Become a Student of the Music Business

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Earlier this week, I published a story about what it's like trying to get a job in the music business – what I deemed "the most unforgiving" job market in the world. It gave vague details about my journey to Hypebot and the pride I took in being foolish and crazy enough to think that I could get a job in the music business.

Somewhat surprisingly, several readers pointed out that I was promoting the idea of free work. That people should submit themselves to poverty in order to pursue their dreams. "Every person, no matter how well qualified they are is deserved of some sort of pay," says Allan. "In any other industry, internships are paid, and there is a very high chance, especially with apprenticeships, that you will get a job at the end of it."

This is an interesting take on my essay. While I certainly believe that there's merit to free work – it does build a person's character – I don't agree that I'm promoting the idea of free work. Instead, I think that I'm promoting a different idea: That learning is free. It just so happens that I worked while I learned.


"Curious is the key word," Seth Godin says. "It has nothing to do with income, nothing to do with education. It has to do with a desire to understand, a desire to try, and a desire to push whatever envelope you're interested in." When I read that for the first time, I realized that my interest in writing songs and later essays didn't have to do with an interest I had to become a writer. This was my DNA.

The trouble is that throughout high school and college, nothing – not a teacher or subject – truly captivated me. I was passionate about songwriting, but that's it.

I never understood the power of my creativity or how to harness it. I think part of the reason for this is because I come from a place where being good at math and science are praised while creative skills aren't nurtured. In a different school, I would've excelled, but instead, I did mediocre. It wasn't until my early twenties that I realized I wasn't stupid. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not that I thought I was stupid. It's that by looking at the tools that society gave me to gauge my intelligence, the only conclusion that I could come to was that I wasn't smart.

But, when I was 20 and Bruce gave me the opportunity to write for Hypebot, it's safe to say that – for the first time in my life – something ignited my curiosity.

This desire that I had to understand, to try, and to push whatever envelope interested me. The difference, of course, is that instead of mastering my inner world I moved outward. The first business book that I ever bought in my life was All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin. Every page gleamed with insight and ideas that I had never been exposed to. For at least a week, the entire world looked different to me. The lens that Godin provided me – marketing – redefined my understanding of my life and the messages inside it. Shortly after, I bought Godin's latest book at that time, Tribes. This was in October 17, 2008, so I had only been with Hypebot as a "Guest Post" contributor for about three months.

Then in December I bought The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. Then in January, I bought Remix by Lawrence Lessig and Born Digital by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser. The following months were no different – more books came.


Throughout 2009 and 2010, I kept reading books and writing for Hypebot.

Somewhere, in this time, Bruce hatched a plan to hire me and bring me onto his booking agency Skyline Music. The plan: I would take Online Marketing with Topspin and once completed, I would start my job. But, the class got bumped.

I had to wait.

Disheartened, but certainly not discouraged, I kept writing. Some of my biggest ideas spawned in the isles of Target during this time. But this wasn't free work.

Instead, this is a story about the power of learning and curiosity. Was the great opportunity that Bruce gave me – to write for his blog – a chance to write for a respected publication that I learned about while in college for free? Or was the real opportunity that he gave me a reason to set everything aside and learn for free? When you frame the question that way, it's obviously a little bit of both.

However, if you take a look at my bookshelf – the one that I built from scratch in the last 2 years and 7 months while writing for Hypebot – what you see is that the power of free work isn't what I believe in. It's that learning is free. And you know what? There's nothing stopping any of you from picking up a book too.

Don't be a student in the music business. Become of student of the music business. That's the real difference between those that work for free and you.


(Roughly 100 last I counted. And yes, I now own a Kindle.)

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  1. Thank you. I think a lot of people need to hear this… (Oh, and I love this—> “Curious is the key word,” Seth Godin says. “It has nothing to do with income, nothing to do with education. It has to do with a desire to understand, a desire to try, and a desire to push whatever envelope you’re interested in.”)

  2. Excellent post, Kyle! Your points are straight on. In today’s age and with the music industry in complete chaos, now is an excellent opportunity to carve your own niche. Learning, failing, and sharing is easier than ever.
    The idea in today’s age that you have to wait for someone else to hire you and give you money to be involved in the music industry is out-dated. You can be innovative on your own, learn on your own, and slowly build your own credentials.
    That’s what I’m doing with my blog, and I’m slowly building up a readership. Also, I’m getting extremely useful feedback and making great connections.
    Again, wonderful post and thanks for the list of books!

  3. Bravo!
    Music always interested me..in many of ways. So, when I went to Entrepreneurship University I found myself interested in music business. But this so called “modern” education institution gave me no knowledge about new media and music business.I have wondered about musician’s income in these days when everything is “pirated” ..But it was all about wondering and nothing more because I wanted to start some sort of “clasic” startup company. One day, in the national (Croatian) business magazine called Lider I found an article about the future of media and one part of it was about destruction of traditional firms involved in it. There was also a web adress of the only Croatian blog about new music business managed by Zvonimir Dusper who translated Leonhard’s book Music 2.0. I have read it and so it started.. :)Also, the blog was excelent and full of well translated music business news. Due to Zvonimir’s multiple obligations he lost interest in blogging so I clicked on the “hypebot” link at his “sources section” ..and here I am..every day. The book that changed my view of entrepreneurship is The Funky Business. It is written by two Sweedish proffesors..great minds…read it if you haven’t

  4. Curiosity and an intense need rather drive to learn more and learn as much as you can is such a driving force in this business. Knowledge is power and in music that statement is never truer than now.
    I would really be interested to see what some of the other books you would suggest would be.

  5. I’m curious — how does free work build character in ways that paid work does not? Are you saying there’s inherent value in just not being paid? If so, what is that value?

  6. Thanks for the inspiration Kyle! I agree that sometimes the best way forward, is to keep your head down & keep working to attain a door into this industry.
    You need to be passionate about what you are aiming for, this is what will keep you going while your working all strange hours & seeing no benefits just yet.
    If you can keep a hold of the bigger picture, what it is your aiming to achieve, things should progress at a steady pace!

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