A Solid Start In the Music Business
This piece actually came off of a chain in a Music Industry forum on Linked In. It was in response to someone who wanted to break into the touring side of the music industry. She got a lot of advice, but this is so detailed and smart, such a from-the-trenches story of how to get started, that I had to share. When I reached out for permission, the answer was, “Sure.” If you’re an aspiring music professional, check out Andy Bassford’s website and the series, Ten Commandments, on his blog.
I started as a volunteer roadie for a local band because my band wasn’t good enough to make money playing out yet. I learned how to advance a gig, how to solve problems on the spot, how to lift things safely, how to wire a PA, how to set up a stage, how to relate to the people working the venue, how to load and unload a van, and what made a good show and a bad show. I also learned a lot about all the instruments by watching good musicians play show after show. Most important, I learned how hard the business was, and that I wanted to do it anyway. I did this for about two years and didn’t make a dime. But I learned lessons that have come in handy ever since, and thousands of gigs, tours, and sessions later, I’m still at it, though I’m playing, not lifting (at least not as much).
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If you want to make a career out of this, your work will primarily come from the following sources— a) artists and bands b) venues c) management companies d) media distribution companies— until you start your own business. Live Nation will find out about you much quicker if you are the most competent media person out of the hundreds they might deal with in a day than they will from a resume. And your job offers will be at a higher level than you would get from a resume because they will already know what you can do and how you might fit in.
My father used to say, “Do your job, everything else follows.” I would recommend finding a local band that you really love, introducing yourself to them, and volunteering your services. The merch table is a great place to start if you don’t want to lift speaker cabinets. You will interact with real fans and get a gut-level feel for cash flow on the road, from which everything else follows. So is internet-related work like email lists, website stuff, creating EPKs, and generating online publicity if you’re not a meet-and-greet sort of person. There isn’t an independent band out there that couldn’t use free help in one or both of those areas.
I specify a band that you love because a) you will be getting into their shows for free, which will make it easier to volunteer your time b) if you end up working for them, you’ll be thrilled c) they will be playing shows with bands that they like and respect, mostly, so the other bands that you will meet will also be people you’d enjoy working with.
Another avenue might be to find your favorite band’s management and volunteer for them. You’ll be learning the ropes, making contacts, and hopefully, making an impression. Whatever they give you to do, be the best person doing it they’ve ever seen. This builds good work habits and it’s something people notice. If they don’t notice, they aren’t smart enough for you to work for and you need to go somewhere else.
Once you show what you can do, they will either start paying you as soon as they can, or other people will see you doing a great job and want to pay you to do it for them. I’ve been a working musician for 42 years and I can tell you that everyone I’ve seen do well in the business has gotten where they are by doing great work while someone who could help them sees them do it. I happen to have a college degree, but it’s not in music and it never made a bit of difference to anyone who hired me.
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