One of my favorite parts of the Berklee in L.A. program is the music business panel that Don Gorder, Chair of the Music Business department, coordinates. On Tuesday night, five Berklee alumni who work in the music industry volunteered their time to come and talk to students about how to start their careers. They offered great advice for young musicians.
Don began the panel with asking a question about their Berklee education. For those who are interested in studying Music Business at Berklee, a core music curriculum is required of everyone. He asked the panel, “Are you glad that you went to Berklee? Did you find the music classes useful?” A resounding “yes” rippled through the panel. Chelsea Cloud, who is a Lifestyle Marketing Coordinator at Interscope Geffen A&M, said that it was easier for her to relate to artists: “It’s nice for them to be able to connect with someone who is a musician.” With TV on the Radio, they were interested in working with Chelsea who could translate their musical goals into a marketing plan that they were happy with.
Joe Kara, Vice President of Marketing at New Line records, agreed that the music background he obtained at Berklee was essential to his success. He graduated with the first Music Business class at Berklee, which started in 1992. “If you’re in a business, you’re promoting something someone has a connection with. Music is something that touches the soul.” He explained that if you’re not treating it like that from the business side, then success isn’t going to last. It is important to maintain a musical connection in business.
“How can I take my music to the next level?”
The audience listened attentively when Don asked the next big question—“What advice does the panel have for young musicians who are trying to make it in the music business? How can they take their music to the next level?”
Liz Sosey, executive assistant to the CEO of Velvet Hammer Music & Management Group, had great advice on what it takes to
make it in music. “There are plenty of books on the music business out there. Don’t listen to them. Do your own thing, because everyone is now doing the same thing because everyone reads the same book. Back when System of a Down was starting out, they would go into chat rooms and tell people to call them, and they’d play their music for people over the phone. If they liked it, they would mail them a cassette tape.” At the time, this was new, and innovative.
“What’s going to make me open your package and listen to it? There’s got to be something unique, you have to think outside the box. Use that creativity to promote yourself and be different, and musically. So much of what I listen to is old news. Each artist sounds like the last one.” Matt agreed, that it all comes back to the music. If the music is good, then the band has a shot at succeeding. They’re out looking for the next band that’s able to have a sustainable tour and career.
Steve Cielinski is a Ticket Manager for AEG Live/Concerts West. He had this advice for playing shows. “You have to show [prove] what you can do for me. Make it so that we want to work with you. There is money involved, and we don’t want to lose money. If I was a talent buyer at a club, I could bring the best acts ever, but you’re going to be fired if you only bring five people (in your audience).” When you’re at a show, Steve said not to forget to get to know people—to network.
Building a Team
Joe Kara emphasized the importance of building your foundation and fan base. “Get to know anybody and everybody. Keep recording and working on it. If you build that foundation, you won’t have to worry about it. People take note if you draw 100 people every time you play. If you have activity in a lot of places, you’ll feel it coming back to you. You need to surround yourself with a team, and a businessperson, who knows a lot about the business who can get you to the next level. Keep being active and aggressive.”
“If managers are fighting over you, you need to see who has what, and not who takes you to dinner, but do they have a sales person, a radio person, or do they do it themselves? This is the new face of the industry.”
Online vs. Offline
Next, Gorder followed up with, “How important is online presence? Is online presence equally important to offline?”
Joe promptly responded, “Online presence is just as important as playing shows. It has to be continually updated, fresh, to keep delivering your potential audience more information.”
Chelsea stressed the importance of updating content online. When she was in her internship at a major label, she would research bands online for upcoming festivals. Her boss would take the list of bands she researched and scope them out at the show. “If they don’t have enough friends, enough tour dates, pictures, music up, if they play a lot of shows, if you can get a following, it will be apparent.”
Gorder asks, “How do you feel about the world of DIY? Are we getting closer to the point where artists don’t have to rely on getting signed?” We had two contrasting opinions from the panel.
With viral marketing, and free marketing tools online, it’s hard to ignore the power of DIY. Liz said, “I don’t think you need a label. You’re marketing yourself, and you’re a product. You need someone to sell that product. You need someone who is going to say, ‘You need to change your look, restructure your song etc.,’ someone who is looking out for your best interest. Someone who will help you get to that next level. When we find a band that is doing all that stuff alone…and they are really focused on all these points, and they’re working that hard, now we’ll work that hard too. We do lifestyle marketing for artist, we do http://www.velvethammer.net, and we update it every single day. We are making sure we’re doing lifestyle marketing for our bands, or third party licensing deals. I don’t want to say we don’t need labels, but if we had to, we could do it.”
From a major label perspective, Matt Fitzhenry brought up a valid point. “There are networks associated with a label. Disney
owns seventy plus companies.” So the advantages of a major label deal include the fast connections a company has to cross-promote artists on different types of media. Large labels also have more money to invest than a smaller DIY band.
Since the industry is shifting, it’s important for young artists to stay connected to what is going on, in order to survive. Joe Kara suggested that there are many opportunities on the horizon for those who are interested in a career in the music business. “Labels are ridiculously changing. Jobs have changed—Universal for example, bought a merchandise company and a management company. If you look at the structure of the more forward thinking ones, they’re all changing and bringing in other entities that serve artists, they’re making it part of their bigger umbrella.”
When asked for a show of hands, many Berklee in L.A. students expressed an interest in working in the music business. The combination of music business and songwriting in the Berklee in L.A. program is a perfect introduction to Berklee, and what the Music Business department has to offer. At the panel, Berklee staff member Trevor Paul agreed. “Berklee built a business major on a foundation of music—it’s what sets us apart from any other educational program in the world.”