The Book

Praise for "Off the Record"

Spectator weekly (Oct. 25-31, 2000)

Off The Printer: Web-Based Print-On-Demand Puts Off The Record Center Stage
by Tony Madejczyk

Using an author's tools of creating fictional settings and characters based on reality, David Menconi, the rock critic for The News & Observer, demonstrates that there's still plenty to criticize within the music business. In his new book Off The Record, he implicates not just unethical corporate fat cats, but also tunnel-visioned artists, fame-hungry journalists and an enabling audience that seems to crave the same novelty over and over again.

Now that the Triangle has supported and grown several bands and even a label or two, Off The Record captures the scene as a backdrop. Set in Raleigh, Off The Record follows the rising fortunes of the Tommy Aguilar Band (also known as TAB) as the group establishes a Triangle following, does a gig in Wilmington, then tours along the interstate in a small van. Rising with the band's star is a local rock critic, Ken Morrison, the band's manager, and a ruthless, music-hating concert promoter named Gus DeGrande, who wants to own a band that reports directly to him. Liberally interspersed are composite names and characters loosely based on actual persons in the North Carolina music scene. It's not hard to pick out the guy patterned after Don Dixon, and Tommy seems to be a hybrid of Prince, Kurt Cobain and Dexter Romweber. (OK, to me he does.)

After page 38, I had a hard time putting the book down.

The book does a great job of describing many, many details of the rock life. From band names and behavior of club audiences, to how to promote a record on college radio and etiquette of interstate van riding - all of it is familiar territory to anyone remotely interested in local music or alternative rock.

I asked David Menconi to describe the moment that told him to start writing Off The Record. A brief pause later: "I had the initial idea for it about 10 years ago - and a few false starts. In '94 my first kid was on the way and I had just come back from the CMJ [College Media Journal] convention that September. I guess I finally reached critical mass about how silly and appalling the music industry was, how it was so full of itself. How it deluded itself that things were really going to change with a skronky little band like Nirvana hitting the top of the charts. There was also this insane debate about Liz Phair; whether she would be appear on the cover of SPIN or Rolling Stone or neither. In New York all this was just so far removed from real life as it is in Raleigh and how real people consume music. By the way, I still get a big dose of this every year when I go to SXSW [the South By Southwest Music Festival]."

So it had nothing to do with the way the post-Daniels Family owners of The News & Observer had re-structured the way it covered local music? I wondered if this was when Menconi found the time - about six years ago - to start his book?

"No, not at all. I was able to carve out a little bit of time late every night for about an hour or two from 94 to 97."

As much fun as its 409 pages are to read, Menconi found his novel a hard sell to mainstream publishers. According to David, "the publishing industry is about as bad as the music industry, only snobbier - and that's a scary thought."

Writing is already a very do-it-yourself kind of enterprise. Getting published requires someone who believes that what you've written will be read by others. Outside of conventional publishing houses and university presses, vanity presses produce books for anyone willing to pay for the privilege. But getting a "vanity book" distributed puts you back at the mercy of major publishers, who can out-distribute you.

Many writers believe that Internet-based "print-on-demand" will get books to the people who want to read them, bypassing the big book houses. Stephen King and Bill Cosby have followed this path. Menconi has written recently about his POD publishing experience: "The appeal to a writer is obvious. In the past, I would have had to find a vanity press and fork over thousands of dollars to see my book in print. The POD route is cheaper and simple."

Once the web publisher gets your book, it is digitally stored on computers and the title listed on sites that sell, well, books. The POD publishers can give it a bar-coded ISBN number, so it can be ordered through any "bricks & mortar" bookstore.

As people order their books, each soft-cover edition is printed in a production process that can take as little as three minutes, then shipped. The same book can also be purchased electronically, as a download file. Menconi notes the bottom line for the writer: "You get a royalty rate higher than what most publishing houses give - iUniverse pays 20 percent for paper-copy sales, while traditional publishers usually pay 10 percent to 15 percent - and also retain all film and television rights."

With customer demand-fed POD, fewer trees are sacrificed for literature and there are no unsold books to return to a warehouse.


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