The moment you step foot into the music industry as a professional, you discover a subculture that has its own style of dealings and relationships. Irrespective of whether you are a musician, manager, promoter, a journalist or the ever essential sound guy (or woman, of course), there are some things that you’re expected to know and do before you even begin. So, to help you avoid mistakes and hopefully fill you in on some essential rules, here are 10 tips for music industry newbies.
Number One: Be genuine. It sounds simple, but in an industry that is all about image and selling records, the temptation to be fake is paramount. Let’s make one thing clear: just like the general public can smell someone who is false, so can music execs. In fact, their radar is even more, acute, and the moment you lie about your experience, taste, intentions or personal life, they will peg you as a fake and easily write you off. Stick to your gut, and communicate who you are and what you want to do. If you don’t and you do make it, it could result in a lot of heartbreak and strife in the future.
Number Two: Don’t get starstruck. This is a challenge for everyone because we all have at least one musician, band manager or publicist we have adored for years. The fact is, once you step into the music industry, you are still a fan because nearly everyone is. You will find that the genuine love of music drives many professionals, but this is no excuse to lose your cool. Seriously, if you want to scream your heart out, go to a gig and mosh to your heart’s content, but when you’re conducting that interview, having coffee with a contact or meeting a friend of a friend, you can’t start fangirling over them. It weirds people out, and they are more likely to avoid you than add you as a friend on Facebook.
Number Three: Keep your cards close to your chest. The music scene is always abuzz, looking for the next big thing, a new sound, and the breaking news. If you are conducting business around something that other execs will jump on, journals will gossip about, or an act other managers will try to steal from under you, you need to keep your cards close to your chest. Keep any leads off social media, and protect your sources. If you are sharing some news, keep it to a few close friends who you absolutely trust, and if they work in the industry, make sure they know it is off the record.
Number Four: Stay loyal. Loyalty to your contacts, and even more so, your genuine friends who are also your peers, will keep you in good stead over the course of your career. Your reputation precedes you whenever you walk into a gig or a meeting, and people are unlikely to work with you if they don’t trust you. For journalists, this means quoting in context; no more cutting and manipulating to get hits. For musicians, this means keeping your authentic sound even while you are rebranded and standing beside your band mates when criticism comes. For managers and promoters, this means thinking of the needs and well-being of your artists before leaving them high and dry. That being said…
Number Five: Business is business. You are a professional, and you need to think like a professional. Sometimes this will make things awkward. As a journalist, this could mean you need to report on the latest news, even when it involves a friend or a colleague. For other people, it may involve turning down an offer from a friend because something better is presented, cutting your losses, or speaking the honest truth because sales are down and no one is attending a friend’s gigs for a reason. When these moments come up…
Number Six: Protect your personal life. As much as you can, make it clear that your personal and professional lives are separate, and your relationships with people exist outside of these business decisions. By doing this, they know that a refusal or rejection of an offer is merely about business. Keep the door open for business with your friends in the future by speaking honestly and gently. If they are wearing their business hat, they will know this is merely a part of the working week.
Number Seven: The biggest business is done out the back. A band has just been signed to a major label, a journalist has scored a press pass and an interview with a global superstar, and a manager has just discovered the next big thing. Where did it all happen? At a gig, behind the venue in the beer garden, where people can throw back a few pints and have a smoke while talking business. Don’t underestimate the value your interactions with other professionals have at gigs. Stay a bit later and talk about the show, connecting on a personal level. When someone offers you a smoke, go with them. No, this doesn’t mean you have to do whatever activities are going on (for instance, I don’t smoke). But you’d be amazed at the relationships you can develop through these private moments.
Number Eight: Follow up. If someone gives you their card, make sure you contact them later that week. In fact, if it’s a big business opportunity, contact them ASAP before that door closes. Even if nothing eventuates from your reestablishment of this contact, it’s a great way to stabilize your relationship and reinforce the fact that you are more than happy to work with this person in the future.
Number Nine: Do your research. Please, don’t just wing that gig a manager is coming to, and make sure you know the name of a musician’s upcoming album before an interview. Basically, the more preparation you do, the more you are able to communicate clearly with your peers, which will result in a better personal and professional outcome for everyone involved. Google search a band, watch their videos and ask for a trusted friend’s feedback. Talk to other A&R professionals and share your ideas, have an understanding of any media attention a band has had recently, and get a thorough knowledge of their fan base. Know what you’re working with, and bring that confidence into your conversations.
Number Ten: Be bold. Music execs want to know what you can offer them. You don’t need to beat around the bush, hiding the fact you have received X amount of organic hits on Soundcloud, have received radio airplay, or have a legion of fans already. When it comes up in conversation, mention your experience and the success you’ve already had. People will happily hitch themselves to your bandwagon, and allow you to do the same to theirs, when they know you have a mutually beneficial relationship. That being said, don’t be arrogant and speak like you’re the be-all and end-all in the music industry. Be confident in your abilities, because professionals will also be confident in what you have to offer. That makes 10 tips and rules, but since nothing is ever enough in the music industry, here’s one last footnote.
Number Eleven: Hustle. Nothing gets done without hustling. So be networking constantly, reaching out to potential contacts, making music, establishing relationships, sending out emails, negotiating and searching for the next big thing. You have to fight for everything in this industry, so put on those boxing gloves and get down to business.