I am asked a lot of the time if I think it is worth it to go to school to pursue a career in music.
There is no simple answer. I think that each case is different and that there are several factors to keep in mind when making a decision on how to get into the music industry.
Here are some things to think about when deciding if you should get the education or if you should jump right in…
Do you need an education to be in the music industry?
No. I’ve seen some people go to school to be a music engineer and they end up with an internship at a studio that could have been secured without the education.
From experience, I’ve seen that some of these interns don’t work as hard as the ones that didn’t go to school for it. The music business is a tough game to crack in to. If you want in, you have to be willing to do the dirty work – cleaning toilets, getting coffee – doing what ever is needed. Sometimes the attitude of a student is that they are ‘above’ these things. That’s the wrong attitude to take.
With or without education you have to be willing to come in and grind.
A good example of this is my man Slakah the Beatchild. He secured an internship at Phase One Studios – one of the top studios in Canada. As much as he wanted to jump in and become an engineer, he bided his time by getting coffee, running errands, etc. But he didn’t mind. One day it would be Bono passing thru to record. Another day 50 Cent – so I’m sure that made the job easier. The tough part was the time requirements. I remember hanging out with Slakah on a Saturday evening and he would get a call from the studio asking him to come in. He would tell them – “I can be there in half an hour” and he would drop what he was doing and head there immediately. On those times, he might not get back til Sunday morning at 10 am. He’d work overnight and he wasn’t getting paid.
Is an education helpful to break into the music industry?
Having knowledge is always going to help. A few options to consider are:
A lot of times music programs are from private institutions and charge a lot of money. If the tuition is closer to 10k a year rather than 3-5k – I’d be very weary with the possible exception being if it is a one year program.
When it costs more than a conventional school there is a problem because there are no guarantees about the schools accreditation or its instructors.
You need to research the school to see who the professors are and who are some of the graduates. If the courses are being taught by industry professionals you need to find out who some of these people are.
You need to go deeper than “some of our graduates have gone on to…” Solid success stories are a good indication of the value of the program.
3. Or would you be better…
A) Investing in attending conferences
Whether attending school or not attending conferences provides crucial for knowledge in the music industry. It also allows you to access to meet panelists who are usually key people in their field.
How do you maximize attending a conference?
First thing I is ask a question. Before you ask the question, let people know who you are and where you are from. This allows you to standout from 90% of the group. It’s also helpful for talking to people later on as they remember you as the guy who asks questions.
When I was in New Orleans for the Core DJ retreat I stood up to ask a question and after I said I was from Canada the moderator stopped me and said to everyone – “See this man flew all the way from Canada for this. You can tell he’s serious!” From that point, people at the conference called me “Canada” – I wasn’t mad. I stuck out. It became helpful when following up with panelists at loud environments like nightclubs later in the evening. I didn’t have to introduce myself, I already had.
A second key is going up to speak to the panelists at the end. Not sure what to say? It can be as simple as “I really appreciated your talk, I’m doing (insert what you’re doing) and found it helpful.” This will start a conversation that will help you gain more knowledge – as well as a new contact.
As someone who has sat on a panel, I know that this is a great approach because I appreciate when people come up to me and thank me. Sometimes as a panelist you don’t know if you are addressing the issues that need to be addressed. Most times the panelist genuinely wants to help the attendees.
Third, try to approach the industry insider later on at the conference. Don’t worry about them not knowing you well – if you have asked a question, or briefly spoken to them, they will at the least vaguely remember you.
This can be an opportunity to grab a business card which you can obtain with the question “Is it alright if I follow up with you and send you a brief email if I have any quick questions in the future?”
The key words being “email”, “brief” and “quick” – these are busy people. They can be down to help but you want to make it clear you don’t want to take up their time – so stay away from the “would you mind if I gave you a call?”
What conferences to attend? Ask people in the industry, do your research. Start local, then national, then international. Go to general music conferences as well as ones specifically in your field.
For instance, I will attend Canadian Music Week to gain knowledge of Canada music business, then I will attend New Skool Rules internationally because it improves my international knowledge and contacts as well as it being specifically in the Urban field.
B) Securing an internship
A good way of breaking into the industry is using the money that you would have put into school and using it to pay for your living expenses as you work for free for a company or person. By not going to school, your parents might not understand – but you are gaining valuable experience.
How do you get an internship? If you don’t have many connections, you need to research where or who you would like to intern with. Then you can send an email or visit the location to give them your resume. The key with this style is persistence – after all, they don’t know so why would they give you a chance.
The best way is to gain an internship is to develop more relationships with people in the industry and to be taken on as an intern by one of these people. This allows for more of mentorship role.
Either case – it always helps when you indicate that you are willing to do anything – from coffee to cleaning toilets. Don’t expect to jump right in to the important tasks.
Even though the jobs that you are doing may seem menial, if you are keeping your eyes open and staying alert you will be learning a lot on the way.
In conclusion – do your homework to find out if education is right for you. But no matter what, be prepared to grind it out. The last thing you want to do is invest your money – and your time – in something and then not be prepared to work hard. It may seem obvious, but in my experience, I’ve seen more than 75% of people fail to succeed in the music biz simply based on their work ethic.
So Stay Driven!
D.O. aka Defy the Odds