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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Book Review: Do the Devil's Work For Him: How to Make It In the Music Industry (and Stay In It) by Amy Sciarretto and Rick Florino

Do the Devil's Work For Him: How to Make It In the Music Industry (and Stay In It) by Amy Sciarretto and Rick Florino
2010 McCarren Publishing
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Though I've been an official music journalist since 2003, I actually had a short go as an industry writer from late 1989 to 1990 when I was the assistant editor of my campus newspaper. I was given authority to maintain my own entertainment section, specifically a column I called "Musically Speaking." Being an unbendable metal and punk aficianado at the time, I wrote strictly about those genres and as might be expected, my initial audience was grossly limited. I'll never forget the student who came up to me (I was still wearing my denim jacket with buttons pinned down each side from top-to-bottom, which today I jokingly refer to as "The Armor") and asked me "Dude, who the hell's the Bad Brains?"

I spent more time than I should've explaining to a half-preppie half-surfer bum wannabe that the Bad Brains were (and still are) one of the most important rock bands of our time. Categorical punk, embraced by headbangers, yet the effect of the Bad Brains' angry sound in the name of love remains one of the most shattering cadences in music history. From there, I grew more and more passionate about the music I loved. I spotlighted metal and punk bands in word, forgetting in my zeal nobody save a handful of kids was reading what I spent much time typing on a manual typewriter then helping to lay out come press time. It wasn't until the staff adviser of the paper threatened my column with a killswitch if I didn't expand my musical horizons. Best lesson I was ever taught in life. I immediately invited a friend to write up Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, then I myself fielded The Bangles, Depeche Mode and The Cure in addition to metal and punk. Ye-bang, instant readership.

I eventually found demo leads through word-of-mouth (remember, internet wasn't a part of everyday lexicon back then) and I briefly became entrenched into "the scene." Caroline Records sent me a glossy photo and stickers of the Bad Brains for my positive write-up of Quickness. Mechanic Records sent my first authentic care package of goodies on behalf of Voivod after I glowed all over Nothingface and then declared them in print as the band of the future after seeing them live with a yet-to-break Soundgarden and Faith No More as openers. Yes, it was as much an event as it reads.

From there, a particular band who came and went, Defcon, became my distant buddies from Chicago. They sent me all three of their cassette demos and I wrote them up. Their management invited me to come out to the Windy City and watch the band record their debut album once they'd been signed. Ditto for a couple east coast bands and a then-unknown hardcore juggernaut called Biohazard. Can you imagine being fresh into the adult world and discovering a new band that would soon break big? Yes, you read about Biohazard first in "Musically Speaking" and eighties fanzines around the world. You can imagine what a geeked-out feeling I had at age 19, recognized on a small scale by the recording industry.

So the question is, why didn't I capitalize back then?

Because I didn't have a book like Amy Sciarretto and Rick Florino's Do the Devil's Work For Him: How to Make It In the Music Industry (and Stay In It!)

If you work in the industry, Amy and Rick's names damn well ought to be familiar to you. If you don't and you have aspirations to join up with the teeming ranks of music journalists, jocks, press wranglers, band managers and label reps, get to know them right away. While Amy is one of the master emcees at Roadrunner Records, her legacy was built as editor of CMJ and every music-oriented outlet you can drum up. Rick Florino interned with New Line Cinema then opened his own periodical, Ruin, a quality glossy mag read by many metal followers. Rick is now editor of ArtistDirect.com, he is with Relativity Media and Rogue Pictures and penning his novel series Dolor.

These are self-made people, folks, a phrase you hear tagged upon CEOs of mega conglomerates as much as you would the president of a chicken feed company. They didn't wait for handouts from the industry; they went after what they wanted. They started on the bottom of the totem, interned for free, DJ'd, learned in the shadows, slept little and built their contacts to the point each now enjoy successful careers in the entertainment industry.

The cheeky title of Do the Devil's Work For Him: How to Make It In the Music Industry (and Stay In It!) has a slight misnomer in leading new readers to believe it's strictly about promoting heavy metal. While Florino and Sciarretto are headbangers at heart, each has worked in other genres on their way up, from pop to electronic. They've smartly diversified, stayed on the pulse and the dividends paid off.

This tutorial can cross over into the rap industry or the rave underground, even a small indie label or guerrilla film team. Do the Devil's Work For Him: How to Make It In the Music Industry (and Stay In It!) is a blueprint for successfully working yourself through the channels of the music industry, yet the lessons conveyed carry forth into any field one may pursue.

Tech is displacing more and more people from the music industry, that's today's reality. It's no news labels, artists, publicists and the press are all feeling the crunch as albums are en route to the time capsule where Alan Freed's culture lies dormant. Today's generation doesn't relate to forking over their teen job pay each week to buy albums in the mall or record stores. Not so easy to explain to them why a cardboard standup of Michael Jackson and subway posters of the Ramones, The Clash, The Smiths and Joy Division were so important to sales as they were to fan (or brand, if you will) identification. When you can pull the same images up within seconds on the web, it doesn't resonate with the lawnmower men of Generation Tech to bounce out to the record store and hunt for music in ritualistic fashion, despite living in a 24-7 keep-going world. Download and assimilate, those are the new tribal rites of music consumption.

This is the core challenge faced by neophytes coming to the recording industry. How can you hype product when the game has become so faceless? Emails and MP3s hardly constitute the hands-on marketing approach which put the "big" in "Big '80s" commerce, and while this writer was trained in marketing principles and has seen nearly every huckstering trick presented by the curriculum, there was a charm about music promotion pre-internet. Seldom few were invited to play along, but there was a mystique about the music business once. Now it's no longer fashionista-worthy. In fact, it has been forced to dumb down and reinvent itself in response to a larger pie eating contest with fewer pies for the contestants.

While the existing base of clientele who actually buy music continues to shrink, what it all boils down to for the new army of face people, tastemakers and buzz strikers is the refreshing tact of back-to-basics work ethics. Imparted true by Sciarretto and Florino in Do the Devil's Work For Him: How to Make It In the Music Industry (and Stay In It!)

In their book, Sciarretto and Florino take their readers to school on the fundamentals in building a career in the music business. The idea today of working for nothing in the hopes of a prosperous lateral transition is lost on the ears of most. Yet Do the Devil's Work For Him: How to Make It In the Music Industry (and Stay In It!) paints its dichotomous picture of nothing-comes-for-free accurately. Its advice may not be recession-proof, considering it arrives in the midst of economic purgatory, but do heed what Amy Sciarretto and Rick Florino pass upon their disciples in-arms.

A lot of the recommendations and rule sharing in Do the Devil's Work For Him: How to Make It In the Music Industry (and Stay In It!) are common sense, such as to avoid eavesdropping on department heads if you're an intern looking for a fast track, or to proof your emails and appear literate before clicking the send button. Don't expect to get backstage off the bat or to be rubbing elbows with the Korn guys just because you're passing around interoffice copies of their future sales prospectus. And for God's sake, don't text all your friends what a bigshot you are now that you've crossed the gates--and worse, promise them free tickets to an upcoming Machine Head gig. Rob Zombie's the man everyone in hard rock and horror looks up to these days, but don't expect an immediate shot at an interview just because you chatted up his Halloween II redux on your blog. Like myself, you have to interview no less than 200 or so up-and-comers to gain a publicist's trust with Rob. It's rewarding as hell to get Rob Zombie, Rob Halford, Nicko McBrain, Serj Tankian, Tom Araya and Alice Cooper, take it from me as gospel; but I guarantee you the reason I got them was by putting my recorder in front of every band I could first.

It goes beyond that in this book, though. While Florino and Sciarretto warn against fanboyism, elitism and posturing from the new arrival into the music business, the most urgent message is you will pay your dues coming up and it's best to accept that before shooting yourself in the foot. They suggest networking for all your worth, but know when not to inflate your value past its natural maturation process. Fish are smelled out from the bay to prison to the rock industry. Hyperextend yourself in shameful manner, you'll be cast back into a pond of indifference.

Practical business sense is a recurrent theme in Do the Devil's Work For Him: How to Make It In the Music Industry (and Stay In It!) but it's also a self-empowering manual of sorts. Florino and Sciarretto take their readers from the ground-up and give a pragmatic template for getting in, getting noticed and getting hip. Anyone who wants a piece of the action is told to be malleable, affirmative, upbeat, willing to learn and try every facet of the industry thrown in his or her direction. Diversification, friendliness, a courteous candor and the capacity to change hats at any odd hour of the day encompasses the prolific music industry hand, from writer to executive.

While the authors share their war stories from every angle they've experienced in the business, they also bring in a handful of guests to comment in the book's appendix "A Little Help From Our Friends." Here you'll find extensive Q&A sessions with musicians such as Troy Sanders from Mastodon, Wayne Static, Dez Fafara of Devildriver/Coal Chamber, Chino Moreno of the Deftones, Munky from Korn and former G-N-R and Cult drummer Matt Sorum about their thoughts on the industry as it stands now. Also brought to the party are label execs and publicists such as Mitch Schneider, Kristine Ashton-Magnuson, James Patrick, Ashley White, Paul Gargano and Mike Gitter.

Each has varied thoughts on music life in the digital age, most sharing the common thread that the industry is being forced by a cyber hammer into modification. Those who are willing to adapt and bust their tails forevermore in servitude of music will remain fortified upon the mountain. There may be an upgrade to the sound system, but there's still no substitute for a necessary refinement of the core characteristics to survive in a business growing thinner in opportunity and more ruthless accordingly.

I've enjoyed a reasonably healthy career as a writer in the music industry. No doubt, though, I would've been better served in life had Do the Devil's Work For Him: How to Make it In the Music Industry (and Stay In It!) been written and placed into my hands in 1989. For one thing, I would've found the money to get to Chicago and watch Defcon record. Sure, they're gone now like Rocket from the Crypt of this time and the old street crooners of Philly, Baltimore and Boston of the fifties. Still, the know-how employed in Sciarretto and Florino's book is life-changing, and I personally would've been motivated to alter my life in Chicago by asking to be taught the recording process while sitting in as a guest. It's a passed opportunity I flog myself for. If only I'd spent less money on albums and dating girls I might've been able to go. Of course, each gives me a passion to live and I've been well-served twofold.

I listened to the reason of parents and gained a business and marketing degree I could've used in Chicago or anywhere else with a pulse I've felt drawn to. I can't say it enough how this book would've put me precisely where I daydreamed I'd be while lulling about in my bedroom with Anvil and Savatage albums grinding into the night. As I write this, I'm spinning the new Accept album Blood of the Nations, and while there's no Udo Dirkschneider, the album does rock with a cock. I'm reminded why Accept's Metal Heart along with many other albums of the day made me want to get into the industry to begin with. "Musically Speaking" was a short-lived endeavor which might've been the catalyst to something bigger had I been inspired by Amy Sciarretto and Rick Florino's bible at that critical junction. Instead, I settled for the fan's role behind Nine Inch Nails, Jane's Addiction, New Order, Peter Murphy and Lush, letting another music movement go by without properly diving headfirst with the same investigative manner I do now. Heavy sigh.

If you have the guts to try your luck with the music racket, start here. Seriously. There's plenty of time to read The Dirt on the pot while working your way up the tier.

7 comments:

tarleisio said...

Sounds very intriguing! The sad thing is that so many of the digital generation have a hard time realizing that for anything to happen - you have to WORK for it, even to the point of swallowing your pride and possibly your ethics to get where you want to go, and it won't happen the day after tomorrow.


Speaking of the hard truths of the music bizz, are you aware of the documentary underway right now called "Living the American Nightmare?" by Pawl Basile?

We diehards should be in for a treat with that one!

Rock on!

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Too true, Tarleisio, I think from our side conversations we understand each quite well. I would add a lot of those who do break in to receive downloads or even physical advances how no clue what an honor it is to be in such a position. Remember in the eighties how we merely daydreamed about doing it? It was all thought about half the time aside from normal teenage guy things. The fact I've interviewed 90% of the musicians who I tacked to my walls back then is surreal.

I tried like hell back then to get "in" but only a select few were allowed. And I was just a teenager, so I don't take offense looking back upon it. Back then there was quality control, and honestly, the huge magazines still operating today exercise it. Some of the decision making is cliquish snobbery, while some of it is basic economics where too many people wanting the same thing just have to do without.

I think about my first few years doing this in the 2000s and how I hungrily devoured every opportunity I could. No band was too big or too small for me. Even then, though, there were still far less than there are now. I feel bad now when I can't give every band my attention who seek me out, and it's not an intentional blowoff from me. You know as well as most what my zany schedule can be like, but I won't take for granted being in a position where my professional opinion is constantly sought out by so many people. I'm honored, that's all I can say. The success I've attained to this point is by hard, hard work, no sleep, grabbing everything and everyone I could to make the world see me.

Doesn't always mean you get the fast track doing that if you're not living in the prime moving locations like New York, LA or Nashville here in the States. But I'll bust my ass to the capacity I can with the same objective in mind: see and hear me, world!

Don't know about that book, but I'm interested in reading!

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...
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Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tarleisio said...

It's a documentary, currently in post-production, about one of the great surreal stories of the music bizz no writer could make up...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICs5rtRcZc8

Ah, "work" and "ethic"...two underrated words in the English language!

You went where you did and you got where you are by following your passion, keeping your eye on the ball and never giving up. And look at you now!

I don't know that I want to be in the music bizz, per se. I've known to many musicians.

It's just the writer bug that's killing me!

DPTH International said...

Nice review, Ray. Very personal and informative. Although I've never aspired to be a music journalist, I do get excited about comments left on my blog (grossly unproductive right now, but soon to be remedied).

My favourite is when a band member comments. For example, a local group called Headview had a little ep out, my wife got me. 10 years later I do a review and the singer tells me about his new band and sends me some albums for review.

That and the main man from Frank's Enemy and The Lead fame, Julio Rey stopped by the blog and linked up my reviews of his 3 albums. Man that was sweet.

I don't have the drive to delve to far into musical journalism, but I do agree with the diversity aspect. I've done some reviews for a site called Wrecked.org which was neat, but not my usual style of music.

Success definitely comes after one pays their dues and earns the freedom to explore more genre specific work.

Speaking of which, keep up the great work yourself!

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