ISBN: 9780470446522

This is as much a story of the music business and about the band 38 Special.

Written from the perspective of the band’s former lead guitarist and songwriter, the book combines the rock musician’s and the businessman’s views and realities of universal principles of hard individual and team work, consensus-building, business planning and risk-taking.

The interesting part for me is to read about how Carlisi joined the band, their links with Lynard Syknard, how they decided on ’38 Special’ as their band name (beyond the hype, it was just a name they liked when a friend designed a poster for a gig). Also how they practiced and practiced, taking on small gigs and honing their craft through perseverance and hardwork.

One thing is clear: their story to fame isn’t about overnight success or extraordinary talent. It was about determination and hardwork. As I read how they took on small gigs and surviving on just a few dollars a day, it just hammers home the point that the road to fame certainly isn’t glamorous. It is also about taking a calculated risk, bearing down for the long haul, creating one’s own break (e.g. They inevitably got a music label to hear them out, through a connection).

What I didn’t know is how the band continually learned. For instance, observing how other bands (their competition) played and even how others handled fame and discord.

The reality that music is also about business is told through the chapter on how they learned to hire their own accountant (rather than completely rely on the record manager), watch their finances and save for the future.

The writing is concise and direct. The subject may be on business and management but the book’s target audience seems to be at teens upwards. Not surprising, since the teenage years is when aspirations tend to be formed.

P167/ 169. Good questions to ask if you find yourself questioning what you do. E.g. Are the team and individual team members’ priorities the same? Is your original aim the same? Are there other opportunities? Have you outgrown your job?

Tells the story of a ex-rock star. About the music industry. Disruptive changes (P184 – 186: how Grunge entered the scene and displaced all previous rock genres almost overnight; how bands like Bonds Jovi reinvented themselves and also largely diversified their audience to Asia where Grunge has had less of an impact). About staying true to passion but not closing the doors on opportunities. Not taking things for granted, either good or bad times.

He revels in the good times but doesn’t romanticise what it means to live a rock musician’s life. In fact, the book has a lot more to do with the story of hardwork, practice, perseverance, passion, partnership, preparedness, placing the team before self, dealing with conflicts within the team (Chpt 7) and a realism to recognise when it’s time to move on (Chpt 14) and planning for second careers.

It’s clear Carlisi is a right-brained kind of person, but approaches risk-taking and decision-making with a left-brained perspective. Too often, we only see the talent part only. Not surprising, as the nitty-gritty of running a music business (of which a band is one) isn’t terribly exciting.
Not everyone can be the lead singer. Carlisi talks about different roles.

He made sure he finished college before committing to a rock band’s life (Chpt 2).

Developing a signature sound (P26): it’s a combination of comfort zone and confidence. He advises that one should listen to other genres, understanding what you don’t do well, cross genre lines.
P29. “… it’s okay if you want to absorb the influence of Hendrix or Kurt Cobain; just make sure you listen to more than Hendrix or Cobain. Those guys din’t restrict themselves to onward form of music , and nobody else should either.”

Music may be music, but the music industry is more than that. It’s about logistics, hardwork, marketing. It’s a business with its own brand of rewards and risks.

A few things that is sticky:
Nothing can replace hardwork ()
Success is a combination of a lot of hardwork, some talent, and little luck.
Sometimes we make our own luck; most times it’s preserving and committing to a goal.
Good times don’t last, so it’s important to plan a graceful exit and/ or a second chance.
Observe and learn from others. Know what’s happening around you; what possible changes may be coming. plan for the eventuality that change will come.
Every venture shares their problems (in a band, it could be disputes about royalties, choice of songs). There’s no fixed formula to resolve them but one thing’s for sure: ignoring it will not make the problem go away.

P10. “The great guitarist Larry Carlton once told me that his philosophy toward the guitar was simple: “Play what you love, but practice what you must.””

P99. Changing musical directions,

P39. Every great band has a front man or woman. Can’t have too many chiefs or lead singer personalities. Need a counterpoint, someone who can command the respect of the flamboyant lead and the rest of the band. Need a rhythm section (those who reliably deliver the musical goods). members who can play more than one role. Need collaborators (don’t hesitate to bring in outside help).