Illustration: Filip Fröhlich
Doing one thing exclusively is admirable, but it’s not for everyone.
Tons of people working in the music industry find themselves with several roles, whether by preference or circumstance.
If you can live somewhere that allows you to thrive on a full-time job in the music industry, that’s awesome! Congratulations; you’ve figured it out. However, with various music industry roles unable to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of living, you may find that it makes more sense to be self-employed and have a few sources of income. Or, perhaps you just like working that way. Or, maybe you have a job outside the music industry that pays the bills, but you want to be a part of a creative community or establish yourself as a musician who gives back.
Whatever your reason, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in music. Here’s a breakdown of why and how you can explore getting involved in the community in more ways than one. I’ve also provided some drawbacks and tips for overcoming them. Personally, I’m someone who always needs a lot going on or I get bored. Maybe you feel the same.
There are more paths than one in the music industry
I recently spoke with a college junior about my work and how I got to where I am. I was surprised to learn that her college was still largely recommending internships solely at places like Warner Music and Spotify. Those are undoubtedly great opportunities, but there are so many other smaller music businesses that also need help and have things to teach. A bigger surprise—none of her professors or admin are talking to her and her peers about freelancing or working for herself. I found it cool that she was taking it upon herself to talk to people working in non-traditional roles. I suggested getting a full-time job right out of school to learn the ropes, but there are so many paths out there waiting to be explored.
Bear with me, as I quickly share my personal story to illustrate how winding those paths can be. As a lifelong super-fan whose most formidable years were largely shaped by the music around me, I’ve had the desire to give back to the art form since I was old enough to know that was possible. You can probably relate. Coming of age in Florida in the 1990s – early 2000s, no one told me that a job in music was an option, let alone what that even looked like. Starting at age 20, I worked in PR, economic development, and online community building, and eventually landed in marketing for software startups in New York City.
Immersed deep in the NYC startup scene in the early 2010s, I was inspired to start my own thing, which led to a side project called A Song A Day—a community of curators delivering personalized song recommendations to listeners’ inboxes daily. When managing that project became unsustainable, I started a podcast called The Process—an interview series exploring the process of surviving as a creative. That podcast—through interviewing my now friend Thor Harris—is literally the reason I live in Austin, manage artists, and brook and promote shows.
During my early days in New York, I met Chris Muccioli who was working at a different music startup. Our paths continued to cross, and when I was at an artist residency in San Francisco in 2019, eventually led to him offering me a job at Splice.
Today, I’m a 34-year-old freelance writer for four music tech companies, a copywriter for lots of random brands, and the manager of three artists (and growing). I’m also a co-founder of a booking co-op here in Austin called Nicely Done. It’s a lot and it’s not for everyone, but wearing multiple hats, having a flexible schedule, and working remotely suits me—I like to be busy. It’s also probably important to note that my only dependent is my dog, Enzo.
I know many people who also have multiple gigs in the industry that look nothing like mine: musicians who run an indie label together; composers who also run sync agencies; people with full-time tech jobs who also book shows, festivals, or manage artists; managers who also organize festivals; music journalists who also run venues, etc.
How to get involved in your local music scene
There are many ways to get involved beyond your traditional ‘get an internship’ route. Volunteer at your local community radio station or nonprofits focused on music (like the SIMS Foundation or Girls Rock Camp), festivals, and DIY spaces. Getting involved with the Union of Musicians & Allied Workers (UMAW) is another meaningful way to volunteer your time to the community. If you’re a writer, pitch yourself as a contributor to the music beat of your local newspaper or alt-weekly, or cast your net wider. Musician Bill Baird contributes an excellent column to the San Antonio Current.
If you have an idea and know a group of like-minded individuals who bring different skills to the table, you can always start a collective of your own. It doesn’t have to be focused on live music, either. You could start a zine or alternative weekly, a small label, a shared studio space, a fundraising committee to help artists print their records or cassettes—there are countless options.
The benefits of multiple roles in the music industry
Relationships and connections
The obvious upside to being a busy billy in the world of music is building relationships. I have so much crossover among all my different jobs and clients. If I think too hard about it, my brain goes haywire. As long as you’re a kind and decent person, you’ll meet and befriend other people who have their spoons in many pots. You never know where a connection will lead. Literally, everything cool I’ve done in music has come from friendships and knowing people, and being active in the community.
You’ll also meet different types of vendors who you may need to hire or collaborate with (or who might approach you!) in the future. People like photographers, videographers, writers, sponsors (this is a big one), and so on.
Naturally, you’ll meet friends and acquaintances who share some of the same interests as you. Even better, their outside interests may be different from yours, opening your mind to new opportunities. Being involved in various music things has allowed me to meet friends in a new city and that’s pretty cool.
Of course, those relationships lead to opportunities. As I’m writing this (apologies to my editor), I was texting with an organizer of a big festival here in Austin, trying to help them find an alternative venue due to an issue with the one they had booked. That led to him asking me if I’m adding to my management roster and telling me about a band. It’s too soon to say if anything will come of that, but it’s a real-time example of how these things can work.
I’ve watched my musician friends book other bands or helped them in other ways, and have seen how that has benefited their careers and allowed them to foster meaningful relationships with fellow artists and venues. I also know musicians who are involved with nonprofits which led them to collaborate with other musicians. If you’re a music producer and / or beat maker and you’re out in the world meeting songwriters and artists, surely you’ll meet some new collaborators and clients, or maybe even studios, collectives, or labels who want to sign or work with you.
Learning the ropes
I’ve learned so much over the past 2.5 years about how radio works, nonprofits operate, co-ops are formed, shows are booked, festivals are organized, and artists are managed. Just by being around other people in music, I’ve absorbed helpful knowledge.
I’ve found it helpful to ask people to further explain terms or concepts that I don’t understand. This helps me learn, but also helps music people realize they’re talking in tongues—I mean industry jargon. On the flip side, knowing the lingo is helpful for navigating these conversations and getting the industry “veterans” to take you seriously, for better or worse. We’ll dive deeper into that below.
Drawbacks to be aware of (and tips for overcoming them)
When working in the music industry, I’ve found that you have to be prepared to deal with certain types of personalities without becoming too jaded or skeptical. I won’t get too specific because I don’t want to negatively influence anyone’s experience… Okay, I’ll say it: you might find that there’s ego in music. You just have to scratch behind the surface to see what else is there. And if there’s not much there, just keep moving.
Suggestion: Try not to take anything personally (unless it’s actually personal) and maintain the relationships that feel most genuine and authentic to you. Inauthenticity runs throughout the music industry, but there are plenty of sweet, genuine people too. Those are the people to align yourself with. Personally, I don’t find it worth my energy to battle the people who feel toxic (or sexist or misogynist). You don’t owe anyone anything—especially your time.
Misunderstandings and mistakes
Misunderstandings and mistakes will happen—sometimes by you, and sometimes by another party. There are a lot of moving parts in the music industry. You have to pay extra close attention to the details.
Suggestion: Over-communicate and get everything ‘on paper’ (or email). Ask for confirmation that the other party has received your communication and that everything is confirmed, or that everyone involved understands their roles and commitments. Consider using a project management tool like Notion or Asana to keep track of all your projects. Alternatively, a simple notebook and pen can work too—whatever suits you best to stay on top of your responsibilities.
The music industry is notorious for lower pay across the board, with the exception of executives and those at the very top, of course.
Suggestion: You can align with advocates who are well known in your space and will fight with you (like the aforementioned UMAW). You can also take the lead on advocating for those not being paid fairly (looking at you, Book More Women). In this environment, I personally think a reasonable solution can be to have stable pay coming in from work outside of music to pay your standard bills. I know that’s not what anyone wants to hear, but for many that stability can bring security, which makes room for creativity—and you never know what can come if you’re creating excellent art or doing great work.
Burnout and boundary-breaking
This one can also apply to any industry. If you take on too much and don’t take care of yourself or rest, you’ll burn out. We’re just not made for being ‘on’ 100% of the time. However, the nature of the music industry—especially roles like management—leaves extra room for boundaries to be pushed and energy to be sucked. It’s not that people do it intentionally, but everyone is out there ‘hustling’ and if you’re providing support, many will take as much as they can get. It’s up to you to protect your mental health.
Solution: If you’re a service provider like a manager or agent, contracts with a clear scope of work are critical. Streamlining communications with regular meetings and clear, succinct emails with action items can help too. Giving your clients hours of operations to reach you with some flexibility for emergencies can also help. There are so many approaches to time management you can try based on your style. Using time blocking where you schedule out your day based on tasks and relaxation / creative time is one option.
We hope this article exposed you to new or interesting ideas and perspectives! At the end of the day, how you want to navigate the music industry is something that only you can decide. So as always, take what resonates, and leave what doesn’t.
Continue learning how to build and sustain your career in music:
May 27, 2022