Friday, July 1, 2016

Book Review: Michael W. Dean's $30 Music School (2003)

Michael W. Dean's $30 Music School
The music industry is a brutal business. I've seen young bands, innocent and hopeful, chewed up and spit out by the great maw of the industry star-making machinery. Trend-driven and dominated by marketing, the corporate music biz is all about one thing – how many units have you sold – and "art" has to hide its pretty little head lest it be trampled underfoot by almighty commerce. Musicians that flirt with a major label deal (and many indie label deals) often end up broke, broken and disillusioned, driven into bankruptcy and addiction while working on the record company plantation.

Writer/musician/filmmaker Michael Dean is a major label survivor, a talented musician and gifted wordsmith that has seen it all and done it all at least twice. Primary songwriter and bass player for early 1990s alt-rock band Bomb, Dean has recorded music with a dozen bands and served his time touring the country in the back of a van. Dean's excellent documentary film – D.I.Y. Or Die – offers interviews with a diverse range of artists including Lydia Lunch, Mike Watt, Ian MacKaye (Fugazi) and Ron Asheton (Stooges), among many others. Dean knows what the hell he's talking about when it comes to making art and music.

Hot on the heals of his informative guide to digital video, $30 Film School, Dean follows up with $30 Music School, an essential guide to making music and maneuvering through the industry minefield. Dean is a stone-cold realist but he is also a dreamer, an artist working on his own terms while preaching a holistic, Zen-like approach to making music. It's no surprise that $30 Music School should lead off with a chapter on "band politics," perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of making music. Interpersonal relationships in a band context are often tricky and fraught with the perils of clashing egos and expectations. Dean's experienced perspective on the subject offers invaluable ideas and information on the dynamics of making a band work, how to handle industry relationships with managers, producers, etc and what issues and pitfalls to expect as you begin your career.

From this meaty first chapter, Dean delves into songwriting – what makes a good song, the writing process, the elements of a song – basically a primer on capturing your thoughts in words and music. Chapters on instruments, accessories, electronics and equipment provide useful information for even the veteran musician while chapters on recording and its various aspects, computer software and making your own CDs are fine examples of Dean's D.I.Y. aesthetic.

Where Dean really shines, however, is in the business sections of $30 Music School. From booking gigs, promoting yourself and selling your CDs to dealing with labels and contracts, lawyers and managers, Dean's experience and knowledge provides a blueprint for young bands to follow. Dean offers a realistic perspective on the industry and what the young musician should expect, starkly outlining both the positive and negative aspects of a career in music, pulling no punches as he shares stories from his own life and career. Interviews with musicians such as Henry Rollins, Joan Jett and David Brockie of Gwar offer varying viewpoints on making music while an included CD offers software demos, examples of Dean's music and film and other valuable tools for the aspiring musicmaker.

In its 500+ pages, Dean's $30 Music School provides the reader with a comprehensive overview of the music industry, preparing young musicians for the wild roller-coaster ride that is the music industry while offering valuable, life-affirming reinforcement to jaded veterans as well. Along with its companion volume, $30 Film School – which offers even more of Dean's impressive philosophy on art and life – $30 Music School is one of the most important weapons that a musician can add to their arsenal. Buy your guitar, buy your amp and then buy and read these two books. Nothing else will come close to preparing you for the life you've chosen. (Course Technology, published December 12, 2003)

Originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2004

Related Content: Michael Dean's $30 Film School book review

Educate Yourself, Fool!

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