Rethink Panelists Offer Advice for Musicians Starting Out

Berklee Office of Communications
May 29, 2012

Last month, Rethink Music brought together the brightest minds in the music industry to generate ideas and solutions to the current challenges faced in today's complex environment in which music is created, marketed, and consumed. Industry leaders such as Kenneth Parks of Spotify and Bill Werde of Billboard joined artists like Amanda Palmer, Erin McKeown, and Karmin for four days of panels and discussions about how to move the industry forward.

After the conference, Berklee asked a few panelists for their top three pieces of advice for a young musician entering the music industry in 2012.

From those in publishing and marketing to managers, CEOs, and artists, their responses represent years of hard-won wisdom and proven creative prowess. Their words address art, wisdom, business, and the ever-expanding digital frontier.

Cathy Merenda

Vice President of Music Publishing
Twentieth Century Fox

  1. There are many jobs in the music industry besides being an artist or performer where you can still utilize your knowledge of music.
  2. Music is intellectual property and there are rights involved with the use of it.
  3. Hang on to your publishing.

David Viecelli

The Billions Corporation

  1. Think for yourself. A lot of bad ideas are accepted as common wisdom in this business. If you think you've found a new angle or better approach, try it. Be fearless.
  2. Remind yourself daily that without fans, none of us have jobs. Stay in touch with what drew you to music personally.
  3. In spite of all the new challenges it presents, there hasn't been a more exciting time in the music industry in many years. Identify the problems and be one of those pursuing innovative solutions.

Amanda Palmer and Sean Francis

Artist and promoter for the artist

  1. The Internet is the Wild West
    We are being afforded opportunities to connect directly with our audience that are literally destroying the old mode. So many people are so hung up on "what's next" that they're missing the point. There will not be one answer. Think outside the box, figure out what works best for you and your fans, and blaze your own trail. Look to others for inspiration. Learn from failures that have blazed before you. Find a balance: be open and on the lookout for new things, but also be driven and focused. Make sure you don't get caught up on some some shiny object everyone's infatuated with today that'll look like a lame parlor trick in six months.
  2. Wear a Utility Belt
    Variety is the spice of life. There are a thousand different tools and platforms on the internet ripe for the picking. However you want to peddle your wears and/or promote your thing, there's likely going to be some site/app/social network that will help bridge the connection between you and the audience. No one has fans that are just on Facebook, or only use Twitter, and as important as I think an email list is for everyone, some people just don't "do" email anymore.
  3. (2.5) Make that Belt Your Own
    Batman always seemed to have the exact thing he needed on his belt, but we're not all Batman.

    Choose and use a bunch of tools, but don't bog yourself/your fans/your team down by trying to be everywhere at once. I love Twitter, but it's also perfect for a person like me. It's painful to see when some committee tells an artist that they "have to be tweeting" and the artist doesn't want to use it, doesn't get it, or the worst: has some intern plucking away trying to "engage" with smarmy marketing BS. People see through that shit.

    It's fine to try something new, experiment, and misstep. Do what you like. Find a balance between discipline ("Damn, I should blog but I'd rather go out drinking") and forced ("But I actually hate blogging. I've never once enjoyed it. But I suppose I should…").

  4. Find the Most Important Thing: the Fans
    You can find an awesome manager, hook up with a dream booking agent who gets you in the best rooms, and learn the ins and outs of social media, but you must pay attention to the people that are listening to you. Whether you're touring 350 days a year, responding to every email someone sends your band, or you're staring at Google Analytics for your website 'til you're eyes are bleeding: figure out who likes your music, and get to know them. You don't have to stay after every show meet people—even though I recommend it and it definitely helped grow my fan base—but do what you can to communicate and learn about these people who love what you do. They are your core power. Find them, and be honest with them. If you do that and you're not just some band on the radio, that connection will be invaluable for the rest of your career.

Don Gorder

Chair and Founder
Music Business/Management Department
Berklee College of Music

  1. Your network is your most important asset.
  2. Communication is your most important skill.
  3. Integrity is your most important quality.

Olivier Robert-Murphy

Global Head of New Business
Universal Music Group

  1. "It's all about the music." Without artists, we are nothing, that's why A&R is the core of our industry.
  2. "We are in the music BUSINESS. "Yes, music is an art, but it requires investment and experience to help artists reach their audiences as well as being a fantastic way to engage consumers in a way nothing else could match.
  3. "Welcome to the 4"E's" Engagement, Experience, Exclusivity, and Emotion. All being part of the world of music today and tomorrow.

Rob Stone

Founder and Co-President
Cornerstone Agency and FADER Media

  1. Stay humble.
  2. Trust your gut.
  3. Over-deliver

Michael Creamer

Event Manager/Talent Buyer
Berklee College of Music

  1. Be nice to me on the way up; I will be here on the way down.
  2. Engage with your fans; they are your best salespeople.
  3. Play the same show if there are 2,000 people in the room or if there are 6 people in the room. You never know who is in audience.

Mike King

Berkleemusic Course Author and Instructor

  1. Stay Aware
    Particularly with digital, many of the best practices and business models that you see today will change over the next couple of years. We are in very early days with all things digital music and sales related. I think it was Marc Geiger from William Morris who said that in terms of digital, we haven’t even made it onto the playing field yet, in the grand scheme of things. We’re still warming up in the locker room.
  2. Experiment. Then Document and Share your Experiments
    Sure, what works for Radiohead, Amanda Palmer, and Trent Reznor might not work for you. I do think it's incredibly important to look at what other folks are doing, what successes they are having, and then iterate on what other folks have done in a way that could work for you. If you're a developing musician, it's probably unlikely that you will generate hundreds of thousands of dollars on Kickstarter like Amanda Palmer in your first go. But if you look deeper at what she did, there are underlying best practices that all musicians and entrepreneurs can pull out from her campaign and others and adjust to work for them. Also, sharing what you have tried, and what works and what didn't work for you, furthers the discussion for everyone. Start a blog!
  3. Focus First on Awareness, Acquisition, and Engagement.
    Yes, monetization is important, but you have to have a base of fans that you can communicate with in a permission-marketing fashion before you do anything. When you are starting out, I think it's most important to build up your site, target your core community through niche marketing, become part of the conversation on social sites, collect permission-based contacts from fans like email addresses and friends, fans, and followers, and then treat these relationship with a high level of respect. Once you've done this, then you can start to think about monetization.