POP BEAT : A PRIMER FOR MAKING IT AS A MUSICIAN
It’s not surprising to hear of one more book about the music business. But there is a twist to “For Musicians Only,” a new volume written by three Orange County musicians: It’s aimed at the aspiring musician who doesn’t want to be a superstar.
“This is for the person who is just out of (music) school, who knows their trade and wants to play for people,” said Thomas Stein, a keyboard player who collaborated on the 139-page book with his wife, Claudia, a drummer and writer, and Michael Niehaus, a sound technician and road manager who has worked with the Eagles, Tim Bogert and others.
“We wanted to say it is possible to have a career in music even if you’re not a star,” Claudia Stein said. “This is the only book we know of for the guy at the bottom.”
They also felt that was the only type of advice that they could honestly offer, as none has achieved superstardom. Thomas Stein is performing jazz six nights a week at three Orange County clubs. In addition to playing music, Claudia Stein has written some articles and children’s stories and is working on a screenplay but, she said, “so far I’m an unpublished writer.” Niehaus is also working in various local clubs as a sound technician.
The three “brainstormed every day for four months,” Claudia said, compiling stories and experiences for the book, which covers topics from forming a band and developing a career plan to making videos and technical aspects of staging a show.
The result, they said, is not a collection of any well-kept secrets of the music business but simply suggestions on how to avoid many of the pitfalls that most musicians encounter.
“It’s easy to develop problems at the bottom so that you never get ahead,” Thomas Stein said. “You can get a gig, and everything seems to be going great, then after two weeks you get fired and you wonder what went wrong. There are so many reasons we had to write this book.”
Said Claudia: “What usually happens is that it’s not that you did something wrong but that you didn’t do something right.”
The advice is frequently frank, especially in the section that Claudia Stein contributed on being a woman in the male-dominated music world: “Let’s face it: Music is a sexist business. . . . From a strictly physical point of view, more of your commercial viability is dependent on age and beauty than a man’s. It is a universal fact which women are fighting in the offices but cannot logically combat on stage.”
In their scenario about a musician or band that gets fired despite eliciting a strong reaction from the audience, Thomas Stein said: “That’s the tip of the iceberg. The least important thing is how good you are with the audience--that is taken for granted. You have to learn what the club owner is looking for, and every owner is different. It’s part of your job as a musician to learn how to make him happy.”
If that tip makes it sound like musicians frequently have to play politics, the Steins agree. Indeed, the subject of such politics is addressed in the first section, which takes up almost half the book. “The music business is politics and personnel,” Thomas Stein said.
Many musicians reject the idea of trying to learn a club owner’s likes and dislikes as a form of compromise. But Thomas Stein offered another perspective. “If you care enough to play the game, it shows that you care,” he said. “The worst thing you can do is walk into any club with a negative attitude.”
There is a brief section with tips on songwriting, but Stein said, “We have some knowledge of songwriting, but since we don’t have any hits, to dwell on that would be hubristic.” There are only three sentences written on the subject of the musicians’ union, but Claudia Stein said their brevity on such a big subject is justified. “Every local in every city is different,” she said. “To find out what a particular local can do for you, the best thing to do is call and talk to them.”
The key ingredient to a successful career as a working musician, Thomas Stein said, is like that in nearly every other business: “Attitude.”
“For Musicians Only” is currently available only by mail order ($12.95 from MTC Productions, 296-B N. Kathleen St., Orange, Calif. 92669), but the authors have received some interest from a music industry publisher that they hope will develop into a publishing deal.
The Steins said they expect many people who read the book to ignore their advice.
“There’s a Billy Joel song that says ‘The things I didn’t know at first I learned by doing twice,’ ” Thomas Stein said with a chuckle.
Added Claudia: “I don’t expect every group to really read this and take it to heart. It’s sort of like a teacher in a classroom--if you can hit one out of 30, then maybe that person will figure things out a little faster than we did.”
LIVE ACTION: Tickets for three Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre shows go on sale Sunday: Mike & the Mechanics (July 2), the Temptations and Four Tops (Aug. 29) and Anne Murray (Sept. 19). . . . Tickets will also be available Sunday for Starship’s Aug. 28 concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre. . . . Children’s Day will be at Safari Sam’s in Huntington Beach on May 24.