Martin Atkins

 

Martin Atkins was just a lad when he came down from northern England to London to drum in John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols project, Public Image Ltd. He went on to play for Killing Joke, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, and Pigface, and also founded a label, Invisible Records, which is alive and thriving after more than 20 years. So when Atkins talks about, “The Business of Touring”—the title of the course he has taught at Columbia College Chicago for the past six years—he knows the business he’s talking about. Atkins’ 2007 book, Tour:Smart: And Break The Band, is like a cool textbook that's packed with stories and advice from musicians, tour managers, promoters, soundmen, penis plaster casters, and more on topics ranging from the myriad ways a touring band must use Microsoft Excel to the proverbial sex and drugs. Most of Atkins’ ideas aren’t earth shattering, but they're just simple and sharp enough that you get annoyed with yourself for not having thought of them already. Decider caught up with Atkins before tonight's appearance at Book Soup to get his two cents on bands hoping to make it in L.A.

Decider: What is your class at Columbia like? Is it the hip, fun class that everybody wants to take or do you work these kids?
Martin Atkins: I think I’m pretty harsh and real-world with them. That’s the only way to be. I love teaching. It makes me learn more, if that makes any sense. It helps me focus on what I’ve learned so that I can pass it along.
D: What’s changed since you wrote the book?
MA: We’re on to the next set of strategies. The book formalized what people were sort of randomly doing into set strategies that we now do. It’s like when you’re writing a song: It starts out bouncing around in your head. Then, once you record it, you can listen to it while you’re driving and get ideas and refine it, but you can’t do that until it’s recorded. So now we’re starting to get to level two, level three of our strategies. But also, the economy has gotten a lot worse. Gas prices went absolutely crazy then settled down. But the central themes of planning and making informed decisions—deciding where to be crazy instead of just randomly being crazy—they stay the same. It’s like the idea, "Do not go into battle unless you are certain of the outcome.” That’s Sun Tzu, The Art Of War, so that’s not an idea that’s gonna get old any time soon.
D: You’ve said that moving to Los Angeles is not, in itself, a strategy for a band. It means going up against 2,000 other bands every week and being surrounded by people who don’t have time to support art—they’re busy making their own. What do you say to the bands that are already here?
MA: Move. Immediately. Move to Nashville or Chicago or Louisville. It’s a no-brainer. If you draw a line from Minnesota to Texas, 80 percent of the cities in the country are east of that line—not west. On the western side, you’re talking about more gas, more time, more miles. Either quickly or over time, it will kill you. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m just saying it’s harder. Once you’ve got some traction, then you can move to L.A. L.A. and New York are just hard places to get started.
D: Is that what you’re going to say to people at Book Soup? Move?
MA: Yes. In Minneapolis, I said [Replacements singer-songwriter] Paul Westerberg was full of shit, and he was sitting there in the audience. It’s easy to tell people what they want to hear. But I would say if a band is determined to stay in L.A., we’ve got strategies to help them make it work.
 

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