“There Are No Airbags in the Music Industry…”

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Martin Atkins: His new book gives blunt reality checks about the music business.

Martin Atkins: His new book gives blunt reality checks about the music business.

Yesterday I witnessed quite possibly the funniest and most heartfelt presentation from a musician who has been there and back again, all about the realities of music making today. It is the stuff some of us have known for a long time — at least I know I recognized a bunch of this a long time ago, hard realities that have kept me pursuing my music-making passion over time as best I can against all odds.

The key thing is, I had no delusions of grandure going into it.  I’d read many books, talked with people, and learned from the hard knocks taken by many of my favorite artist influences — from The Who to Springsteen to even The Beatles. Point is: I won’t give up. I have to try. At the end of my days, I just want to know I’ve given it my best.  That I’ve had some modest success along the way has been a bonus.

You see, a lot of musicians — and frankly, a lot of entertainment technology business types for that matter — don’t get this. They expect huge things to just happen magically. Yet it doesn’t work like that for the most part. Never has really. There is a building process and a lot of infrastructure you need to put in place to get where you want to go.  What was that old adage? “It takes 10 years to make an overnight sensation…”

Martin Atkins gets it, for sure. He has been the drummer for some very influential bands, including PIL, Killing Joke, and Ministry. Today he is teaching in Chicago and writing books to help musicians survive some important reality checkpoints.

Anyhow, at the ever-wonderful SF Music Tech Summit yesterday, Martin was one of the several speakers who appeared on numerous panels and presentations.  I caught his session at the end of the day, which was clearly the best, most honest, and passionate moment during the event —  he was seconded only by Jeff Price, CEO of, who was refreshingly in pretty much everyone’s face on a panel about royalties and such.

Tour:Smart is Martin Atkins' First Book For Musicians Today

But where Jeff was justifiably angry for us, Martin was angry at us — yet in that nurturing way at which good teachers, bosses, and parents excel. He made all of us in the audience laugh and cry and think and laugh again at ourselves. Because no matter how buttoned up one might be, we — all of us trying to make it in the music business — have made some of these mistakes at one point or another (of course, some people never learn from their mistakes).

Martin has learned.  He was real.    I downloaded his new book — “Welcome to the Music Business… You’re Fucked” — for free, but haven’t had time to read it yet. However, after seeing him speak I have a feeling that I may well order his first book, Tour: Smart.

Between laughs and tears, I took some notes on my iPad of some of his best comments:

“There are no airbags in the music industry. When it goes wrong your head will go through the windsheild.”

“Strategy #1: have a strategy!”

“Its not a problem if 20,000 people download your music illegally… it’s a problem if they don’t!”

“Free is the new black.”

“If the chorus of your song doesn’t belong on a shirt it doesnt belong in your song.”

Below also you will find a nice interview with him courtesy of the good folks at Presonus that is a little less edgy, but still has the good essence of what he is about and his message to all of us trying to make our art. And be sure to check out Martin’s whole presentation (audio only) up on Soundcloud.  Warning: this contains some explicit language so may not be suitable for the office… put on yer earbuds, mate.

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  • DeAngilo Willis

    I was wondering if there was anyway I could get in contact with Mr. Atkins, he seems to have his head on straight about his direction in the music industry and this was pretty knowledgable read and I quite enjoyed it. I would really like to get in contact with the man himself if you know of anyway to do so. Thank you, and continue doing what your doing.

    ~Love, Peace, and the Arts…

  • Mark Smotroff

    Thanks for the good words DeAngelo! Martin seems to be pretty accessible via the Internet. He is on Facebook, Twitter (@marteeeen) and he also has his own website at so those are probably good places to start. hope that helps!