An Insiders’ Guide on How to Get Your First Job in the Music Industry
It can be difficult to break into the music industry, especially when you don’t have personal connections or an extensive resume. The good news is that it’s possible and it doesn’t matter how old you are, or where you live. The bad news (depending on how you look at it) is that you will probably have to work for little to no money for a while. However, what you lack in a giant paycheck, you’ll make up for in amazing learning opportunities, chances to network, increased knowledge and new friends who love music as much as you do. And those are the things that will move your music business career forward and ensure that you’re having fun, even if you’re broke.
The first step is to make sure you know your local music community. Even if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area, there’s a good chance you can find a few bands that play at local events, or a musical instrument shop or record store relatively close by. Introduce yourself to these people; they definitely know other musicians and maybe even have the scoop on music related jobs.
If you do live in a college town or a mid to large-sized city, there are probably more industry resources available to you than you know. Get online and do some research. You can start in a few different ways. Begin by searching for music-related organizations in your area. For example, if you live in Albany, NY, start searching “record labels Albany,” “hip-hop radio stations Albany,” “record stores Albany,” etc. Make a list of places that look interesting to you, then familiarize yourself with them, whether it’s by checking out the artists on the record label or by becoming a patron of the record store. The other tactic is by looking for music-related organizations in which you already know you’re interested. For example, if you want to work for Universal Music, do a search to find out where Universal has offices, then narrow it down to your geographic area. Maybe Universal doesn’t have its headquarters in your town, but perhaps they’re hiring Campus Reps in your area. After you do this research, what you should have is a list of places nearby where you want to work, intern, or volunteer and even a few potential names to contact.
Here’s a tip: Smaller, independent organizations and businesses almost always need help. These places are run on passion and volunteer efforts. So, if you love classical music, check out your local orchestra’s usher program or young professionals group. If you love hip-hop, check out the indie labels in your area for internship or job shadowing opportunities. Once you get in somewhere, make yourself indispensable. Be the person they can count on. Be passionate, be dedicated, be driven. Work long hours and don’t complain. Eventually, if you’re still working long hours for no money and you haven’t learned anything of value, met cool friends or potential job contacts or found a paying job, you’ll know when it’s time to move on. But put in your time. Employers respect music fans who start from the bottom and work their way up.
Of course, for those of you who are just starting out, some organizations are easier to get into than others. Read on to learn more about some of our favorite volunteer and entry-level jobs to help beginners break into the music industry.
Volunteer & Entry-Level Jobs
What’s great about being a Blogger is that you can do it from anywhere. Even if you live on a farm forty minutes from the nearest small town, if you have internet access, if you paid attention in English class, and you like writing, you can start a blog. Check out our interview with Alvin “aqua” Blanco of HipHopWired.com to see how blogging led to his first paid work as a Music Journalist. Just be sure to take his advice and write every post like you’re writing it for Rolling Stone, which means paying attention to grammar, spelling, and story structure. Network with other bloggers online or if possible, in person. Maybe your personal blog will become the next Pitchfork, or maybe it will serve as your portfolio when you see that a music blog you love is hiring writers.
Musical Instrument Shops
At first glance, this might just seem like another retail job. It’s not. It depends on the store, of course, but most musical instrument stores are staffed by working musicians and are gathering places for the local music community. Some offer lessons, so if you’ve ever considered being a Private Instrument Teacher, starting off as a Music Store Salesperson would be a good way to get your foot in the door. Plus, if the store has a reputation and history among the music community, you never know what kind of touring musicians and Rock Stars you might meet.
Here’s another job that’s technically a retail job, but in reality, is so much more. Record stores are the nucleus of the record community. You’ll meet all kinds of interesting people working at a record store. Of course, you’ll benefit from getting to know your fellow coworkers, but you’ll also encounter musicians, customers who work in the industry, and visiting record label reps. You have to know your stuff, though, and be hungry to learn more about both the history of music and different genres. The people who get hired as Record Store Clerks are not casual music fans. They can tell you which Arcade Fire album is a good starting place to get into the band’s discography, recommend related bands, and tell you which artists inspired their sound. If you want to become a Record Store Manager or set yourself up as a successful candidate for a Campus Representative position, this is where you start.
Finding an internship in the music industry can be challenging. Some music-related organizations will list music industry internships on their websites, but others will only put the word out to a select group of colleges and contacts. If you’re in college or researching a potential college, check into the school’s internship opportunities. Make sure there is a depth and breadth of opportunities available. And remember, an internship is not a guarantee of employment, but it will look good on a resume, and you should learn enough to be able to talk about the segment of the industry you’re interning in to discuss it with confidence. It doesn’t matter if you intern with a small, indie company or a major label. If they need people, they’ll consider you before someone they don’t know. If possible, find an internship where you’re taking an active role in the industry (i.e. helping to coordinate recording sessions or preparing PR blasts) instead of just getting coffee for the CEO. The latter sort of internship will look fine on paper, which is great, but to maximize your experience, you want to learn the ropes of a job someone is actually being paid to do.
Job shadowing is a great tactic for students who are a little too young to fit internship requirements. In truth, job shadowing is probably not going to put you in line for an internship or job, but you will learn a lot, and the experience should leave you feeling passionate and inspired. And who knows? If you leave a good impression due to your remarkable passion, curiosity, and competence, you might build a connection that helps you in the future. To job shadow someone, use your list of local music organizations and request to job shadow someone for the day or to buy them coffee for an informational interview. (This basically means you’ll be asking them questions you prepared about their job and what you need to do to get a similar position.) People in the music industry are busy, so if you strike out the first few times and no one answers, keep trying.
College and Community Radio Stations
If you live in a college town or a metropolitan area, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have at least one, if not several, college or community radio stations. These places are gems. Not only will you learn about the radio/broadcasting business, you’ll learn about related organizations they partner with in the community, such as concert venues, label Publicists, and Concert Promoters. College and community radio stations are almost always the best place to acquaint yourself with local bands and venues, whether it’s in-person contact or over the airwaves. Best of all, they always need volunteers.
Street team members are usually unpaid, although sometimes they do receive concert tickets or goodies as compensation. Record labels, radio stations, and music venues all have street teams. They’re the people you see standing outside concerts, passing out fliers and free tickets to other concerts. It might not be glamorous, but it’s a good way to get a foot in the door at the company in which you’re interested (and maybe get some cool free stuff in the process).
In all the opportunities outlined above, be sure to distinguish yourself. You want to become the person your supervisor can rely on. Put your time in, learn the ropes, show your passion. Once you’ve been there for a while and shown your worth, talk to someone in the organization whom you’re close to about other opportunities. Do this in a professional, respectful way that lets them know you’re excited about the organization and want to learn more. People like helping other people out, especially once they’ve gotten to know you and have seen your passion for the music!
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