Music Biz Students – Don’t Let The Sky Fall On You!

031108132259Falling_Sky This week, I had the opportunity to guest lecture in a music business class. Before the event, I had no way of knowing whether I’d do terrible or spectacular. I put my notecards together and rehearsed my speech to my wall. Prior to this, I had only spoken at Next Big Nashville, but that was an interview.

Luckily, public speaking doesn’t make me nervous, but that doesn’t mean I’d be any good at it. You can still do horrible at things that don’t put you in a cold sweat and make you shake. Especially the things that you lack experience in, have not taken classes on, and have never done before. Yet standing in front of the stage – looking into a sea of students – I felt right at home. The presentation went fantastic. I nailed my key points and adapted as the discussion evolved.

Speaking turned out to be an absolute blast. The feeling that I may have actually taught these students something is even better. I’ll admit though, that I may have layered on the doomsday talk a bit heavy. It was not my intent to scare them, but I’m left with the impression that no one has tried to scare them before. Sadly, the music industry is not a cute puppy, it’s a pit-bull. And the sooner that you learn that, the better off you are. It’s one thing if you’ve been given the sky is falling talk before and chose to stay in the music industry regardless, because you’re foolish and crazy – like all of us. It’s quite another if no one has given you that talk and you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. Then, there’s reason to worry.

Positive Delusion

Humans are capable of rationalizing some wild things, but the music industry isn’t one of those things you shouldn’t leave your mind to justify. Trust me, this is a cold shower that no one wants. A positive delusion is what enables us to love people that are flawed; it’s what helps people in the trenches pursue their dreams despite overwhelming odds. However, if you do actually believe that the music industry is a wonderful place where jobs are abundant and a great GPA will get you one, then you’re just delusional. This job market doesn’t work that way.

Never has.

But when you’re 18 or 19, studying the music industry in college, it’s fairly easy to believe that the music industry does work this way. I know I did. Back when I was still in school, I was convinced that I was one internship away from a career. I was convinced that somehow things would magically work out. The good thing though is that I did have teachers that – while they still all bullshitted us to some degree – were willing to tell us that the music industry is an ugly place… with a few special opportunities. Each of us were all still delusional, as we were young and didn’t know any better, but our expectations were somewhat more grounded.

Chicken Little

This is why it’s important to have an equal mix of the "sky is falling" talk vs. "the revolution is now" talk. Make no mistake, the sky has been falling for a couple decades now and everyone has simply gotten used to Chicken Little showing up every few years to tell them that this time, it’s really over. This time the major labels will buckle. Likewise, everyone is used to the fact that pundits will say, each year, that this is the best time to get in the industry and do what you love.

There’s truth to both, but when you’re in school, most of the time, you’re not told this. It’s a dash of black clouds, but don’t worry, by the time you graduate, the storm will be over. And this is where most students get themselves into trouble.

When you’re in school, looking three years into the future, it’s easy to just deal with that when it comes, to not worry, and pretend that everything will go lovely.

Real life, whatever that is, doesn’t work that way. And if you’ve spent thousands of dollars on an education and have grown convinced the industry is a cute puppy only to find out that it’s a pit-bull, prepare to cry. It sucks that no one told you.

This is why I’m all right with the fact that I may have disheartened a few souls in my talk. I warned them. It’s easy to graduate with a degree in the music business and become a victim – no one told you. Blame the school. Blame the teachers.


But if at some point in your academic career someone did gave you the "sky is falling” talk with a little bit of “the revolution is now” mixed in. Years later, when you’re on your second or third internship, eating cup ramen, and getting bashed by your parents for marking such ill-advised career choices, maybe you’ll realize that the person who gave that talk isn’t as stupid as you thought. Why is that?

They were once you.

Victims & Victors

It’s here when a person decides if they’re foolish and crazy, want to become a student of the music industry, and are prepared to intern or die. Winners quit all the time; it’s why most successful people are successful. They stopped doing things. They pushed through a dip and quit the others. Is this your dip? Do you have an evil plan to make it work? This is what separates victims from victors.

Victims either a) blame their schools for not telling them that the music industry is a pit-bull or b) rationalize that the bearer of bad news must be an idiot. Victors, on the other hand, either a) quit the music industry and do something else or b) listen to all of the doomsday talk and decide to pursue a career in the industry anyways. Why? Because chances are, they’re foolish and crazy – just like us.

And just like you.

Don't let the sky fall on you, the music industry has always had a Chicken Little problem. Every time a new technology comes along, someone screams bloody murder. Someone declares the death of the music industry and everything that's sacred. Similarly, don't believe that the revolution is now either. It's not now, it's more like ongoing and endless. The first digital decade has ended and the next one will be just as disruptive and uncertain. Take in an equal mix of both views, step back, and breathe for a second. The sky will only fall on you if you let it.

So, don't let it fall.

Victims are always waiting for the end to come. They pray for chaos. Victors don't wait for the end to come. They create the chaos. That's a big difference. The sky will fall when it falls. Don't wait for chaos. Create the chaos. Stop waiting.

The revolution is now.

More: Prepare To Intern or Die, Foolish & Crazy, and Become a Student of the Music Business. (Also, thank you to MSUM and Simon for letting me speak.)

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  1. “Victors don’t wait for the end to come. They create the chaos.” Great Line!! I love it.
    “In one of my favorite surf movies, Step into Liquid, Gerry Lopez says “The first twenty years are just to figure out if you’re interested or not”. That is exactly how I now feel about music. I am a bassist and a song writer, that is what I do. Music is part of my being….and it always will be” (an excerpt from my bio).
    I think that if you’re crazy enough to stay in the game through all this, then it does actually mean some greater thing to you. And If you are crazy enough to hold up the sky, you might actually do it 🙂

  2. Thanks Kyle, this is a hard one to read even when you already know this. As a 20 year old Music Biz major it’s something I wrestle with a lot.
    However, I MUST be foolish and crazy. I have never worked a “real” job, I’ve always been involved in music related work and I’ve only followed my passion in every decision I’ve made so far.
    For me, being foolish and crazy has been quite rewarding.It brings me a lot of positivity. Giving into “the fear” is a greater tragedy. Taking life seriously (or personally) is a greater tragedy. My “lizard brain” will be taking a back seat to this life.
    Cheers to being foolish and crazy.
    I don’t want to live any other way..

  3. Hey Kyle, I’ve been reading your string of articles and want to congratulate you on hitting the nail on the head. I have copied the interns that work for my company as many interns…well they just don’t get it.
    I like you speak to Music Business classes. I lecture at UCLA & Loyola Marymount on Social and Online Marketing, regularly, and was so surprised to find that it came naturally to me…and yes, I put some fear in the students as well.
    The difference between you and I is that I am 50 something and have been running Rock ‘n Retail for 20 years!! I started my music career in 8 tracks & Vinyl at ABC Records & MCA Records, progressed to cassettes at PolyGram and eventually marketed CD’s while at Wherehouse Entertainment Corp.
    YES, my parents CONTINUE to question my poor career choice and YES, I could have made more money with a different career choice. But warning…once you’re in it, it’s like the MOB – you can’t get out!
    Some words to those that take on interning. TAKE IT SERIOUSLY! While you may not get what it will do to help you in the future, just go with it..it will help, maybe in ways that won’t become clear for many years.
    Don’t –not show up. Don’t —come in late. Don’t –call in saying “can I work from home today, I’m tired!”. If its not acceptable at a regular paid job, its not acceptable as an intern. When contacted for a referral, they will ask me if you are punctual, engaged and reliable. That will overshadow your skills as you haven’t EARNED a reputation yet for being skilled.
    You can check out sample lectures at http://www.WebNRetail.net, under the lectures and coaching button.

  4. You seem to have the knack of balancing polarized viewpoints pretty well, Kyle – an essential part of your job, I’d say!

  5. Hey Kyle. I’m a music business and also a production student and I have to say once I started to get involved in this stuff, I don’t think there’s another life option for me. The best I can do is take crazy as a compliment and make it work for me. I think a lot of people get into these programs just because they like music and thinks it sounds like a cool job. However, there are some of us out there who know it’s not all fairy dust and cool leather jackets.
    But at the same time people will always and forever love music, and trying to think of new and inventive ways to bring people and music together (and earn a few bucks) is an intoxicating challenge (for myself at least).
    I believe the formula for success in any tough business is hard work, hard work, more hard work, punctuality, multiple related skills, foresight, follow-through, ability to see where you can fill an empty gap and of course, excellent personality and networking skills. Rest assured I do not believe that I know everything. That is just my personally philosophy and I hope it will serve me well.
    With that being said, the biggest problem is see with my fellow students is over confidence, a sense of entitlement and a disturbing lack of humility. That’s probably more of a cultural thing than a music industry thing, but still absolutely frustrating. Thanks for the article. I love it when people like you come and talk to us and we hear more outside industry perspective. Not to take away from the mass of intellect and insight that our professors lend us, but save a few, they’re professors and not doing what they’re teaching full time for a reason.

  6. I graduate college in about two months and I have no idea what’s next.
    This semester, I’m working at my second music industry internship; this one with a major management company, the previous one with a music TV network. I am responsible, learn quickly, and am always willing to tackle anything thrown at me. For the previous internship I moved to NYC over the summer and sublet an apartment on the Upper East Side in return for a $30/day stipend. I currently drive an hour each way, three days a week, to my internship and work full 8-hour days. I’m also taking three classes on the days I’m not at my internship.
    What I’ve experienced as an intern are supervisors that are always too busy and no real concern from the companies, that I have spent a tremendous amount of my time and money to work for, as to whether or not I’m actually learning anything from the endless data entry and packing boxes. Please understand though, I’m not complaining. I know what being an intern is all about, and I’m fully eager to do the work and prove myself. I hope that if nothing else, my dedication and eagerness to gain experience are the traits that my supervisors see in me.
    I don’t expect to be paid for my internships, and maybe the resume experience and few contacts I make are payment enough. However, I don’t think it’s asking too much to want a bit more than that. Talk to me, more than just assigning me work to do. Let me know what’s going on in the company, what projects you’re working on. Give me the opportunity to help you in a meaningful way. Tell me about your path through the industry and how you got to where you are today. I know you’re busy, but the least you could do is spend some time with the person who’s doing the grunt work so you don’t have to. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to learn from you.
    Please know that there are young people out there like myself, soon to be coming up through the ranks that are willing to do the work. We know that you have to put in the time for your “big break,” and that there may never be a “big break” at all. I’ve spent basically my entire life as a consumer in this changing industry. I was on Napster before it was mainstream. I made and sold custom CDs to my friends in elementary school before CD burners were an everyday commodity. I am the Internet/social media generation. Teach me the business and maybe I’ll end up teaching you something too.
    If anyone reading this has an opportunity for an enthusiastic fresh college grad in two months, track me down.

  7. Dan G. If you are in Los Angeles, we have a intern spot for you! We are about to start 3 very exciting 6 month projects for 3 talented new artists. We will be starting from scratch and building their careers.
    The 2 Managers & 1 Producer that we are working with/for on these projects are very seasoned and well known in the industry and we are very pleased to have been selected by them to hone these fabulous artists.
    There’s a lot to do 🙂 and can use all the help we can get! We just lost a 3 day a week intern so have that position to fill. This is HANDS ON – Not coffee fetching and you’ll get one on one or one on two training.
    Contact RocknRetail2001@cs.com if interested

  8. This article makes me want to turn back time and take up a musical course instead. But in my country, music industry courses were introduced only 2 years ago.

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