- Books – Anything you can recommend about the Music Business?
- Career – I want to work in the music business what should I major in at college?
- Culture – Is the music industry something that mirrors the tastes of contemporary culture or does it create tastes and culture?
Books – Anything you can recommend about the Music Business?
The Music Business is never dull. The following are not earnest tomes full of details on how to become a mogul or a star – but read any of these books and you will laugh and learn something about this insane industry that has consumed my life.
Black Vinyl White Powder – Simon Napier Bell
Rather like a 2 page essay on the History of the British Empire SNB (he used to manage Wham!) rides rough-shod over the details (he says Crococodile Rock was Elton John’s first hit – not exactly true) to write his own unique perspective of the history and evolution of British Pop & Rock offering many useful insights along the way. His novel (and vaguely feasible) theory, expounded in great detail, is that said history can be attributable to two things: homosexuality and drugs. As SNB practiced the former and presumably ingested large quantities of the latter this maybe says more about his mindset than the accuracies of his observations.
Fargo Rock City – Chuck Klosterman
Klosterman is perhaps best known as a senior writer at Spin Magazine and it must be said he’s the least cyncial, most fun writer they’ve got. Back in the day Chuck grew up somewhere close to the Canadian border in a small town with one traffic light and one day heard Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil – it changed his life and the era that he grew up in. It seems impossible that someone could write a 272 page paean to Axl and Nikki and Brett and the like with virtually no story and make it interesting, readable and fun but somehow Chuck pulls it off: I laughed out loud a lot and am very proud of the name check on page 176 even though he does call me a faceless fellow…
Here There & Everywhere – Geoff Emerick and Howard Massey
A memoir from the guy who won Grammys for Producing Sergeant Pepper and Abbey Road. Emerick was present at the first session the Beatles ever did at Abbey Road and was there pretty much all the way till the end . If you’re a Beatles fan and you’ve spent some time in any kind of recording studio (or would like to) then the book is a must. What emerges was the tremendous sense of creativity around during these magic times and the fact that Paul was the master musician and George took many years to become the proficient guitar player that everyone now believes him to be.
Life On Planet Rock – Lonn Friend
Friend was a guy who went to school with Toto, grew up to become a hired hand at Larry Flynt publications, and was then promoted to edit the hard rock monthly bible RIP Magazine. Life On Planet Rock is an easy-to-read romp through the teased hair years of the late 80’s and early 90’s when everything seemed possible and the direct consequences of vast amounts of drug ingestion seemed to be an album at the top of the charts and bus-loads of eager groupies. Somehow, between the backstage hi-jinks he manages to include reviews of Genesis albums, talk about fatherhood and meditation, and thoughts on golf.
Lost In Music – Giles Smith
He wanted to be a pop star and the closest he got was almost writing a song for Captain Sensible. Admittedly Giles Smith plays Donovan to Nick Hornby’s Dylan but this is the truth, rather than a fabrication, and is a hysterical read for anyone who ever stepped inside a Woolworths on a Saturday morning wanting to buy something from the Top Ten.
So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star – Jacob Schlichter
Jake was the drummer in a band called Semisonic. The good news is they had a massive hit. The bad news is there was just the one. If you’re a music fan reading Slichter’s book is the literary equivalent of crack or a box of raisinettes. You’ve just got to have some more and you can’t put the damn thing down. It’s beautifully written with a light, deft touch and is honest, revealing, funny, enticing and then desperately sad as the band’s career hurtles out over the abyss. Like some cartoon characters pedalling furiously in mid-air, the band are convinced that their next release will be a hit only to find that a long fall from grace is beckoning and gravity is about to kick in. It’s essential reading for anyone who’s ever walked inside a Tower Records, strapped on a guitar or walked up to a mic and said, “One, chew, one chew.”
You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me – Simon Napier-Bell
Yes, it’s him again. He co-wrote the hit, he managed the Yardbirds, he discovered Marc Bolan and he had the time of his life in the ‘Swinging’ 60’s. Not being a bashful man he’s happy to share some of the deceitful, devious and decadant moments he enjoyed and in the process comes across as a kind of lucky, lovable, middle class, used-car salesman and con-man always amazed by his continued good fortune and never ashamed of his profligate ways.
Career – I want to work in the music business what should I major in at college?
Well the cynical answer would be “What you need a major in to be successful in the music biz is Bulls#@t!” From my own experience the most useful credentials for getting a job in the biz is a) having a serious passion for music (all types) and b) being enthusiastic about working all hours for no money!
However I know what you’re really asking is what courses you should study (my knowledge of the US educational system is sketchy by the way). Law is useful, business studies or economy are too. Music theory is virtually useless unless you want to impress keyboard players at backstage parties. However many people in the biz have played in bands or worked at radio stations or record stores. Take all the jobs you can get that feel like fun and are what you want to do at that time and leave the rest to fate and hard work. That’s what I did.
Culture – Is the music industry something that mirrors the tastes of contemporary culture or does it create tastes and culture?
Chickens and eggs but essentially labels are crap at making a trend happen – anyone remember Jobriath? – but they are very quick to react when something new (and successful) pokes its head over the battlements. EG When Nirvana exploded all you could see in the sky were the vapour trails of the jets carrying record execs to Seattle to pick up any likely grunge bands left to sign. To be fair to labels they can only sell what we want to buy and they can promote new artists till they’re blue in the face but if we decide that, “Emo’s where it’s at!” then they’ll be very quick to drop those Boy Bands and sign up Dashboard Confessional Mark 3.
Of course a good A&R guy at a label is the one who signs Nirvana before anyone else knows a new musical trend is coming. But to be fair to all the guys who passed on Nirvana no-one is aware the trend is coming until it’s already happened and some journalist has the balls to give it a convenient name. Then suddenly every new exciting band is Grunge or New Wave or EMO which is a joke. I remember in 1977 reading an article about four great new punk artists who were just emerging into the public consciousness: The Clash, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty and AC/DC and I think we’d agree now that only one of those acts was ever vaguely Punk.
Journalist Josh Tyrangiel put it this way: “Anticipating the tastes of the public…is exactly what great creative executives do. They don’t make art, but they facilitate it, fight for it and nurture it, often in the face of public opposition or apathy.” Time (10/13/03) So, much as labels would like to create trends or predict them (and clothing designers and film companies et al have the same problems) we the people ultimately decide. The sharp labels are those who have their ears to the street and can spot a great act when they see it – and then have the wherewithal to develop that act properly. When I used to work at an Independent label in London in the 70’s (Stiff Records) I remember my boss flying to Dublin to see a band play in some tiny club. He came back and told me that the band were brilliant. “So we’re signing them then?” I asked naively. “No,” he replied. “It will be three albums before they make any money for the label and we don’t have that kind of money or patience.” He was absolutely right – their first two albums sold quite modestly and it wasn’t till their third album, War, was released that they broke big. The band of course was (is) U2. U2 are obviously a great band who, pretty much, have created themselves, but without the proper finance and nurture from the label (which you could argue were thereby CREATING a trend) they might never have survived beyond a couple of mediocre albums. Discuss.