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SXSW: “Welcome to the Music Business: You’re F____”

Dave Kim

After some travel woes that I’m still working out, I have finally made it to SXSW in Austin, TX.  The music portion runs from March 15-20 with a ton of bands playing all over town.  There are also a lot of panels being held at the Austin Convention Center and the first one I attended was about how bands trying to make it are F’d.  However, there is hope according to punk and industrial veteran Martin Atkins.

Atkins hosted the panel entitled “Welcome To The Music Business: You’re F_____” earlier today, and despite the gloomy title, not all was lost.  For those of you unfamiliar with Atkins work, the drummer was part of John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols band Public Image Ltd from 1979-1985.  Atkins has also been in Ministry, Pigface, the Killing Joke, and Nine Inch Nails, which he appeared in the “Head Like A Hole” music video.  The rocker also runs his own label, teaches music business courses at Columbia College in Chicago, and wrote Tour: Smart, a survival guide for bands who are new to hitting the road.  Obviously, the man knows a thing or two about the industry.

Atkins presented his lecture with a very entertaining PowerPoint presentation.  He gave off a list of ways bands can f___ themselves.  I won’t go through all of them, but I will highlight a few I found interesting.

F____ By #1: Yourself

Atkins started off the list with the gem above, telling the audience that bands must take responsibility for their own actions.

“Blaming anybody for anything is lame and a complete waste of time,” he said.  ”It doesn’t do you any good to blame.”

Very true.  How often do you hear almost-rock stars claim that they failed because it was out of their control?

F____ By Yourself #3: You’re an asshole

If you treat others like crap, why would they want to help you?  Seems simple enough.

Atkins openly showed his disdain for artists thinking that they have to go to L.A. or New York to make it.

“F___ New York and L.A.  You’ll get eaten alive”

The musician seemed pro-file sharing as he made this statement:

“It’s not a problem if 20,000 people download your music illegally.  It’s a problem if they don’t.”

That seems to be the balancing act for artists to figure out.  While fans are getting music without paying for it, they ARE showing interest.  However, if no one went out of their way to find your s___, how do you expect to survive in the industry if no one cares?

Atkins listed a few solutions to counteract the whole “getting f____” part.

Have a F_____ Strategy

How do you expect to succeed if you don’t have a plan?  On the list of strategy points were to plan for catastrophe, like broken equipment, stage mishaps, and raining piss (yes, Atkins said raining piss could happen), have merch for sale, including more than one t-shirt design and CDs.  Also, play the smallest venues you can find.  That way you have a better chance of packing the joint.  We all want to headline huge venues, but you have to be realistic.  Even Ozzy and Nine Inch Nails couldn’t sell out Van Andel Arena.

There are a ton more points that Atkins emphasized that are in Tour: Smart.  More info about the book can be found here.  For those of you in bands, do you agree with what Atkins is preaching?  Sound off below.

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