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Exclusive Interview with Mike Repel “The Music Industry Self Help Guide”

Exclusive Interview with Mike Repel “The Music Industry Self Help Guide”

RG: This is the best book I have read in the last few years, hands down. Why release a  book with all of this knowledge, when you could easily hold on to this holy grail of information and manage artists using these very same methods?

MR: Well Ross, First of all, thank you for the kind words. It’s very reassuring for me to hear my contemporaries continually compliment this guide book time and time again. I take a lot of pride knowing that I was on target with a project that was motivated by helping others.

To answer your question; Prior to releasing this book, I had actually attempted to manage artists using this very knowledge base in the past with an independent label that I had created. I implemented artist development alongside the development of the business itself simultaneously. I ultimately realized that with artist development; you can put information in front of people and that if they don’t act on the information provided to them, whether it be in a timely and consistent manner, or if they opt not to do it all, that it’s not going to create a successful result.

Artist management in itself is a shrinking field in this industry. I have met multiple people across several genres in different parts of the country that have left this sector of the market because a majority of the time, it’s the artists themselves that are just unmanageable.

Artist management is also the most unrewarding place to be in this industry where patience is in short supply and loyalty is trumped by personal ambition. Most artists don’t have a realistic budget to finance their own professional development (which is a whole another reason in itself why I wrote this book), many have a diminished or non-existent work ethic when it comes to approaching their music career and they expect their manger or agent to do all of the work, not some of it, but all of it. This is partially due to the artists lack of education on how things work in the independent market.

The other problem I have with artist development, and the number one reason that I am inclined to never do it again, is the soul crushing disappointment of bringing yourself to believe in an artist or a band that is ultimately doomed to failure because they won’t listen, won’t work, won’t follow up on lead’s, won’t meet deadlines, won’t self-promote, or just won’t put their left foot in front of their right foot.

So ultimately the realization becoming wealthy by withholding this information for my own selfish reasons was unrealistic. The fact of the matter is that the information that is contained in this book is actually in practice by many successful touring bands, record labels, marketing companies, mangers and live music promoters, so why not put it out?

What I wanted to do with this title, was create a stronger generation of artists that could create success on an independent level and strengthen the independent sector of the industry in an era where corporate systems are now involved in the DIY, underground, and independent music scenes. This is an oppressive and invasive detrimental factor to the creative community and I describe the associated problems that come along with this in detail in my book as well.

If we have stronger and more prepared artists entering the field in the near future, will make it easier for everyone to work together and ultimately create more of an overall avenue of success for the people who are “in the know.”

RG: Where did you come up with the name “The Music Industry Self Help Guide”

This was a no-brainer. Out of all the things that I could have had named it I chose this title because it’s the best way to describe the book in one phrase. As the title implies, this is a self-help guide and it will not only lay everything out for the aspiring artist, but it will also encourage him or her to attempt gain insight on what the biggest obstacle in their career is; which most of the time is the artist themselves.

I would like to thank you for calling it “The Rock N Roll Bible” in your book review, and I can honestly say that you are not the only one of my peers to refer to it as such, but for me to say something like this about my own book title would be pompous and arrogant.

RG: How did you become involved with the music business?

 MR: Gradually, just like anyone who gets anywhere in life. As a kid I started out listening to my parents’ records and the radio. When I was about 7 years old I got my first snapshot of what live concerts were like through the pages of Circus Magazine. By 7th grade I was spending a lot of time at my local record store and listening to the Misfits, Minor threat, The Dead Kennedy’s, and Black Flag which set the par for my tastes from that point forward. By age 13 I attended my first concert which was Suicidal Tendencies at Chicago’s iconic underground club Medusas. What I noticed was that the touring bands and the local bands themselves all had a merchandise spread that was very similar to all the items that I saw in my local record store. This made it clear to me that if you are in a band, this is what you did. There was no graduating to this point; it was mandatory and a part of being in a live performing music group.

The other thing that set the foundation for me at an early age was that I was lucky enough to be a part of the punk and hardcore music scene as early as 1985-86. At this time, which was well before the explosion of so many sub-genres, our shows were filled with punks, skins, metal heads, goths, industrial kids, straight edge crews, skaters, and anyone else I missed. What I obtained from this was a tight knit sense of community and mutual support, which is something that is completely missing from genres like rap music today. When we were young, before the term street team was in such common use, we used to ask the promoters for flyers so we could get our friends and classmates involved, because what we were doing was just that fucking cool. I can honestly say that I did my first event promotions before I was out of grade school. For any local music scene of any genre to function and grow, there has to be individual support and participation. I find it mind boggling that large numbers of people out there can’t seem to grasp onto this concept.

I started playing guitar when I was about 14, and was meeting a lot of people who were getting more and more involved in the scene, the business, and people who began to work in the employ of large event companies like JAMM Productions. I myself ended up in some uneventful bands and even took a little hiatus for a while. I formed a band called Thirteen And a Half around 2001-2002 and began playing the Southside of Chicago and eventually did some regional stuff in the Midwest as well. At the time, the Chicago Hardcore scene was mostly concentrated in the western suburbs. We did have the opportunity to play some great shows out there, but most of our friends were from the Southside, south suburbs, and Northwest Indiana. This placed me in a position where I needed to step up and start not only booking shows for my band, but I began coordinating event promotion for many south side shows with other bands in the area.

Stepping up to the plate and becoming the driving force behind any band is something that at least one person absolutely must do if that group is to have any chance at survival or visibility at all. In our case it was me. Things like event promotion, branding, creating an online presence, merchandising, handling consignment agreements, organizing shows outside of our market, networking with other promoters, and managing lead time before print deadlines all fell into my lap. As with any path that you embark on, you learn things as you go along and improve upon them as time moves forward. I even learned how to use Photoshop during this period, which enabled me to do our t-shirt designs, cd layouts, and event promotions myself. This was very important, because in this industry a lot of people are completely useless when it comes to meeting deadlines and I have learned that if you don’t do something yourself, it most likely will not get done at all.

As it got later in the decade I continued to manage the acts I was in and eventually got completely fed-up with a lot of the bullshit you deal with when you are involved with other musicians. I eventually took a break from this and I hauled all of my gear back to my house and began tinkering around with some recording software at home. About this same time, my little brother got out of prison, he was rapping about some real grimy shit and his lyrics really painted a visual mental picture.  I had realized that being involved in music primarily kept me out of a lot of the trouble that I could have had gotten into and I thought that creating a positive outlook for this kids energy would help occupy his time enough to keep him out of trouble, and if he was good at it, perhaps even allow him to become successful.  This is what inspired the name of my record label, Reformatory Records.

I got involved with the Chicago Rap music market around 2009-2010 and quickly learned how to navigate through its landscape, and also learned everything that was wrong with this genre of music in general and the self-defeating cannibalistic way that it stifles independent artist growth and development through a combination of oppressive business models, overall lack of unity and eventually sporadic incidents of gang and gun violence at shows. I had many artists who wanted to get involved with what I was doing, but without adequate manpower or staff on hand, I could only handle so many at one time, and I ultimately ended up doing everything myself. From an observational standpoint, many of the existing entities in this market didn’t grasp onto our DIY approach to things because they were so focused of getting the attention of a major label.

This genre is a different animal; it’s an either go-big-or-go-home industry. Knowing this, we did spent money on magazine advertising and radio promotion as well, but without a grass roots fanbase and aggressive boots on the ground, you will only get so far, so bucking the trend and thumbing my nose at the status quo is what I did. My aggressiveness, preparedness, and self-reliance allowed me to open up avenues with two friends of mine (John Ware and Chris Matthews) who were really trying to help artists from Chicago gain some exposure and bring attention to what was going on in Chicago. This led to our involvement in many events that were above the par of the average open-mic nights and other bullshit pay-to-play for 8 minutes of stage time events that were happening throughout the city. One of the things we had gotten ourselves involved in was 3 consecutive years of being involved with Brian Knott and the A3C Hip-Hop Music Festival and Conference in Atlanta Georgia as a sponsor, panelist, and having my artists perform there for two years running.  In some aspects, the Chicago underground and independent rap market has matured and improved, but not by the time I was already migrating myself out of it.

The last meeting I was pulled into about this music genre was to organize “The Chicago Music Conference,” and conference for rap, R&B, gospel and other acts. The organizer called one of his people that was present in the middle of the meeting and spoke on a conference call. The organizers were attempting to put on a pretty ambitious sized event with very limited lead time at a great distance from the greater Chicagoland area without considering the logistics of the entire event. I questioned their preparedness and I excused myself from any further involvement. Information was made available to me later that the conference call at the meeting was from an inmate at a federal penitentiary who conceived the idea for the event.

The following year a second attempt was made to have this conference; artists were charged in advance to attend and paid a premium to perform. The event was ultimately cancelled and the online presence of this company disappeared. Knowing the background of this situation and being curious as to what happened, I later looked up the addresses for the parent company that was hosting this event as provided on their website and punched the addresses into Google maps. One address was a Chinese restaurant, another was a dry cleaners in another city and a few other shell businesses came up in the search. Ultimately it turns out that the entire event was a scam that was being planned and executed in several cities simultaneously from someone who was in federal custody.

If you dissect the premise of this event, it appears that it was orchestrated with no other purpose than to take advantage of aspiring independent artists and bilk them out of their cash, many of whom were from low income communities in Chicago and were cash strapped anyway.

When you combine the aspirations of an unknown artist who wants nothing more than to become the next mainstream rap act, and combine it with a large number of promoters who are interested in nothing but making money, you create a recipe for disaster. In the rap game you have a lot of people who are current or were former street hustlers; being a businessman is one thing, but blatantly fucking your fellow man out of money is another. I happy to say that I wasn’t naive enough to fall for any of this bullshit, but the stories of independent artists getting fucked in this genre are endless. This kind of behavior is the antithesis of a music community or music scene and is another reason that the independent and underground segments of the rap community has problems with sustainability and upward mobility. This is another reason for me writing this book. I was always outspoken on how to fix or improve upon things in this market, and I conveyed this to many people during my years of involvement, but can only speculate on if I had any positive impact in this market at all. At the end of the day, I was just some guitar slinging white boy who was never a part of a major label, so probably not.

However, while at the helm of my label, I had begun developing relationships with aggregators, radio stations, magazines, promoters, music conferences and festivals and developed a network of people in different regions and genres that helped me effectuate what I was doing at the time. This also led to my involvement in the Las Vegas independent music scene, through Paul G from the band I.D.S.F.A, who started working for the label and scouted out and helped groom some artists of all genres for development as well. One of the guys that Paul brought in was a country music artist who was a contestant on American Idol, we traveled with him and did some dates in Memphis and Nashville where we shot a video for him which I ultimately edited as well. Combining business development with artist development is a very demanding position to be in and I learned some valuable lessons along the way, including the amount of work I’m now willing to shoulder, what is worth my while, what takes priority, and what is ultimately irrelevant.

I have always prided myself in learning by doing, but I also did extensive research on many things related to my business and am pretty well read in this field. I continue to learn new music business aspects every day as this is a tumultuous unregulated industry, not only from reading, but also from my circle of peers, which is constantly growing upwards.

As of today, not only am I running a small media distribution company and writing the subsequent editions of this book, but I am also in a Hardcore/Thrash Metal/Crossover band now called Riotous Indignation, which takes up a fair amount of my time.

Nothing happened for me overnight, getting to where I am today was a steady climb, and there is one thing that I’d like the readers to know that is absolutely for certain in the music industry; and that thing is that you will learn patience whether you like it or not.

RG: Why did you choose to write about the music business?

 MR: There are a lot of books about specific musical disciplines, recording manuals, and music law, but I had not came across anything that incorporated all of the basic fundamentals that musicians needed to actually hit the ground running and become and independent force on their own. So I wrote the book that I wish I had access to when I was 16 years old.

RG: How long have you been in and around the music business?

MR: As of 2016, about 30-31 years being involved in local music scenes, as of 2009 or about 7 years I have been pursuing business endeavors within this industry that exceed merely “pushing the band” or promoting shows.

RG: So you start out in a band, then promoting, and now you are writing a book. Why a book?

MR: In an era where people are just skating by and expecting to get the full result by doing the bare minimum, I thought it was time to introduce this book. I have also witnessed oppressive business models implemented by promoters and other entities in the industry where I realized that something needed to enter the market that would shepherd the naïve through the earliest parts of their career where they are the most vulnerable while simultaneously knocking the fucking delusions and fantasies they have out of their heads.

RG: What value do you see in writing this book?

MR: Well, first of all it was therapeutic. Having the ability to release a 400 page brain aneurism into the pages of a book allowed me to get everything off of my chest that I was trying to tell the artists and bandmates that I worked with over the last decade. Second of all, I have been doing coaching and sitting on panels at several music conferences across the United States and what I have seen is that from genre to genre and region to region, aspiring independent artists are facing the same disconnect on how to create upward mobility for themselves. I really felt that I had a ton of information to provide for entry level, intermediate, and even well-seasoned musicians, so began writing.

RG: I read You use these very same values and work ethic in your normal everyday life. Would you say these ethics are what has gotten you to this point in your career?

 MR: Ethics, and values are something you either have or you don’t. The end result of your journey in life will be dictated by this. If you don’t believe or understand this statement now, mark my words, one day you will. Getting to where I am at today cannot be summed up by such a general statement, because the person I am today is not the person I was yesterday, and nor will it be the person I will become tomorrow. I have always been the kind of kid who likes to take shit apart and figure out how it works, and I have looked at the world through that set of eyes all of my life. Ending up becoming a part of the hardcore music scene where labels were popping up and doing very cool, very relevant stuff on a mostly underground level helped me get a look into how things are on the business level. There were also times in my life, and I think most musicians go through this, where I was partying way too fucking much. However, when it came to my band,  I kept a consistent grind on, because sober or not, nobody was going to believe in my project more than I was, and no-one else was ever going to work on my project harder than I would, not a manager, not a label, not anyone. I realized that it began and ended with me. It was my time, my network, and my ambition that kept things moving forward.  As of about 5 years ago I stopped drinking altogether, and now I have more available time to allocate towards what needs to be done. In a nutshell, it was my work ethic and my desire to create results that got me where I am today. If you are passionate about something, you will always have that in the forefront of your mind, and when it’s not, it will be running in the background. In order for you to ever operate at 100% efficiency you will need to become the essence of your dream or your goal. This is what they refer to in martial arts and in Tan T’ien meditation as the art of centering; having your heart, mind, body, and soul, all functioning as one unit. Oh, and you will need a set of nuts; because if you don’t have any balls then this industry is not for you. You can’t sit on the sidelines here, so make sure your balls are aligned and hardwired to the other parts of your being, because if you don’t have your shit together you are going to balk and miss out on your chance. Lastly, self-sacrifice is a very important aspect of being successful. Everything and everyone will try to distract you from your goals, you can’t let them. I shut myself away from a lot of things when I am creating, and I stay focused on my goals.  I also avoid negativity; I have cut out almost every toxic person out of my life altogether at this point. I am trying to soar, and I cannot do that if someone is continually dragging me down to their level. Being in a creative space is something that you can’t crawl out of until things are done to the best of your ability, so every distraction, every time you log onto Facebook, and every time you open your ear to someone’s bickering drama is a moment that you are taken off course and your destiny is delayed.

 RG: What were your goals and intentions in writing this book and what do you hope to achieve from this book?

MR: I wrote this book to help kids get ahead and to be able to realistically have a chance to pursue their dreams. Dreams are important; they are the road to happiness, and without a way to refine those dreams into a course of action they are merely a fantasy. I put this information out with good intentions, so I guess if there is even one success story related to the release of this book then I have done my job. However,  sometimes I think my efforts may be futile because it seems that the people who need to learn the most are the same people who seek out wisdom and knowledge the least. People seldom read anymore, and when they do, it’s a tweet, which is a 120 characters or less, and most people can’t even construct a tweet without hacking the English language to pieces like a serial killer with a dull blade. The society we live in is pathetic. A majority of Americans will do everything they can to skate by and do the bare minimum while kids in Japan are disemboweling themselves if they fail a test.

RG: Can you share some stories about people or bands you have met that have possibly inspired this book?

 MR: Every story, about every musician, whether good, bad, or about a success or a failure has influenced me in one way or another. I have seen great bands who I have liked a lot go absolutely no-where, and at the same time I have seen horrible bands that I can’t bear to watch or listen to perform on prime-time television. I have seen bands play in small clubs with a shitty PA system that sounded amazing, and I have seen other musicians perform that had absolutely no control of their sound. I met Henry Rollins, Roger Miret, Raybeez, and many other musicians who have influenced me greatly before I was 16 years old and realized these were normal guys without a rock star attitude who made themselves available to their fan base. Now I read stories about major label artists leaving their fans uncomfortably waiting in hot, overcrowded venues for hours on end before they perform and I can’t comprehend how or why they get any fan support at all or why people would buy their records. All of this has come out in this book in one way or another. This book is in its second edition, and I’m not trying to hold anything back. As subsequent editions are released, anything relevant to the title will be placed in the book if I deem it helpful and useful to up and coming musicians.
RG: Is it references, experiences or research that has lead to this amazing book?

MR: It’s actually a combination of all three. I am a pretty well-read person when it comes to publications that are available in the music industry and I knew that a book similar to this did not exist. With that being said I was certain that I was filling a niche area that was overlooked up until this point in time but I had no idea that what I was putting together would become so valuable of a resource. I think it’s also important to mention that a good part of the research done that ended up in this book such as the statistics and resources that I provide in this title weren’t actually done for the book itself per se, but was done in an effort to make me better at managing my professional endeavors in the music industry well in advance of me ever even considering becoming an author. However, once I began to write the book, this information was refined, updated, and expanded on to provide the reader with the most relevant and accurate information possible. My editor, Carlos Fournier, who is also the singer from the Miami Hardcore band On Our Own, immediately recognized the potential for this book, and he fucked himself out of an easy job the minute he suggested that I “elaborate” on some of the things I had started writing about. I think at the time this book was around 38,000 words, and shortly after his suggestion it jumped to 78,384, which was the final word count of the first edition.

RG: What was the hardest part of writing this book?

 MR: That’s a tough question. This is the first book I ever wrote and I had no idea what the fuck I was doing.  I had to create a way to organize my thoughts, because when you try pouring this much stuff out of you it doesn’t come out in any specific order. Also, I did the entire book in a standard sized Word Document, so I eventually had to resize everything to the final book size and format the pages the right way with the borders, gutters, headers and footers. None of this was even in my wheelhouse when I wrote the book. After I wrote it, I had to go over the editors notes, make decisions on corrections and eliminate redundancies and a lot of other minor stuff. Once this was all done I had to figure out how I was going to print or publish this book. Once I passed this hurdle came the formatting and pagination. The list of things to do literally never stopped growing.

RG: What did you enjoy about writing this book?

MR: Probably the number one thing I liked the most was having the ability to share my “Mikeisms” with people who have never heard my direct and sometimes brash anecdotal advice. There were times that I would offer up a nugget of valuable insight and phrase it so well that I would just laugh to myself. This happened often during the writing of this book and it really helped keep me going because it put some fun into my workflow.

 RG: Are there misconceptions that people have of the music industry? If so, explain.

 MR: I wouldn’t know where to start, people are downright delusional in this industry. I cover many specific items related to this topic in the book, but to condense my answer I will say this; people overall have a tendency to believe that their assumptions about how things actually work are accurate without having done any research to substantiate these ideas.

RG: What is the biggest thing that people think they know about the music industry that isn’t true?

 MR: That they will sell records just because they made music.

 RG: What is the most important thing people don’t know about the music industry that they need to know?

MR: That it’s a fucking career and that self-reliance and personal motivation are going to be the biggest factors in your success. This holds true no matter what path you take in life.  This is a business; and in order for you to get the most mileage out of your career you will need to treat it as such. Preparedness and organization are something that you will need to contend with not only as a professional musician, but as an adult as well. The faster you grow up and start approaching this in a mature manner, the quicker you will see positive results. Your potential to succeed in this industry will be based solely on what kind of revenue you can generate. Organize and prepare yourself and your affairs well enough to where this is a realistic and obtainable goal.

RG: For those interested in the music industry or interested in starting a band, where should they start?

 MR: Page 1 of my book. I am not trying to be a shameless promoter, but there are things in this book that people absolutely must know. This is such a volatile industry that if you walk in without some insight on to how things work, you will get chewed up, spit out and become jaded with the whole idea of being a musician that you may quit before you are able to share your music with the world. So why should you read my book? To make an already difficult situation easier on yourself.

 RG: What do you think is the future of the music business?

 

MR: This issue has been the topic of many discussions for many years. The final chapter in my book is actually titled “What The Future Holds” where I give a current and relative view into today’s market along with my forecast of things to come based on many facts; however, without giving away the chapter, here are some other predictions: A lot of things run in cycles in this industry, take the format your media is embedded in for example; in the last few decades we have watched a shrinking vinyl market give way to the digital download, and now that download revenues have been undermined by streaming we are seeing a healthy return in vinyl manufacturing with a backlog on orders of 16-18 weeks. We are also now at a time where iTunes will be completely abandoned by 2019 or 2020 because Apple has chosen to phase out this business model because it just cannot compete with streaming. Piracy and streaming have completely decimated artist revenues and this is hurting everyone from the independent market to the major labels. DMCA takedown notices are nothing more than a band-aid as they do not give way to criminal or civil prosecution, so efforts to contain illegal file sharing are lacking the teeth that is necessary to take a bite out the ass of this problem. Should the vinyl comeback deem to be the most feasible way to secure revenues, which already appears to be happening, then I only see one purpose left for digital music, and that is for broadcasting. Technology has brought us streaming as an alternate way to broadcast music which will cause more of a shift from terrestrial radio until it is abandoned altogether (which it should be because it’s fucking terrible). Digital music has paved the way for several independent podcasters and radio stations to spring up and start their own radio shows, which has served consumers of this era well as there are so many genres and subgenres of music that it has definitely filled a consumer need.  However, Live365 is showing all signs of a total collapse and will most likely be shutting down soon, and Pandora is pandering its investors for more capital contributions to keep itself afloat. Both of these business models are showing problems of sustainability which makes me wonder how Pandora is able to claim a value of $50 Billion unless it is grossly inflating this number in an effort to keep its investors from jumping ship.

RG: What makes your book stand out from other music business books like “This Business of Music” by entertainment Lawyer Donald Passman? 

 MR: That title was by Krasivlosky and Shemel

RG: Why should people or bands buy your book?

 MR:Because the cost of the book will pay itself off time and time again by saving the artist unnecessary grief and revenue loss by teaching him or the fundamentals that they need to know while challenging them to disregard what they think they know, which 9 times out of 10 is complete bullshit and unverified 2nd hand information or opinion. What you get from The Music Industry Self Help Guide is a well-rounded education that was purposely created to get an artist moving forward. This is done over the course of 34 Chapters and incorporates hundreds of topics that are necessary for independent artist self-development.

RG: What is your role in the music industry or business?

 

MR: I don’t know. I have a small media company; I’m an author, a musician, an artist, stay in the studio a lot, edit music and video, do graphic design, mentor people on occasion and a lot of other shit as well, but at the end of the day, I’m just another creative person who is trying to do what I love, and that is create.

 RG: What projects are you currently working on?

 

MR: I am the founding member of a Thrash/Hardcore/Crossover band called Riotous Indignation. We have just started releasing our material and at the time of this interview I am wrapping up a music video that I have been working on for the last several months for a song called Secret Societies which is a fucking doozy.

RGL: Any future plans for more books? Maybe a 3rdedition?

MR: I have already started a few chapters for the 3rd edition and will let that come together on its own time frame. The 2nd Edition really evolved into the book that I hoped it would become and now my focus is getting people to read it while also getting my music project off of the ground.

RG: If a band approaches you to manage them, what is your first reaction?

 *See answer #1*

RG: You touch on subjects in your book like promoting, If a band asks how they should get their band in front of more people and you say promote and their answer is “We promote on facebook” what would your reaction be?

MR: My answer would be a series of questions to see if they are doing it effectively and if they even understand social media at this point.

This may seem to many as an odd answer but don’t take for granted the things you know, because I can honestly tell you I have met artists who don’t even have a Facebook page and know absolutely nothing about the website.

 

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