Landing Music Industry Jobs or a Record Deal in the Digital Age

The Music Industry as everyone knew it slightly over a decade ago has undergone a revolution. The core middleman in the music industry that we came to know from the 50s to the mid-90s was always the record company aka the record label. During that time period, the label had access to the platforms of sales and distribution, and perhaps more importantly the label had virtual monopolistic access to marketing and the means for discovering new talent. Amazingly, this was hardly the limit of the record company’s control.

From the perspective of the many who dreamed of landing music industry jobs, the road leads through the many areas of influence or outright ownership of the big record company. The acts themselves relied on the label to take their talent and turn it into money. The record deal was the coveted result for securing monetary return for the artist’s work. It seemed to all, that labels were the only ones who knew the path.

Fast forward to the music industry of today and with it the emergence of the internet as a platform for sharing and distributing musical content digitally. Now the artists can go directly to the people in minutes without the help of middlemen. This has lessened the value of the record deal and records in general. The value now is more centered in the personage and original unique content of the musician. This is because the content of the records themselves are shared widely on a free platform (the internet).

This has served to decrease the value of the traditional record, tape or cd. While this technology trend has actually empowered musicians who choose to capitalize on it, it has greatly muddied the waters for people who are searching for a traditional music industry job. With labels generally contracting trying to figure out their most profitable place in the post-internet world, vertical integration and traditional jobs have become scarcer.

With all that said, the formula for making it in the music industry still comes down to the basics of attacking passionately and following through with dogged determination. The same fundamentals apply for either more conventional employment or in the form of someone paying you for your artistic work. When asked once what the secret to life was, legendary rock musician Bruce Springsteen was said to have commented: “find what really makes you happy and stick with it.” This concept is actually the basis for success in the music industry. Remember that the music industry itself is based on the difficult to quantify tastes of individuals. These tastes are ever-shifting. Even in the glory days of stability, the record-label dominated industry was constantly in flux. Today it is much more chaotic.

So knowing that, when looking for a music industry position, you first want to clearly understand what you are really passionate about. Then when you choose that aspect of the music industry, use the internet to understand the trends and future outlook. The most important question you will want to answer about your passion is: where is the greatest area of need and where can I focus my efforts to give the greatest value within my area of interest? Then you must be very willing to do whatever it takes, including working for no compensation to prove your worth to break in with music industry jobs. The rewards of being able to spend your days doing something you love will be well worth the sacrifices at the beginning. A cool secret about initial sacrifice is that it doesn’t feel like sacrifice because you are knee deep pursuing what you love.

Now if you are a musician and you want to get a record deal, the idea of pursuing your dream is probably already deeply ingrained. You are hopefully very experienced in having people critique your work positively and negatively. Even with the new technologies emerging, getting a record deal is still a very relevant goal. The relationship that you should want to create with a label within the music industry is collaborative. Don’t fall into the trap of being the servant or begging for the existence of the relationship thinking it will answer all your financial problems.

Today’s musician must be knowledgeable about how to control his entire production and distribution as if the record labels don’t even exist. This knowledge building process will invariably create a deep understanding of the business side of the industry. The use of digital technology and online distribution will also allow the musician to create his own buzz and identity. This is power for you as an artist in the process of growing a brand and eventually partnering (not serving) with a record label in a business relationship.

29 Ways to Make Money in the Music Industry

As an Assistant Professor of Recording Arts & Technology, one of the first thing I’m asked by parents of prospective students is whether or not it’s possible to make a living in the music industry. Obviously, this is a difficult question. I can’t promise anyone that they’ll be able to make a living working in the music industry because they all have different interests and skill-sets. However, what I can provide is a list of what my former students are doing. So, here’s a list of 29 ways my former students make money in the music industry.

Performer – Obviously, this is the one that everyone thinks of. Everyone wants to be a rock star at some point in their life. And everyone assumes they’re the ones making all of the money, which isn’t always the case. But that’s a topic for another day.

Live Sound Engineer – This audio professional is responsible for making each live performance sound as good as possible.

Recording Engineer – This audio professional is responsible for the first part of the recording process know as tracking. This is where all of the individual parts are recorded.

Mixing Engineer – Once all of the parts have been recorded, they are handed over to the mixing engineer. The mixing engineer adjusts the levels of each part to create the final mix.

Mastering Engineer – The mastering engineer is the last person involved in the recording process. They concentrate on making sure that all of the songs on the CD work well together, as a whole. Often times they have to adjust the level of one song as compared to another so that it isn’t jarring to the listener.

Pro Tools Operator – This is a specialised type of recording engineer that only runs Pro Tools software. You can actually go to school for this to become a Certified Pro Tools operator, and if you do you might have me as your professor.

Intern – This is how many people start out in the music industry. Sometimes interns get paid, sometimes they don’t. Either way, it’s still often the best way to get your “foot in the door”. Just be ready to clean a lot of toilets and take a lot of coffee and food orders.

Teacher – There are music teachers at all levels of the music business from the guitar teacher at the neighborhood music store, to the band teacher at the high school, to the vocal coach of the stars.

Manager – The manager is responsible for overseeing the artist’s or band’s career. They are like a head coach in that they advise the performer as they assemble their professional team of agents, business managers and lawyers.

Booking Agent – This is the member of the artist’s team that is responsible for booking performances. Many people get the jobs of the manager and the agent confused. In certain states it’s actually illegal for managers to book performances for artists.

Publicist – This member of the artist’s team is responsible for generating publicity, usually in the form of newspaper, magazine and TV coverage.

Club Owner – This one is easy to understand. Basically, this includes anyone that owns a live music venue whether it be a club, bar or coffee house.

Recording Studio Owner – Sometimes this is the same person as the recording, mixing or mastering engineer, other times it’s simply a business person.

Graphic Designer – This visual artist is responsible for designing whatever artwork the artist needs ranging from CD covers to posters.

Web Designer – It’s the job of the web designer to build and maintain the artist’s website. They may incorporate portions of the graphic designer’s work in the design of the website.

Producer – The producer is responsible for overseeing the entire recording process. Traditionally, they chose the songs for the artist and hired the recording engineers and studio musicians. Nowadays, it’s quite common for the producer to also be a songwriter, performer and recording engineer as well.

Songwriter – Some artists write their own songs. Those that don’t need new material every time they record a new CD. That’s where the songwriter comes in.

Film Composer – Another one that’s pretty obvious. Film composers write all of the music necessary for a movie.

Jingle Writer – This is a very specialized songwriter who writes music for radio and TV commercials.

Publisher – The job of the publisher is to represent composers and songwriters and get their music used in movies and on TV.

Merchandiser – The merchandiser is responsible for putting the artist’s likeness on an endless variety of products. Everyone that owns at least one concert t-shirt has a merchandiser to thank.

Journalist – In the past, this job was limited to a few magazines and newspapers but now, with the internet, there are literally thousands of sites discussing every genre of music imaginable.

Equipment Designer/Manufacturer – Someone needs to make all of the cool gear that the artists use on stage and in the studio.

Equipment Retailer – I know from first-hand experience that you can make a really good living working for one of the larger equipment retailers like Sweetwater Sound, Musician’s Friend or Guitar Center.

TV/Film Music Supervisor – This is the person that finds the perfect songs and music for each TV show and movie. They usually work very closely with the director as well music publishers.

Record Label Owner – Nowadays, these are either multi-national companies (the major labels), or music lovers (the smaller independent labels).

Entertainment Lawyer – The music industry is full of all different types of contracts. You need an attorney that is familiar with these specialized documents.

Business Manager – Works closely with the artist to ensure that their bills are paid and that their money is well cared for.

Rehearsal Space Owner – This may be one that many people don’t think of but there are rehearsal studios in just about every medium to large city.

So there we have it, 29 ways to make money working in the music industry. In no way is this list complete. This is just an example of the type of work my former students do. I’m sure there are many, many other jobs in the music industry that I didn’t mention here. Feel free to comment below and let me know what I left off of the list. I really appreciate reading your comments and feedback.