Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms was the biggest selling album of the 1980s. Skip forward a decade and that title is taken by Oasis’ What’s The Story (Morning Glory). Another ten years on and the biggest selling album of the first decade of the new millennium was, astoundingly, Back To Bedlam by James Blunt. The point is that musical taste is forever changing.
There is some truth to the idea that major labels help to dictate what people listen to, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that music doesn’t stand still. So it stands to reason that working in the music industry should be the same. If you want to maintain a career in music, you need to be flexible, you need to be willing to accept change and you need to constantly be on the lookout for ways to make the music you’re working with sell.
Building a long lasting career in the music industry can often come down to a fine balance of both who you know and what you know. Take Sharon Osborne, for example. These days she’s most well known as a judge on the X Factor. For years she sat alongside Simon Cowell, guiding contestants and deciding who was worthy to get through to the next round. But for decades she was one of the music industry’s most well known and successful managers, most particularly guiding the career of her husband Ozzie and his band Black Sabbath. What many people may not realise is that her father, Don Arden, was also an incredibly important figure in the music industry, managing Black Sabbath before she moved in and took over. But the very fact that she’s most well known from her own successes shows that well connected parents aren’t the only thing you need to get ahead in music. Sure, it helps to get started, but you’re not going to get very far if that’s all you’ve got going for you.
Of course, the vast majority of people don’t have this privilege, but all that means is that you need to educate yourself and create your own connections. Let’s take a look at a few ways you can get going.
Who You Know
One of the really great things about the music industry is that, on the whole, the people at the top are always willing to share their stories. If you’re truly interested in working in music, then seek out successful industry heads and ask them for a bit of advice.
There are various ways to go about this. The most direct route is to get a decent footing as an assistant or an intern and just ask them in person. They may be extremely busy, so choose your moment; they may even tell you to get out of their office and you slink away, embarrassed, but the odds are that at some point they will call you back, sit you down and answer your questions. A bit of flattery never hurts, but on the whole, they want to help you learn.
Alternatively, networking events are goldmines of information. Just because an agent books this year’s Glastonbury headliner or has recently signed the next big thing, it doesn’t mean that they’re done with meeting people. If you’ve never networked before or you’re looking for new events to attend, check out this guide on how to get started.
One of the reasons that ACM students find such success in their careers is that the course tutors and ambassadors are often music industry veterans themselves. Check out some of these interviews on the Featured Tutor Archives, or, if you’re already a student, ask your tutors how they’ve found success.
What You Know
It cannot be stressed enough how vital it is for musicians to know their worth. A good manager will be able to take your career to the next level, but it’s important to remember that without the music, they have nothing to sell.
For years, managers and agents banked on their artists knowing nothing about the music business, and artists were happy to leave it all to those with music industry jobs. Even Elvis Presley, one of the most successful musicians of all time, fell victim to this. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, negotiated a deal with the artist where they split all of his earnings 50/50, when managers taking a 20% cut would be the industry standard.
Fortunately, these practices have become increasingly rare. The UK music industry in particular has bred a new generation of industry professionals that care about their artists and aren’t just out to make a quick buck, but it’s still important that you understand where the money’s coming from and how much you’re earning.
Rooted in ACM’s philosophy is its ‘learn by doing’ ethos, and it’s part of what makes the Academy so unique. With its partnership with the world renowned Metropolis Studios, where artists from Queen to Adele have recorded some of their biggest hits, ACM offers students the opportunity to learn what makes music successful. That’s not just finding the latest trend and penning a hit, but everything that goes around it. Working alongside the studio, students learn how today’s artists monetise their music through their live performances, songwriting credits and licensing. All three campuses also offer the Music Business and Innovation route that teaches budding musicians and industry professionals how to make sure they’re never taken advantage of.
Making your way in the music industry is never going to be a walk in the park, but the tools to success are out there. It’s important to not only never turn your nose up at advice, but to actively seek it out. Everyone has a unique perspective of what’s new and innovative, so, if you’ve set yourself up properly, don’t be surprised to find an industry head at an event who’s desperate to pick your brain!