If you want something done, as the old saying goes, do it yourself.
Miss Alex White, half of Chicago rock duo White Mystery, spoke Thursday night in the Southern Illinois University Carbondale communications building about just how one exactly goes about making it in the entertainment business — without a promoter or manager — hours before her band played a late-night show at Carbondale dive PK’s.
Miss White shared her system for DIY music biz success with about 40 of us gathered at Studio A for a TED-style talk sponsored by Musicians United, an SIU Carbondale Registered Student Organization that gets together weekly to talk music and jam. Musicians United president Grant Kentala had asked Miss White to speak to the group after the Carbondale White Mystery show was announced — he’s a fan, he said, and he had read her blog on the music festival Riot Fest website, in which she offers tips for touring musicians and other DIY-ers.
Miss White’s resume is an impressive one — she’s a graduate of DePaul University’s School of Business, founded her own record label and served as the vice president of the Chicago chapter of the Recording Academy, the group that awards Grammys. White Mystery is a workhorse — White said the band on April 20 will celebrate its 10th anniversary, its 1,000th show and its ninth album release — that has modeled for Levi’s, played atop the Willis Tower and performed on a parade float with Sir Richard Branson. Miss White gives talks similar to the one she gave at SIU at college campuses, passing on her business acumen, killer confidence, and pro tips.
In true DIY fashion, Musicians United collected donations at the door Thursday night, which Miss White joked would cover her pinball budget on the current tour.
She covered the basics — basics most likely to be overlooked by newcomers to the music business and the (mostly) young people gathered to take in her advice — like how to make a pitch, how to follow up, how to negotiate, and how to create a contract.
But more than anything, her message was a simple one — if you’re going to make it, as a musician, creative performer, or otherwise, you have to advocate for yourself.
On negotiating pay for a gig, she reminded her audience of their own worth.
“The fact is, is that there’s a ton of money in the music industry, and you deserve a part of it.”
For a DIY-er like White, breaking through the good old boy network that exists in the music business — but really, the same could be said for any industry — was tough.
“Ten years ago ... people wouldn’t answer your emails if you were … independent, if you didn’t have an agent in Los Angeles representing you, you know, in the good old boy network,” she said. But she later said she found a way to “level up.”
It was nearly impossible for the first half of the band to get her foot in the door, she said. But the systems she created — a seven-step cycle she described on Thursday for getting a gig and seeing it through — “empowered” her, she said.
“It’s difficult to stand up to the wall of the good old boy network,” she said. “There’s still a glass ceiling I’m trying to push through.”
When she was just starting out, a Chicago newspaper editor coined her stage name — adding the “Miss” in front of Alex White to differentiate her from another (male) Alex White, who founded a company in Chicago. She didn’t like it at first — “because I’m me!” she said — but it stuck.
It was after midnight Friday when White Mystery wrapped up their PK’s set. On a chilly early March evening, rock ‘n’ roll fans filled the bar, creating that steamy punk-rock show warmth. White Mystery delighted fans with upbeat, simple rock tunes — the band is Miss White, on guitar and vocals, and her brother, Francis Scott Key White, on drums — think a cooler, redheaded White Stripes, but better and with a friendlier vibe. Psychedelic rock group Champaign Superchillin and New York-based rock ‘n’ roll girl group Boytoy opened the show, a parade of chick rockers dominating the PK’s stage (before local noisy boys Buzzzard headlined).
ALEE QUICK is digital editor of The Southern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-351-5807. Follow her on Twitter: @the_quickness