So you want to be a rock star. Well, before you start preparing your Grammy acceptance speech, here’s a tip: Look up the word recoupment.
Or sign up for MusicSessions: From Demo to Deal (insidesessions.com), an online seminar-cum-CD-ROM that claims to offer an insider’s tour of the music business. This 10-session course schools you not only on recoupment — the money a record company pockets before its artists ever see a dime — but also on how to record a demo, find a manager, sign a contract, and every other aspect of the music world, short of inspiration.
The most attractive thing about Demo is its roster of experts: artists including Sting, Elton John, Sheryl Crow, and Fred Durst, and such corporate honchos as Tommy Mottola and Jimmy Iovine. These videotaped talking heads appear in a browser window on your PC or Mac along with an interactive outline of each session, biographies of the speakers, and resources that include sample contracts, addresses of trade organizations, and excerpted articles.
What’s missing is a professor. Demo, which started classes in October, replaces a human guide with an on-screen interface that glues everything together. Questions after class are directed to an online bulletin board, which, as of this writing, hosted a measly 23 members. Looks like this ”distance learning program,” a joint venture by recording giant Universal Music Group and publishing house Penguin Putnam, Inc., is having an attendance problem.
Part of the trouble may be the $50 admission fee (recently reduced from $70), which is a bit pricey for the rock & roll high schoolers who have the most to gain from this class. For $100, Demo guarantees that, on top of the regular course material, someone from the A&R department at Universal will critique a sample tape or CD. But why waste the money when Session 3 explains how to make and package a demo, and Session 4 details how to get noticed by an A&R rep? Paying someone to listen to your demo, by the way, is not a strategy espoused by any of the course’s instructors, most of whom say they try to listen to some of the demos they receive by mail.
And while the no-BS advice from Shaggy and Rob Zombie (who deadpans: ”Assume that every dollar you get is going to be the last dollar you get”) is often as entertaining as it is informative, some of the resources on Demo can easily be found elsewhere. Two books, Brian McPherson, Esq.’s Get It in Writing: The Musician’s Guide to the Music Business ($29.95; Hal Leonard Publishing) and Donald S. Passman’s All You Need to Know About the Music Business ($30; Simon & Schuster), are referenced over and over again. There are also numerous links to the website StarPolish (starpolish.com), an excellent — and free — resource.
Savvy grads of From Demo to Deal will recognize that some of the best instructors — Police drummer Stewart Copeland, Beatles producer Sir George Martin — found success by straying from the garden path. Which means that Demo is as much a handbook on the status quo as it is a tool for struggling musicians who want to understand the business in order to change it. That said, $50 buys a lot of guitar cables nowadays.