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Careers in Music

Creative Careers

people play instruments on stage
13 Oct 2016
4 min read

Freelance music and talent director Arfa Butt introduces the varied options available if you are looking at a career in music and some tips to get your foot in the door.

If you love music, then you may well be considering a career in the industry. You might be an artist dreaming of sell-out tours, but there are many other roles behind the scenes that require a broad range of skillsets.

Arfa Butt, who works at MTV Base and the Amy Winehouse Foundation, sheds some light on the different types of jobs available, while providing tips and tricks for getting your foot in the door.

Getting work experience

Beyond the music industry professions that instantly spring to mind, such as singers, songwriters or DJs, a diverse range of individuals pull the strings: tour managers, music lawyers, live bookings agents, music journalists, radio pluggers, music video directors, stylists and talent scouts, among others.

Although many organisations offer relevant work experience, if you’re interested in starting out at a record label, Arfa suggests approaching independent labels rather than major players such as Sony, Universal and Polydor. Unlike major labels, where work placements are so competitive that candidates are often expected to have experience already, independent labels tend to be more receptive to newcomers.

Luckily there are a whole host to choose from, such as Rough Trade, Young Turks, Mad Decent, XL Recordings, Rhymesayers, Ninja Tune, National Anthem, Glassnote, Sub Pop, Triangle, PMR Records, Warp and Domino.

Approaching industry professionals

Whether you’re looking for work experience, a mentor, or a job, Arfa pointed out that given the vast amount of information online, there really is no excuse for not making connections with industry professionals. Use Google, LinkedIn and Twitter to track down who you need to speak to, and if you can’t find the individual’s contact details, locate the company’s number on its website, phone up reception and ask for the information you need.

It’s best to send an email before making a phone call. Being able to refer to an email you’ve sent earlier creates a warmer first impression than simply cold-calling. She also emphasised the importance of demonstrating enthusiasm while still being professional. Don’t be afraid to ask the person you’re calling if you can come in for a chat.

10 Tips for Starting Your Music Career

  1. Know who you are: having a strong sense of identity will help you stand out from the crowd.
  1. Identify your strengths: are you multilingual, a pro at social media or a great team player? Identify your strengths so that you can sell yourself when approaching industry professionals.
  1. Be the best: do your research and make sure that you know what you’re talking about.
  1. Have role models: who do you aspire to be like in the music industry? What qualities do these people possess and how can you become more like them?
  1. Create lists and vision boards: stay focused on achieving your goals by making lists regularly. For example, your list could include qualifications you need to attain, industry events you want to attend, people you aim to meet, etc. Lists are practical but stay focused on your ultimate dream by creating a vision board.
  1. Build your brand: use social media channels to put yourself out there, even if it is only your friends and family that follow you to begin with!
  1. Grow your team: form nurturing connections with people whose strengths compliment your weaknesses.
  1. Find a mentor: a mentor can be invaluable in helping you achieve your potential. However, the relationship shouldn’t be one-sided. Make sure that you can offer your mentor something too, such as insights into youth culture or links to a community. Be clear about how long you want the relationship to last.
  1. Develop a media strategy: adopt a consistent language, tone and image across your social media channels and all publicity platforms.
  1. Believe in yourself: you set your own limitations. Have faith that you can reach your goals

Useful websites

Keep an eye on industry websites to develop a business-savvy mind-set and ensure that you’re aware of opportunities as they arise. Arfa’s recommended websites include:

British Council
Music Think Tank (MTT)
British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors
BPI (British Recorded Music Industry)
Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM)
International Music Managers Forum (IMMF)
The Music Producers Guild
PPL (licenses recorded music played in public)
PRS for Music - Music Copyright, Royalties and Licensing 

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