ROCK YOUR CITY: The 5 Steps To Becoming the Biggest Band in Town
by John Michalak, with Dan Cull
Owners of the World’s Biggest Production Company Supporting Local Musicians
207 pages, softcover, $19.95.
A review by Bon Von Wheelie

The new book, Rock Your City: The 5 Steps to Becoming the Biggest Band in Town, by John Michalak “with Dan Cull” (although it’s never clear what that really means) of Gorilla Music has finally arrived and it exceeds my wildest expectations.  If I took the time to comment on everything wrong about this book, I would have to write a book of my own.  This book is confusing, contradictory, and slightly antiquated.  It is difficult to assess who is the intended reader.  Beginners will be discouraged at the thought of getting a thousand person guest list or only playing one show every two months, and a professional would have little use for extensive tips on selling tickets.  Instead of going into extreme detail I will try to hit some of my main criticisms of this book including some examples.

This just in: They've finally gone ahead and released the entire thing in a pdf format. So no need to buy one.

IS IT SONGS OR SOSGN?

Author Michalak makes a special effort for the 5 Steps to spell out the word “SONGS” which is prominent throughout the book.  It seems to me that if the 5 Steps spell out the word SONGS, the first step should not also be “Songs”.  This defeats the use of his clever memory technique.  But even more confusing is the fact that the 5 chapters (or Steps) then do not follow this guideline.  The five chapters spell out “SOSGN”!  Considering how confusing this book is, maybe that was intended.





 

 


It's a bit like Dwight Schrute's handy chart. Gorilla isn't quite understanding the concept...

THE AUTHOR IS THE MAIN SUBJECT

Not surprising, Rock Your City seems more like a book about John Michalak than anything else.  In fact, the first three chapters are practically an autobiography. While there are “tips” for musicians, in over 50 pages Michalak talks about himself, his childhood, his former bands, his clubs, his company, his brother, his love for KISS and various experiences.  The two bands he lists as examples of his success as a musician are The AKT and Serious Nature.  Both were formed and disbanded many years ago.  It’s almost impossible to find much information on them now, other than one of the members of The AKT was Richard Patrick from Filter (in his high school days - and this reference doesn't mention Michalak).  If Michalak was still working in these bands his reference to them might seem more vital.

In the back of the book there are more than seven pages of names (including Gorilla Music reps), where the author thanks some of his famous contacts.  So why didn’t he ask his friends Jay-Z, or Kid Rock, or Creed or System of a Down to contribute to this book? 

It would have been helpful to ask a musician who is currently performing for their input.  Without the help of successful musicians, this book reads more like a vanity publication than a musicians' how-to.

There is no index. I always check to see what the index looks like. This is the sign of a well-thought-out, organized manuscript. There's seven pages of "thank-yous" and five blank pages (what? for notes you'll take?) which would be enough space for an index. Writinig a "how-to" book and not including one is a joke.

TICKET SELLING

Of course since it’s from Gorilla Music, before any mention of music appears, the subject of how to successfully sell tickets is discussed at length.  I wonder who that idea will help?  Michalak even goes into detail about how he first came up with the pre-sale idea*.  In this book, every contact you make is mostly used to further your “career” (and yes, every kid that steps out of his bedroom with his new guitar has an instant career).  All the bands and people you meet are just a head-count to gauge your progress.  It’s all about numbers, it’s all about selling tickets and getting those people to see you.  There is a suggestion that you must also find and meet VIPs, even though it might be tough to find VIPs in a small town.  Selling tickets is discussed before the topic of music (which of course was left in the dust when Michalak decided to switch the first Step, “Songs”, with the 5th Step, “Social Circle”) and everything is an absolute.  Throughout the book specific numbers are given on how many people should be attending your show, how many shows to do a year (apparently it’s 6 - 8) and that you should have the entire year booked so you’ll be ready to promote shows properly.

* It is important to notice that pay-to-play promoters always claim they used pre-sale tickets themselves (when they were successful musicians).  What they fail to mention is that there was no middleman to take 80-90-100% of the money.


The ratings have been disabled for this video and the comments have to be approved by Gorilla before they are posted.

In the video above, Michalak claims Gorilla frowns on bands buying tickets themselves, but some bands didn't get the memo...

Apparently, Gorilla didn't think they pushed the ticket selling quite enough, so they are coming out with an entire book called "Rock Your City: Ticket Selling Made Easy." Oh goody.

THE TIPS RANGE FROM UNREALISTIC TO CONFUSING TO CONTRADICTORY TO DUMB

This book is such a jumble of ideas, it’s hard to keep track.  In one instance Michalak says “The quality of your music at this stage of your career has very little to do with the number of people who will come to see you,” while later he writes “The music business is about songs! If you are capable of writing great songs, then you’ll get noticed; it’s really that simple.”  So I'm confused. Is the music important or not? 

There are chapters that discuss antiquated notions like getting commercial radio airplay (!) and writing hit songs.  In these days of internet radio, getting commercial airplay seems outdated.  I particularly enjoyed the topic “How to Get a Record Deal” which is what bands are always talking about.  It’s two paragraphs.  It basically says you need to be big and successful before a label will even look at you. Well, duh...   and this is something I totally agree with (and the last thing that will get you a record deal is a pay-to-play company), but again, did anybody need to pay $20 to find this out?  At one point he gives a scenario where you enter a record store, see that a customer has a Guns and Roses record, start telling him about how your band is like Guns and Roses, and then attempt to get his contact information!  For me, nothing says “call the authorities” like some stranger trying to sell me on seeing his group and then asking me for my personal info!

Some "tips" include:
Rock Your City says:

TIP: Have a weekly band meeting where you discuss all
aspect of your band's career.

I say:
How about you just hang out together instead of discussing all "aspect" of your band's career. Don't sweat the details of your "career" before you get together as a band. Listen to this amazing and simple advice from Questlove of The Roots and follow what he's telling you. Truer words were never spoken!


Rock Your City says:

TIP: If someone is on the fence, but not ready to buy your music, then sweeten the deal. Offer to buy them a drink from the bar or to throw in a pair of tickets to your next show.


I say:
Are you shitting me? We're supposed to throw in free drinks with every CD? So much for believing that our music is any good...and these aren't Gorilla tickets we are talking about "throwing in" are they?

Rock Your City says:

TIP: To get labels interested in your band, sell lots of records at the local and regional level.

I say:
This is like that old Steve Martin joke. In his old comedy routine, he claims he can tell you how to be a millionare and never pay taxes. How? "First, get a million dollars." This advice is about the same.

Rock Your City says:

TIP: Make friends with 10 bands, and agree to attend each others shows. The average band has 4 members; you just built an instant crowd of 40 people. At their shows, network with all their fans.

I say:
Anybody with an ounce of sense will know that 40 band members are not going to automatically show up just because you made some sketchy agreement like this. Michalak assumes you will immediately make friends with 40 people, enough so they will all attend your show. And then apparently you are mostly attending their shows to network with their fans.

There's a line between making friends and brown nosing that you should never cross. Musicians can spot this tactic a mile away. We've all seen people who become way too chummy too fast, who are always pushing their band, who keep mentioning how they'd be a perfect opener, etc. It's annoying and disingenuous. Take it from me, nothing turns us off faster than having some newbie act all friendly only so they can supposedly get ahead in their "career". We've seen it before. Musicians aren't stupid. They know when you are truly wanting to hang out and when you are just being nice to get something. It's easy. Friends first - shows later.

So don't even talk about making some kind of pact that you'll attend each others' shows - just go to their shows. If you really are friends they will return the favor without you having to mention it. Musicians support each other when they really are friends.

Rock Your City says:

TIP: Try to schedule your shows in the right sized venues. It's always better to play a smaller room and fill it up than a bigger room and leave it empty.

I say:
You mean like this? The Gorilla Battle of the Bands I saw at Studio Seven in Seattle, where bands played to a few of their friends in an 800 capacity club? Yeah, I see what they mean. Too bad Gorilla doesn't practice what they preach.

Rock Your City says:

TIP:Use a gimick to get fans involved in your shows. One band I know passes out wigs and hats to get their fans more involved in their performances.

I say:
You mean like that band from Tacoma that you sued over this website?

THEY'VE GIVEN PART OF IT AWAY ALREADY IN THEIR ON-LINE VIDEOS
If I were trying to sell a book for $20, the last thing I would do is start offering a bunch of free videos that are virtually identical to the information contained in the book. They give away the first chapter immediately and then continue to follow-up (sometimes word for word) with other parts of the book. Yes, the knuckleheads at Gorilla Music are providing videos that have EXACTLY the same content as their book!  So far there are about 10+ videos on Youtube where John Michalak and Dan Cull recite word for word the passages from Rock Your City.  This tactic further dilutes any new information that could be obtained from reading it.
Check them out on this link http://www.gorillamusic.com/coaching/ or just touch each video listed below.


Rock Your City - Page 67

Rock Your City - Page 117

Rock Your City - Page 49

Rock Your City - Page 77

Rock Your City - Page 69

Rock Your City - Page 150

Rock Your City - Page 101

Rock Your City - Page 145

Rock Your City - Page 97

EVERYTHING CAN BE FOUND ELSEWHERE...FOR FREE

I always judge the worth of a book by how much I’ve learned specifically from reading it.  Any of the tips that are valid in Rock Your City can be found elsewhere and far better on-line without paying a dime.  Why would anybody want to shell out $20 for better information found for free?  Here are some links (not necessarily endorsements although I do like Indie on the Move) of websites that seem to have tons of information and opinion. You may find many more examples of solid free on-line info. This is just a sample of the websites out there!

Indie On The Move - BandAid: Advice for Bands - About.com (Musicians) - The DIY Musician (on CD Baby) - Independent Music Advice

Indie and Unsigned - 5 Things Unsigned Artists Need to Do Right Now

WHAT A PILE OF...

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of Gorilla Music (could you guess?) or how they run their pay-to-play shows.  But the idea Michalak continues to push; that making friends is only a way to further your career and that you should be concentrating on it 24/7, is exhausting and frustrating.  The author speaks in such absolutes that I fear many new musicians will give up when they can’t meet these unrealistic expectations.  This book doesn’t make it sound like being in a band is any fun at all.  It’s all about pushing yourselves and your tickets to family, friends and strangers.  It’s all about how to get ahead and nothing else.  If you follow all of these tips, any joy you have from playing music will be sucked dry.  I've seen hundreds of bands work only so they can "get ahead" in the music biz. It takes about a year before they break up. I believe you can become the Biggest Band in Town on your own, and without the help of the self-imposed “Owners of the World’s Biggest Production Company Supporting Local Musicians”.

UPDATE: If you sign up for Gorilla Music Management, one of the reps will call you up and actually read to you from the book (see the story from the band, The Shots).

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