If you want to work in music, let’s get started. It doesn’t matter how intimidated you are or what stage you’re at in life, today’s the day you begin. “But Paige,” I hear you say, “I haven’t had any experience yet so who would hire me? Also, the world is on the brink of total collapse, why bother getting a job?”
I mean, yeah, good point. Once we reach the apocalypse, we’ll be paying for things by trading food rations or makeshift weapons. But your other point? Waaaay off the mark. Do you think everyone in the music industry got into it because they were super prepared and educated? Absolutely not. The music industry is not for those who plan ahead and make good life choices. Most of us were passionate/stupid enough to dive right in, and then spent a while floundering before finding our places.
So really, you’ve got a leg up already because you’re here to figure it out before diving in blind. There are ways out there to prepare yourself for a successful career in the music industry. Glossing over the fact that the world might be ending (indirect at natural disasters & nuclear war), there’s no better time to get into the music industry. A lot of it is still toxic & gross, but there are some amazing people and opportunities here for whoever wants to be part of it.
And since we want to establish your career before Trump’s Twitter fingers turn to trigger fingers, we’re focusing on things you can do to start right now. None of this “years of schooling” bullshit. We’re not looking for a 5 year plan here. This is how to throw that voice in your head out the window and just do it, Shia style.
Whether you’re a post-grad looking for options, still in school, or looking to change career paths… this is for you.
1. Make a decision
What do you want to accomplish? Do not think about this as “what one job do I want to do”. Think about all of the things you’d ideally like to do. Make a lil list and look at it once a week. One of the best/worst parts of the music industry is that most people become a “jack of all trades” type. It keeps your days interesting because they’re never the same, and it means you can achieve multiple goals in different parts of the industry. No one can stop you!! You are the captain now!!
If you pick one specific thing you’d like to do, you’re going to miss out on opportunities because they don’t fit the vision in your head. Keep an open mind to the different types of things you can do and you’ll start to notice more open doors.
However, be warned: it’s super easy to burn out quickly because you’ve taken on too many trades. I am speaking from experience as a person on the verge of total emotional collapse. Be CAREFUL. Focus on one thing until you’ve got it under control, and then decide if you can add another or not.
If you’re still in school, how many hours per week can you dedicate to this right now? If you’re fresh out of school, do you need to juggle these passions with a part time job? If you’ve already been working for a while, are you able to go back to interning? This is where you need to set your concrete guidelines. Let the rest flow freeeeeee.
2. Book smarts
Don’t get me wrong, music business courses can be great. I took one, learned a bunch, made friends with my peers & teachers, and got a great internship. But they’re expensive and you can often learn just as well through real world experience alone. The main benefit is that internship required at the end which forcibly inserts your foot in the door. For these reasons (and our goal to get this done ASAP) we’re skipping that. But what we are not doing is skipping education entirely.
There are effective ways to start your education from home. There are blogs (like mine!) that offer advice & insight that can take some of the mystery away from the process. There are Facebook groups (like Music Biz Besties & The Journalistic Speakeasy) catered to different careers where people can share stories and ask questions. Then, there are ways to more formally educate yourself.
Jamie New has a YouTube channel called SmartistU, totally dedicated to helping you learn different aspects of the music industry. From tour routing to making a business plan to signing an artist, she’s got videos on everything. Would definitely recommend spending an afternoon binging her content.
3. Social media is your friend
I know everyone likes to complain that garbage millennials don’t know how to put down their phones, but do you know how many opportunities lurk within them? Log in to Twitter (as if any of us have ever logged out) and find other people doing what you want to do. There’s no better way to network and learn more from those who are out there doing it; just find them on Twitter and casually observe them. But try to make it less creepy than I’ve made it sound.
Most people in the music industry don’t hear “you’re doing a great job” as often as they deserve. Following their work and letting them know when you enjoy something can do a lot for making this industry less toxic, not to mention it can help you build a beautiful network. Surrounding yourself with others who share similar goals & interests will keep you from feeling isolated when others don’t understand that music jobs aren’t fun 24/7.
Often, you’ll find these same people tweeting about needing help or advice. This could range from needing volunteers for a charity event, extras for a video shoot, or just needing feedback on a logo. Keep an eye out and offer help wherever you can. A lot of this industry is about networking… but it’s also about supporting good people who deserve good things. Build up the wholesome people and we won’t have to keep relying on the trash that keeps it toxic and uninviting. Put the effort in to help the industry grow & the universe will bring you back good things!
4. Start working
Yep, it’s time. Let’s get to work. There are so many ways you can start, it can be overwhelming. Or you can choose to see it as infinite possibilities. There’s no one path to follow, so it’s impossible to take the wrong one.
My first piece of advice is important, so make sure you’re writing this down: when you start in the industry, work for someone else first. Don’t immediately start out on your own (unless you can juggle both at once). I work for myself now and couldn’t recommend it more highly, but I wouldn’t be able to do that if I hadn’t learned first from people who’ve already done it. The hands-on experience you get working every day with a team will benefit you for the rest of your career. Plus, there’s no better way to find yourself a mentor (which will be helpful whenever you have questions about jobs, salaries, resumes, etc.)
One of the best ways to get started is through interning. They’re mostly unpaid in this industry, but there’s no better way to meet people and start learning while not being expected to already be proficient at your job. They know you’re still new; that’s why you’re an intern. No one is expecting you to already be perfect. Ask questions, go above and beyond where possible, and take every opportunity offered to you. And what better place for them to find prospective employees than right within their own office? Interns are often brought on if they prove themselves. Do not slack! This is not the time for shortcuts. You can find some internships that are currently available here.
In a similar vein is street teaming. A lot of bands/brands have dropped this part of their promotion as it’s definitely not as popular as it once was… but you can still find them if you look. The Maine’s street team is alive and well, as well as Fueled By Ramen’s. It’s a great way to show your enthusiasm for working with artists, and it’s good for those who are still in school as well.
If you’re into writing, there are lots of online publications that accept submissions. Not all of them are paid, but it’s a great way to build your portfolio and get your name out there. Alternatively, you can start your own blog/website and write there. It’s the perfect way to have people see your writing skills, what you do, what you want to do, and all your contact info in one spot… and then they contact you to write for them. Don’t believe me? This article I wrote for my other website got me a freelance gig with Billboard.
5. Find your Own Thing
A wise man once told me to work for myself because no matter what happens, no one can take away what you’re doing. If you work for a company and they fire you, you can no longer work on whatever you were currently building (duh, that’s kind of what firing means). Same goes if you quit or get laid off.
So find your own thing. Find what sets you apart and take it as far as you can. Do other things concurrently or don’t, but make sure you don’t lose that thing that makes you unique. As I’m sure we’ve all seen in popular music, people are very quick to follow whatever is popular. Stick with your thing and believe in it and your talents above all else.
Are you good at poetry and photography? Maybe you can start a photo series based on the aesthetics of different albums and write a poem to match. Marketing? Offer your services to newer bands and really do something special and different. Don’t fade into the wallpaper. Think of the things you wish people did with the bands you’ve loved, and make those things happen. And welcome to the industry.
So now that we’ve got you ready to take on the world, what is it that makes you wake up in the morning? What do you want to accomplish in the music industry? What are you setting out to change?