Working In The Music Industry (3rd Edition)
An Overview of the Music Industry
In this chapter:
- Is the music industry right for you?
- Deciding which field to go for
- The structure of the music industry
IS THE MUSIC INDUSTRY RIGHT FOR YOU?
Do you love music?
I mean, do you really love music? It’s fine to listen mainly to your favourite bands or genres, but it’s really not enough to be a one-album-a-year type of person. You need to be the sort of person who buys albums on a regular basis, knows what’s going on in the charts, who’s hot, who’s not. Music has to be an essential part of your life. If you’re unsure whether this is the case for you, ask yourself the following:
- Has music ever brought tears to your eyes?
- Do you ever sit people down on the edge of your bed and force them to listen to a particular song?
- Have you ever been first in the queue to buy a new album or concert ticket the very minute it went on sale?
If you’ve said yes to two out of three, read on.
Do you know enough about music?
You may have been the school authority on underground speed garage, or be the best young harpist in the North-West. That’s great – play to your skills, because they’ll mark you out as an individual. But don’t be blinkered: you also need to know a bit of musical history and be familiar with other genres to be taken seriously; you need to spread your options. You don’t have to like David Bowie, Mozart, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Public Enemy or Leona Lewis but you really have to know who they are. This is where your mum, dad and grandparents (oh yes) can come in handy. If they aren’t busy trying to talk you out of a career in the music industry and into becoming a doctor instead, that is.
What kind of salary do you expect?
Think of the lowest salary you can imagine surviving on and halve it. That’s probably what you’ll be earning in the beginning. It’s a myth that everyone in the music biz drives a Merc, holidays in their villa near Nice and dines at The Ivy every night. Sure, some do. But it took them many years to get to that point. Ask any big cheese and chances are you’ll find someone who remembers all too clearly starting out as a poorly-paid secretary, receptionist or warehouse operative.
Many jobs in the music industry will require that you have acquired skills and experience through work experience – which is unpaid. Even having survived that financial challenge, most entry-level jobs start at between £12k and £16k, maybe less. Bear in mind that a low salary is not just about struggling to pay the rent and living on cheap white bread. It’s about holding your head up when all your friends from school or college are doing very nicely thank you in banks, schools or law firms and making twice the money you are, buying cars and clothes while you’re turning up late to get-togethers in the pub because you can’t afford to buy more than one round. Can you hack it? Good for you!
Can you work hard enough?
So it’s not quite as tiring as being a junior doctor, but the music industry’s insistence upon unpaid overtime, evening and weekend work commitments, microscopically short lunch breaks, crazy deadlines and lots of stress will take their toll on anyone without the requisite energy or ingrained work ethic. It also requires you to start at the bottom of the heap. Anyone leaving university feeling snootily disinclined to fix photocopier jams, do the coffee run or stuff envelopes for hours will be given very, very, very short shrift in this business.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because the average working day in the music industry starts at 10am (but most people don’t actually turn up until half past . . .) it’s an easy hide. The late mornings are usually a result of late nights spent either in the office or on-duty at gigs (never really relaxing if you’re there in an official capacity). Factor in also any supplementary activities you might be doing on the side to stay afloat, or just to keep your finger on the pulse. People in music industry jobs often end up writing for websites, promoting gigs, playing in bands or doing weekend jobs in their spare time.
Can you handle the competition?
Few experiences are more daunting than sitting in a swanky record company reception with a load of other suited-andbooted young hopefuls all chasing the same super-cool job. This feeling never really goes away completely, even when you’ve worked somewhere for years and know all the security staff by their first names. There will always be someone in the company – maybe more than one person – after your job.Might be a girl on the floor below, might be the chap sitting next to you who you play footie with every Tuesday night. Outside the company there’s even more competition. Every day, human resources departments in music industry organisations get on-spec applications of ever increasing quality. You put one foot wrong, slack off, make mistakes – and you could be out on your ear. Employers in the music industry can afford to be hard on their staff.
Are you a ‘people person’?
It’s generally fair to say that the people who get along best in the music industry are those who team hard work and enthusiasm with being, for want of a better word, nice. Friendly, chatty, helpful, reliable and good fun people – who also put the work in – are always welcome. It’s the empty-headed egotists, directionless mavericks and plain nasty cut-throats who tend to be in and out of the revolving doors in a flash.
Different fields call for different skills, personality types and experience. These individual requirements will be explained in more detail in later chapters.
Pop, rock or classical?
If you’re in a quandary about where to target your music biz ambitions, have a think primarily about whether you would like to work in classical or pop/rock. At the risk of generalising hugely and possibly offending a lot of people in both fields (deep breath) . . . the classical industry tends to be more sedate, intellectual and musically purist, with smaller sales and therefore a bit less stress. Pop/rock is more out-and-out hip, thrusting, commercial and dog-eat-dog. (Other genres like jazz, world and folk music are usually incorporated under either the banner ‘pop’ or ‘classical’ when it comes to the structure of a record company and fall somewhere between the two.)
Back-stage or front-of-house?
Once you’ve chosen your musical field, think about whether you’re a back-room sort of person or a showman. If you are the former and like to keep your head down and get stuck into your work with as little interference from or contact with the outside world as possible, you might flourish in manufacturing, rights administration, human resources, sound engineering, roadying, design and production, or product management.
However, if you’re a bit of a performer yourself, consider a career in sales, marketing, PR, A & R, artist management or concert promoting.
If you still can’t decide, just go through the chapters in this book one by one and see what leaps out.
‘Indie’ spirit or corporate beast?
Are you a hard-nosed business type or an artistic free-spirit? Actually, that’s a trick question: you need to be a mixture of the two, ideally. But it’s worth thinking about whether you’ll thrive in the high-end, moneydriven environment of a commercial record label whose music you might never personally be caught listening to in a million years, or whether you’d be happier in a small label where the financial expectations – and therefore capitalist dogma, comrades! – are fewer and you adore the product.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
‘The music industry’ is an umbrella term that covers a myriad of different operations. The one thing they have in common is that they all orbit around and support the band or artist, who in turn fuels them. Aside from the artists, jobs fall into three loose categories: recording, publishing and live music.
Every job within the industry is inextricably linked to several others in a symbiotic relationship that involves a lot of schmoozing, ‘plus ones’ and tactical voicemail deployment.
The diagram below illustrates how relationships between companies and individuals in the music business work. You will find each job mentioned below featured somewhere in this book.
Figure 1 The structure of the music industry.