Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 17, 2012

Local musician writes reference book for mandolin

Local musician writes reference book for mandolin


TRAVERSE CITY — Mandolin player, composer, instructor and recording artist Don Julin can add another title to his resume — author.

Julin, widely considered as one of the most eclectic mandolin players on the scene, was chosen to write the "Mandolin for Dummies" book, released in October in the the U.S. and Canada and about six months earlier in Europe, Indonesia and Australia.

With more than 250 million books in print and more than 1,800 titles, For Dummies is the most popular reference series in the world. So Julin said he was surprised when friend Scott Tichenor of Mandolin Cafe, a comprehensive website for the mandolin world, told him the For Dummies folks were sniffing around for an author and that he, Julin, seemed to fit the bill.

"Just to be a small part of the book would be quite an honor," said Julin, of Traverse City, who sent off a letter of interest. "But I didn't think anything would come of it."

A few months later, he got a response — and the contract.

The first-time author said he spent about a year researching, writing and editing — with a lot of help from publishers Wiley & Son — and producing audiotracks for the book. He also spent hours practicing and taking lessons from some of the world's top mandolin players in styles like Irish and bluegrass.

"I had to know this stuff well enough to not only talk about it and write it out in sheet music but to demonstrate it on the audiotracks," said Julin, whose contacts included Nashville musician Mike Compton, known for his work on the popular movie soundtrack "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and Julin's own "inspiration," David Grisman, known for his major contributions to the mandolin world.

"That was the most intimidating part of the whole thing: recording myself trying to sound like him, sending it to him and having him approve it," Julin said. "It was like doing a chapter on Eric Clapton. It was the coolest thing ever."

Julin said he got a moderate advance against sales and after that will get a percentage from every book sold. He'll also have the first rights of refusal if the book needs refreshing or gets new editions. He expects the reference book to have a long shelf life.

"In the publishing business they call these 'evergreens,'" he said. "They stay around a lot time. They're not going to be popular now and then in the cutout bin for 99 cents."

The nearly 400-page book covers everything from mandolin basics to advanced repertoire styles, trivia and history — from Vivaldi to Bill Monroe, Led Zeppelin to Nickel Creek. It's illustrated with photos and charts and comes with 91 audio tracks for help in mastering the songs, techniques and exercises.

But it's for more than just "dummies," said Julin, a regular contributor to NPR's "All Things Considered" and to TV and movie soundtracks.

"That's the biggest shocker. It was really clear to me that this was not just a beginners' book," he said. "I don't think there's anything else like it. There's a thousand mandolin books out there and I own most of them. But there's nothing that covers everything from buying your first instrument and playing your first tune to the history of the instrument, repair, who's who in the mandolin world."

He said the book already is creating a buzz in the mandolin world. It even got a thumbs-up at a gathering of classical mandolin players, known for being "selective."

"I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. The editors with Dummies know what they want and just how to get you to do your best," Julin said.

"Mandolin for Dummies" (For Dummies, $24.99) is available in paperback, iBook and Kindle formats.

Julin will hold a book signing party from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, at Left Foot Charley.