Why would anyone want to get into the music business? Famously visualised by Steve Albini as a shit-filled trench where aspiring bands swim towards the contract-wielding cigar-chomper at the other end, he showed that for anyone with ideas of ‘success’ (which may start as low as ‘not losing your house’) even taking the DIY approach necessitates some sort of savvy.
There are, after all, only so many local gigs and friends you can play to. To break out of your home town, or to actually sell CDs or downloads will entail dealing with the kind of people generally regarded as the musical equivalent of the CIA – shadowy figures who are part of a conspiracy of promoters, label bosses, agents and showbiz lawyers whose sole purpose is to keep The Man in control and grind down The Kids.
Meet Will Beattie. He’s an A&R man. With a difference. As he says, he’s “seen too many bands struggle and starve”. And he’s hoping that the advice in this book will make things a bit easier.
Beattie plays to his strengths. He writes about what he knows about, and when it’s not his area – the book is pretty wide-ranging – rather than bullshit you, he pulls in someone else from the business to speak for him, from that shady collective which includes contacts at Atlantic and Warners, as well as Roadrunner and Infectious. And, perhaps most tellingly, in the ‘organise a festival’ section (we said the book was comprehensive) someone from the End of the Road.
So the ‘10 A&R Commandments All Bands Need to Know – the book’s subtitle – themselves are perhaps a tongue-in-cheek way of holding together what is a much broader subject , but there are basic areas covered – Do You Need A Manager?, home recording, songwriting, the evolution of bands… and also demystifying what the shady characters mentioned earlier (agents, publishers and promoters, as well as the industry societies like MCPS and PRS) do. There are also smaller sections on merchandising and, surprisingly tiny, one on starting your own label. But perhaps given that the first chapter is entitled ‘Approaching the A&R department’ there’s an implication that self-releasing types exist outside the major industry, and will be self-motivated enough to sort things out for themselves (regular readers know that some of the necessary facts can be located here).
Indeed, this book isn’t aimed just at bands and would prove a useful read for anyone interested in a career in A&R or promotion – in fact, any area of the music business you care to name is summed up here. Like a mini Stow College course, Beattie’s book is a primer for a career in ‘The Business’. It’s not perfect, but that quibble is more about the structure of the chapters which at times seems a little random. However, fair play – where do you jump in when trying to cover something as complex as the music industry?
It wasn’t Albini who described the music business as one “where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason” adding “there’s also a downside” (that was Hunter S Thompson talking about the TV business). However, it’s close enough for rock’n’roll. If you do find yourself up shit creek, however, Beattie’s book might just be the paddle that will get you to the other end.
– WIN a copy of Will Beattie’s book. All you need do is email us your name and address to us, closing date 20 November, and we’ll draw a bunch of winners out of the itm? bowler hat.
Anyone else can buy a copy from the Amazon link at the top of the page!