Chris Bilheimer
R.E.M. "Idea Man"

Recently , a friend asked me "what exactly do you for a living?" Assuming that I was expected to reply along the lines of "make art," or some other thing that implies little-to-no actual work. Assuming that I was expected to reply along the lines of "make are," or some other thing that implies little-to-no actual work, I tried as best I could to explain the many subtle facets to my job. As I finished the myriad of details and theoretical overviews, he said, "SO, you're like a brain for hire." I guess he has a point, but I should probably write more to once again prove that I actually do something.

I have many job titles, all rather vague or incomplete, and I usually pick whichever sounds the most impressive at any given time: Art Director, Photographer, Designer, Illustrator, Product and Merchandise Production Manager, Marketing Consultant, or my personal favorite (because you get to make quote marks with your fingers), "Idea Man."

The best way to categorize what I do is to explain the corporate framework that shapes my time. I am a full-time employee of R.E.M./Athens, L.L.C., the management company responsible for the band R.E.M. In the last four years, I have had to create my own job description, mostly because R.E.M. is the only band to have a full-time person that does what I do, so there is no real precedent to follow. I just make it up as I go along - so don't tell anyone. My main function here is to oversee, aesthetically, what the band produces.

I work in conjunction with Michael Stipe on the conceptual ideas for all of the band's output. I design all the packaging for records, CDs, videos, and singles, as well as all advertisements, promotional materials, T-shirts, and posters. Sometimes, the designs contain my own artwork or photography. Sometimes they do not, in which case I have to secure legal clearances, write contracts and coordinate payments to outside artists. Two projects that I have designed for R.E.M. have been nominated for Grammys in their design category. I have never won, but keep in mind that the Grammys voted Milli Vanilli "Best New Artist," so I can live with that.

I am the production liaison between the band and both the record company and merchandise company, as well as any documentary film or television crews. I participate in conceptualizing the marketing strategies, Web-sites, and occasionally work with set and lighting designers for television performances and all of their touring shows. I oversee the production end of all retail items.

R.E.M. is my extended family which means I also answer phones, fix computers, pick up lunches, baby-sit, take guests to dinner, carry the heavy boxes and distract my co-workers by dancing like an idiot. Twenty-four hours a day. I love my family.

I also own a company called 3, which handles all the different types of creative work outside of R.E.M.. In my spare time, I do most of the jobs mentioned above on a free-lance basis for other bands, such as Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Grant Lee Buffalo, and Days of the New. I design corporate logos (DreamWorks, Outpost Records, and SingleCell Films), shoot photographs for magazines, (Rolling Stone, RayGun), and create identity concepts for magazines, music festivals and independent record labels.

Looking back over the last ten years, I have tried to think of the things that I learned at SCDS that helped me in the career. It certainly didn't help me get used to waking up early; I rarely make it to work before noon, but it help me in other ways. First I learned some basic things, such as knowing how to figure out a 20% tip in my head and drafting a proposal without sounding like an idiot, unless I intend to. Secondly, I gained the ability to solve problems and think for myself. I would say that being able to think for myself is the biggest asset I got from SCDS, but I would be lying. Kay (Godawa) and Richard (Braithwaite) taught me that my creativity is as vital as anything else I might learn in school and should be developed as diligently as math or English. They taught me that there was something equally important beyond all the other classes in which I was consistently labeled a failure. The most important thing I learned in school was in the arts and drama programs and my parents taught me that if something makes me happy, then I have already learned the most important thing in life.

In trying to sum up what I do, this is the best I could come up with - whenever I wake up, I have ideas for other people then do whatever it takes to make them happen. For money, sometimes. For fun, always.

If you want more information about R.E.M. go to their Web site

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