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A bizarre combination of lawyer, author and touring musician-dude, Costa Mesa native Scott Ibex "knows his onions and peels them well." At least that's what his endorsers say on the jacket of his latest book, Low-Budget Rockstar: The Complete Do-It-Yourself Guide to Booking, Surviving and Making a Profit on Your Own Indie Tour. Onion-peeling aside, Ibex knows his shit: His book offers lawyers' advice spoken in a musician's tongue about everything music-biz-related, from spotting contract scams to avoiding the pitfalls lurking on the road. Low-Budget Rockstar aspires toward a big, fat affirmation that DIY didn't die with D. Boon and the rise of the blog. On the contrary—for independent artists, it's more doable to go at it alone and control their own product and profits.
OC Weekly: What's the biggest, most obvious mistake you see bands make time and again?
Scott Ibex: It's not so much bands making mistakes as it is bands not taking advantage of all the opportunities they have. Creating and promoting great online media is extremely important; however, performing an amazing live show is still a prerequisite to everything. [People] went to see Hendrix more than once; [no one] painstakingly edited and released a killer music video over studio-quality audio tracks treated with Autotune.
With your own music contract offer a few years back, what tipped you off that it wasn't in your interest to sign on?
I had the luxury of a law degree when I was offered my deal. It taught me to research the record company; I spoke to folks in the industry who gave mixed reviews, and then I questioned [company reps] personally about their financial plan for my music career. I expected them to offer me a substantial advance, not promises that I'll sell 10 million records with requests to devote most of my live-performance revenue to their supposed advertising budget because they could namedrop oh-so-well.
Can you offer a CliffsNotes version on how to spot a shitty record deal?
1) Read the contract or, better yet, have a lawyer read the contract and explain it to you as a band. 2) Research the label. The Internet is filled with inside information on various companies, their deals and the risk/benefit of signing with them. 3) Never ever sign anything the same day it's offered to you. If the label is not promising you any advance, has no marketing and promotions budget/plan and offers you a 360 deal—in which it takes a large percentage of revenue from your live shows, merch, record sales, etc.—those can be red flags.
For a lot of bands, DIY touring means eating PB&J three meals a day and sleeping on floors. Is there a better way?
There are as many solutions as there are problems to be solved; that's the proactive attitude you must maintain in order to improve the quality of life on tour. Venues can and will comp your band with food, lodging, gas and more. Don't be afraid to ask for it. Finding and securing sponsorships can turn your PB&J sandwiches into positively loaded omelets with biscuits and gravy. Companies such as Cruise America will rent full RVs for your tour; better yet, buy a used motorhome with a kitchenette and make your own food while driving to the next show. My book is filled with useful tips to help bands save cash, negotiate industry-standard performance fees and tour more humanely. Art is priceless, and while it often requires sacrifice, those who follow their heart don't have to eat PB&J three times a day to survive as low-budget rock stars.
This column appeared in print as "Tips for the Low-Budget Rockstar."