Practical guidance for an impractical endeavor
Bronikowski, Special To The News
Coming to a bookstore near you: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting a Band.
Hey, isn't that redundant?
After all, if you're starting a band in an era when speed-dial decides America's next pop idol, a "wardrobe malfunction" stirs more controversy than the Iraq war, legendary record producer Phil Spector is consumed with beating a rap (and not producing it), and lip-syncing is as popular as lip gloss - you probably are an idiot to try to form a band.
Many may find it incongruous to form a band by the book. Don't bands just happen in garages, dank basements and hole in the wall pubs on the corner?
But the latest entry in the "Complete Idiot's Guide" series - which now features nearly four dozen titles to help mere mortals understand everything from Science Projects to Einstein, Catholicism to Buddhism, and Psychology to Astrology - not only rocks, but also rolls out expert advice on everything from breaking in to staying alive, creating a demo and creating a hit.
Authors Mark Bliesener and Steve Knopper are tuned in to writing's No. 1 rule: write about what you know. Both authors have been there, done that and now share the secrets of the road in a succinct, well-researched guide.
Knopper, a Denver keyboardist, has performed a couple of times in bands. But mainly he has written about music for 13 years in magazine articles that have appeared in Rolling Stone, Spin, Blender, Esquire, and Details to name a few. (Knopper also contributes to the Rocky Mountain News.)
Bliesener played his first gig as a drummer in 1965. During the '70s he performed, toured and recorded with The Prophets, ? and the Mysterians, the Pfft, the Humpback Whale, the Fabulous Dogs, and others in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Now living in Denver, Bliesener has parlayed his experience into a successful career as a promoter, publicist and journalist. As a personal manager, his roster includes The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Lyle Lovett, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Leo Kottke, Highway 101 and Leftover Salmon, among others.
The authors don't promise instant stardom or the cover of the Rolling Stone. Instead, they deliver a real-world view of the hard work behind making music - whether the band is content to play weddings and frat parties, just wants to jam on weekends, or aims for massive concert venues.
"If you love music, love playing music, love recording and don't mind public humiliation, perhaps some of the advice might prove helpful, insightful or at least entertaining," says Wayne Coyne, the voice of The Flaming Lips, in the book's foreword. "But if your desire is to be a 'rock star,' I am not your man. Or should I say, this is not your book."
Coyne couldn't be more on key, particularly in characterizing the book as entertaining and informative. For example, in a chapter on finding band members, the authors suggest running a classified ad. Before you have a chance to smirk, the authors point out that's how Elton John found lyricist Bernie Taupin.
The chapters start out extremely basic - even down to meticulously detailing what a band is and defining the word "gig" as a "live performance, after which (usually) the band gets paid." (After all, they are writing for idiots.)
But the book soon ventures into pop psychology and lingo such as "group dynamics," which really just means getting along. In case you can't, the authors offer advice on how to fire a band member or how to diplomatically tell the aspiring songwriter he just can't write.
Voyeurs will be tempted to skip ahead to Chapter 7: "Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll." While acknowledging the drug culture without getting preachy, the authors advise musicians to take care of their health.
From a practical side, they note: "When you're abusing substances, simple things like staying in time and remembering the next song can be far more difficult than they should be. While some artists will argue drugs loosen you up and set you free, if you're in a recording studio playing to a click-track that definition of freedom may be suspect."
(OK, just in case you're a fellow idiot, "click-tracks" are "electronic percussion devices that keep the beat at a certain speed. Although many musicians hate them, they often help bands stay in tune.")
The guide characterizes "groupies" as "a funny part of rock 'n' roll lore" and leaves the romantic side of the biz up to each individual.
The most helpful chapters - where even the most know-it-all idiot could learn something - center on producing a CD, including cost, technical details, and studio versus do-it-yourself productions. Other chapters offer advice on when to hire a manager, what to pay them and now not to get ripped off.
The book includes advice on producing videos, public relations and marketing tips, even how to build a Web site. The authors also provide sample contracts, press releases and press kits.
But if you're really an idiot who doesn't have time or inclination to read the full chapters, the authors have made it easy by providing summaries ("The Least You Need to Know") at the end of each chapter.
It's important, Bliesener writes, to remember that playing in a band isn't totally about being the next big thing: "It provided a sense of accomplishment in my teen years that set me on a definite career path."
Some of the areas covered by the authors of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting a Band:
• Avoiding Bad Notes: Advice on what not to do; common traps that doom a band.
• Behind the Music: Facts ranging from simple (bands should bring gaffer tape to a live performance) to dishing up inside band dirt.
• Backstage Insights: Tips on everything from buying instruments and learning to play, to marketing, public relations and how to avoid getting ripped off by a manager.
• Words to Rock By: Technical terms and definitions as elementary as "networking" and as complex as MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface).
Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer living in Denver.