Friday, January 01, 2010

Book Review: Here Come the Regulars by Ian Anderson.

A while back I got a press release announcing the publication of this book. Having had vague wonderings from time to time about the business of indie music, I'm always up for a good read about the subject. So I read it, and here's what I thought:

In Here Come the Regulars: How to Run a Record Label on a Shoestring Budget, Ian Anderson provides useful information and advice for aspiring record label owners, as well as for those simply interested in learning more about the process. The author started up a label in 2003 when he was still a teenager. Sixty-six releases later, Afternoon Records is still going strong, representing bands from Anderson's homebase of Minneapolis and throughout the US. The author also fronts the indie pop band One for the Team, and has a music blog, MFR. Though he's still in his early 20s, Anderson is thus well qualified to provide advice on what he's been up to since 2003.

Over 160 pages and 23 short chapters, Anderson details the ins and outs of the record label business. Chapters cover topics including branding, dealing with lawyers, "how to approach people and not feel slimy," manufacturing, distribution, promotion, management, and merchandise, among others. There are specific suggestions and sample forms, but following Anderson's lead depends on label owners building their business from the (local) ground up, focussing on nearby bands, fans, and business relationships before trying to branch out. It sounds like a lot of work, but despite what must have been serious headaches and making many mistakes along the way, Anderson remains---on paper, at least---positive about the prospects of your (the reader's) fledgling labour of love and the resultant benefits for your label's roster of bands.

Here Come the Regulars is aimed at US readers, and so you won't find tips on how to navigate the complex world of government and private arts grants that exists here in Canada. What you will find is lots of financial and legal advice, including sample contracts and budgeting suggestions. The book emphasizes legal realities more than it might, and Canadian label owners will have to seek out other opinions about this side of things. I wonder whether Anderson's stress on acquiring a lawyer as among the very first tasks for a new label to tackle is so necessary on this side of the border. Some of what he has to say strikes me as overly business-minded, but being clear and guarding against misunderstanding and fraud are important, and he provides good examples and explanations. If running a label is what you want to do to earn a living, he's likely right about what it takes to turn a small investment ($500), constant networking, promotion, listening, reading, and corresponding into a self-sustaining enterprise. This label thing isn't a hobby. It's a lifestyle.

The book was a quick read, and provides some good specific points of advice on occasion (and especially for US-based businesses). This is not "the ultimate guide" that it's touted to be, but it's certainly a good starter, sober and clear with lots of helpful tips and much food for thought for the aspiring indie label exec. There's a lot in here, and it's worth reading---and going back to---for anyone interested in the grassroots music biz.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Hmm, sounds like a good read! Thanks for the tip.