Teaching a career development and entrepreneurship class is a rewarding and thought provoking process. Each group of students I work with has their unique challenges but there are more similarities than differences. These days’ careers in music and audio production are often perceived with concern by parents of enthusiastic kids ready to take on the world with their creative passion and drive. “Shouldn’t my child get a college degree?” “What employment opportunities are there for these skills?” “This is a very competitive field.” These are all comments I hear on a regular basis. As a parent myself I understand full well these concerns.
First and foremost is challenging the notion that this is about rock or DJ stardom and getting rich quick but about creating a sustainable and happy life doing what you love. Fame certainly doesn’t guarantee success and can be very short lived. Anyone who understands what’s transpired in the music industry over the past 15 years probably knows that that having a strong personal drive and unrelenting DIY approach is fundamental to kick starting your career. Being a creator of things that no one necessarily needs means that ultimately, your job isn’t to convince anyone of how great you or your craft is but simply to be great and that takes a deep commitment to self-development.
1. What can I learn from other artists?
Don’t re-invent the wheel: Listen, listen, listen. Find other artists and producers that resonate with you and find out everything you can about how they got to where they are. Be an avid reader and researcher of their history and see what parts of their story you align with and what you can learn from them. With so many amazing career and life stories having already been written you can short cut your path by learning from the mistakes and successes of others.
2. How do I get my own recognizable sound?
Everyone wants to be original and have their own sound but before you can do this you’ll need to learn the fundamentals and tricks of what it takes to sound pro. To do this you’ll need to find a community of like-minded people who can help you master the tools that can open the doors to your creativity. I’ll be quite frank here and say you do not need a degree to make a living recording, mixing, or producing music. There are many multi-year college experiences with lots of shiny gear that can be very enticing but ultimately learning from others who already do it for a living will be the difference in how fast you get the results you’re looking for.
3. What can I gain from a mentor that I can’t just get from YouTube?
YouTube and online video tutorials can only get you so far. In order to develop a creative work flow that will give you the confidence and productivity to be prolific enough to sustain a career you’ll need a mentor. Finding a great one can make the difference between a long slow climb and a turbo boost for your career. Remember that this is a very special kind of relationship so make sure you approach it with an attitude of gratitude and “what can I do for you first.” Internships are an in-valuable opportunity to present yourself as willing and able to do whatever it takes to help your prospective mentor. Proving that you are there not to just take is key to how these relationships develop. I always advise prospective interns to use this opportunity to learn from the inside out. Find out where the inefficiencies are and figure out ways to make things run better. If you can do this you’ll immediately prove your worth and may even find yourself first in line for any employment opportunity.
4. What if people don’t like my music?
Survival as an artist or in any aspect of creative work requires a tough skin. One of the most difficult lessons is that even the failures are an essential component on your path to success. If you got into it for the money then you’ll never last. Commit to being a lifer and know that the fruits of your efforts may take years to get recognized by an adoring public.
5. How will I know when my music is ready to be released?
ive yourself the time to suck. Yup, that’s what I said, suck! It’s very rare that the first thing you write or produce or even the second, third or fourth is going to be a masterpiece. This isn’t just about controlling your ego but about a process of self-evaluation and iteration. Build a close circle of honest but positive people who you respect (preferably not family members as that tends to bring with it too many emotions and biases) that can give you constructive feedback. Treat them like your board of advisors. It’s never too early to start building your support team and fan base so choose your circle carefully and use them as sounding boards on both your work and career development decisions. Not only will this prove to be an in-valuable process but this circle can become the only one that you will trust when success becomes bigger than you might have ever expected.