The music industry is a fragmented and diverse world made up of executives, managers, publicists, musicians and everything in between.
There are labels and talent agencies, PR and tech companies, Performances Rights Organizations and internet radio stations, social media platforms and specialized apps, and many other types of organizations and businesses.
Finding your place in the music industry could either be extremely easy or incredibly difficult, depending on what you want to achieve and how you see yourself fitting in.
But rest assured there is a way to get into the music industry, even if you don’t have any experience. Here’s how.
1. Take Inventory Of Your Musical Skills & Experience
Before you do anything else, consider what skills you’ve developed and what experience you’ve gained to this point.
Have you dabbled in graphic design? Great, the music industry needs graphic designers. Do you have extensive experience as an accountant? Great, the music industry needs accountants. And, there are a host of other skills that at first glance may not seem to apply to the music industry but could end up translating well. Even if you can’t sing or play an instrument, there are opportunities for you.
Now, if you’re thinking you don’t want to get into the music industry only to end up doing the same things you were doing in another industry, or you don’t have any marketable skills or experience yet, it’s still a good idea to consider what you could potentially bring to the table.
Do you have any connections that could prove worthwhile? Do you have extra capital laying around that could be invested into a company? Do you have sound equipment that could be used at venues or festivals? Are you a hard and dedicated worker?
I know that being a hard worker might seem like a small thing, but it will go a long way in the music industry, because in general it’s a hardworking industry. So, if that’s literally all you can think of right now, that’s okay – I can still show you how to begin creating opportunities for yourself.
2. Choose A Field And Music Genre To Focus On
It’s a good idea to think long-term here. I know that people these days go through many career changes in their lifetime, and oftentimes they go back to school – sometimes multiple times – in search of greener pastures.
I’m not against that, but I also see a lot of people going further and further into debt by adopting this behavior, ultimately not finding a career they are satisfied with for more than a few years. Look, they call it “work” for a reason – jobs exist to help companies grow and move forward. They aren’t fulfillment and livelihood engines by design.
I don’t mean to scare you. All I’m saying is that if you plan well and pursue things that interest you, you are less likely to end up going from job to job and school to school in search of that elusive “perfect” career, which does not exist.
If you invest in yourself first and foremost and develop marketable skills, it will give you more options down the line. You could start in one company and move to another. You could strike out on your own and become a freelancer. You could even start your own company. And, if you’ve chosen to become a musician, congratulations – you are now a musician. All you need to do is begin making music.
Maybe you’re not sure what interests you or what to pursue just yet, and that’s okay too.
I’ll share a bit about my story in hopes that it will cause a few “aha” moments for you.
When I was 14, I started writing songs. At 17, I started playing guitar. It wasn’t long before I was recording and playing in bands, and that’s something I still do to this day.
But even as that was going on, in my 20s, I also started a graphic and web design company. I started a home studio. I explored my passion for writing and blogging. I started podcasts and made videos. I learned about communication, networking, marketing, social media and SEO. You can probably see how these are all marketable skills.
Care to guess what I’m doing today? I’m doing everything I just mentioned and more. So, I don’t regret having side projects, even if it held back my music at times. It was all worth it.
3. Don’t Overlook Music Internship Opportunities
Becoming an intern, especially early on, is a good way for you to gain experience and see how the industry works.
But it’s important to recognize that internship opportunities often aren’t advertised. You can literally cold call any company and see if they’d be willing to take you on. Some may turn you down, but there are many others that would welcome the additional help.
You should also know that there are paid and unpaid internship opportunities, but both can ultimately lead to a paid position or better opportunities.
Think like an entrepreneur as you approach internships. If you can land a paid opportunity, it means the company probably has some money to spare, and if you do well, you should be presented with a proper job down the line.
If it’s an unpaid internship, the company could just be testing you, but more than likely they don’t have money to spare. But the same thing applies. If you do well and help the business generate more revenue, there could be a position waiting for you on the other side.
That’s why I say you should think like an entrepreneur. Many people don’t bother with unpaid internships. But the reality is that oftentimes the greater opportunities exist in these situations.
Why do I say that?
Because in an unpaid internship, if you do especially well, you might be able to get hired on in a higher position. You may be able to command better terms and better salary. Plus, you could learn skills that will prove invaluable later on in your career. In a paid internship you’re almost always starting from the bottom and working your way up. And, in most instances, there’s no way to work your way up to the top. The executive positions are already filled.
Internships also offer some flexibility. So, let’s say you’re a musician interning at a PR company. You could be learning the ins and outs of public relations while honing your craft as a musician. Then, when you’re ready, you could strike out on your own and build your music career with your newfound knowledge of publicity. Since it’s an internship, you aren’t tied to the company.
Personally, I always welcome interns because they bring valuable ideas to the table and help me do some of the grunt work that takes up too much of my time and energy.
Go To Open Mics, Performances & Community Events
Unless you’re in Nowheresville, USA, there should be live music events happening in your locality. It’s a good idea to begin attending them and making a few connections.
Regardless of what capacity you intend to be involved in the music industry, you must realize that there would be no industry without music. So, getting to know artists, hosts, venue owners and event organizers is ultimately to your benefit. If you’re planning to be a musician, then the benefits should be clear – this is how you get gigs.
Don’t overlook or ignore events just because they are small. Realistically, you’re probably not going to be able to connect with key people at stadium events. People at pubs, bars, clubs, community halls and coffeehouses are much more accessible.
Even if all you do is engage in a bit of preliminary research by asking musicians and hosts some basic questions around what challenges they’re experiencing and what they’d like to accomplish in their careers, you’ll learn a lot.
I have a friend who regularly attended singer-songwriter events in my locality of Calgary, Alberta. He was known as one of the greatest supporters of the community, hosting events and offering valuable tips to musicians who were looking to grow their careers. I don’t think he ultimately made a career out of that, but he nevertheless rose to the level of an important influencer in the local market.
That may not be the trajectory you want to follow, but if you’re looking for ideas on what solutions you could provide or how to serve the industry at large, going to local music events will prove beneficial.
Connect With The Right People In The Music Industry
This goes hand in hand with my last point.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you’re thinking about doing in the music industry. Connections are the most valuable resource you could have, and anybody with basic people skills can make them.
Your odds of landing a job or gig are much greater if you can get a referral. I haven’t worked too many jobs in my life, but there’s only one job that I got because of my resume and persistence. Everything else I got came through referrals.
If you only focus on one thing, make it this – networking and creating connections. Your skillset and experience don’t matter as much as who you know, because if you know the right people, they can hook you up.
But you should still determine a focus. Be clear on what you want. Otherwise, people can’t point you in the right direction. The difference between someone who gets an opportunity and someone who’s overlooked sometimes comes down to how focused they are. In the music industry, this is especially true.
If I said that I was looking to be a session guitarist for a country band, that’s specific. People would know who to point me to. If I said that I was wanting to compose music, perform and write songs, that’s far more general and it makes it harder for people to make a referral.
So, be strategic about who you connect with. Connecting with the local open mic host might be a good idea. But if they don’t know anyone who works at the local tech company you’re interested in working for, it’s not getting you to where you want to go. Use social media to get a sense of who might relate to that tech company and begin building a relationship with them.
Make Music, Apply For Work, Freelance Or Start Your Own Business
Having gone through the above steps, you’re ready to begin looking for work. This isn’t to suggest you shouldn’t begin doing this immediately. But it is extremely helpful to think about what you’re good at, what your focus is going to be, going to local events and creating connections anyway. Specifically, going to events and networking should be ongoing.
When applying for work, recognize that there aren’t too many wrong moves you can make (besides burning bridges or making enemies). Whether it’s interning, landing an entry-level position or getting hired on as an admin person, it can all lead to better things. You will learn a lot in the process, and everything you learn can be leveraged in future jobs.
If you’ve identified a problem you can solve for musicians or the industry at large, then freelancing might be another viable option. Whether it’s graphic or web design, social media management, SEO, booking gigs, offering gear rentals, reviewing music or otherwise, there may be a way to sell your services to the people who need it most while working out of the comfort of your own home.
Finally, you can always start your own business. This may not be for everyone. But whether you choose the employment or freelancing route, you may be able to gain the experience necessary to create a business that serves an audience. I happen to think this is the most exciting path, but it’s also the most challenging, as it requires you to shift your mindset from an employee to an entrepreneur.
Freelancing can sometimes play right into starting a business, as it requires you to wear many hats. Being a generalist is generally an asset in business.
How To Get Into The Music Industry With No Experience, Final Thoughts
I see many people arbitrarily limit themselves because they don’t think they have the qualifications or experience necessary to get a job. If you think you might be right for a position, don’t let that stop you. If a company is in need, and they see that you’re a good fit and that you’re passionate, dedicated and enthusiastic, they might hire you anyway. Oftentimes, these qualities matter more than whatever skills and experience you bring to the table.