November 3, 2011

Ask a Metalhead: Metal in the Workplace

Ask a Metalhead, Tr00 Metal Life

Lately, I’m finding that I increasingly wonder about how metal will fit into my life as I get older. After college I want to be taken seriously as a professional, and I fear that somehow my love for metal will be seen as a weakness and I will be treated poorly for it. This may be an irrational fear, but it’s something I’ve worried about. I appreciate any advice you can offer!

This is not necessarily an irrational fear. As metalheads, I’m sure we’ve all experienced those uncomfortable moments with teachers, family members, colleagues, shop assistants and random people on the streets where we know we’re being judged – and found wanting – on the basis of our love of metal. If you’re looking forward to an exciting career, the thought of this stigma following you into your professional life can seem terrifying.


Yes. Sometimes people think we are rather silly.

The truth is, in most cases, people in your professional life don’t need to know you enjoy metal. In most jobs, wearing metal shirts to the office isn’t OK (and if it is, you might find it easier not to, anyway). If you’re in a shared office, you’re not going to be able to plug your iPod into the office radio, but you can listen to it with your headphones on as long as you can still hear people talking to you. (I’ve been listening to Volbeat at the office all day). I know some metalheads who like to paper their cubicle with band posters, but you don’t have to do this, either.

There’s much to be said for conforming to office standards. Instead of being judged for your musical taste, you get to be judged based on your professional manner, your skill and knowledge in your chosen field and your kindness and helpfulness toward your colleagues.

When you have a reputation as a hard-working, helpful, clever, funny and enthusiastic person, this is how people see you. What music you listen to and what you get up to on the weekends ceases to matter.

My husband was poached from one department into his current job because they wanted his brain. He has a reputation as a diligent, creative, helpful person with an ability to instantly solve problems that have plagued people for weeks. He describes himself as providing “blue collar solutions to white collar problems.” He was told when he started the job that he would need to wear shirts and ties in the office (he used to work in the field where he could wear what he wanted). So we went out and brought him new clothes. He still had the long hair, but you couldn’t tell he was a bogan.

After a few weeks and months, as the people in the office got to know him better and saw what an asset to the department he was, he got to know them better and started talking about some of the things he was interested in, like metal, drumming, history, trains. I’m sure some people think he’s a bit weird, but he thinks some of them are a bit weird, too. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good at their jobs. He’s back to wearing metal t-shirts in the office, and no one notices or cares, because all they see is that clever, funny guy in the corner who will sort out your problems.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in my experience, as a professional you’re not judged on appearances or affiliations as much as you are on your skills, your insights, your work ethic and your ability to get on with people. Concentrate on that and you’ll never have to worry about metal holding you back.

In saying that, if you show up to your job interview wearing a metal shirt and use every question to extrapolate on why Slayer is the best band ever invented, you’re probably not going to get the job. If the people across the table don’t know you, your enthusiasm for metal overwhelms your enthusiasm for the job … and that’s what they want to see.

As for metal being a part of your life as you get older, the great thing about forging your own path is that you decide the level of involvement you want to have. I know a lot of people who still consider themselves metalheads who don’t actively look for new bands to listen to, who haven’t been to a show in three years, who threw out all their metal shirts when they faded and have never bothered to replace them. There are metalheads like me who had a huge metal-focused peer group, and other people who are the only metalhead in their adult friends, and that’s totally OK. I know I go to a lot less shows now then I did at university. I know I’ve toned down my clothing a lot since high school. But I know that while everyone else in my office is holidaying in Rarotonga I’ll still be tearing it up at Wacken. And they might not get it, but that’s OK.

Readers, what do you think? How has your experience of metal changed as you’ve got older? Have you ever been in a situation where your love of metal has been considered a weakness? How do you survive in a professional environment?

12 Comments on “Ask a Metalhead: Metal in the Workplace

Joshua Russell
November 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I am gonna give our music therapist a CD of our band practice. It will probably crack him up, are there any Metal bands in South Africa? I think they are all goody goody two shoes fullas, like they all think God talks to them and that.
We have found that Downs Syndrome and Oppositional Defiant people are great drummers, useless at anything else but great drummers. Just have to gag them to stop the chipmunk noises and that.
Ek moet my Afrikaans oefen

November 12, 2011 at 10:45 am

I was luck enough mostly all my work life to be able to wear whatever I wanted and listen to whatever I wanted. But moving to England 2 years ago, made me wonder how I would fit in the world of work in a new culture and lifestyle. All that, having in mind that THIS is the country where everything started regarding to metal.
I am a lecturer in a College, and when I started, as I wanted to keep the job, I kind of tried to avoid skulls and flames as much as possible on my outfits. I kept the black tho, and the tattoos, but covered (that is, due to the iced earth around me). But once I started having very good reviews and assessments, very good comments of my observation, and a lot more responsabilities to fulfil, I felt lots more confident as to be who I am always keeping some sort of “professional” look… but still metal. I keep my nose ring now, in summer every one could see my tattoo sleeves and I am wearing skulls everytime I can. Because I like them. No one ever said a word to me about it, as they rely on my work and skills better than my appearance. Even the students find awesome to have a teacher full of tattoos. It speaks to them about how you can be yourself and be professional aswell.
If I get sacked today, I know it’s gonna be because of recession, not metal lifestyle.

Joshua Russell
November 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm

That’s right. Nietzsche argued and that . . . . .

November 5, 2011 at 12:30 am

Great advice, Steff! It’s also been my experience that playing by the rules in terms of dress code etc initially means a lot more leeway later once you’ve established that you are hard-working, responsible, and excellent at what you do.

I’m currently in the process of career-changing from a field in which I can wear basically whatever I like to a field in which conservative business suits are the norm (law). The lovely thing about business attire is how much of it is expected to be dark–nobody looks askance at an attorney clad in a black suit, after all; in many places, the black suit is the “lawyer uniform.” Depending on where you practise and the type of law you specialise in, you may have more or less room to express your metal aesthetic. (Can you get away with a black/dark-coloured shirt or blouse, or is a white shirt deemed more appropriate? Are you meeting clients today or are you crawling through the stacks in the law library and going through dusty boxes of documents? Do you work in a country that requires you to gown for court, or do you need to pay careful attention to your sartorial choices so as not to alienate the judge and/or jury?) We women have more leeway in terms of wearing our hair long in many business environments, which is unfair, but I do know several long-haired male lawyers. Additionally, historical replica jewelry is less likely to raise eyebrows than a huge awesome troo kult skull ring or what have you. (“I got this at the gift shop at the British Museum/Smithsonian Institution/National Museum of Denmark/etc” tends to go over just fine as an explanation for more unusual pieces.)

Finally, I figure that I can be dark and morbid and lyrical no matter what I’m wearing, and I can wear whatever I want on my own time.

Finally, as you mention, metalheads tend to have interesting hobbies and pastimes and are often sought out by other interesting colleagues for our ability to converse on such things. As long as you are polite, helpful, and engaged, you might be considered odd but you probably won’t be outcast either. Besides, you don’t have to be best friends with the people you work with; you just need to be able to maintain a civil professional relationship. if you find someone with similar tastes to talk music with over lunch, so much the better.

November 4, 2011 at 6:33 pm

I’m a decade-and-a-half into a career in public relations, basically helping large companies figure out how to manage their relationships with various communities. I’m 1/7th of the way toward my MBA degree and currently serve as a Senior Vice President at the firm that I work for.

And, yes, I love metal.

In the popular imagination, metal is supposed to be something that you “grow out of.” No one ever accuses, for example, a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan of somehow suffering from a state of arrested development. This I will never figure out, especially since the metal community is so much more welcoming and diverse than virtually any other genre. (Think about it… Rob Halford comes out of the closet and the fan base still rallies around the band. If 50-cent turned out to be gay, his fans would be staying away in droves.)

But I digress…

At my office (several hundred employees), the metal fans form a kind of secret society in much the same way Hollywood stars who voted for George W. Bush likely talk in hushed whispers and meet clandestinely. It comes down to me, an office clerk, a mid-level colleague and (we think but… are… just… not… sure…) another VP.

Steff’s point about having your work speak for itself is extremely important. Doubly important: This needs to be established *before* knowledge of your metalness is widely known. Make no mistake: People will otherwise deduct 20 IQ points if they know you’re a metalhead and 35 if you show up dressing the part.

I came into my current job with a fair amount of industry cred, this that wasn’t too much of an issue. I thus felt 100% comfortable having the image of Ronnie James Dio throwing the horns as the photo that accompanied my office nameplate. Otherwise, though, you’d probably never know I was a metalhead unless you happened to be in the office early/late in the day and I’m blasting something.

I have no shortage of projects, but I’ve lately been vitally interested in how many metal fans are in executive positions today. There are probably a lot more than we think but, for reasons already enumerated, they keep it to themselves. Any social network that catered to such a group would have to preserve anonymity as a core community tenet.

In any event, that’s my story.

Ferrously yours,


Joshua Russell
November 4, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I work at a school where all the students are retarded, so I think the principal thinks that they can just make me part of the class one day.
Downloading Black Sabbath and Judas Priest videos for severly autistic freaks to watch is fun because you get to see their reactions. They bob up and down and make noise. ‘urrrrr uh uh uh eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’
I think that the teacher I work for is some kind of bible basher but nobody else wants to help him work with these nutty children. In Holland they would be euthanised or some shit. So I can come in stoned off my face or whatever. Its cool when they go nuts because Judas Priest will pump anyone up for a fucking fight ow. ‘Restrain the Asian fulla!’
Would have loved to have had a job in a guitar shop or something but needs must.

November 4, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Oh, yes.
Sometimes happend interessting things at work. I work in a customer departmend, most of the time at telephone, rarely in direct contact to the customer.
When a old woman came to the customer office and want to talk about her bill and my teamleader sent me to her, she gaine big eyes and i could see, that she think about to go again. But after the first few words they all smile and want to know about the bill.

Often i have some apprentice near to my working place.
First they looked afraid, but later it’s ok.
Some now real good friends said long time after the meet me the first time, they are realy afraid about me.
I told my colleagues about my interesst in musik and role-play-games. They don’t understand it, but now we are more than colleagues.
Please, excuse my really bad english, i need to learn *be ashamed*

November 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm

@Brina – no, don’t be ashamed! Your English beats my German, so you win :)
I’ve never found people are afraid of me (well, small children are, but that’s because of my eyes), but CDH has people afraid of him a bit. That’s because he’s an intimidating persona, I think, and the black shirt and huge boots don’t help :)

November 4, 2011 at 8:47 am

Some people see us metalheads as some sort of Satan worshipping, violent, irresponsible creeps. I don’t know there the asker is from, but in some countries there’s greater prejudice than in others. In my country we are seen as lazy, dirty drunkards with low expectations. When entering a new professional environment you may want to focus on your abilities, your desire to learn, how useful you can make yourself for the company, etc as well as on the social aspect, that is, being seen by your co-workers as someone they can talk to easily, someone they can relate to at least a bit. You surely want the other guys to know that you’re a metalhead, and that last Saturday you went to this awesome concert and it was great and that you have a photograph with Lemmy, but you also want them to see that they can talk to you easily, and that you are interested in what they have to say too. Break the prejudice little by little. Eventually the “What did you do last weekend” question will pop and you’ll have your chance to talk about how great Sonata Arctica sounded.

I have to say I get away with a lot at work (I’m typing this in my Blind Guardian T-shirt at the office right now and I’ve got like 10 GB worth of mp3 in my office computer and even took the day off when Blind Guardian played here last September), but I’ve been at this job for nearly 6 years and already proved I’m good at what I do. I wore regular clothes when I first started and kept only a few albums in the computer. Now during the week I keep a non-conventional-yet-non-controversial style. Odd but not so much. On Fridays the office runs a sort of “casual friday” thing which I turned into “concert t-shirt friday”. My coworkers jokingly say things like that I stomp baby chickens or that I’ll beat whoever pisses me off, but they know in reality that it’s not like that, and that I help them with whatever they need or deliver the expected results in time. They also know that if I were put in a position in which I would have to talk to some important person (a manager from another area or someone from outside the company) I wouldn’t throw the goat and them al yell “ALL HAIL DIO” as a salute. Though it would be awesome if they threw the goat back…

November 4, 2011 at 11:36 am

@Altáriel – you’re right – it definitely depends on where you’re from and the kind of office environment you have. My office sounds quite similar to yours – pretty chilled out about dress code and music and such. People ask me what I’m doing in the weekend and always seem interested in the answer – usually because it’s something like “going to the archery range with friends” or “going to a pirates vs ninjas party” (this weekend) rather than “gardening” or “chores” which is what everyone else says.

Mark R
November 4, 2011 at 7:57 am

This is a great piece. As much we like to think “work sucks!”, we do need to make a living and want to get the best job we can.

I work a normal office job. It turns out that there has not been much of a “clash” between love of metal and holding down a good job. Fortunately I don’t need to wear a tie, but there’s nothing wrong with looking decent and being metal – see Mikael Stanne, Ackercocke, Ihsahn, etc. Being a long-haired guy has also not been an issue – but that’s a stroke of luck. There are certainly offices that are uptight about it.

As I’ve gotten older, metal has actually INCREASED its proportion in my life. Partly it’s because as I make money, I can spend more on show tickets, albums, etc. Partly it’s because as I see more of my life being spent on the job, I put increased effort into clinging to an aspect of life that isn’t the office.

I use open-air earphones (instead of isolation, or noise-cancelling ones) to listen to music at work. That way I can still hear if someone says something to me.

Like the article says, if you work hard and do a good job and become known for doing so, metalheadedness is no problem. While I don’t introduce myself as “Hi, I’m Mark, I work in such-and-such department, and I LOVE METAL”, it’s also no secret. If it comes up in conversation, I declare it with zest.

I also sometimes wonder if anyone here is a secret metalhead and is nervous about talking about it.

November 4, 2011 at 11:22 am

@Mark – I bet you’re right. People can be nervous about talking about their love of metal. Over here in NZ it – along with other subcultures like goth – is seen as quite juvenile – something you’re keen on in high school but grow out of. I think this prompts a few older metalheads to keep it secret from their workmates, which I could definitely understand.

You also make a great point about the older you get, the more money you have to spend on metal. This is probably my favorite thing. 15 yr old Steff is SO jealous of 26 yr old Steff’s CD collection and two trips to Wacken.

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