5 Essentials of Music Career Success

Want to build a sustainable career in the music industry? Here are a few tips on how to get started.

August 14, 2019

A successful career in music doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience, tenacity, an openness to critique, and even some failure to clarify your goals and make it happen.

Here are five essential practices to consider as you build a foundation for long-term success in the music industry.

1. Stay in the Loop

The music industry is constantly changing. To keep up, you need to stay informed.

This is just as important for music business professionals as for artists. To land a job in licensing, product design, or marketing at a place like Spotify or Apple, you'll need to speak to the changes driving growth in the industry. Similarly, a successful artist manager should be up to speed on industry tastes and trends, emerging niche markets, and changing perceptions around artist commercial viability.

The path followed by the majority of top executives and artists we know today was not narrow or linear. Like theirs, your path will involve ongoing learning, hustle, and investment in yourself.

Music distribution has changed completely in recent years, meaning artists no longer need a deal with a major label to be successful. Staying informed on platforms such as SoundCloud, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook’s Sound Collection will help you promote your music and reach a wide audience.

Berklee's Career Center team provides insight on relevant professional associations and help you find ways to stay up to date.

2. Meet Others in the Industry

The Berklee Career Jam brings industry movers and shakers to campus each year

Building a career and establishing a personal brand in the music industry requires honing your ability to create and maintain mutually beneficial relationships.

You hear it repeatedly: “Networking and creative alliances matter.” Why? The music industry thrives on it just like any other people-based industry. So where do you start?

Step away from the studio, or your keyboard or microphone, regularly, and take advantage of face-to-face interactions with peers, colleagues, and established professionals. Industry conferences, trade shows, and festivals provide perfect settings for fun and organic interactions, but they're not your only outlet for networking. Social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram have made networking easier than ever. If you aren’t already on these or other platforms, create a profile and start connecting. Be thoughtfully persistent in building on new connections, whether in person or digitally. Keep track of who you meet and why you both might benefit from staying in touch.

Attend the Career Center’s Internship Expo where you can speak to representatives from more than 40 companies.

3. Invest in Your Future with Internships and Working on Campus 

If there’s one thing the music industry prizes, it’s experience. How do you get experience?

Two ways to impress potential employers are internships or on-campus jobs. Internships are a highly valuable opportunity to test-drive career possibilities, develop skills, and gain insight into the work and lifestyle of an industry professional. They allow you to relocate for a short stint to major hubs like Los Angeles, New York City, and Nashville, or even abroad to international hot spots like Beijing and London. Employers frequently use internships to test out future employees. If they're impressed, they are quick to make a job offer so they don’t miss out on promising talent.

There are endless opportunities and ways for you to gain relevant experience. Internships and student employment are just two that will impress and appeal to employers.

4. Know Your Competitive Advantage

Your list of skills is abundant. Take stock of your experience and what makes you different from everyone else. You’ll need a carefully crafted pitch that tells the world who you are and explicitly sheds light on your distinctive combination of skills, experience, and presence. 

As a musician and artist, you'll be an incredible improviser, always prepared to pitch a song you've been writing or grab your guitar and walk onstage to fill in for a friend at a gig. You'll also possess solid project management skills. Whether it’s handling marketing or event logistics for an upcoming campus program or organizing and rehearsing members of a band for a performance, you’ve mastered the art of time management, understand the need for attention to detail, and recognize the importance of being both a leader and a team player.

5. Stay Agile

There is no prescribed roadmap for how to get from A to Z in the music and entertainment business. There is no guarantee you’ll make a certain salary, secure a gig that lasts a lifetime, or cut a deal right out of the gate. It’s best to acknowledge and accept that now. But your commitment to succeeding in this business has great potential to make an impact and be satisfying.

You must learn to be agile and comfortable pivoting from opportunity to opportunity, sometimes even needing to take on a non-music lifeline career so you can provide for yourself, a significant other, or a family. The path followed by the majority of top executives and artists we know today was not narrow or linear. Like theirs, your path will involve ongoing learning, hustle, and investment in yourself.

Dustin Gee is manager of employer development and engagement at the Berklee Career Center.

For more information on how to develop your career in music, visit our Career Center resources.