Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed

A new memoir reveals the ups and downs of life in a modern rock band

Keri Carlson

It is a well-known fact that major labels and commercial radio are evil. Hardly anyone with any taste regularly listens to the radio these days – or will admit to doing so. And it takes only a couple of episodes of VH1’s “Behind the Music” to realize how common it is for multi-platinum artists to file for bankruptcy.

Record label representatives and radio station program directors now rival lawyers for having the profession most associated with evil. We imagine them riding around in BMWs and stroking white cats as they drop a hard-working band from their label for only selling 50,000 records.

But few truly understand what makes the music business so evil.

Unless you’re a musician, you probably don’t know the inner workings of radio stations and record labels, just that they’re run by money-grubbing scoundrels.

This is where Jacob Slichter comes in. Slichter had a small taste of being a rock star – making music videos, playing in front of thousands, attending the Grammy Awards, wearing expensive designer clothing, etc. But he has been dropped from labels and received enough blank stares when mentioning the name of his band to keep a grounded perspective on his experiences.

This makes Slichter the perfect person to write about a band trying to make it in a world that now has just five major record labels. His band, the Minneapolis group Semisonic, shows a great example of how the music business makes it virtually impossible for bands to succeed.

Semisonic’s tale is perfect for many reasons: The group began by playing in small clubs like the 400 Bar and built up its fan base with good word-of-mouth from music lovers. It was not a flashy Hollywood-schemed band. Semisonic signed to a label at a time of high pressure to find the “next Nirvana” while at the same time label mergers caused hundreds of bands to be dropped and label reps constantly shuffled from one label to the next. But most of all, Semisonic had one monstrous hit, “Closing Time”; and yet, its label, MCA, seemed unsatisfied.

Slichter describes the corrupt system of trying to get his band played on the radio while racking up an unrepayable debt to MCA.

“So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star” especially shines when Slichter recalls his inner monologue in the midst of publicity exercises. He concentrates on finding the perfect rock star face, but his mind eventually wanders into thinking about bike riding.

Slichter lets readers in on the rotten practices of the music business. Yet at the same time, it’s clear he greatly appreciated every audience member and autograph seeker (even if it was because he was mistaken for the drummer for Everclear).