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What You'll Find in This Book
Everything you need to know to make and promote your own music, from picking a guitar to stringing a guitar to playing a guitar. From writing a song to making and promoting your own CDs. From making a useful Web site to booking a worldwide tour. And a good bit on keeping focused, staying strong, and maintaining your integrity.
The book also includes inspiring interviews with influential musicians , from Joan Jett to Henry Rollins.
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Who This Book Is For
Musicians with beginning-to-intermediate experience level, although seasoned pros will probably find something new they can use.
This is a battle plan for people who have music in their blood and want to share that passion with the world and avoid the pitfalls. People who want to make excellent , kick-ass art. But mainly for people who just want to rock.
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Chapter 1. Band Politics
Many people who say, "Music is my life," don't back it up. It's more looks and swagger than talent and showing up. This is a book for people who actually want to be musicians , not just look like musicians.
Rock and roll ain't rocket science, but it takes a little work. Most books on music promise unattainable goals. This one is different; it offers realistic goals and a map for reaching them, drawn by a man who has actually met and exceeded these goals.
$30 Music School is a true insider's manual. I learned by trial and error so that you won't have to make the same mistakes. (You can make different mistakes!)
This is a quick-start course on how to jump into making music, get it heard worldwide, make a living, and not compromise yourself to the whims of the entertainment industry.
$30 Music School has useful information for anyone trying to get noticed in any kind of popular music: Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative, Metal, Nu-Metal, Punk, Hardcore, Crust, Hip Hop, Electronica, Trip Hop, and DJ. Even Country, Jazz, Swing, and Salsa.
Playing in a band is the number-one career goal of most young people. Yet most are not aware of what it actually takes to "make it." The chance of "making it" on the superstar level most people dream of is next to impossible . You would be better off buying lottery tickets.
However, it is very possible to make compelling music and distribute it worldwide on a smaller level. And even make some money.
The author has done all this.
Digital D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) recording, distribution, and promotion is leveling the playing field. The middleman has less and less place in today's music. Peer-to-peer file sharing networks are crumbling the walls that large corporations have created to keep the masses out. As a result, the major labels are going the way of the lumbering dinosaur in the tar pits of the marketplace .
I will show you how to thrive in this new business environment.
Be the Ninja: Be small, fast, and brilliant , and you can survive where the big, bloated dinosaurs fail.
This book is all about cutting through the star-system crap and getting to the heart of art, to make great music that can reach the world on no budget.
$30 Music School is your ticket into the showto do it yourself, not compromise your vision, and be heard .
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Meet the Players
A great band is more than the sum of its parts, for sure. But what are the parts ?
Also, how does it work? Well, there are several ways to run a band. A band can have a leader, it can be a solo act with side mice [1.] , or it can be a democracy. We discuss the pros and cons of all. Oh, and by the way, you're only as good as your drummer . Here's why. There's also a bit on why bands break up. (Read that part backwards and maybe it'll keep your band together!)
[1.] Mike Watt calls it "Being a Sidemouse" when he's a sideman backing a solo artist or playing bass in another act rather than leading his own band. He does both. I love that in a man.
Most rock bands consist of some variation of guitar, bass, drums, and a singer . Sometimes there's a keyboardist, second guitarist, and/or a DJ. Sometimes other stuff.
Let's meet some of these nice folks.
Also called lead singer or vocalist.
The voice of the band, literally. A human voice has more inflection in it than a guitar, to the point where a singer is usually the most identifiable member of the band. The singer is the face of the band and sometimes the leader. (Though there are sometimes two different leaders in a band, one onstage and another off.)
The singer often has the largest ego in the band, and the least amount of musical training. And they're usually also kinda moody.
Favorite line: " I might have been lying when I said I was lying ."
Figure 1.1. Singer Sarah Amstuz actually does not have an obnoxious ego. She's the exception to all the singer rules. And she sings really, really well!
Also called guitarist.
A lot of the sonic power of a rock band comes from the electric guitar. And despite what most people think, guitarists are a lot more interchangeable than vocals in most cases. There are not a lot of guitarists I could spot in a blind test as easily as I could spot singers.
Bands used to have a rhythm and a lead guitarist, but that's kind of pass . Nowadays, smart bands know that if you have two guitarists, it's usually best to have them both play a little of each. Wanky solos are a little dated anyway. The coolest guitarists, in my humble opinion, add with-it sonic structures in interesting places rather than just "taking a solo" after the third chorus.
There's a punk rock thing I heard once that I liked a lot, and somehow never heard again: "Why have a solo when you can just have another line of lyrics?" Dig it.
Guitar players often give the singer a run for her money in the ego department.
Favorite line: "I coulda played that ."
"What city am I in?"
Also called the bassist, plays the bass (or as it is technically called, "the electric bass guitar"), that funny thing with four (or sometimes five, six, or eight) fat strings that provides the "bottom" of the band's sound. The bass is the room-shaking pulse .
There is a theory that bassists are just frustrated guitar players, demoted at some point from guitar because no one else would play bass. But smart musicians will often play the bass to be in demand. I started out on guitar and demoted myself to bass at age 18 because guitarists are a dime a dozen and bassists are about a dime each. It was easier to start a band for me as a singer/bassist than as a singer/ guitarist.
Favorite line: "What will I be doing in ten years ?"
The beat and groove and life of the band. Often the least appreciated player, but the most in demand (at least they were until drum machines came along).
People say, "You're only as good as your drummer," and it's true. The drummer is usually the first person fired and replaced when a band gets signed to a major label. And even if you ain't shooting for that, you will never be great if your drummer isn't. Because you can overdub every other instrument in the studio, but the drums have to be solid and played all the way through correctly in one take. You can't bullshit the drums.
So don't settle with the first drummer you try unless everyone is completely starting from scratch; then you can learn together. The Who did this, and so did a lot of punk bands.
Drums without music are noise, but music without drums just kinda falls out of the speakers onto the floor.
The drummer often has a kinda explosive and aggressive personality, because what they do is so physical.
Drumming attracts the loons.
Favorite line: "I didn't speed up. You did."
Also called keyboardist.
Used to be that this member of the band had the most musical training, usually years and years of having their knuckles beaten with a ruler by some piano teacher. But today, now that the keyboard is cool again, and it's easy to use, there are a lot of people taking it up who don't have the advantage (or the burden ) of classical training. Which gives them a lot of insight to be creative without getting bogged down in virtuosity.
The keyboardist's role is often divided these days, blurred with computer sound design and production, DJ roles, and/or playing samples and beats off a hard drive or even scratching with vinyl.
Favorite line: "You guys should tune to me ."
Stands for disc jockey, but they're rarely called that.
These days, some bands have a DJ in their line up. This can be as basic as "just the guy adding the scratching sounds" to being the driving force who actually composes the whole tune in the studio. In this case, the DJ often creates backing tracks that are played back live from a DAT (digital audio tape) or CD or from a hard drive.
Sometimes his role in concert is much like a conductor in an orchestra: the conductor in an orchestra actually does most of his work in the rehearsal, and much of his role live is just for show, and to honor all the work he did beating the band into shape. Oh, a conductor does do some useful things at the musical performance, like cue the players to come in at certain points, but they are very professional musicians. By the time the piece is performed, they already know where to come in. The DJ, like a conductor, is there much of the time for ceremonial and decorative reasons. The real work gets done when the audience ain't around.
Favorite line: "I'm a musician. Really."
Figure 1.2. Andrei Sterling rocks the wheels of steel .
Saxophones, trumpets, clarinets, trombones, and whatever else. Some would say they have no place in a rock band [2.] Ska [3.] bands say otherwise . But basically they are just band nerds (what high school marching band kids call themselvessome spell it "nurd") no matter how you look at it.
[2.] With the exception of the band Morphine, in my opinion, the last good band with a woodwind or brass instrument was Jethro Tull. Interestingly, their biggest hit, "Aqualung," was one of their only songs without their trademark flute.
[3.] My editor asked that I explain Ska. You probably know this already, but Ska is a very infectious, upbeat form of danceable rock music from Jamaica. It's what Reggae evolved out of. Musically, the accent is on the off beats, the one and the three, rather than the two and the four like in most rock. The rhythm guitar is the lead instrument, with the strumming all upstrokes as opposed to the up and down of most rock (and the all-down stroke formula in most punk rock).
Then there is Celtic Ska, a mixture of traditional Irish folk and Jamaican Ska music that originated in the Brixton neighborhood of London, England. Interestingly, I am actually sitting in a coffee shop in Brixton as I write thisat the tail end of my European film/music/book tour. I can say from personal experience that all Jamaican music is very popular here, and is constantly blasted at high volume out of shops and cars . It's as ubiquitous here as hip hop is in America.
One of my favorite people in the world is a horn player (my daughter Amelia is a bitching trumpet player), so I'll be nice. But basically, you can get most of the same effect with a keyboard or even a guitar (like The Birthday Party did on "Big Jesus Trash Can").
Horns look classy, though.
Favorite line: "I help write our songs; they just don't credit me."
Someone who adds vocals behind the main (lead) vocalist to augment the sound. Often the backup singers also play an instrument, though in my band, we have a woman , Sarah, who is a backup singer only.
I went through a few singers before settling on her. I had to weed out the people with attitude and the people who couldn't sing very well. Sarah is sweet and sings exceptionally well. It's hard to find both in the same person.
Backup singer's favorite line: "Someday, I'll be the singer."
All That Other Stuff
Fiddles, Sitars, Washtubs, Triangles, Theremins, all that other stuff people pluck , bow, blow, or bang on to make noise.
They say, "If you're gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band." Well, I've played in Texas without a fiddle in the band, and wowed the crowd . But to be fair, it was in Emos, a very bizarre and very weird rock club that was partially owned by the Butthole Surfers at the time.
It's all good. Anything can be cool in a band or on a recording, and you are only limited by your imagination. It used to be your imagination and your budget, but as we will see later, anything can be emulated with keyboards, computers, and virtual instruments. Or you can always have someone come in and play (usually for free) on one song on your record without having to commit to having an extra person in the band. It isn't a bad idea to emulate the film industry model of personal commitment in rock bands: You can do intense short- term collaborations with people, for as little as a day, and not have to be married to them. Just treat everyone nice, feed them, credit them, get the terms in writing, and move on.
Short for road crew or sometimes road manager.
Not really a member of the band, but keeps the band rolling on the road. Duties can be any or all of: carrying, setting up, breaking down and maintaining equipment, driving, collecting the money, and playing wet nurse to sick and depressed musicians.
Favorite line: "Sure, Babe. I can introduce you to the singer."
Not really a member of the band, but makes sure he's paid like one. There are two kinds of managers:
Friends of the band who just want a title and don't really know what they're doing. Can be a curse, especially if it's a spouse of a band member. But can sometimes work well and occasionally progress (like Sharon Osbourne) into the second type of manager:
Actual professional managers who get everything done behind the scenes. They take 15 percent (or even 20 percent!) of the band's gross (not net and they usually manage several bands). Therefore, bands usually don't get one until they're packing 'em in to the clubs, at least in their hometown. Because pro agents aren't usually interested in you until then.
Managers coordinate all aspects of an artist's career, from helping get a record deal, to hiring an agent, to occasionally playing wet nurse to sick and depressed musicians.
Favorite line: "What's the bottom line?"
Manager is often confused with:
The first class of managers mentioned above (the wannabe, the friend who doesn't know what she's doing [4.] ), often think that their job is to book shows for the band. This is not the manager's job; it's an agent's job. And in California, it's actually illegal for someone to be both (a conflict-of-interest point of law harkening back to the studio system of Hollywood movies). So at some point if you start really happening, you might want a booking agent. This is covered more later. Don't worry about it for the moment.
[4.] And it usually is a she, for some reason. Usually a little less than conventionally attractive, too. The same is often true of bookers who work at clubs. I guess they like being in demand to young cute rock boys.
Favorite line: "Of course they'll draw a crowd in your city."
The Manager (with a capital M ) usually stays home and runs the show, and collects a hefty split. The road manager (small m ) gets less, but it's a (hopefully) steady salary. She goes on the road and deals with day-to-day logistics, such as collecting the money and making sure the band gets everything on their rider . [5.]
[5.] The rider is the last pages of the contract, where the artist demands all sorts of creature comforts. The complexity and length of this list is directly proportionate to the popularity of the band, though on the way down the arc of a career, sometimes people will forget and still demand things way above their worth in the marketplace .
In the movie (This is) Spinal Tap , the character Ian Faith was actually both the road manager and the Manager. This is sometimes the case, but usually not at the hugest level. My friend was the road manager for one of the top bands in the country, and graduated to being the actual Manager. It's a lot of work though. He is often literally talking on two cell phones at once while also e-mailing someone with a little portable e-mail thing. He does this about 20 hours a day, every day. Like that line Ian Faith has in Spinal Tap, "There's no sex and drugs for Ian. I sleep two or three hours a night ."
The booking agent, the Manager, and the road manager are often frustrated musicians.
Favorite line: "Of course I can introduce you to the guitarist."
People who sleep with musicians, basically to feel closer to the music. There are boy and girl groupies, and I often wonder , without the lure of them, how many people would actually put up with all the shit it takes to even be in a band, let alone get popular or make a living.
One of my groupies, (Graceshe asked to be mentioned by name ) who is also a good friend, once suggested a novel angle: that groupies are apprentices of the musician, trying to learn what she or he has to offer about life. I like that.
Favorite line: "What do you want me to do?"
So, that's the breakdown of the people in and around the average rock band. We might also add the very important behind-the-scenes people:
Or sound person , if you wanna be politically correct, but that's never used, even though a lot of the better ones are women. One of my favorites calls herself a sound girl even though she's almost 30.
The soundman is in charge of running the P.A. (public address) system (the speakers that pump all the music for the whole band out into the audience; you know, those huge stacks on either side of the stage). The soundman has a complex job and can make or break the night. Good sound men are always in demand. Sometimes they're employed by the venue , but often they're brought with the band, especially if the band is making a lot of money.
Figure 1.3. Sound girl Sandra Sterling rocks mixing board.
If the soundman works for the venue, he's called the "house soundman." If he works for the touring band, it's just "the soundman" or the "band's soundman" or "our soundman."
Soundmen are often frustrated producers .
Producers are the people who run a recording session. They often make more money than the band, and good ones are paid millions by record companies to guarantee delivery of a hit recording. The name producer is misleading; they are basically what would be the director in film.
Producers do everything from giving the band a pep talk (and, in rare cases, pep pills) to rearranging the songs and harmonies to firing a drummer who can't play to a click track and getting the producer's friend to play drums in the studio. Also in charge of figuring out the band's wishes and tarting them out to the engineer. This is an older definition of producer, stemming from days when bands were not as tech-savvy as they are now. The idea was that the musician was incapable of telling the engineer what she wants. Today's musicians are far more able to do this themselves . But they can sometimes still benefit from being "produced."
An extreme example of successful producing, in the extreme capacity of the word, is the band Garbage:
I've always thought that those cats are geniuses. Garbage is three old guys who are brilliant songwriters and producers in their own right. (Between them, they've produced or remixed Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, U2, House of Pain, Killdozer, and a zillion other cool bands.) They really know their shit.
They also know the music industry well enough to know that the record-buying public doesn't want to look at three guys in their 40s. So they got a hot young chick who could really sing to be the singer. They write, produce, and play everything on the records. Live, they lay back in the shadows, dress in all black, get to play their songs to millions, cash fat checks, and let the very capable Shirley Manson fill the center stage spotlight. Talk about knowing your game .
A producer can really be anything. And sometimes it's just a person that the record company has in the studio to "guarantee" that the band stays focused. Sort of an overpaid babysitter . The subjectivity of a producer's decision-making capacity is explained in this joke:
Q. How many producers does it take to change a light bulb?
A. I dunno , what do you think?
Many producers used to be in bands; some of them had hits.
Favorite line: "I almost used to be somebody."
Twists the knobs and such in the recording studio. Is usually a producer in training.
Favorite line: "I'm producing a record next month."
Engineer is assisted by the assistant engineer.
The assistant engineer does the busywork to help the engineer: setting up microphones, threading the tape, and sometimes getting coffee. Is often paid not in money, but rather in studio time.
Favorite line: "I'm engineering a record next month."
Lone Wolf Musicians
People don't really need a band any more to make great music. Anyone with a modicum of talent, a lot of patience, and a bitchin' computer basically owns a recording studio now.
Favorite line: "I'm too busy to talk to you."
But at a live show, people want a band. This is based on years of looking at bands. This is changing to an extent, especially with hip hop. But people still want to see guitars and drums, at least for now.
Kraftwerk did a tour many years ago where the four of them stood stark still on a bare stage and controlled all the music with interfaces built into pocket calculators .
I love that. But they were way ahead of their time and did influence a lot of industrial music, disco, electronica, and even dance music like Afrika Bambaataa.
Another thing about the lone wolf musician is that often, the person who excels at mastering the intricacies of the nuances of the minutia of a dozen software packages and a dozen processes is not often the most compelling front person. Which basically is leading to a new definition of the word producer . Nowadays (especially in hip-hop), the producer is often the person who writes , arranges, plays, and records the complete musical backing track. Then the star just adds singing (or yelling) over that and you've got a hit. Or something. (Like Kelly Osbourne.)
This division of labor allows anyone to be a star, because they no longer have to really be a musician to make music. They just have to have style, and even that can be copied from everyone else. Note how most second- and third-tier hip hoppers act exactly the same onstage. Same with most second- and third- tier rock musicians too. Basically, all you need is a lot of gusto, and you gotta look good (or at least interesting).
Hip hop performers often buy completed backing tracks on DAT or CD. The producers will often make the tracks and sell one copy only to the highest bidder. The flip side of this is that the star rapper will often all but rip off the hungry young producer and use his track almost free for exposure.
Anyway, I just wanna hip you to the fact that music is made this way now. Look on any hip hop record. Chances are, there's a different producer listed for some or all of the songs. Often, it's a different producer for every song.
This division of labor also works in dance music, with Divas [6.] and people like Right Said Fred ("I'm Too Sexy For My Shirt"), but there's no reason it couldn't work in other kinds of music. And it's not a bad thing to be: the producer, if the cards are properly played, can make a mint, and not get mobbed on the street, and have more freedom, a longer career, (because they can make hits even when they're too old to look cute onstage or in videos ) and fewer of the pitfalls of being a star.
[6.] This is what Mike De Luna and I did on the song on the CD called Rock Your Body . Mike was the Producer, and I was the Diva (though I did take his master and cut and paste in a middle eight, complete with backwards vocals and sound effects of an adult film)check out www.kittyfeet.com/tanse.htm for our mockup of this.
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