Getting Started

In this section, we go over a few tips for getting started in some of the key areas of the music industry.

You’ll find more specialist articles and advice in our Success In Music section.

 

Record Company Jobs

According to the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) statistics for 2005, out of some 126,000 full-time workers in the UK music business, only just over 10,000 were employed in record companies. And it’s a fair bet that when this year’s figures are released, there’ll be fewer still.

The fact is that the traditional record company has looked for some time now like a very tired business model and a general revamp is long overdue.

This isn’t bad news for the UK music industry. Indeed, new technology is constantly levelling the playing field and encouraging the influx of young, creative and innovative talent into all areas of the business.

So, while the old guard whimper and moan about such “problems” as the proliferation of downloading or the low price of cds, forward-thinkers realize that a new and even more exciting music business is waiting to be shaped.

That being said, judging by the enquiries we get to this site, getting a job with a record company is still one of the most desired outcomes for those aspiring to a career in music.

Which is fine. After all, change can come from within as well as from outside.

Before mentioning a few tips intended for specific roles, there is some general advice which holds good for any prospective record company job-seeker:

Learn as much as you can about the record companies/label you are interested in: What artists are on their roster? How many titles do they have in the charts at the moment? If they specialize in a certain style of music, show your enthusiasm for it. Know the name of the MD and find out if they are part of a larger parent company.

Get to as many gigs as you can, across a broad spectrum of artists. Make sure your knowledge of the current music scene is solid and be prepared to answer questions on your favourite albums and concerts at the interview.

One of the tried and tested routes in is through working in a record shop. But try to ensure it’s with a larger branch or a hip indie where there is more likelihood of direct contact with people from the sales and marketing departments of record companies or at the very least with reps from the distribution companies. Get friendly with them and drop (subtle) hints about your ambitions. You’d be surprised just how many top-flight execs in record companies started life at the tills of HMV, Virgin or Our Price (RIP).

Another great tip is to apply for any position in their unpaid work experience programmes. Most major record companies fill a number of entry-level roles with temporary volunteers or those on student placement schemes. And in the current climate of consolidation, cost-cutting and cut-backs at senior level, the recruitment of unpaid help will continue to be an attractive option for employers.

Although unpaid, you will generally get some expenses reimbursed and even if you just stay for a few weeks, the experience will be invaluable and can only enhance your CV. Apply by writing to the HR departments of the larger companies or directly to the smaller labels (see the Useful Addresses section), marking your letter “work experience”.

Along the same lines, if you have the relevant skills, you could try temping as a means of getting experience and making contacts. Many companies take on part-time administrative staff during holidays or busy periods. Try registering with a dedicated music industry temping agency such as Handle (www.handle.co.uk).

Unless you’re applying for a specialist or technical position, for instance in sound engineering, most companies won’t expect you to have completed a music-related course or have specific qualifications. However, a course tailored to your interests may help you gain confidence and increase your options. And it might give you the edge over an unqualified competitor. Check out the extensive list of industry courses at the Music Education Directory (www.bpi-med.co.uk).

 

Specific Roles

As well as considering all the aforementioned actions, try the following tips for particular record company roles: for A&R, go to as many small gigs as you can and try to get to know the promoters. You’ll soon begin to recognize the A&R people. Or promote your own regular nights at local colleges, pubs or clubs (NB this is also good advice for prospective promotersbooking agentsDJs and artist managers). You could also try sending reviews of local bands to regional newspapers and magazines. If these get published, send a copy of the article, together with a demo cd of the band, to a few record labels.

For Marketing, a media-studies course may prove useful. Otherwise, gaining experience in any capacity within a PR company or advertising agency would be a good start. A slightly longer-term strategy might be to get a job with one of the larger record retailers and work your way into the marketing department (maybe by showing a flair for in-store merchandising or suggesting some marketing/promotional campaigns). Once there, you’ll be liaising with marketing people from the record companies and you’ll have a good chance of being “poached” when a position arises.

As explained in the Description Of Music Industry Roles section, the Salespeople are normally employed by a Distribution Company which may or may not be owned by the record company. To get into this area, it helps to have a sales background, preferably in the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods eg confectionery, books) sector. Alternatively, because sales reps come into regular contact with buyers in record stores, this is yet another reason to consider the retail option. Or you could start as a holiday temp in the telesales department and maybe spot an upcoming full-time vacancy. For a selection of Distribution Companies, see the Useful Addresses section.

 

Publishing Jobs

The advice already given for A&R jobs also holds true for those looking to enter the world of music publishing, as both fields rely on a steady input of new creative talent.

In addition, a media-studies course would be useful.

One of the best routes into a publishing company is through working for a royalty-collecting organization. The two main bodies are the MCPS and thePRS (see the Useful Addresses section). The MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) collects royalties on behalf of the publishers from the sale of cds and other music-carrying products, whilst the PRS (Performing Rights Society) gathers royalties from the performances of music (eg in concert or on radio etc).

By their nature, jobs in these companies tend to be more clerical, with lots of data-inputting, but they offer a good grounding in the business and the chances of crossing over into a publishing company role are quite strong.

For a list of Publishing Companies, see the Useful Addresses section.

 

Artist Management

Most people looking to start in Artist Management do so because they are friends with, or huge fans of, the band/artist concerned. And a passionate belief in your artist is certainly something you’ll need. If you don’t believe, you’ll find it hard to convince others.

Starting out, you won’t have many contacts, so you’ll have to make them. The advice given for A&R people applies: get to as many local gigs as you can, try to get to know the promoters, the A&R bods and journalists. Knowing some of these people, plus your towering enthusiasm for the artist may be enough to persuade a likely band to take you on.

You should seriously consider promoting your own regular nights at local clubs, pubs or colleges. This is a great way to build the right contacts and make a name for yourself, locally. Try themed events, perhaps by music genre; if you call it a showcase, the artists appearing won’t expect much in the way of payment, as long as there’s a half-decent crowd and the chance of being spotted.

A management training course might be useful (check out a selection at www.bpi-med.co.uk) but any prospective artist manager would be well advised to join the Music Managers’ Forum (MMF). You’ll need to pay an annual subscription, but with their regular master-classes and open days, there’ll be loads of opportunities to share information and network with experienced managers (see the Useful Addresses section).

As an option, a little experience gained in any of the activities mentioned above might help you to nab a job with an established Artist Management Company, responsible for handling several major artists. By the same token, a stint with such a company could prove useful for your solo management career.

If you find that you enjoy the process of organizing and promoting events, you could consider a career as a Booking Agent where you’d be looking to line up certain bands for a particular venue or event. The skill, and the profit, would be in matching the right artist(s) to the right gig so you’ll need to get to as many concerts in as many different venues as you can. Again, start by getting your hands dirty at a local level by putting on regular club, pub or college nights. You might well find that the owner of one club will have a few other venues in their portfolio in other parts of the country or at least have connections elsewhere. And when you have success with a one-off event, see if you can repeat it at a different venue, maybe in another town.

For a list of Booking Agents and Artist Management Companies, see the Useful Addresses section.

 

Hopefully this will have given you a few tips for getting started in the music industry, please take the time to read other sections on this site for more information.