how to get into the music industry

Artist Entrepreneurship Part II: Maximizing the Value of a Music Industry Education

(Note: This is the second installment in a 2-part series.)

In the first part of this 2-part series, I discussed the strategic approach to leveraging a music degree, by stressing the fact that music is a business and earning a music degree should prepare one for entering the industry. I made the case that topics such as the artist as entrepreneur, strategic thinking about your role in the industry, pursuing lifelong learning, and trends such as the “gig economy” are best approached using creative processes and applying the critical thinking you hopefully learned in college. I also made the case that trained musicians are uniquely prepared through their scholarship and knowledge in a creative field to conquer the world of business, by applying their creative talent and skills there as well.

I also pointed out that the skills required to GET the work is not the same as the skills needed to DO the work. I’ll pick up the thread here with further reflection on those special skills that musicians need in order to get the most leverage and return on investment from their college music studies.

Network, Network, Network

Networking is one of the most important aspects of career success in any field. Of course, it’s great if you are prepared and talented, but if nobody knows about you, you won’t likely have much success. There is a Chinese saying:

“There are many ways in the front door and only one way in the back.”

It’s true WHO you know matters and it’s also true you can connect with the people who can help you in your career. But you have to leverage these connections, which is more involved than it might seem at first glance. Ultimately, you must build relationships with the people in your network. You want them to understand what you do and recommend you to others who might also benefit from knowing you.

Networking is an art form in itself, and it pays to do it well. This will most likely require some effort on your part, including studying how effective networking happens and putting it into practice for yourself. You should pay close attention to business communications, such as the resume, cover letters, and how to use email and social media to portray yourself in a credible way to others in the music business in order to increase the quantity and quality of your connections.

As Andy Warhol proved, an artist’s creative powers are readily transferable to succeeding in the business of art. This concept certainly applies to music, where we know the skills to succeed include more than just musical ability.

Think Critically, Do Homework

I’ve already mentioned the importance of critical thinking as a desirable outcome of attending college. I also mentioned you should accelerate your learning after school is over by seeking out resources relevant to your career path. Returning to this idea, I am suggesting you get busy with serious research into areas important to your career advancement. This could include literally any area of interest or practical use. To illustrate, I’ve categorized some potential topics for your research below, loosely based on my own interests (this is not an exhaustive list):

Business-Related:

  • Setting up your business entity
  • Starting your publishing company or getting your music published/li>
  • Getting your music into syndication (movies, TV, radio, advertising, etc.)
  • Collecting your publishing royalties, intellectual property (IP) rights
  • Behavioral economics (biases, psychology of groups)
  • Organizational behavior
  • Setting up your private studio teaching business
  • Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing
  • Marketing (psychology of marketing, neuro-marketing, social media skills, etc.)
  • Sales and selling
  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Leadership (could also go under Creative below)

Creative:

  • Learning to improvise better over chord changes (jazz)
  • Writing songs
  • Improving/broadening stylistic capabilities as performer/writer
  • Arranging your music
  • Producing your music
  • Learning to create music videos
  • Building new musical skills, e.g. music directing, orchestration
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Performance skills, stage and audience communication
  • Etc., etc.

This list is by no means all-inclusive. You could add topics that interest you or that you feel will be important to advancing your future career prospects. Keep in mind over time, your interests change and so does the business environment — this means your list of topics will also change and develop in new directions. The important thing is the learning never stops. You need to be curious and stay busy researching areas of interest and importance. This requires you to be independent and self-directed in your work and also requires self-discipline.

Ultimately, how you apply what you learned in school, along with leveraging your network of contacts gained there, will go a long way in determining the level of success you can achieve out of the gate and beyond.

Earn Your Freedom To Be Creative

As Cal Newport writes in his best-selling book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love (Grand Central Publishing, NY, 2012), what most people want in their work life is autonomy. This means the ability to determine and design your work, when and how you work, and how much. Another word for autonomy is “freedom” and it is certainly valuable to most. Newport says you need something valuable to exchange for your freedom. That would be your specific skills, what you are good at. He recommends instead of following your passion, you develop skills that are in demand, and you will come to love what you do because you are rewarded for it with freedom.

Jazz Saxophonist Dave Liebman, in his book Self-Portrait of a Jazz Artist (Caris Publishing, 1988), writes musical artists should spend their 20s figuring out what they want to do and get really good at it, then spend their 30s establishing financial independence so they can be free to be creative artists in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond. Newport’s and Liebman’s advice is similar in that they urge the young artist to build in-demand skills to exchange for freedom in life, in order to work creatively as a self-sufficient artist. They also stress the planning which goes into doing so.

The Art Of Business Is Art

Some artists might prefer to ignore the realities of the business and focus only on what they want to express with their art. This might be possible if you don’t need to earn a living with your art, but carries with it the risk of obscurity. As Andy Warhol proved, an artist’s creative powers are readily transferable to succeeding in the business of art. This concept certainly applies to music, where we know the skills to succeed include more than just musical ability. Learning to market your music and brand yourself as an artist is of foremost importance and requires attention, study, and the building of specialized skills and knowledge. Fortunately, you won’t need to do it all alone, as there are many professionals you might attract to your team to help you.

If you look at the advertising materials from music schools, colleges, and universities, they will all tell you mostly the same thing: that they will prepare you for your career and life in music. Although the majority of successful popular musicians did not graduate with a music degree (some don’t even read music), there are still many important things you could learn in a structured music program, plus the connections you can make. There are also other reasons to attend college, such as proving to the world and yourself that you can complete the challenge and earn a degree or diploma.

Compared to the length of your career, you will be in school for a short time, maybe several years. The question becomes: what is the value proposition for you? What can you take away from a program that will support your career for the decades to come? It may not be exactly the way a school portrays it in their marketing materials.

The answer to this question will depend on the individual but it is an important question to ask before choosing a school and you should keep asking yourself this question during your studies as well. Ultimately, how you apply what you learned in school, along with leveraging your network of contacts gained there, will go a long way in determining the level of success you can achieve out of the gate and beyond.

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