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. You may need to pick up new skills or additional education to reach your goals.
But rest assured there is a way to get into the music industry, even if you don’t have any experience. Here’s how.
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
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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. It doesn't matter whether it connects directly to the music industry.
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.
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. Get out of the mindset that you are an “aspiring” musician, because that will only hurt you.
This isn't to say there isn't a long road ahead but being an aspiring musician keeps in the state of thinking about what you one day hope to be. We want to transition into daily actions as quickly as possible. Stop analyzing and start doing.
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.
I enjoy every part of what I do. And, as scattered as I might be at times, work is always there when I need it.
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. It's difficult to get promoted in a big company, and even if you are, there will be a ceiling.
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.
This is exactly what Amber Rubarth did, and former CD Baby founder Derek Sivers did a great interview with her.
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. I'm sure there are other busy people out there that feel the same way.
Go To Open Mics, Performances & Community Events
Unless you’re in Nowheresville, USA (not a real place), 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 improve as a musician and 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.
And, if you want a career at a company, the best way is to get a referral from someone you know. That's why you need to…
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.
Be A Good Hang
I've talked to enough people in the music industry to know that being a good hang can make a big difference.
If Spectre Sound Studio's ongoing video series called “Stupid Musician Texts” is any indication, unfortunately, people in the music business sometimes argue about petty things and ruin potentially valuable relationships over the smallest things.
That's the opposite of what you should do.
First and foremost, if you're texting or instant messaging, always use discretion. Avoid saying things that can be misconstrued. Get straight to the point. And, if at all possible, use proper grammar and spelling.
I know it seems like a small thing. But if you can't accurately express your thoughts in written form, others might think you're undependable in other ways.
If possible, avoid conversations via text altogether. There's just too great a margin of error.
Plus, if you're talking to someone that already gets tons of emails and messages every single day, messaging them via social media will only add more clutter to their already overburdened day. Be respectful and don't interrupt their flow. A simple email will do and you can politely follow up weekly.
As someone who gets more than his fair share of emails and messages, I try to funnel all communication through a single channel
In most cases, the bulk of your communication will be handled over email and phone. The same rules apply here too. You need to keep your communication concise and respectful.
And, when meeting others in person, be someone others want to be around. Ask plenty of questions. Let others do the talking. Be positive and helpful.
If you're at a conference or something like that, actively invite people to have lunch or supper with you. In most cases, this won't happen without intention, so be proactive. This of a great opportunity to get a candid view into another person's life.
You can't control what others think of you but you can control what you say and do. It's okay to be yourself but remember that people always work with those they know, like and trust. So, be liked, known and trusted. Be accountable to your word and follow through.
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. Don't despise small beginnings.
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.
So, as a freelancer, you can work your way up to being a business owner too.
What Kind Of Music Industry Jobs Are There?
We've talked at length about how to work your way into the music industry, even if you have no prior experience.
But what kind of jobs are there exactly?
As I've already shared, there are many ways you can apply yourself. But some people like to think more concretely.
So, I've broken down the various jobs that exist in music.
Performer Music Industry Jobs
Most performers have various sources of income and don't rely exclusively on performance revenue to sustain their careers (though some do).
There generally isn't guaranteed pay as a performer (meaning it isn't a “job” in the traditional sense), because it depends on the types of gigs you get booked for.
But depending on your goals, there are plenty of opportunities to pursue. Here are a few types of performers:
- Solo artist. Generally, an artist who writes and records their own music, accompanies their vocals on guitar, ukulele or piano and sets up their own gigs and tours. Most solo artists aren't “one man (or woman)” shows in the sense that they generally have one or more people assisting and helping with their career, whether it's a friend or family member, funder, producer, publicist, promoter or otherwise.
- Group or band. From duos all the way to larger ensembles, groups and bands function much the same way a solo artist does. They write, record and perform their original music for audiences and book their own gigs and tours.
- Cover band. A band that's dedicated to playing popular hits of the day, at bars, pubs, clubs and other venues. Because a cover band plays everyone's favorite songs, they can typically generate an immediate draw or play at venues that have a larger, built-in audience. For some immediate money, joining or starting a cover band is a great idea. But it's incredibly rare for cover bands to become famous, and scaling beyond certain sizes of shows can be a challenge.
- Tribute band. A subset of a cover band that can sometimes command more attention and larger gigs than cover bands. Tribute bands choose their favorite band (one that a lot of people like), learn their songs, don costumes and attempt to create an experience that's on par with the band their paying homage to. Tribute bands sometimes get booked for the same gigs show bands do, and if they're particularly good, they can even play arenas and stadiums (check out The Beatles tribute band Day Tripper, for instance).
- Show band. A show band is one that is dedicated to playing high-paying gigs like corporate events, weddings, charity galas, holiday parties and other celebrations. It could be considered a subset of a cover band.
- Cruise ship musician. Another subset of a cover band. A cruise ship musician's responsibility is to entertain guests. Expenses are minimal for cruise ship musicians, so they're generally able to sock away a lot of money while they're working. Competition can be fierce for this position.
- Singer or background singer. Singers and background singers are sometimes hired on to perform with bands and even solo artists. It's not uncommon for singers to join bands, unless they are particularly in demand and everyone wants them on their project, in which case they'll continue to work for hire.
- Session singer or musician. Session singers and musicians are hired on for one-offs, a strings of gigs or even tours. Sometimes, they get offers to join a band on a more permanent basis, too. Session players are typically great at what they do and can adapt to just about any style of music and give their band leaders exactly what they need.
- Accompanist. An accompanist is generally a skilled instrumentalist (typically pianist) that accompanies a variety of performers – singers, dancers, instrumentalists and so on. Technically a subset of a session musician, accompanists can also be called upon to perform with solo artists and bands, too, if they have the right skills.
- DJ. DJs usually work at nightclubs and their responsibility is to entertain the audience and get them dancing. DJs can be hired for pubs, bars, raves, parties and other events too.
Jobs For Writers In The Music Indsury
Somebody needs to write the music that gets recorded.
Now, some artists write their own music, so they don't necessarily rely on other songwriters to build their portfolio of recorded works.
But when it comes to top 40 pop music, it's common for songs to be written by dedicated songwriters. Just look at Max Martin and Dr. Luke – songwriters who've penned some of the most recognizable hits by major artists.
A great song is what the industry tends to revolve around.
But there are plenty of other types of writers too. Let's look at a list of the career opportunities available:
- Songwriter. A songwriter's responsibility is to write songs that will be recorded by artists. As a songwriter, you should be able to play an instrument, if not multiple instruments. You should be able to write lyrics. And, preferably, you should have the ability to record demos too.
- Ghostwriter. This is a slightly different type of songwriter. Ghostwriters basically write songs that others record, except they don't get credit for. So, most of the time they are work for hire, get paid upfront for their services and don't get paid in royalties.
- Lyricist. A lyricist should have all the same skillsets as a songwriter but are often hired for their ability to write great lyrics.
- Music producer. A music producer is someone who writes, arranges, produces and records songs. As a music producer, you can record songs for others or for your own projects. So you get practicing for this profession by getting a good DAW for your home computer.
- Composer. Composers create music for media – films, TV shows, video games and more. Typically, they are producers in their own right too.
- Video game composer. A composer who focuses exclusively on the creation of music for video games. Tommy Tallarico is a great example.
- Production music writer. Production music writers write music for commercial use and will often sell their music to a Production Music Library for use in films, TV shows and commercials.
- Jingle writer. Jingle writers usually write music for use in commercials on radio, TV and elsewhere.
- Sound designer. A sound designer's responsibilities can vary from one to another. Generally, they are responsible for finding or creating the right sound effects and music for various productions, including films, TV shows, video games, theater, live performance, radio and more.
Recording Careers Jobs
There are plenty of careers available in recording thanks to the massive influx of recorded media.
Many people in recording careers start out on their own, work independently and work their way up to better opportunities as they gain more experience.
As well, many start their own recording studios or set up home recording environments. This isn't to say there aren't also job opportunities, however.
Here are some of the more common careers in recording, which are similar to some already mentioned in the Writers section:
- Producer. A producer oversees and guides the entire recording process from pre-production to tracking. They draw the best out of the musicians, dial in sounds, choose which takes to use and more. Sometimes, they also provide or manage the funding for the projects, too.
- Engineer or assistant engineer. An engineer is usually involved in setting up mics, tracking, editing and sometimes mixing. They play a big part in shaping the sound of the project. An assistant engineer will often take care of the “grunt” work, including cabling, mic positioning, editing and preparing mixes, carrying gear and so on. They often spend long periods in their chair, so you'll need to enjoy music production to pursue it.
- Studio manager. Sometimes a glorified custodian or administrator, a studio manager oversees that everything runs smoothly in the studio. They ensure everything in the building is in ship shape and tidy up as needed. They will also book sessions for musicians.
- Mixing engineer. Mixing is the first step in the post-production process. Besides tracking, mixing is the key element that shapes the sound of a recording project. It involves balancing and panning tracks, creating separation between tracks, applying effects and sometimes editing too.
- Mastering engineer. Mastering is the last step in the post-production process. Mastering ensures that the recording sounds great across the spectrum – various ear buds, headphones and speakers. Mastering engineers may apply additional effects to ensure the recording sounds great.
- Production music writer. See the Writers section.
- Arranger. An arranger will create arrangements for studio recordings. Arrangers may be brought on to ensure parts work well together, tighten up the sound, offer feedback or even create the entire structure of a song.
- Orchestrator. An orchestrator will take a composer's first draft and improve upon it.
Record Industry Jobs
There are plenty of record industry jobs available.
If you have skills and experience in things like design, sales, marketing, administrative, H&R and so on, you may consider getting a job in this category.
Here are a few different types of careers you can apply for:
- Intern. We've already talked at length about internships. As an intern, you will likely be responsible for admin tasks and additional support.
- A&R. There are multiple jobs in A&R, including director, coordinator and administrator. Directors and coordinators responsible for finding new artists and overseeing the creation of recording projects. Administrators have various duties, which may include securing rights to songs, distribution, keeping project budgets on track and more.
- General manager. A manager is a high-level job at a label and are decision makers with regards to marketing, budgeting, distribution, promo shoots and more.
- Promotion manager and staffer. Also known as a radio promoter, promotion managers and staffers are responsible for helping the label's artists get radio airplay. A staffer will also set up on-air performances, promotional giveaways and so on.
- Director publicist and staff publicist. A director will oversee the publicity department at labels and will help devise a strategy. Staff publicists will ensure artists maintain a positive public image and put together press kits, promotional campaigns and so on.
- Artist relations. Artist relations representatives will help artists develop their careers from an artistic and financial perspective.
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.