Indie Band Survival Guide: soup-to-nuts, no-BS manual for 21st century artistic life

By Cory Doctorow

Two years after its initial publication, I've finally gotten around to reading Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan's The Indie Band Survival Guide: The Complete Manual for the Do-It-Yourself Musician, which is already something of a modern classic. As the title implies, this is a soup-to-nuts guide to musical survival in the 21st century, written by two of the members of Beatnik Turtle, a very successful indie act that has used the Internet for artistic satisfaction, to build an audience, to sell a lot of music, to license music for TV, and to fill clubs. The authors are, respectively, a successful IT manager for a Fortune 100 company and a successful attorney, and they bring an admirable business-sense, maturity, and technical and legal acumen to their subject that gives their personal experience with Beatnik Turtle the ring of greater truth.

The Guide goes from the macro (the philosophy of Creative Commons, the value of audiences beyond immediate music sales) to the micro (how to manage your rehearsal space), and covers an immense amount of technical minutae (how to use compulsory mechanical licenses to record and distribute covers; which places to sell your music to ensure maximum PRO payouts; how to mix down and master a CD).

But where it really shines is in the creative strategies for attaining popular and commercial success, drawn from the direct experience of indie musicians who've found joy by, for example, cold-calling websites that cover subjects related to their music (crocheting, beer-drinking, and everything in between) and suggesting featuring their music, or offering extra CDs from the duplication plant in plastic sleeves with liners advertising upcoming gigs to be sold for $1 by local music retailers (with the retailers keeping the whole sum), a strategy that got Beatnik Turtle free point-of-sale promotion at all their local record stores.

Chertow and Feehan began the guide as a free, Creative Commons-licensed download and were picked up for print publication by Macmillan in the USA, and various major publishers all over the world. They're tireless, principled, talented, funny, and passionate, and this is just the sort of zero-BS guide to modern artistic survival that should be in every artist's handbag.

The Indie Band Survival Guide: The Complete Manual for the Do-It-Yourself Musician

Published 8:22 am Tue, Nov 16, 2010

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About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

27 Responses to “Indie Band Survival Guide: soup-to-nuts, no-BS manual for 21st century artistic life”

  1. Dr. Pasolini says:

    To everyone that I’ve offended by stating my opinion: I’m terribly, terribly sorry.

  2. in1ove says:

    i will say i was shocked t dr. pasolino’s initial comment myself. “fuck” is harsh in print. when i realized it was part of the book title, i relaxed my spikes, breathed a little understanding. i feel this thread is an example of how internet communication can spiral out of control into a web of miscommunication, breeding offense and anger. i’m under the impression that dr. p was offering another indie resource for self promotion in the artistic world. it seems he misunderstood a coupla things about the authors, but i think the thread that followed is reacting more to the shock of having “fuck” in a slightly critical statement than anything else…

    can’t we all just get along?

  3. Kegger says:

    This one is a great ref too… would be interesting to do a comparison of the two
    http://indiebandbible.com/

  4. Derek C. F. Pegritz says:

    This book is amazing. I’ve read it cover to cover and keep up with all the current updates which the authors make to the associated website in order to stay up-to-date, and having spoken with the authors at length about the book, I can definitely say it’s Completely Bad-assed. Even if you don’t purchase the book, the website is an extremely invaluable resource.

  5. Dr. Pasolini says:

    Oh, good. I was afraid you were about to have an aneurysm for a minute there.

  6. Dr. Pasolini says:

    OMG! Now he’s just making nonsense comments! Will the madness never stop?

  7. Anonymous says:

    well put in1love. i avoid reading blogs about things like this because it always turns out the same. its nice to see something rational for once.

  8. Anonymous says:

    FWIW, 24 people “like” Beatnik Turtle on Facebook.

  9. Dr. Pasolini says:

    Wow, looks like I touched a nerve! Indeed, I have not read this book, as I do not want to be a rockstar. Have you all read BYOFL? It was written by a bunch of people who had day jobs — construction workers, bartenders, grad students, collective cafe owners, and a whole bunch of other things — and who didn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money, plus health insurance and a 401k and all that jazz, to fall back on if their hobby band didn’t work out. In fact, it was written by people who were a lot more like the average musician. And, in terms of practicing what they preached, it was originally self-published. I’m not claiming that this new volume might not have some good tips, especially if you want to be a successful businessman who plays in a band and cashes in by writing a book. It’s the American way, and I’m sure there’s hundreds of bands who’ll benefit from the wisdom contained therein. They’re just not the kind of bands that I would like to hear.

    • Cory Doctorow says:

      So, based on what these guys do for a day-job, you’re prepared to damn their music?

      You also must have not read the part where these guys wrote this for free, gave it away to hundreds of thousands of musicians who loved it so much that Macmillan gave them a book deal. Or perhaps you’re just such a bleeding-edge indy snob that you’re unwilling to consider the possibility that these guys wrote this book because they believe in indy music, rather than to “cash in.”

    • Cory Doctorow says:

      Having re-read that post, I’m even more agog. You’re saying that any band that benefits from sound advice about how to mix down and master their own disc, use Creative Commons licenses, not get ripped off by PROs and scam agents, etc, necessarily makes music that you won’t want to hear? Really?

      That is about the single stupidest criteria for what kind of music you enjoy that I’ve ever heard.

      PS: Joe Strummer is an aristo.

  10. Anonymous says:

    i second that comment by the other Anon, will i be trusting a ‘how to be a successful musician’ book by musicians that aren’t successful?

    sorry, ‘how to SURVIVE’. although with 24 fans on facebook, it sure does take some know-how to survive as a band.

  11. dodongo says:

    Judging from his link, Pasolini’s coming from the hardcore scene. Who said anything about Joe Strummer?

  12. Battle Cheese says:

    Thank god we have you here to tell us who is and isn’t allowed to make music, write books, and be successful. If music is good, I don’t care how much money the person writing it makes and I don’t care if they have another job on the side.

    We’ve established that you haven’t read the book and are in no position to pass judgment on it. Now lets see if you actually read the review or stopped paying attention after you found out they had real jobs.

    “Chertow and Feehan began the guide as a free, Creative Commons-licensed download” That certainly sounds like they self published it to me.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I thin all of the hostility on this thread comes from the lack of an operational definition for “indie”. That word conjures lots of images for many different people. Punk musicians, who are sometimes lumped, or lump themselves, into “indie” see bands like Beatnik Turtle as a project that has set out to make money and APPEAL to people. There is nothing wrong with writing music that has a monetary goal, especially if you are making music you enjoy and the money comes later.

    Punk musicians write specifically to be subversive and are often
    pissed off, especially those who claim “indie” status, when they see guides like this that are intended to make you successful. It kind of like commercializing something that was sacred.

  14. MattWPBS says:

    Or if you just want to be famous, go with The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Manual

  15. Anonymous says:

    The Manual by Bill Drummond and Joe Cauty of the KLF.
    Or to how to have a number 1 single and make a million pound.

  16. Dr. Pasolini says:

    “The authors are, respectively, a successful IT manager for a Fortune 100 company and a successful attorney”

    Hmm, I think I liked this book better when it was called “Book Your Own Fucking Life” and was written by people who were actually in the scene they were writing about.

    • Cory Doctorow says:

      What makes you think that these guys — who have a successful indie band that they tour with — aren’t “in the scene?” Does your definition of “indie” mean “no day job?”

      • we_suffer says:

        I’d have to second both your responses to Dr. Pasolini.

        But now I must leave, for the stink of elitist hipster has grown far too strong for me.

    • Battle Cheese says:

      Guess you missed the part where he wrote, “written by two of the members of Beatnik Turtle, a very successful indie act that has used the Internet for artistic satisfaction.”

      Perhaps you’re just a little bitter because these guys have managed to be successful both musically and professionally while you probably struggle with both.

      Either way, your post offers no insight into or real criticism of the book, which I suspect you haven’t even read.

    • Neon Tooth says:

      BYOFL

      Ha, yeah I thought of that too. The D.I.Y. punk scene has been doing this for decades.

      Not hating tho’, more power to them if this is a good guide and not one of those scammy type books naive folks buy at Guitar Center or wherever. Certainly the ‘tech’ aspect of managing your band could be very useful.

  17. Xenu says:

    Call me back when Beatnik Turtle becomes successful enough for me to have heard of them. Until then, this book sounds like one of those “guides to success” that was written by people who were never actually successful. Just like the Four Hour Workweek, Dianetics, etc.

  18. gobo says:

    There’s similar DIY indie band survival guides available for free download on the TuneCore website, most of which were produced before this guide was. Just sayin’.

    http://www.tunecore.com/guides

  19. danl522 says:

    This book is great-read it cover to cover, and gifted copies to other friends in bands. Another similar, and excellent, book is Tour Smart, by the great Martin Atkins of Public Image LTD., Ministry, etc. etc. etc.
    http://www.amazon.com/Tour-Smart-Break-Martin-Atkins/dp/0979731305/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1289955607&sr=8-1

    With their powers combined, these books equal win for indie bands. There’s no reason why a group who is willing to do a little extra work can’t handle every aspect of the music business on their own, rather than paying money they don’t have to managers, recording studios and the like.

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