What it’s really like to work in the music industry

Hi there, I’m Andy – I’m the Head of Digital for 604 Records in Vancouver, Canada. I have been working in the music industry formally for around 7 years now, and informally for a lot longer than that. Here is my story of how I started working in music and some tips on getting into the industry.

It’s important to start by giving you my humble opinion on the ‘state of the industry’. The music industry is in a state of flux. Barely anyone actually purchases music any more and streaming is the norm. This all means that there is A LOT less money in this traditional income stream as there used to be – companies are still reeling from the digital revolution more than 10 years ago (especially the bigger and slower moving ones) and they are all looking for new revenue streams. It’s important to bear this in mind when looking for work in music as it’s not only about selling songs, albums, or tickets these days, there are loads of other revenue streams.

Back to me… I was putting on shows and making my own small-scale ‘industry’ from the age of 16. I started out putting on shows, firstly in school and then in local clubs and pubs – and you know what? Many of the people I met during this time, I still work with today.

Following my passion, I went to University and studied music (I am an anomaly by the way, I know no-one else in this field who studied music; my degree was practically useless in terms of my career!). I also played in bands and continued to put on shows, where I met more people who also would turn up later on in my career.

Eventually putting on failing shows became just too costly and I packed it in – instead to start a record company with a friend I knew from promoting shows; it was a bedroom label and we only ever put out one CD before we decided that we didn’t really know what we were doing and that kind of faded away.

Whilst working crappy jobs after uni, I began to DJ and promote club nights with a friend who I had met at some shows – and for a couple of years, this was actually successful – we had 300 people in through the door every Friday, and if you were a band in town we would probably ask you to come and do a guest DJ set in return for a couple of beers.

I kinda knew I always wanted to work in the music industry, but I had no idea at the time that by being proactive, I already had been. From all my efforts (plus from all the money I spent on gig tickets!), I was already in a great situation; I had a bunch of contacts.

And I guess that’s my first tip. Contacts are a currency and experience is everything, so get out to as many shows as you can and get started on a project wherever you are in the world; manage a band, put on some shows, release a record from your bedroom – it may be terrible, but the worst thing that will happen is that you will learn something whilst expanding your CV. I have never known anyone to be hired fresh out of uni with nothing but a degree, you need to be out there and getting experience.

Eventually, I moved to London on a bit of a whim and wound up getting my first ‘formal’ job in the industry. Well I say that, I mean someone else was paying me, and not much! I was booking little bands in the back of dingy London clubs, charging them for the pleasure. “Pay to play shows”, as they are known, are not a good practice and I don’t endorse them in any way. At the time, however, I was just thankful to get a job in London, making contacts and just about affording to live.

So, my second couple of thoughts on getting a job are as follows: Firstly, don’t expect to be earning the mega bucks, the industry has changed over the last 20 years so there isn’t as much money around any more. Working in the music industry, however, is still very much a desirable career choice, and companies know this. A lot of them will try to pay as little as possible, and whilst this is by no means right or fair, there are 100 other people who will fill your position in a flash, meaning these companies continue to get away with paying pittance. And secondly, be prepared to meet a lot of sharks; people who will rip you off because of your passion for music, be diligent and try to end up avoiding working for one of these scumbags!

For reference, you will probably earn about a fifth to a quarter less than your friends who wind up in other industries. As a Product Manager, I was on 27k GBP per year. Friends of the same age in similar marketing rolls were on around 32k.

Anyway, I worked for the scummy booking agent for a while before getting a call from my old partner that I ran club nights with. She had been interning at a label and wanted to know if I fancied an interview to replace her. Of course I accepted and a few days later I had an interview (great contact to have eh?!). The interviewer and I knew loads of the same people, we bonded over that and I got the internship at Spinefarm Records, part of Universal Music Group.

This was the best job I could have hoped for! Free gigs every night of the week, a pretty good selection of open bars and the opportunity to meet loads of new people. This is one of the greatest perks of the music industry, in my opinion. It’s like one big social event. The downside of this is that you are always ‘on’. Despite being ‘out with friends’, you still need to push your new signing, or make sure that tour will happen etc. etc. You will wind up doing deals over a beer at 2am and you will chat a lot of bullshit to friends to get what you need. The work/social line becomes very blurred.

I spent 4 years at Spinefarm, working my way up from the Intern, to a Junior Communications Manager via Assistant Marketing Manager, Designer, Video Editor, eCRM Coordinator, Merch Store Manager, Video Producer, Runner, PR, A&R. and loads more; these weren’t formal roles, this is what the position required: with the lack of money in the industry, labels are especially looking for a jack-of-all-trades. If you can use Photoshop or Premiere, or design websites etc. that’s great. Do you take photos or make videos on the side? Make sure it’s all on your CV!

Furthermore, if you get an internship, do what is required, with a smile on your face. Now I’m not saying get your boss’s dry cleaning or walk their dogs, but you will have to book taxis and flights or run around town delivering CD’s every so often – it’s part of the industry and someone has to do it. And for the record, making a bunch of coffees for a meeting is polite and people will like (and remember) you for it… I still make everyone coffee before a meeting now… and I certainly remember the interns that have turned their nose up at this!

So, after 4 years of working at Spinefarm I was approached by a friend at Live Nation – they needed a Marketing Manager (someone who makes sure the tickets sell once the show is booked) – I felt my time was up at Spinefarm so made the jump. Again, I lived the dream in a way, even more free shows and now I was being paid a bit more – although as I narrowed my skill set into marketing, in a giant corporate beast, a few things became clear – this is the music business not the ‘music-fun-time-passion project’.

Yes, we all got into the industry because of our love for music but the bottom line is, you need to sell records, or tickets, or merch etc. to make a profit to keep you and the artists afloat. Sometimes the band that you love isn’t going to sell a million records. Music on large scale is an asset and you are just the marketing person (And even a good A&R knows the difference between a good band a profitable band). In a parallel universe you could be marketing cars or TVs or Trainers. It’s the best thing ever when you get to work with a band you love, or you pick up a baby band and watch them flourish, but some of the time you will be working with music you hate, and you still need to do a good job.

After just over a year at Live Nation and the threat of redundancy, I wound up back at Universal, product managing. Again, this was a bit of a contacts situation. I was coming back in to work on a new sub-label for UMG called Search And Destroy, I already knew the management company who had most of the artists on S&D and (thanks to making lots of coffee and not complaining!) had a good rapport with the people doing the hiring at UMG.

During this time, I managed a couple of bands on the side, this is a great place to start in the industry and is a place you can exercise your passion. Managing bands is about finding a band you believe in, and fighting for them. If you are starting out, try just finding a band or artist to help out for a while, you don’t have to commit to managing them straight away…

Fast-forward another 18 months and I’m now in Vancouver, Canada. I’m working as the Head of Digital Marketing for 604 Records. The move to Canada was more of a personal one, I felt I wanted a bit more of a work-life balance than London can offer, certainly in a job that is pretty 24/7. I needed not to be commuting for almost 4 hours every day and constantly glued to my phone. Furthermore, a lot of people in the music industry treat their job as if it’s the be all and end all, there is a lot of pressure put upon you for the smallest of things. But ultimately, we aren’t saving lives, well not directly, everyone needs some time to switch off, I felt like I wasn’t getting that.

I wouldn’t have called myself ‘digital savvy’ enough to be the head of digital for Canada’s biggest indie label, but then, as I have said, I threw myself into every aspect of my career and tried never to shy away from learning something new, so it turns out I kinda know what I’m doing!

I think overall, in an industry still in turmoil, pulling itself apart, chasing yesterdays profits – it pays, as an individual, to be malleable and forward thinking. The music industry we thought we knew is dead, so you need to be ready to work in this new era of music, even if we don’t quite know what that is yet…

Any thoughts / questions – tweet me @DangerBayley

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