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Book Review: All You Need To Know About The Music Business, Seventh Edition by Donald S. Passman

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Donald S. Passman is a popular, well-respected entertainment lawyer throughout the music industry, having garnered praise from the likes of Jimmy Iovine, American Idol judge Randy Jackson and producer Rick Rubin, among others, and whose many clients over the years include Green Day, Quincy Jones, Tom Waits and Pink.

Late last year, he published the seventh edition of All You Need To Know About The Music Business, a book that aims to give musicians, producers, and anyone else trying to make a living in the ever-changing industry the essential guide on how to survive and thrive in it.

Not counting the Index, the book is 444 pages long. If this sounds like too much reading for you, it’s good to know that author thinks so, too. Passman writes in its first pages, “You can read it as casually or intensely as suits your interest level, attention span, and pain tolerance.” You’ve got to love a writer with a sense of humor – there’s plenty more of that throughout these pages. But everyone starts with “Part I: Your Team of Advisors,” which is a long but useful guide on how to pick your team of professionals as an artist: personal manager, business manager, attorney, and agent.

Of all the great info in this section, the following stands out: A personal manager is the most important member of your pro team, since he/she is more involved in an artist’s day-to-day activities than other members. However, an industry lawyer is “much easier” to get than a manager, according to the author (an attorney himself). That’s because a lawyer’s time with you is minimal compared to a manager’s time, and they’re less expensive, believe it or not. A Passman line worth noting: “It’s the lawyer’s relationships – not their time – that count.”

Key book tip one: The site allaccess.com is an often updated list of people in the music business you might want to contact and make part of your pro team.

Key book tip two: Pick a lawyer with good references and who believes in you as a recording artist, not one who will shop just anyone. Lawyers have good and bad reputations within the music industry and picking the wrong one could backfire on you.

Heading into “Part II: Record Deals,” the biggest change since the sixth edition of the book, according to the author himself, is that though labels are losing lots of money and power in the industry, they are increasing their earnings from an artist’s income in non-recording ways to make up for its financial shortcomings. Called “360 deals,” this means labels (major and independent) can ask for a piece of the “total pie” of an artist’s income, including monies from fan clubs, touring and merchandise.

Arguments as to how fair this is to an artist and how justified labels are for going this route will go on. But Passman’s lay out of the legal rights and financial aspects of so-called “360 deals” is very much worth reading.

This good news for artists is that if you are a “niche” type – a jam band or indie rocker – and appeal to a relatively small number of fans, you don’t need a record company and can use your own resources (or TuneCore) to sell your music to Amazon, iTunes and other popular digital outfits. Digital sales, in fact, are now 25% of the music business revenue and still growing, and artists should take advantage of this development. That said, Passman writes that if you’re a more mainstream-sounding pop rock or country act, you may still need a label and its veteran staff to help your music stand out from the millions of others vying for the same fame you are after.

Speaking of labels, more valuable insight includes his “bummer” of a fact that major record companies don’t listen to musicians’ work unless it’s been submitted to them by a manager or attorney in the business, though this is less the case with independent labels. The reason for this Passman says is because labels can get 300-400 submissions of music in a given week, and listening to what a reputable third party (attorney/manager) hands them is a way to lessen the “floodgates.”

Other areas the author goes knee deep into include the proper and standard fee rates artists pay to members of their pro team. The author includes the latest updates on the record royalty process as well. Hint: Passman says that in the last couple of years, it has become simpler than ever after years of it being “more complex than NASA’s formula for getting the Space Shuttle home.” All of this advice, if listened to carefully, should help you avoid getting screwed or screwing up on your earnings as an artist.

Elsewhere in later chapters and sections, Passman gives you the ins and outs of touring, webcasting and other new technologies, songwriting and music publishing (including how to set up your own publishing company), as well as a chapter on music “Group Issues” that comes complete with a “trivia quiz.” He also includes sections on merchandising, motion picture music, and even classical music. Like the man said, pick what interests you and read it all carefully, with a highlighter and working pen.

The bottom line: Mr. Passman may not take himself too seriously, and he may show his dry humor in words and illustrations throughout the book, but his step-by-step guide and attention to detail in every chapter on how to be successful and avoid failure in the music industry is sincere and simple to understand, even for the most inexperienced among music career seekers. He talks to you like a good friend more than a good lawyer. And what a winning and refreshing approach that is.

All in all, All You Need To Know About The Music Business is hands-down the richest, most informative and of course, fun music business book on the market. It is so comprehensive that I can’t think of a single important aspect of the music business he didn’t cover or at least touch upon.

After over 18 years and seven editions of the book, Passman has surely perfected his craft. Outdated advice and updates in an ever-changing industry such as the music world would be the only drawbacks in a book such as this, but those worries don’t apply here since these pages give you all the basics you need to know about the music industry.

If you’re a pro or novice in the music industry, an executive or an artist, make sure to read and keep this big bright red book nearby, whether it be on your office desk, in your practice space or tour bus. It may very well further your career.

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.