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How to Choose the Right College for Music Business Majors

The ideal college experience includes making lifelong, supportive friends, spending time learning about fascinating topics, and setting yourself up for success in the professional sphere. Most students begin their college search by considering basic yet important things like tuition, degrees available, and the feel of the campus. Naturally all this essential info should inform your college choice, but if you’re hoping to get a job in the music industry, there are other factors you’ll need to investigate before you make your decision. The music business is competitive, and with the changing nature of the industry and hundreds of hopefuls vying for the same jobs, you’ll want to have a leg up on the competition.

The first step in choosing a degree program is simple: determine your major and figure out which options are available at the schools on your list. A good starting place is our list of music schools, colleges and universities. If you want to be a Record Producer, a trade school specializing in audio production and engineering studies might be a better fit for you than a large state college with a music business program where you can only take a few production courses. On the other hand, if you know you want to work in music, but aren’t sure which area best fits you, a school with a more general music industry program could give you the chance to learn more about different areas of the industry.

The Importance of Location

One of the most important, but most overlooked factors in deciding on a college is the school’s location. Sure, most students consider things like how close the school is to their hometown, whether it’s urban or rural, and what the campus is like. For aspiring music industry professionals, however, it’s important to be in a location where you’ll have access to hands-on opportunities at record labels, music venues, etc. In the United States, the music industry is largely located in New York and Los Angeles, with Chicago and Nashville also serving as important hubs. You want to be in a city with prevalent opportunities to secure internships, part-time jobs, networking connections, and eventually—upon graduation—an entry-level position where you’ll get yourself on the road to your music industry dream job. Of course, it’s possible to find awesome labels, recording studios and concert halls in small to mid-sized cities, and if you want to stay in your hometown, you can always build your own career there. But it’s even more competitive in cities without as many opportunities, and if there isn’t as much of a music industry network where you live, it can be a challenge to say, start your own world music venue in a city without much of a world music scene.

You want to be in a city with prevalent opportunities to secure internships, part-time jobs, networking connections, and eventually—upon graduation—an entry-level position where you’ll get yourself on the road to your music industry dream job.

Building Relationships

So how does one start building a music industry network? Making these connections starts at school. Your college friends and peer group will be an important source down the road, but if you choose a college program wisely, your teachers will also be integral to your journey. You want to learn from music industry leaders who are still active and working in the business. They’ll be up-to-date on the latest technological innovations and business models, plus they’ll have connections to other music business figures who can serve as guest lecturers or even mentors. If you dream of being a Personal Manager but your school doesn’t offer a related course or internship, if your teachers are currently working in the industry, they’ll probably know someone who has management experience. Reach out to your teachers to take advantage of their personal networks. They should be able to help you set up an informational interview to see what the job is like and the qualifications you need to get it, arrange an office tour, or even assist you in finding a relevant internship.

Internships & Work Experience Programs

Internships can help you get ahead of the pack when you’re looking for your first entry-level job, so make sure the college programs you’re interested in have internship or work-study opportunities. Is there a well-established internship program in place at your school? Does the school have a longstanding relationship with several music business employers so regular internships are guaranteed for qualified students? Check out what your options are. Will you receive college credit or any form of compensation for your time? Will you be learning skills you can add to a resume (such as writing press releases and organizing events) or will you just be fetching coffee and making photocopies? A good internship doesn’t necessarily have to take up as much time as a part-time job (although many do), but it does need to prepare you to speak confidently and accurately when you start interviewing for jobs.

Work-study or on-campus student jobs play a similar role. Find out what options are available at your school so you can earn a bit of income while getting valuable industry experience. When students think about work-study jobs, working in the cafeteria, student services office or as a security guard often comes to mind. But most schools—especially bigger public or private universities—will have a handful of coveted positions in the arts. Often these positions are listed on the college’s website, so it’s possible to do your research before you commit to a school. Look for titles like Music Library Assistant, Stage Crew, Studio Technician, or PR Assistant. These jobs are the heavy-hitters where you’ll be doing skilled work and building your resume.

Extracurricular Opportunities

It may not initially sound important, but make sure you research what kind of music-related extracurricular activities are available at the schools on your list. Specifically look to see if a school has a student-run concert venue, radio station or record label. (There could be some crossover with student jobs here, although many are staffed entirely by volunteers.) Even if it’s not your dream job to work in radio, for example, these positions can be hugely influential in building your career. You’ll make friends with similar interests, learn how a business is really run, meet Artists, and make connections with people working in the music industry in your area.

Let’s consider working at a college radio station. When you think of radio, you probably automatically think of DJs. But there’s a lot more that goes into running a station behind-the-scenes, and the people in these jobs are the big decision makers. (Most of them also have DJ shifts.) If you work as the Music Director at a college station, you’ll be building connections with Record Labels Reps, Artists, and promotions companies. You’ll be shaping the sound of the radio station and learning about what makes listeners tune in. If you work as the Marketing Director, you’ll be working with Music Journalists, Nightclub Managers, and Concert Promoters. You’ll learn about marketing campaigns, on-air promotions, and sponsorships. If you’re hired as the Program Director you’ll work with outside Booking Agents, Publicists and sometimes Music Journalists, plus you’ll gain experience managing staff, booking Artist interviews, and learning about ratings. Depending on the size, budget, and popularity of the station, these are just a few of the positions available.

Seek out industry-related learning experiences and if they’re not out there yet, create your own.

If you’re interested in working in live music, look for a work or volunteer position at an on-campus venue or for a position booking acts for student events. Many Booking Agents or Tour Managers started out by booking their college’s spring festival, working with up-and-coming local Artists and big name acts. If you’re professional and driven, the industry pros and Artists you work with will remember you, keep in touch, and want to work with you again—whether it’s in your capacity as a student employee or possibly even when you graduate.

Student-run record labels aren’t as common on campus as concert venues or radio stations, but some schools do have them (especially those with a big focus on their music business programs). From top to bottom, every step in making a record is controlled by the students on staff. They learn about A&R by choosing Artists. They learn about audio production by going into the studio with the band. They learn about marketing campaigns and publicity by reaching out to local press and Music Bloggers once the album is finished. Working at one of these record labels will give you hands-on experience in working within time and budget constraints, dealing with different personalities, and best of all, you’ll have a finished product in your hands you saw through from the very beginning.

If you can attend a college with all these opportunities available, you’ll be well-situated when it’s time to start applying for jobs. In all honesty, not every school is going to offer all these options, and sometimes it’s just not possible to attend a school with a specific music industry focus. But wherever you are, you can start building your music career early. Seek out industry-related learning experiences and if they’re not out there yet, create your own. For many employers, starting your own night at a local club shows as much (if not more) dedication, enthusiasm, and experience as an internship with a well-known Concert Promoter does. Wherever you end up, make sure to be proactive, dedicated, and driven to do your best work. After all, it’s your college education and your music career, so you have to be the one in charge.

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