Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Book Review: The Indie Band Survival Guide - The Complete Manual for the Do-It-Yourself Musician by Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan

If your grand musical plan to jump start your career is to win American Idol and enter into a life of indentured servitude to a mega conglomerate, ignore Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan’s The Indie Band Survival Guide. However, if you’re an independent musician without a label who feels your unique blend of goth-thrash-folk-punk-polka could reach an audience if you only knew how to go about it, consult this book. Covering topics such as setting up an effective website, creating and maintaining a consistent brand and message, getting your music recorded, distributed, and heard at a global level, getting booked for live shows, shaping and conducting an effective PR campaign, and navigating various copyright and publishing legal landmines, Chertkow and Feehan’s detailed and well organized book is essential reading for both veteran and budding independent musicians.The two authors certainly have the experience and background to craft such a book. As members of the Chicago-based band Beatnik Turtle, they have recorded 18 albums, written music for films and the idiot box, and licensed music to the ABC Family Channel, all without the support (or interference) of a record label. The authors bring this real-world experience to their logically structured and easy-to-navigate book.

The impact of the Internet on independent musicians — and specifically how it has revolutionized how people discover, discuss, and consume music — forms the backbone of much of the authors’ tips for succeeding as an independent musician. Chertkow and Feehan persuasively show how the Internet can play a major role in enabling musicians to get their music heard by a global audience, instead of just being a vast wasteland where a pervert might try to lure you somewhere. They systematically show how the Internet is a powerful tool in everything from getting an artist’s music heard via podcasts, blogs, and other new media, to developing and maintaining important relationships with music venues, promoters, and journalists. One of the more interesting points the authors make is that the independent musicians should consider focusing on niche media, markets, and websites when trying to get their music heard and publicized. This means that while your concept album about a small-town necrophiliac who was just elected county coroner might get ignored on iTunes, it might find a dedicated — if demented and incredibly disturbed — following if targeted to a specific Internet audience. As a real life, and non-offensive example, the authors describe how a song they wrote about the movie Star Wars led to a video mash-up that received over 15,000 plays at the movie’s official website.

An underlying argument that runs throughout the book is that musicians do not need a record label to cultivate a loyal fan base. Certainly the authors’ success with their own band supports this assertion. However, it should also be noted that the authors have a professional background that is likely far stronger than that of other musicians: Chertkow is an IT professional in a Fortune 100 company, and Feehan is a practicing attorney. This combination of tech and legal savvy is probably not the norm for independent musicians; many of the ones I’ve met over the years have a hard enough time remembering to put on deodorant in the morning. For some musicians, the support of a record label might be a welcome avenue for getting their music distributed and concerts booked; it should also be noted that today’s “best known” indie bands are signed to labels.Despite a few other minor flaws -- the book doesn’t contain an index and the authors plug the book’s website many, many times -- The Indie Band Survival Guide is a complete and comprehensive guide that can benefit all independent musicians.

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