Super Hans from Peep Show sums up the music business nicely when he tells Jez, “it’s a savage garden my friend, a savage garden.” Exactly what Hans means isn’t really clear, but we think he’s trying to say it’s a tricky business to get into. It certainly is tricky, but it can be massively fulfilling if you’re able to stamp your mark on the musical world. After all, without music we wouldn’t have heard such beautiful, timeless lyrics from the likes of Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Conor Oberst and Justin Bieber.
Virtually everyone on the planet has a relationship with music. You might be a folk fan, or you could be more of a jazz sort of a guy. You could like acid-house, bright neon hot pants, glow sticks and going crazy for 11 hours every Friday night.
How do I get into the music industry?
Getting into any area of the music industry can involve a certain amount of luck. It’s easier said than done, but try to network and meet people in the area of work you want to get into. For instance, if you want to be a music journalist, review the gigs you go to and send your pieces to magazines and music websites.
For more technical roles, such as a music producer, many people will have studied music or sound engineering to at least A-level standard. More often than not, they will have a degree in this area as well. You’ll need to have a good understanding and knowledge of musical equipment and be able to work in high-pressure situations.
If a band comes to you and says: “Right, we want our song to sound like never-ending rainfall, glistening and twinkling on the bonnet of a Audi A5 at dusk in the Outer Hebrides,” you’ll have to be able to twiddle the right knobs, plug in the right leads, use specialist recording software (such as Pro Tools or Logic) and create the right recording environment for the band. These guys will rely on your expertise. After all, Amy Winehouse would never have got super famous with her cover version of ‘Valerie’ without Mark Ronson deciding to stick a brass section on the track.
Agents, producers and tour managers need to have a good grasp of marketing, PR and advertising. Similarly, if you’re looking to get into music distribution, you’ll need to have a head for marketing and some experience of business management.
What types of music career can I pursue?
There are commonly three main areas of the music industry that you could try and get involved in: creative, technical and management.
What does the creative side of the music industry involve?
If you’re a bit of a gem with an instrument, there’s no reason why you can’t try and forge a career out of it. It’s competitive and the path to success sometimes involves getting a large slice of luck, but that’s not to say you should be put off. If Rick Waller can release a single, there’s hope for us all.
It’s a good idea to start playing from an early age, but they say you can never be too old. You could become a musical performer, a composer or even write songs for other people. There’s also a career to be made in composing songs for films, TV programmes or musicals. It’s all about having the will and commitment to pursue your goals, as well being able to make the most of a natural talent.
What does talent management involve?
If you’re a tad tone-deaf, then worry not! There are other music careers that you can pursue other than actually performing. Talent management, for example, can be a great career path to follow. You’ll be in charge of a music talent agency and help promote each musical act that is on your books. More often than not, you’ll work with advertisers, sponsors and venue managers to organise gigs and basically try and get as much success for ‘the talent’ as possible.
Music agents and promoters work closely together to make sure the right concerts get booked and the music is heard in the right place. A large part of this job revolves around researching venues to ensure the best possible tour is planned out. Promoters are the absolute heroes that make live gigs actually happen. They spread the word about forthcoming shows and make sure the venue is jam-packed with punters. These careers involve having good market knowledge and the ability to build relationships with the right people.
Of course, national and international tours don’t look after themselves. This is where the tour manager comes into play. One of the trickier positions in music, this can involve absolutely everything from booking the right hotel and keeping ‘the talent’ well fed, to making sure everyone is on the tour bus when it’s time to leave. If you’ve ever seen This is Spinal Tap, you’ll know this is no mean feat!
Music distributors are the guys that act as the link between labels, musicians and the public. These roles have changed a lot over recent years, with the introduction of digital distribution, but generally it involves advertising, shipping and monitoring record sales. More often than not, distributors will be at the heart and soul of a record label; making sure everything runs smoothly and the music is distributed in all the right places. Many people work their way up to this level; starting out in more of an administrative role, before moving into positions with more responsibility.
What does A&R involve?
One of the most popular positions that people seek in this business is on the artists and repertoire (A&R) side of the industry. Yes, it does involve watching lots of bands and musical acts and yes, it does come with a lot of power – but, if we’ve learnt anything from Spiderman, it’s that power comes with absolutely shedloads of responsibility.
In an A&R position, you’ll be responsible for hunting down fresh talent by attending gigs, listening to demos and scouring the internet for great new bands. You’ll also be in charge of helping recording artists to develop throughout their career. It can be pretty cut-throat. Make a mistake or bad recommendation and you could be put under a lot of extra pressure to perform.
Could I be a music journalist?
Taking a step back from the actual music for a moment, you could pursue a career as a music journalist. You’d need to know your music and generally have a way with words. You’d also need to be open to a bit of a backlash from any band or act that’s unhappy with your review. Imagine having an angry Cheryl Cole on your back. Nightmare!
And if all that fails, you can always become a roadie. Just kidding! But really, if all this sounds exciting to you, try your hand at some work experience or dive right into some music-related jobs!