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How To Work In The Music Industry

The music industry can be intimidating. As someone who’s worked in it in many capacities, I know how impossible it seems to get started. There are 7 billion different roads you could take and endless options for side quests & changing your path. When I started my education, I firmly stated that I wanted to work in A&R. Then, I started a music news blog in college. After that, I ended up working in marketing at a major label for a few years. I spent a few months working with a promoter in Toronto. Now, I’m back to blogging, vlogging, artist managing, social media coaching…and somehow, that seems closer to my original goal than anything else I’ve done. I’m discovering music I like and sharing it with an audience that might like them too.

Sometimes you don’t end up taking the path you imagined, but you end up doing what you intended to do anyway. The music industry is full of opportunities to mold a unique career out of the things you want to do, and it can shape-shift as you go. The hardest part is figuring out where to start. I’m going to try and take away some of that fear of the unknown – through my own trial and error -with this fancy guide to making your way downtown into the music industry.

1. The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out where you want to start.

Things change along the way, but it’s easier to start with an idea of where you might go. Jamie at Smart Band Management wrote a book called “The Music Business for Artist Managers” that is SUPER helpful for making this decision. It’s not just for artist managers as the name might imply. There are sections in the book that explain what each jobs entails within the industry, which can help you to have that Eureka! moment for yourself. Her website itself has tons of info about music associations, radio/digital distribution, events, and about a dozen other things. I learned a lot from this book, even after a few years in the industry, so I’ve partnered with Jamie as an affiliate! If you want to get the book and think discounts are pretty cool, you can use the code PAIGE for 15% off!

Otherwise, this list of music industry careers might help to narrow it down or broaden your horizons.

2. Check out local music business courses.

If you’re at an age (or a time in your life) where you’re considering education, there are very specific programs that are helpful for getting into music. You could take a standard uni program for marketing, communications, etc. That can be helpful if you decide to pursue a different career in the future as well. However, many places have specialized programs for music business management that include an internship.

Most major companies within the music industry won’t allow you to intern for them unless it’s a required part of your course curriculum. These programs can range from 12 months (like the course I took at the Trebas Institute or the one offered by the Harris Institute) to 3 years (like the program offered by Durham College). These are all offered in Toronto, but it’s worth doing a lil Google Searching to see what’s near you. Besides the education and the internship, it’s helpful for networking with both students and industry veterans who will be teaching you from their personal experience.

3. Internships are a necessary evil (and sometimes they’re not so bad).

Whether or not you’ve decided to pursue education, internships are the most important next step. They give you real world experience that you can’t learn in a classroom without the stress of being thrown into a job where you’re already expected to know everything. It’s a perfect opportunity to network with those who already do what you want to do, and if the timing’s right you could end up with a job at the end of it!

I interned for 8 months before getting hired and noticed there are only two types of people you’ll deal with: those who treat you like free labour, and those who see your potential. The first set will make you complete unnecessary tasks for reasons unknown and won’t learn your name. Keep them happy but don’t let them ruin the experience for you. The second set are the ones you should focus on. They’ll include you in projects based on your knowledge and will take advantage of your combined brainpower. They will be your biggest supporters if the company considers hiring you, as well as when you need guidance. If you’re lucky like I was, you might end up with a mentor (or mentors) for life. Internships suck because they’re often unpaid, but they are so worth it.

4. Side hustles will keep you alive in this industry.

Things can change in a split second. Jobs are suddenly cut, whole companies dissolve, or maybe your job description changes and you hate what you’re doing. Having a project on the side can help you with your financial situation, as well as keep you sane. Just make sure you don’t overload yourself, because burning out is a surefire way to quit everything and become a hermit. Side hustles could be industry related or completely separate, depending on your interests and skills. Teach people how to code, make keychains on Etsy, or make an e-course on how to become Tumblr famous. Whatever makes you happy, do that thing.

people learning about tumblr and the music industry on PaigeBackstage.com
“So, only the first 5 hashtags you use actually show up in the search results. The rest are just for organization on your own Tumblr”

5. Talk to literally everybody.

This is important for the entire route, but let’s discuss it now. You never know where an opportunity will come from, but your chances increase with more people rooting for you. Keep up connections with people from all parts of the industry, and not just when you want something from them. Support them as well and show that you pay attention to what they do. Contact people who are a couple steps ahead of you and find out if they’ll tell you about their journey. Make sure you’ve done proper research ahead of time, and be reasonable about who you approach. The CEO of Warner Music probably won’t respond to your LinkedIn message asking if they want to grab dinner.

Try contacting someone who’s in a role you could have within the next year or so and ask if they want to meet for coffee (your treat, of course). They’ll probably be flattered you considered them – this is probably all new to them too – and hopefully they want to help. If not, there’s no loss for you. You’ll hear a lot of no’s in the music industry and this is one that won’t affect your career standing.

6. Start a blog.

Am I biased? Yes, 100%! But I swear it’s a good idea. Imagine having a resume that shows your knowledge of music, your ability to discover artists before they break, and your personality without having to say “I know a lot about music and new artists and I’m really funny”. That’s a blog. It’s a really long “I told you so” for when an artist breaks *cough* Halsey *cough* after you told everyone for eons it would happen. That’s not official resume material, and you can’t sum it up on a business card…but anyone who visits your blog can see that you supported the artist before their label did.

Maybe you provide insight into parts of the industry that you want to work in, and potential employers can see that you understand how an agency works/how to utilize social media/the advantages of music streaming. It’s a website full of shameless self promotion in the right hands. Use it wisely.

(But uh, don’t start it if you won’t use it. It’s less helpful if your last post was in 2010, saying that Spotify would never be popular and you see potential for the return of Blockbuster Video)

This is just a “jumping off” point for you. There’s so much you can do, and maybe instead of breaking into the industry you’d rather start your own business. Options! Opportunities! The music industry is cutthroat and can leave you jaded, but I promise there’s still good in it.

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