The music industry has a strong reputation of being difficult to get into...because sometimes it is. There seems to be a staggering expectation that entry-level workers should have five years of experience under their belt alongside a prestigious music degree by the time they are 22. It feels impossible.
The truth is, you don't need to get a degree in music or take cruddy jobs for "experience" in order to enter the industry. All you really need are three key elements: A passion for music, a deep desire to learn, and a little bit of kindness. From there, following a few key tips will enable you to get your start.
A Passion For Music
It may sound obvious, but the most fundamental part of entering the music industry is having a genuine passion for the music itself. The reality is, if the passion isn't there, you will run into burnout fast. So, engaging with music in every way you can is key to learning what your passion is and discovering exactly what you want to do with it.
What To Do
Join a music organization
Go to shows (A lot!!)
Find community online
One of the most beneficial steps one can take when entering the world of music is joining a music organization. A major benefit of attending university, regardless of actual degree path, is that there is almost always a music organization on campus. For example, the WUD Music Committee at the University of Wisconsin-Madison gives students an opportunity to program 200+ live shows a year. Despite not having a music business degree offered at the school, students can still get experience in talent buying, showrunning, and venue management. Universities across the country have similar organizations that can be essential for balancing education with experience.
We get it, college isn't in everyone's playing cards. And that's perfectly fine! Being engaged in music doesn't require a degree at all. Exploring your passion for the industry can be as simple as going to shows (a lot). There are countless stories of people getting involved in the industry, simply by being present. Making your face and name known around your local venues is a great way to gain connections with people already in the industry and engage with the exact thing you are passionate about.
Not only is it important to make your presence physically known, but it is also essential to make it known digitally. Joining online communities and forums can be a fruitful way to make connections with a wide range of industry professionals and get your foot in the door. Discord, Facebook, and even Reddit can be gold mines for reaching others in the industry. Here, you can often find opportunities such as odd music jobs, internships, or even just advice. If you find a community focused on your local music scene, you can even set up a time to meet them and make that digital connection more tangible!
A Desire To Learn
The only element of the music industry that is consistent is that of a constant state of change. Because of this, showcasing a true and honest desire to learn can get you farther than any formal education. At any given point, an innovation or event can drastically change how the industry operates. Being open to learning absolutely anything and everything that this industry has to offer is much more valuable than having a fixed mindset on how things "used to be."
What To Do
One of the greatest resources that incoming industry professionals have is that of the internet. It is easier than ever to find contacts through Linkedin and company websites to then reach out to and build connections. Find someone who is working in your desired field or at your dream company and ask them for a 15-minute call to discuss the industry. Ask them how they got started, their biggest barriers, how those were overcome, and what advice they would give for someone trying to enter the industry. If you are lucky, the person may give you some resources to help you on your own journey!
Have you been building some pretty good connections? Keep it going and ask about shadowing someone to see if their kind of job is truly something you would want to do. Although this tactic can be a little more difficult to successfully execute, it never hurts to ask. Regardless, this tactic highlights that you are eager to learn about the industry.
Education doesn't just happen inside of a classroom. Staying up to date with major industry trends and news can be essential to landing a job interview. Trade magazines such as Variety, Pollstar, and Music Business Worldwide are all useful resources to utilize. Finding other local music publications can also help build knowledge of your local music ecosystem. Remember, having a degree does not equate to an education. So, taking the time to understand the current atmosphere will make a difference.
A Little Bit Of Kindness
Saying that it only takes "a little bit of kindness" to get into the music industry may be a bit of a hot take...but stick with us. One of the reasons that the industry is often seen as difficult to get into is due to the truth that a lot of people are jerks. With the bar of kindness being so low, kindness to others can often pay off way more than you think. Through a little bit of kindness, you can build a strong network of other industry professionals. This is invaluable both short and long term because (as the saying goes) it's not what you know, it's who you know.
What To Do
Pay it back
Being kind can be the exact element that sets you apart from everyone else in the industry. You can be the most qualified and educated person in the room, but none of that matters if you are a jerk. Because the bar for kindness can be so low, the smallest acts can lead to the strongest connections. Now, this isn't to say that you should be kind to a fault. Sometimes people do actually suck and boundaries are important. But, treating everyone as though they are human, and with the same degree of respect is key. The "little guy" doesn't deserve less respect than a CEO or Billboard charting artist. Everyone is human and deserves a little bit of kindness.
Alongside being kind, being thankful is an often overlooked component of the industry. Did that industry professional take their time for that 15-minute meeting? Thank them. Did someone give you a resource or connect you with someone that they think can help you? Thank them too. No one has to help you in your journey through the music industry. So, being thankful not only helps maintain that positive connection but also ensures that acts of kindness will become more and more common throughout our industry.
Finally, kindness is not a one-way street. Paying it back when someone helps you out is vital. This doesn't have to be immediate, but acknowledging those who have helped you and then taking the time to do something kind for them in return is key for maintaining positive connections. You also don't have to be at your "dream job" in order to help others. Remember, you don't have to compete against everyone. Building a network and helping others out in small ways can pay off majorly in the future.
Wrapping It Up
The music industry can be tough. But, getting a degree in the music business is not required to work in the industry you love. Sometimes, a degree isn't even needed at all! Above all else, having an honest passion, a desire to learn, and a little bit of kindness are all it takes to get your start.