What is the most common question about the music business?

rock musiciansI now do a lot of conferences, interviews and public speaking. I always think people in the audience, during the Q & A, will ask me specific things about how to get into the music industry, or how to create content or top tips for having a career with longevity.  But no.

The most often asked question always is, ‘WHAT WAS [fill in the blank celebrity that I have worked with] REALLY LIKE?’ I hate this question for many reasons. But the main one(s) are that when you are working in the music business, you are doing is just that – WORKING. Whatever the artist is doing goes in hand with and is dependent on what each part of the label, publishing, touring, merch team, etc, are all doing. There is no one without the other parts. We are all part of the same mechanism, whether that is a massive tour like a Green Day, which is a well-oiled multi-million-dollar affair, or an indie band going out in a van for a four-city tour date residence.  It is work. That is a big reason why it is an interesting job, from a sociological point of view.

From a tender age, I was tasked with not only implementing the marketing plans that had been created for some of the bands I worshipped but coming up with them as well. People seem to think that the job is hanging out backstage at some anonymous gig with glitter, glamour and various beautiful people. The reality of the day to day is much more about being creative, innovative, a great researcher while managing multiple projects at once.

The first three things- being able to come up with interesting ideas that are a spin on what has come before- is crucial, as that is what comes to be your own USP (unique selling point). Doing research and knowing what came before, what is going on now, and trying to identify what will be the next, new thing, and ride that wave- those are all crucial skills to nurture, whether you are a publicist, a band or planning a tour.  The whole project management thing also comes into this massively- as from a solo performer doing a gig at an Open Night to a superstar act, there are so many details that all rely on each other to make anything a success. It’s like a big game of Jenga- without one piece, everything else comes down or is incomplete.

My day to day on the job in those early days could be anything from sitting behind a computer crafting a plan for taking bands to college radio stations, pitching college newspapers to review whatever bands had new releases or shows, or planning meet and greets for a gig. A meet and greet is where a band literally gets to meet their fans, VIPs, such as key radio, tech or retail folks, or, as bands get bigger, folks that have been arranged to meet a group as part of a sponsorship deal. This is a big thing now- an entity, like Red Bull, will give money and what is called ‘in-like’ deliverables, which helps pay for a tour. It may be for X amount of money given for tour support, Red Bull gets a certain number of tickets to each gig on a band’s tour, with each stop also featuring the chance to meet the band for key people as identified by Red Bull.  I would often have to shuttle bands around to radio stations, stores and interviews when they were on tour, and help run the meet and greets, so that we could help create an organic fan base.

From an early age, I was hooked on getting other people as excited as I was about music; but also watching something that I helped start grow and grow; having a band go from playing a tiny venue to a handful of punters to a sold-out gig to thousands. It is really satisfying, and I still, more than 25 years later, still get a high from this.

So, it’s not really about what was so and so REALLY like. It’s about what you are all making together.

Jen created the BA (Hons) Commercial Music course at Plymouth Marjon University.

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