13 November 2008
By Jarrett Hothan
Life would be much simpler if there was a survival guide for everything. I'm talking about a book for every problem relating to relationships, breakfast, and graduation, among other everyday tricky-to-navigate realms.
Fortunately for aspiring rockers, University of Iowa graduates Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan have you covered. The duo penned "The Indie Band Survival Guide" -- released on St. Martin's Griffin in August -- a thorough manual for musicians looking to make noise on their own terms.
"Things that used to be gated off as far as creativity -- music, film, writing - are now easy to do yourself," Chertkow said. "As far as music, people tend to internalize a major label's business model as the way to approach a career. You don't have to do everything. You do what you feel comfortable with."
Returning to Iowa City to attend a yearly science-fiction convention over Halloween weekend, Chertkow was glad to be back in town. A lifelong music fan and saxophone player, the 1993 grad majored in business during his tenure at the UI. He formed the band Beatnik Turtle with his friends in his native Chicago in 1997, and he has played with the group ever since.
These trials and tribulations that come with being in a band gave him an idea, something that could help other musicians in the same position.
"Throughout all of this time, we were solving all of the problems ourselves, no label," Chertkow said. "As a band, you have a huge list of problems to overcome to be successful, whether it's album art or copyright issues. We put something up on our band's Web site to talk about what we've learned."
The advice was well-received by Internet visitors, so Chertkow and bandmate Feehan spent the next two years constructing a 50,000-word, 101-page guide. They put the guide online in PDF format, and tens of thousands of readers downloaded it immediately. Soon, Billboard contacted the duo for a feature article, exposure that eventually led to a book deal.
"The very best advice books come from people who have actually done it," Chertkow said. "Instead of guessing, it's an area we actually solved. We just did a little more research to completely cover the topic. Just because we had a solution doesn't mean it would work for everybody."
The book received rave reviews. The concepts touched on in their previous projects were expanded and further detailed. Both authors have law and technology backgrounds, which aided them in explaining some of the more complicated parts of the music business, including licensing, video and audio files, and copyrights. The business background is hardly overbearing to read, adding savvy and smarts to the fun of being in a band.
Taking musical matters into your own hands makes sense in our contemporary climate. CD sales have been on the decline for years, and record stores and labels are struggling. However, music itself is more sought after and listened to than ever, considering its presence online, in ring tones, and in popular video games. The guide plots out how to take advantage of different media, such as providing podcasts, which has become the radio of the Internet.
Busy as usual, the two are creating an edition of the book for the English-speaking European audience, researching foreign copyright laws. Aside from the newfound career as authors, Chertkow and Feehan are still busy with Beatnik Turtle, a band that has released 18 albums during its 11-year existence.
"I'm the type of person who, if I'm not doing music, I'm not happy," Chertkow said.