tech support in my uni's CS curriculum (fairly large)).
  • by mattjb0010 (724744) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @09:27PM (#14647759) Homepage
    Sorry, but in a similar situation, something tells me you'd be feeling the same way as him.

    Having spent time with celebrities there's that split second at the start where you do an internal Keanu Reeves (woah, dude!) but then the rest of the time, they're a normal person, with normal things to do (eat, go to the toilet). It really is just an everyday sort of experience. Really, the time spent reading/watching their work is much better, and much more intimate with their psych. And a second spent with my girlfriend, watching the sun set, is much more significant than any amount of time spent with a celebrity.
  • I've been there. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sakusha (441986) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @09:36PM (#14647777)
    I used to work at a big BIG computer store right next to all the LA studios, back in the late 1980s, we were known as "the Computer Store to the Stars." But that was mostly because we had a good reputation for treating the stars like regular people (there is a fine line between being polite and being obsequious). Plus we were discreet, we kept everything strictly confidential, no matter how outrageous (like for example when I attempted to recover data from a famous scriptwriter's floppy disk that had a hole burned through it from a piece of crack that flew out of the pipe's bowl).
    But, you have to draw the line sometimes. Anyone below the level of Producer was almost guaranteed to be a nice, normal person that you could work with easily, but above that, egos are totally out of hand, and I wouldn't hesitate to tell them to get out of my face. I call this problem "Producer Syndrome." Producers that have the power to order people to set up $2 million in equipment in a corner of a building, and who lose tens of thousands of dollars per minute for production delays, tend to lose perspective.
  • Re:Right... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by UserGoogol (623581) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @09:46PM (#14647808)
    Fair enough. But at the same time, wanting to help Bono plug in his Xbox is a pretty weird life goal.
  • Re:Right... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Master of Transhuman (597628) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @09:57PM (#14647833) Homepage
    I think one valid point is that if you are the geek a celebrity calls for help, and you play your cards right, it could lead to much more interesting and higher paying work.

    Hanging out with celebrities is potentially much more valuable than hanging out with the Mom-and=Pop store down the street that just needs their DSL modem rebooted.

    Why do you think Adnan Koshoggi always kept celebrities and babes hanging around? Because it made business people want to do business with him, that's why. He made hundreds of millions of dollars off that celebrity crap. He's no dummy.
  • by Master of Transhuman (597628) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @10:18PM (#14647885) Homepage
    Actually bands have a tremendous amount of high-tech crap they drag around with them in their semis. But that stuff is set up by techs who work with it daily and know every bit by heart. And probably none of it is comprehensible to the average PC tech support guy.

    I once read an article about all the electronic crap the Corrs drag around. It sounded like they had a dozen different systems: sound, lighting, mixing, computers, all sorts of stuff. They probably needed a semi to carry it.
  • by sakusha (441986) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @10:37PM (#14647939)
    None of that is really relevant, but I'll answer anyway. It started with a tech support phone call, I tried to walk Spielberg through a fix, but it wasn't working out, so he asked me to come out to his home. I went out to his house and fixed his personal computer, his assistants had a check cut for me by the time I walked out the door (as I had prearranged). A couple of days later, I got another phone call from Spielberg, he was really happy with the work and he asked me if I'd sign a contract to be on call 24/7/365 as his personal consultant for an insultingly low amount of money. I declined.

    My point was, even people who have armies of people to shield themselves from mundane tasks (like writing checks) can be convinced to pay up if you know how to work with them. For some people, it is the hardest thing in the world, standing up for yourself and demanding payment, but if you want to succeed as a consultant, you have to do it.
  • Re:Stars are easy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by joel8x (324102) on Sunday February 05, 2006 @11:21PM (#14648099) Homepage
    I've first-hand delivered bad news to these people (outages out of my control, dead hard drives, requests that can't be met due to policies in place, etc, etc) and 95% of the time its the same situation. First you tell the assistant who immediately freaks out and makes you feel like you're a piece of shit. Then you tell the executive/VIP the same information (because an assistant can never properly convey any issue without self-serving FUD) and they are cool about it and figure out alternatives and move on with their day. That is why they are at the top, because they can formulate a plan B and don't let any problem cloud their focus, not because people cater to their needs.

  • by bluethundr (562578) on Monday February 06, 2006 @02:38AM (#14648904) Homepage Journal
    I work as a techie in NYC. Since the late nineties the starting salaries in NY were $55k a year! My last job lasted 5 years and I ended up making $65 a year.

    "Technicians like Mr. Kapellen are paid about $32,000 a year, the industry average for computer technicians, according to the Association of Support Professionals.

    Could this be a regional issue? Or is $55 the norm for computer lackeys in the Big Apple because soda in 20oz bottles go for $1.50 a pop and generally that's an analogue to how expensive everyithing else is making the same work provide the same quality of life (virtually speaking) in NYC as it does for the Geek Squads in Demoins Iowa? Or are the Geek Squads just generally extremely underpaid.

    I'm on the job hunt now and have had some balk at $65, but just recently dropped my price by $10gs just get hired. At the $55 level, people don't even blink. The only reason my my compensation rose so high was because I'd mastered an arcane level of Ghost on the Enterprise level which streamlined efficiency to a high degree. But try explaining that to a shop that has never used Ghost and they just go..."Uh huh".

    But what puzzles me is that $55k seemed the norm in 1998???!!! So, how can it STILL be the norm starting price, in addition to all the experience I've gotten since then be priced at that level? That doesn't even keep up with inflation!

    And added to that, wouldn't anyone feel underpaid for this stressful job at merely $32 a year? I understand there are different costs of living around the country but this seems like a dramatic difference!
  • by BenDalton (573850) on Monday February 06, 2006 @10:35AM (#14650432) Homepage
    From a former Geek Squad agent, I feel the urge to comment. If you have never made a mistake when diagnosing/fixing a computer, by all means please continue to criticize. If not, please think about the statistics... Best Buy is nearing (or has already surpassed) 1000 stores. Each store has from 5 to 15 Geek Squad agents. My Geek Squad Precinct dealt with about 20 computers per day and also dealt with an additional # of products that had to be sent and received to/from the BBY and manufacturer's service centers. If we just average that out, over 5,000 Geek Squad agents 'touch' somewhere around 20,000 computers a day. Our store had a re-do rate just around 2%... which, for us, was too high. Though we couldn't always succeed, we did our best to provide a top notch experience for our customers. This included NEVER pushing product and not even recommending products the customer didn't need. Yes, we recommended some things (e.g., oh, you have a virus and your antivirus expired in '99, please buy antivirus and keep this problem from happening again). Before you criticize, just realize that for every bad experience you hear about from the Geek Squad, there are 1000s of great experiences you don't. We had customers bake cookies for the agents they dealt with in my precinct. Yes, I am positive that there are some misguided Geek Squad agents pushing products that people don't need; I'm also sure that they are in the vast minority. For anyone who has had a bad experience, call 1888BestBuy and complain. That is why the customer care line exists.

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