If you’re in the independent music scene for any amount of time, you find out just how important the people are who aren’t necessarily making music. These could be show promoters who make sure your band is well matched with the rest of a line-up on a Tuesday night; the beautiful bartender at the Sunset who hands the publicist notes about what she thinks of the band you’re thinking of working; the girlfriend who sends out press packages and does follow up emails from her day job; the counter studs who make sure you’re listening to the best new bands by playing them overhead as you shop; the editor of the blog you check in on several times a day; the friendly freelancer for major press not satisfied with just covering what all the other feature writers are; managers, songwriters outside a band, and producers who sculpt, craft, and allow creation; even mastering guys who aren’t running it through the console but are actually making everything sparkly and loud in all the right ways.
Here Come The Regulars (Faber and Faber — very impressive rock book imprint!) is a book by Ian Anderson, a guy in a band (One for the Team), but someone who also wanted to help get great music he listened to out there, music he didn’t necessarily make himself (but that too). Yes, there have been a lot of “How To Make It In The Biz” books, but rarely any as DIY as Anderson’s, who, like a naughty magician, actually chronicles the history of his own Afternoon Records, which he started when he was 13. And happily shows everyone how to pull off the indie rock tricks that have made him sustain and succeed with his own label.
Anderson is aware that the fan-base for music following has changed because, hell, he’s in the generation that changed it. People starting in the music business can notoriously be unaware of resources that are available to them, and obstacles that must be hurdled (by every one of us). It has a lot to do with focusing on what you’re really good at but never getting the competence it takes to handle business otherwise. This is understandable. So Anderson walks right up, shakes your hand, and shows you one sheets for your self-release; what needs to be on there, and what doesn’t. And — actual contracts. (Don’t be scared of them. But be aware that you will probably see one as you play or work in the music scene, and that’s if you’re lucky.) What a reasonable contract should look like — for this alone, this how-to is worth the purchase. And why a lawyer’s a pretty cool thing to have, all those nasty jokes and necessary evil comments people make besides the point. What copyright is and why you should know about it pretty fast. And how to approach people without being douche — he actually shows you how he emails people to check up on how the music he’s sent them is doing. BMI and ASCAP. All the basics, in the friendliest of tones. You can do this.
When do you get a manager? “You will have double-booked yourself for a flight and a meeting at the same time while simultaneously forgetting to pay your utility bills because you just ran out of time before racing to the airport.” Until then, the necessity of building an on-line presence, using publicity skills if you have them and have time for them with everything else, and he is clear about the importance and trickiness of decent radio promotion. If you own the label, he offers advice on how many CDs the band should get to take on the road. And saying no to friends’ bands — a lot of label owners I’ve known could really have used that chapter. Avoiding gossip and negativity, which has immediate visceral pleasure and long-lasting damage to your reputation and relationships with the people you slander “to be in the scene.”
In other words, this not only answers a ton of basic questions bands ask me all the time, but will actually inspire you to get these things done right so you don’t spin your wheels in obscurity and desperation. In other words, give you plenty more time and energy to focus on what you want to be doing — having fun, playing, creating something new, not sweating the small stuff because you know exactly what it is (“the truth shall set you free”). And if you’re still up to it, write those songs or start that label and/or find the people who can help you do that. Pretty fucking awesome.
Chris Estey is a freelance writer who lives in Seattle and contributes to the KEXP Blog, The Stranger, and Three Imaginary Girls.