Justin Goldberg,
The Ultimate Survival Guide
to the New Music Industry:
Handbook for Hell

(Lone Eagle, 2004)

This book is smooth as silk between your hands. It's sensuously finished in a soft matte cover and contains stories, anecdotes and true-life experiences that will make you shiver with anticipation as you read of hard-working successes and cringe with horror as you realize how hit-or-miss the business is for artists in rock and pop music.

Distinctively eerie shapes and colours block the cover so it looks like ragged-edged farmers' fields as viewed from an airplane. Most of the blocks are stylized audiocassettes. The cover artwork is by the author and other pieces inside often tell a story as clearly as the text does.

Though the print was large enough for comfortable reading, the book was a bit heavy, especially since the CD and plastic envelope resisted my attempts to curl the cover back into a reading position. But that's a small flaw considering the wealth of information stored in these pages. The overall book design is as solid and interesting as the information inside.

In 10 chapters and 348 pages with 48 topics and subtopics, Justin Goldberg debunks a lot of myths and assumptions people have about the big-music business. The information contains definite eye-openers for young up-and-comers and the book is a handy resource from which a musician can work at his or her own blueprint for success. Topics covered include demo quality, existing in the marketplace, indie labels and signing away copyright.

Goldberg sounds like he has lots of experience in the music industry and has had his share of successes and "learning situations." And instead of telling only his own story and giving his own observations, he includes comments and discussions from an impressive variety of people with different careers in the industry, a frank interview with Willie Nelson included, as well as tons of lawyers and music execs. He spreads out the innards of the "star-making machinery" and dissects it: how it works, who works it, what fuels it and how it breaks down.

I was a little resistant getting into this book. I expected a bit of ego-tripping and finger-wagging and do this/don't do that over-the-top instructions. Instead, Goldberg quickly gets down to the nitty-gritty and shares information that takes you right inside the minds of the "star-makers." He describes two very different aspects of the music industry: the commercial radio circuit and the folk festival circuit, with some disheartening information on how important the radio spots can be and how mind-blowingly expensive it is to get an artist heard nationally in the U.S.

Definitions of managers, A&R people, tour promoters and others clear up a lot of confusion about who does what, especially if a musician happens to be signing their career over to a major label, or even to a little label. The book is aimed at those who don't already have an "in" -- a contact in the industry -- because it explains the need for and the how-tos of contacting the right people. If you already have your toe in the door, however, there are major hints about the next steps to take and what pitfalls to watch out for. To newcomers who dream of musical success in the form of stardom: Before you waste another minute reaching for the moon, make sure your feet are planted in the right direction and have a look at this book.

I liked how the author acknowledges that musicians can make a good, or more than adequate, living doing music without becoming "stars" and that for many this is a satisfying route to happiness.

A flowing conversational tone used throughout the book with anecdotes and interviews, rather than an academic tome of statistics and studies, makes for a smooth read. Short chapters and getting straight to the point on the topic at hand seems to be in keeping with the express pace of the music industry. It was really interesting to read about which albums the industry people interviewed chose as the top five albums ever.

The book may become outdated within the decade, but right now I think it's relevant and informative and, even if you're not a musician, it reveals images of a cultural/social sphere that touches many of us as listeners but few of us understand. There's a CD with the book that may be useful. It promises resources, lists and addresses, and I've left it at the local music library so more people would have access to it.

Unfortunately, there are some rather noticeable typos, some grammar and editing errors, and the author seems to be smitten with the word "paradigm." I found it mildly annoying to try to reach a website mentioned and find it no longer exists, but that's a risk many authors take these days. Other than those few complaints, I'd recommend this book to music teachers, young musicians, dreamers and pluggers all. It could make you or break you.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 11 September 2004

[ visit the author's website ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.