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Get a Job in the Music Industry! An interview with Keith Hatschek

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How to Get a Job in the Music Industry: 3rd Ed (Berklee Press, 2015)

 

Keith Hatschek’s book “How to Get a Job in the Music Industry” has helped thousands of people follow their dreams and find work helping to create more music in the world. If you are looking for a job, it is a must-read treasure trove of practical tips and insights. And the spelling is unusually clean in this volume, because for some reason, my Berklee Press student workers seem to spend extra time and care proofreading it! I can’t imagine why….

Anyhow, its recently released third edition updates the recommended practices for the contemporary job market, discussing modern tools and services, and providing nine interviews with young music industry professionals. In this interview, Keith was kind enough to answer some questions about how to find work in today’s market.

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Jonathan: What sectors of the music industry are hiring a lot of people now?

Keith: Live entertainment is one strong area, as the overall concert and live event business seems to be experiencing another solid year. For entry-level positions, this means starting out at a venue or with a promoter as “day of show” staff, labor, or client services.

While the traditional record business is still in a period of contraction, as the full impact of digital music distribution continues to evolve, new music companies such as Pandora, Spotify, Apple iTunes, and Rdio are making selective hires as they grow.

Small to mid-sized indie labels are also cycling through entry-level staff positions, especially if you have relevant experience or a degree in music business. These positions can lead to other jobs throughout the industry as you meet and build your network at other firms.

How do you find out who’s hiring in the music industry? Any suggested resources/job listing sites?

The fact is that many music industry jobs are discovered through word of mouth or by a referral from a colleague or mentor. One way to keep up with what’s new and growing is to be diligent about reading industry news and websites such as Billboard.biz, Pollstar, and Digital Music News to keep up with companies that are making a name for themselves. The other way is to keep in the flow of your regional music industry scene. Go to shows, attend all workshops or conferences, and basically work every day to expand who you know, and let them know how you might contribute to any forward looking music business.

As for job listing sites, EntertainmentCareers.net has an extensive listing of jobs in the music and media industries. It’s a good place to get a feel for what kinds of positions are available.

Should musicians focus on excelling at just one thing or is it more realistic to expect to have a multidimensional career, with various forms of income?

The answer to this question is not an either/or choice for musicians today. The practical reality is that it’s still vital to be very accomplished at least one key music function or skill. So, being an outstanding instrumentalist, vocalist, sound engineer or drum programmer will get you noticed and hopefully called back for paying gigs. But the talent alone is not enough in today’s market.

You need to complement your musical abilities with solid fundamental knowledge and skills in advocacy, marketing, social media, and friend- or audience-building. I like the term “portfolio careers” for musicians that are making a full time living by stitching together a variety of activities, many of which involve music and music making, and in total, find a rewarding and unique path to being successful. An example might be a saxophonist that plays in three bands, teaches lessons two days a week, and gets paid to write album and concert reviews for a few different websites. Put it all together, and you have enough to support yourself.

What core skills are particularly important to have, as a person working in the music industry?

We did a survey of music industry leaders, and some of the key skills they felt were essential for a music career today included:

  • Communication, Interpersonal, and Problem-Solving skills. Can you problem solve and collaborate with a diverse group of creative’s to achieve the intended outcome? Can you make a persuasive case for your music product or service that will get people who might support you to sit up and take notice?
  • Computer and Media Skills. Can you establish and maintain a digital presence online? Do you understand how to use audio and video in a way to best highlight you or your band’s music? Do you have the focus and skill to engage and sustain an ongoing dialog with a global audience?

For an aspiring artist or songwriter, these same computer and communication skills are necessary in addition to your musical chops.

What are some of the most common mistakes people make, when looking for work?

One common mistakes I hear about when I coach young professionals is holding out for their “dream job” rather than taking a position at a company or in a role that they don’t see as their top choice. Since the music industry is intrinsically built on relationships, staying out of the game instead of diving in and starting to build a solid reputation as a reliable contributor is a classic mistake. Take the first decent offer at a company that is reputable and build your network from day one. The opportunities to move toward your dream career will come with time.

Another is to mistakenly believe that by spending most of the job hunt on the computer and applying for jobs and internships, you are making your best effort. Getting out and pressing the flesh (shaking hands and meeting people) is exponentially more effective than simply applying for jobs online. I would recommend that job seekers spend roughly 50% of their time in the field (you’re going to need a business card!), meeting people, attending or volunteering at industry events and securing informational interviews; about 30% researching and applying for positions; and the remaining 20% continuing to enhance and expand their skill set.

Weak in HTML? Take a coding class online. Need to brush up on how to best leverage YouTube? Spend a week with the YouTube Creator’s Playbook and then do a video project using your new knowledge to demonstrate proficiency. The industry is moving ahead very quickly, and you need to keep enhancing your skills.

How far back in your work experience should you go, for a résumé?

For recent college graduates, you will probably have limited industry job experience, so list any jobs where you demonstrated responsibility, no matter how basic your contributions, especially any industry related internships or self-managed gigs or projects. For a mid career professional, generally, five to seven years is adequate to capture your skills and capabilities in a resume.

Should your résumé be conservative, so that it comes across as “professional,” or should you take risks so that it stands out?

That all depends on the area you are going towards. If I’m a songwriter, all I really need is my latest songs, well performed and recorded and available on my SoundCloud page. If I’m pitching myself as an artist, too, then I need an EPK and a back story that can be made marketable.

For someone wishing to be in the management side of the business, I would emphasize making the résumé professional looking, crystal clear writing, uncluttered, easy to read, with the use of a clear job objective and bullet points to show my accomplishments in whatever roles I had so far. Use any metrics you can to show your impact. Going for the arty fonts and four-color printing isn’t really necessary or helpful.

Are there any common misconceptions about work in the music industry that you would like to clarify?

Yes. It’s not all glamour, limo rides, and champagne backstage with the artist. The reality is that most people with solid full time careers in the music industry lead a middle class existence, working longer than normal hours, but get to be a part of creating something original, creative, and fresh each time they help a new album, concert tour or music video get to the fans.

For artists, since they now can access all the tools necessary to create, distribute and monetize their music, there’s never been a more exciting time to jump in and start to build an audience for your music. Any number of artists, such as Ed Sheeran, Karmin, or Pomplamoose, have initiated successful careers by just posting original performances on YouTube and slowly building their audience one fan at a time.

Let’s say that you’re an artist, but to make ends meet, you take a job in the music industry that doesn’t really relate to yourself as a musician. How do you keep hope alive, regarding your personal music making? How do you protect your soul?

I guess I would frame my answer to that a bit differently depending on the individual. First, I would argue that if I was an aspiring songwriter or artist, what better place to work than say a performing rights organization like SESAC, ASCAP or BMI for my day job? Or at a music publisher? There I can learn about how music is being used, tracked and royalties paid out to songwriters and music publishers. In today’s very fragmented music industry, power resides in so many different places, so the more I know about how the industry actually works, the more proactive I can be with regard to my own music.

At a music industry day job, I can also forge connections with all sort of professionals in my field. I’ll have to be disciplined to continue to refine my craft but as my music gets more polished, I will have developed a network of trusted colleagues to get feedback and perhaps help me transition to making music my full time gig. I agree that keeping body and soul together is a challenge, but one that can help build resilience along the way. You gotta eat, have a roof over your head and have a social life to be successful no matter what field you pursue.

When I think of soul crushing day jobs, I think more about a job doing data entry, or phone support or sales for a product you don’t use or believe in. But most music companies today are full of vital, bright creative people, many of whom themselves have been musicians at some point along the way.

Is there a sector of the music industry where the workers seem to be particularly happy and feel fulfilled by their lives?

Yes, after more than thirty years in the music industry, I would say that the happiest people I have observed have often been music educators and staff at music products companies or retail stores. The reason is pretty straightforward. They get to help people discover the joy of making music, no matter what the level. And that feeling you get when someone plays something well the first few times is pretty special.

Pac Ave Records, our student-led music business at University of the Pacific, partnered with a local after school El Sistema inspired after school music program to do a holiday CD and concert and the exuberance and joy those 4th and 5th graders had being on a big stage performing was palpable. The whole audience was with them on each piece, and no one was critiquing their pitch or rhythm too closely. It was just pure joy all around. I’ll take a healthy dose of that whenever I can!

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About
Jonathan Feist is editor in chief of Berklee Press, where he has been bringing hundreds of music education products to a worldwide market since 1998. He is the author of "Project Management for Musicians," among other Berklee Press books and Berklee Online courses. He holds a bachelor's and master's degree in composition from New England Conservatory of Music, and tends to various farm animals and a sweet little orchard in his backyard.
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