Because record companies structure their executive ranks in different ways and job descriptions vary depending on the company's size, mission, and values, it's impossible to neatly summarize a music executive's work. Record company executives perform a wide range of roles within the industry, from star-maker to legal counsel, and wield enormous influence over the marketplace and culture of the music business. Some executives are largely concerned with finances, while others focus on global strategy or artists and repertoire (A&R).
Aspiring executives should aim to acquire a broad and flexible skill set while rising through the ranks.
There's a world of difference between executives at large, established companies and those at smaller, independent ones. The CEO at an industry powerhouse such as Sony Music manages and directs all aspects of the company's worldwide operations, while someone with the same title at a new indie label does pretty much everything, from signing artists to answering phones. An executive might oversee any or all aspects of the record business: production, distribution, marketing, radio promotion, digital initiatives, corporate communications, label strategy, and/or artist discovery.
Whatever their area of expertise, most record company executives participate in frequent meetings, respond to mountains of emails and phone calls, take part in brainstorming sessions with pop-culture-savvy colleagues, and strategize about the future of the label. Being a record company executive requires deep knowledge of both business and music; those who understand one but not the other tend not to last long.
At a Glance
Record company executive is the most senior position at any record label. Most executives rise through the ranks of the label, although some progress through full careers at other companies in the music business before landing in a corner office. What's important is gaining a flexible background in diverse fields such as A&R, marketing, publishing, finance, and publicity. Having a business or legal background can also be valuable.
There's no trick to finding work as a record company executive. It's all about climbing the ladder—or getting in at the ground floor. Aspiring executives should aim to acquire a broad and flexible skill set while rising through the ranks. Of course, building a standout résumé, advocating for oneself, and networking like crazy are key to continuing upward advancement.
- Personnel management
- Administrative skills
- Written and verbal communication
- Good ear for music
An exceptional amount of energy, resiliency, and drive is necessary to even be in the running for executive positions. The job itself requires the strength to make tough decisions, the confidence and persistence to never take no for an answer, and the excellent communication skills to inspire and motivate a large staff.
The women and men at the top of the record business work long days, nights, and weekends, often under high pressure, in order to support their labels. Between all the meetings, emails, phone calls, presentations, awards shows, networking events, and other duties, executives don't tend to get much downtime—fortunately, most like it that way.