From the lies they tell musicians (“That was great”) to the lies they tell themselves (“We’ll fix it in the mix”) to the lies they get told (“The check’s in the mail”), producers and engineers know all about lying liars and the lies they lie. After producing more than 180 albums over the course of three decades, Grammy-winner Jeff Weber’s heard them all—as well as countless musician jokes—and now he’s crammed an endless supply of both into his aptly titled book, You’ve Got A Deal! The Biggest Lies Of The Music Business. Filled with one-liners and the occasional wise truth, it might just be the ultimate music biz “bathroom book.” We sat down with Weber a while back at Book Expo America for a chat and came away with a big smile—and that’s the truth.
With 180 albums to your credit, you have a lot of real-world experience.
I do all types of music and I love making records. I’m pretty much known for live two-track and live multi-track recording—I like to capture a performance rather than manufacture one, so I tend to get all the greatest players together in great facilities and magic happens. I’m very big on treating my musicians, my singers, all the people that I work with and work for, with respect and dignity. I get so much more out of them that way—just being totally straightforward and honest about everything. Then the music just shines.
So with all this experience that you’ve accumulated, it sounds like you had a lot to draw on when it came time to jot down all the lies of the music business. What drove you to write it? What made you say, “You know what? This should be a book.”
[I started keeping track of] the lies that I’d been receiving from record companies, all the lies I’ve been receiving from artists and lies myself, you know, but also you have to remember, musicians are cruel and heartless people to each other, all in the name of fun, and they tell the worst or the best jokes depending upon your position. I started collecting these jokes over the years, and they became these wonderful lists in the book—like Things You’ll Never Hear On A Tour Bus: “Checkmate.” “Oh, no you don’t, it’s my turn to clean the toilet.” Or “Hey, shouldn’t we stop and go back for the drummer?”
They’re so insulting and yet so fun. There’s something for everyone and it just became a fun book—but it got rejected by everyone. I got rejection letters since the ’90’s. It’s pretty wild, you know. I met my publisher here at Book Expo last year. I came for something else and I stopped by the music publishers, and they wouldn’t give me the time of day. So I was walking around, saw Headline Books and asked the woman, “Do you have anything in music?” She goes, “No, we don’t”—which really meant, “No, we don’t, it’s not something we specialize in, so please go away.” I thought she meant, “No, we don’t—do you have something that might be interesting to me?”
Ah, but that’s the producer in you—you’re not focusing on the negative; you’re looking to make the most of the positive.
Yeah—I showed her some pages and she said, “We’re going to have an editorial meeting a couple weeks after the show and we’ll let you know.” And it was the only publisher I talked to and she signed the book. Now I’ve been doing book signings at Barnes & Nobles in Los Angeles, I’ve got another one here in New York, and being here is great—I love Book Expo.
It’s the NAMM Show of books.
Well said. I’m at NAMM every year but I’m either producing an act that’s performing or walking around in a daze.
So to close out, what is the biggest music business lie you’ve heard?
Well, the last page of the book has a little thing that says the biggest lie of all is “You can’t do that.” You want to be a producer? You can’t do that. You want to be a musician? You can’t do that. You want to make a record? You can’t do that.
If you believed that, who would be in the business, right? And this applies, of course, to all businesses. You keep going—and you pay attention. My feeling is, if you understand how much effort it takes to be really crappy in our business, then you may have an idea of how much effort it takes to be really spectacular. Of course, if you’ve got this passion for music already, you’re in trouble, because your Plan B probably stinks, right? So you really can’t stop!