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careers in music

What does it take to make it in the music industry?

We've talked to two people with plenty of music industry experience to find four key traits you'll need for a career in music.
Aside from being good musicians, the people who do best in the industry are those who are really organised.

‘Cos we all just wanna be big rockstars,’ shouts Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger. Maybe these lyrics ring true for you. Or perhaps, instead of being great like Elvis (without the tassels), you want a career in which you can discover, work with and/or watch a modern-day king of rock? Either way, there are a few qualities and skills that are useful for many positions in the music industry. The chances are, you’ll need to be…

1. Organised and punctual

‘Aside from being a good musician, the people who do the best in the industry are those who are really organised,’ says Sam George, whose band Giant and the Georges was awarded ‘best indie band’ at the Black Country Music Awards 2019. This played a crucial part in building the group’s trustworthy reputation and getting them booked for gigs.

Adam Lavender, who has worked as a concert promoter for Kerrang! Radio DJ Emma Scott and Wolverhampton Civic Halls, and ran his own music promotions company, tells us that there are so many moving parts when you’re working in the music industry as you’re liaising with many people: ‘It’s like spinning plates; you have to be organised to make sure none of them fall’.

2. Able to work well with other people

Unless you’re Stormzy, you won’t get very far in the music industry by telling people to ‘shut up’. Sam says: ‘If you can build a network of contacts, that can be really helpful’ and, in order to do this, Giant and the Georges always make sure ‘we’re polite to everyone and talk to everyone’. This helped them to build up a positive reputation. When they started out in summer 2017, they were getting booked for one gig every month and they had to contact venues, but now they get asked to play most weeks.

For many jobs in the music industry, being able to coordinate your work with other people is crucial. You’ll have to be able to adjust your communication to suit different personalities, know when to allow artists freedom to be creative and deal with a few divas. Sam, who has also given private guitar and piano lessons and works as a part-time band musicianship tutor at a secondary school, says he’s had to be able to adapt his teaching style to different students.

3. Passionate about music

The typical career path for many in this industry is to work your way up by building your skills, knowledge and contacts. This often means taking low-paid or unpaid work experience opportunities and being prepared to start in a role with little responsibility. Particularly if you want a career as a musician in a band, this may also mean taking jobs on the side to prop up your bank balance. Sam knows lots of people in the music industry who work two or three jobs as well as their ‘main’ one and at one point Adam had six different positions, though most were with the same venue. ‘I just loved working so much,’ says Adam. This level of enthusiasm can give you the drive to stick it out.

4. Ready to take opportunities outside your degree

Having studied music technology at university, Adam takes a balanced view of its importance with regard to his career. While it gave employers a clear indication of his interest in the industry and showed that he had certain musical skills, he spent more time working (as a concert promoter, tour manager and music tutor) than he did at university. He believes that these opportunities to gain experience and build contacts were crucial for his early career.

A music-related university degree or qualification will definitely boost your CV, but you should take time to gain work experience and make the most of the networking opportunities your course offers. The chances are, you’ll be studying alongside people with different forms of industry experience – so get to know them.

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