The Indie Band Bible
by Mark Makoway
Published by Madrigal Press
244 pages, 2001
Dreaming Beyond the Garage
Reviewed by Lincoln Cho
To quit your day job and take it on the road. To have nubile youngsters approach you for your autograph. To be able to sketch a rider that specifies only yellow M&Ms and a fridge full of Evian and microbrew. It's not a unique dream: not a dream you have alone. However, leading a band out of the garage and into the spotlight is a fire that has likely burned more people than it's sheltered. I mean, first of all, it's tough. Everyone knows it's tough. And, in case you're not sure, all you have to do is visit any fairly good club that features live music and listen: in the music business, even the losers are often tight and polished and looking for the break that's going to make the difference in their careers. Hell: in their lives. And the facts are simple. Sometimes it just seems like so much of a numbers game. In a world where Britney Spears seems to sell more albums than just about anyone, it's obvious that pure talent alone is not the way to buy a ticket to #1.
And watching it all from the outside can be frustrating. Talk to any recently signed "overnight sensation" (and I've talked to a few) and you'll see what I mean. Along with the excitement of finally getting the chance to make it, there's frustration -- even if neatly held under the surface -- of the convoluted path it's taken to get even that far. The music industry is unlike any other and although it can look like a free-for-all to outsiders, there are rules and mores here just like any other business. Let's face it: there is a path you take to be a stock broker, a real estate agent or neurosurgeon. Why would anyone think this was less true for the budding professional musician?
In The Indie Band Bible: the Ultimate Guide to Breaking A Band, Mark Makoway doesn't so much illustrate the path as much as illuminating the ground rules. As lead guitarist for Moist, an indie band that gained wide success in the 1990s, Makoway knows these ropes and this road. In his foreword to the book, Terry McBride, head cheese of Nettwerk Records (who, it must be said, knows a thing or two about indie bands himself) writes that the book "has an independent artist's point of view, but is grounded in the reality of the music business as a whole, including the major labels, publishers and the Internet."
Makoway himself writes that he can "remember not knowing anything and, worse, not knowing anyone who knew anything about the music business." In essence, the author warns that success is most likely to come to those who are prepared for it:
The Indie Band Bible will help you realize your band is a small business. By playing in a band you're selling your music and more than that, you're selling yourself: your ideas, your skills, your face, your name, your attitude. To use a word all artists hate and all industry people seem to use, you're selling a product. In a weird way, you're the salesman and the merchandise, which can be a difficult thing to accept. This might sound a little jaded and the p-word has nothing to do with the rush of an awesome jam, but the music business is a business.
While Makoway has clearly remained in touch with the vibrancy of his business and the joys relating to the artistic end of things, he brings a no-nonsense approach to The Indie Band Bible, taking readers through every aspect of the industry. He begins at the beginning with selecting instruments, choosing band members and determining band structure; advancing through to setting up a Web site and other types of early promotion, getting gigs, setting up your own label, distribution deals and selecting a manager. If there are small things Makoway has overlooked, I can't find them. The Indie Band Bible is precisely as advertised: an answer book -- a bible -- for those who feel that they might want a piece of a dream. | August 2001
Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.