Advice For Getting A Job In The Music Business

This guest post is by Ty White at Outside The Box Office.

image from www.musicbusinessdegree.org I'm often approached by my friends and fellow twenty-something's who are looking for advice on entering the music business. It's a really fun business to be in, but it can also come with a great number of surprises if you haven't done your homework up front. As such, I thought I might offer some tips on how to navigate the particularly challenging parts.

So here goes, my advice to someone in their twenties looking to break into the music business:

1. Read Confessions of a Record Producer and Kill Your Friends. Know what you're getting yourself into. The industry doesn't work the same was as it used to, but what you'll learn from these books is what the industry was like when most of your future cohorts were coming up and making a name for themselves (if you haven't read Plugged In, it's about having a better work experience by understanding the generational mindsets of your coworkers).

2. Understand your motivations for getting into the music business. Are you mainly a fan? Do you like to perform? Do you like curating? How technical are you? In no way should these questions scare you, they should just direct your efforts so you don't wind up grinding yourself (and your love of music) down in a role you hate. It's a $65 billion business — there are more than enough ways to get involved, so don't accept a job that doesn't speak to your interests just to "get in." That said, once you pick a track, pay attention to the others as well so you know how everything comes together — read everything you can get your hands on (Google Reader + Google Alerts will get you a long way) to keep up.

3. Leave your ego at the door. Don't worry, you'll get it back. But back to bullet point #1 — the majority of folks you'll encounter got to where they are by navigating a complex corporate structure over many years and decades. Even if you think you know more than they do (you very well might), don't ever act like it.

4. Be ready to separate music from business. This is often the most difficult part of the job. Plenty of perfectly good records have been ruined for me for life because of the circumstances I encountered while working on them. Even more than that, you will likely be working with lots of music that you wouldn't want to listen to on your own. Do your best to appreciate it for what it is, understand it from a business perspective, and make the most of it.

5. It's a relationship business, and (most) people have feelings. This means a few things. First, go to every show, event, dinner, meet up, etc you can, regardless of whether you think you want to or not (hat tip to my friend Margaret Gregory for that one). Second, position yourself for introductions from your bosses — they will undoubtedly know far more people than you, and will usually be happy to introduce you if you're at events together or if you ask to sit in on meetings (you might have to stay later to get work done, but it's SO worth it). Third, be nice. Not fake nice, genuinely nice. As your mom taught you, if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all (see #3).

6. Learn to use every online tool you can get your hands on (and learn to code if you can). Even if you don't find yourself particularly savvy, you'll pick it up far faster than anyone who is currently in the industry. They'll rely on you more than you can imagine.

What about you guys? What advice would you give?

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  1. I agree. #5 is funny…as we know a lot of people in the biz are…lets say not so nice.
    I would add bewilling to work for it and understand that things arent necessarily handed to you. Also build a tolerance for rejection.

  2. Intern a lot. A LOT. And get savvy in every field of music business – marketing, tech, promotions, production, engineering, coding, management, etc. The more you know, the more valuable you are. The more experience, the better.
    No one wants to hire an educated idiot.

  3. Seriously, who is this guy? He’s been in the business for what, 2 years? What “plenty of perfectly good records” has he worked on? I love how the blogosphere makes everyone an expert. Is he really in the position to give anyone advice? Kind of like Bruce Warrila- where did he come from? He interned at a studio so now he’s an expert? You guys are a joke.

  4. Great advice from one of the hardest working and committed dudes in the business!
    I would add two things:
    1) I hear a lot of music biz newbies (especially MBAs) trying to position themselves as “passionate”. I can’t tell you how much that word makes me cringe. Passion is not a differentiator in this industry, but it is a requirement. I’d rather you prove your passion with your actions (working internships, going to conferences, taking classes, etc) than with your words.
    2) Focus as soon as you can. The sooner you zoom into which side of the industry most interests you, and where you think you can make the best contribution, the better. I’m much more excited to talk to someone with a perspective on a particular part of the industry (licensing, direct-to-fan, ticketing, etc) than someone who just generally wants to be around music.

  5. Hey James, perhaps you should discuss the points he brings up instead of just going after him for being young. Where is your brilliant blog giving people advice? If you are going to be critical and point out problems perhaps you should offer some solutions. Otherwise you come off like a bitter jerk, who be your own admission, reads a blog written by “jokes”.

  6. Great advice!
    If you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of experience, I’d recommend starting a music related blog.
    Keep it updated, and insightful and it will speak volumes more than a resume will. It may just be the edge that you need to get hired over the other candidates.

  7. Thanks so much for the great discussion everyone! I totally agree on all the additional points.
    Mike – I did exactly that, and it helped me get my last job at Topspin. My first interaction with Ian Rogers (one of my idols) was him calling to say he had read my blog and could I start work yesterday. I had thought little of putting my thoughts online previously (even my parents didn’t read my blog), but that experience convinced me otherwise.
    James – I’m not here to tell you I’m an expert in all things music. I’ll be the first to tell you I’m relatively inexperienced in the “industry.” I usually just share data from my own marketing campaigns, and occasionally extrapolate from there. In this case, I get asked the question enough that I thought it would be useful to write down my thoughts. Feel free to ignore them. That’s the beauty of the internet — you get to decide who you want to listen to.
    Again, thanks all, and keep the good ideas flowing!

  8. Hi Ty! I love your blog! I have worked in the Music biz for about 7 years now and had a couple of ideas to add
    1. Read Music Law in the Digital Age-The best book I have seen on the ever changing digital music industry.
    2. Intern! You can learn from expert in the industry and get hands on knowledge while you are in school. Some of the best advice and relationships were the ones I learned in my internship. It is also a great way to start building your network.
    3. Don’t get into the business just to further your music career if you are an artist and in a band. I have worked with such people and they have become those people you avoid in the hall because they spend their work day promoting themselves.
    4. Research. Whether you go into the concert industry or the digital music side of the business do research and make sure you understand how your company makes money. The music industry, especially the digital side is made up of very small margins. Try to think of ways to help your company grow and be proactive on how exactly you can help.
    Thanks again for opening the dialogue and hope to see more great insight on your blog!
    -Best, Alexa

  9. No one turns down free services, especially in the music biz. Offer your services for free either as an intern or as a volunteer for a club, a band, etc. This will allow you to actively participate in live events that involve established music industry folks. It’s an easy way to socialize with the very people that you need to know. Learn to network, both online and especially in person.
    The music industry is a relatively small, tight knit community. Regardless of where you live, you can be sure that every participant – from concert promoters, to ticket purveyors, to club owners, to music writers knows each other. Once you get your foot in the door you’ll quickly get to know these folks. You’ll also be able to better identify the area of the industry you want to work, and you will have connections that can directly help you get there.

  10. Great post, Ty! And thanks for the “hat tip.”
    HC – to your 1st point, I totally agree that offering free services to artists is a great way to get your feet wet. To Ty’s 6th point, working with bands allows you to try out new music services/platforms/sites while helping out the band, which is presumably why we are all here in the first place. I think that being well versed in these tools, as well as trying them out firsthand is key to being an effective player.
    Thanks again for the post, Ty – really enjoying the discussion!

  11. I agree with all of this, with a strong emphasis on the motivations aspect…there are a lot of people who think it’s all fun, glamorous, and nothing but a big party. While it does have it’s perks at times, there is a lot of stress and it can get nasty (but what industry isn’t like that?)
    Being a female – I can say for women, depending on what area you work in or who you work for – you really have to combat the whole “groupie” perspective at times – and really have a clue what you are talking about to gain respect…and not let what other people might think bother you.
    Lastly, I agree that it’s all about creating opportunity. I’m from a small market in Canada with virtually no careers in music where I’m from. I’ve never done an internship. I work full time in to support my travels to any and all music conferences, events, wherever it may be, if I think that it will create an opportunity to make this industry my full time career. I went building a reputation locally, volunteering with bands and producing a few shows to interviewing folks like Michael Chuggs, Jay Frank, Ron Burman… all through building relationships and finding ways to make opportunities for myself. I’m not calling myself an expert – but creating opportunity with little support in your own environment is entirely possible.
    My best advice…if it’s something you really want to do: be strong-willed, have a backbone, and keep on truckin. I know I look forward to the day I do what I love full time, and show all those doubters that it can be done!
    Happy I came across this post! Good stuff.

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