A book called The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting a Band has the sound of a great gag gift -- and if someone purchases it for that reason, freelancer Steve Knopper, who co-authored the tome with music-biz veteran Mark Bliesener, won't complain. "Hey, as long as their credit cards work, they can buy as many copies as they want," he says. "But we didn't write it as a gag gift. We intended it to be serious, substantive -- something people can use."
"We talk about management and radio and things that may be mystifying to a lot of bands," adds Bliesener, who'll sign copies of the Guide alongside Knopper on July 22 at the LoDo Tattered Cover (and on July 29 at the Boulder Book Store). "In a way, it's a bit silly. But in another way, it's absolutely necessary to have a book like this."
Bliesener certainly knows the territory. He began drumming in his early teens, eventually spending a dozen years keeping time for combos such as ? and the Mysterians, of "96 Tears" fame. After moving to Colorado in 1976, he headed behind the scenes, writing about music for area publications, teaching a course in rock history -- and making a bit of his own when he suggested to pal Jello Biafra that he should call his new punk combo the Dead Kennedys. A subsequent publicity gig for the Rainbow Music Hall, owned by promoter Barry Fey, led to a four-year stint as PR director for Feyline, Fey's company. In 1988, he and another former Fey employee, Chuck Morris, joined forces to form a management company that handled the likes of Lyle Lovett. Ten years later, Bliesener went solo as a music consultant, and he continues to offer advice via his website, Bandguru.com.
The wisdom imparted in Starting a Band resembles the knowledge Bliesener drops to Bandguru.com clients for $100 per hour. As a result, his latest project may wind up costing him money in the long run, but Bliesener considers spreading the word a public service. "If somebody wants to buy the book instead of hiring me as a consultant, that's great," he says. "There really aren't any trade secrets."
The volume begins with the most basic basics, like deciding what instrument and type of music to play, before touching upon such topics as management agreements; a sample contract is included. Co-writer Knopper -- a onetime Boulder Daily Camera staffer who currently contributes to publications ranging from Rolling Stone to the Rocky Mountain News -- tenders some counsel of his own. When it comes to press kits, for instance, "one of the common mistakes people make are misspellings and leaving out important information, like the names of band members and the city the band is from," he says. "And bands just starting out should avoid arty press photos. You just want to have a regular photo, unless you're the Flaming Lips."
As it turns out, Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne penned an essay for the book, in which he says would-be musicians who read it and wonder "Is this true?" should find out for themselves. "Experience is all there is," Coyne writes. "Do it, and you'll know." In general, Bliesener agrees with this line of thinking -- but he also feels that the Idiot's Guide will help people avoid some of the pitfalls into which plenty of idiots stumble.
"When I first was in bands, it wasn't a viable career alternative. It was like saying you wanted to be a bum the rest of your life," Bliesener notes. "Now it's more of a business, and if this book can give young bands and solo musicians a leg up, then that's a really good thing."