The Third Ear 


"Look at us! We joined a band!" --Art Brut

So you're serious about the band thing. You've even made cruddy stickers to slap in public restrooms and the dirty gullets of tollbooth coin drops. Well, if you're considering a major tour, or even if you have a few under your belt, do yourself a favor and check out the new book "Tour:Smart: and Break the Band" by musician/teacher Martin Atkins, the British drummer who played with PiL, Killing Joke, Ministry and Pigface, among others.

Atkins decided to write the 500-page book (which Mojo magazine calls "the ultimate touring manual") after he began teaching a course on "The Business of Touring" at Columbia College in Chicago. He quickly realized there was no modern textbook that addressed today's rapidly changing music environment.

"I'm a fuckhead, catalyst, fire-starter, bastard," Atkins says via phone. "Nowadays there's so much stress and chaos involved in being in a band, you don't have the energy [to deal with screw-ups]. It's time for bands to wake up and unplug themselves from the model they think is in place."

The book covers everything from planning and routing to transportation, riders, marketing, merchandising, promoters, budgeting, accounting and health tips (sex and drugs) — you name it, it's in here. He has guest commentary from about 100 industry insiders and musicians, including local bassist Greta Brinkman (Moby, L7, Blondie), Steve Albini, Henry Rollins, journalists, managers, agents, even Cynthia Plastercaster, the famous groupie known for encasing cock-a-doodle-dos.

"The most common misconception is that bands can't do this stuff by themselves or without an agent," he says. "If there's one problem I can help bands solve, it's finding that point where they're making money and can stay out [in touring mode]."

Atkins likens his seminar to "comedy stand-up" and says he always tries to make his look at the business entertaining. He will be giving a free seminar at The Camel (1621 W. Broad St.) Saturday, Dec. 8, with doors opening at 4 p.m. The seminar starts at 5 p.m., followed bya DJ set by Atkins, during which he'll likely play some original dub music he made recently in China, as well as other mash-ups.

Send the smart guy or girl in your band to take notes.

I still think Pixies' lead singer Frank Black summed it up best when I interviewed him many years ago: "First of all, forget about trying to get a record contract, forget about MTV, forget about being famous. Just try to make some music and be good. That's all that really matters. ... and your career will be whatever it is. But stop trying to be in the fucking business."

Concerning Come-Ons

In my last column, I made a snide comment about Keith Carradine's Oscar-winning song, "I'm Easy," calling it "a creepy come-on" (which it is in the context of the 1975 film "Nashville"). Afterward, I received an e-mail from Carradine's young wife, actress Hayley DuMond, who informed me of the history of the song. Apparently, Carradine wrote it when he was 19, in the Broadway cast of "Hair" and smitten with fellow cast member Shelley Plimpton. He played the tune for her and eventually won her over. Their romance produced a talented prodigy, today's Tony-award-nominated actress Martha Plimpton. Never without his guitar, Carradine also played the song for director Robert Altman on the set of "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" in 1971. Altman later remembered the piece and asked him to perform it in one of my favorite '70s films, "Nashville." Thank you to Ms. DuMond, who was kind and generous in her comments. I stand corrected. It's not really a "creepy" come-on. It's a come-on that actually worked.

Now if I ever run into half-brother David Carradine at his favorite bar in Telluride, hopefully this saves me from a kung fu chop to the head. The last thing I need is an ass-whuppin' from Mr. "Kill Bill."

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