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One of the most prevalent myths you’ll ever hear about working in the recording industry, is that your likelihood of carving out a career in entertainment rests solely on who you know. In fact, this kind of talk permeates all facets of job hunting and sales to the point where, God-forbid, one might think it completely impossible to accomplish just about anything in life without some sort of inside connection.
Well, while an inside track to a gig as a recording engineer, or record promotion person might be a beautiful thing, and save you a ton of work, it is without a doubt NOT the only way to start or continue your job in the music business.
Let’s say, for example that you would like to work in a studio as a recording engineer. If your uncle’s best friend’s cousin owned a studio, then you’d be in like Flynn, right? But what if you didn’t know anyone? How would you get started sweeping up the floors of a recording studio and miking drums without knowing someone? How would you even find a studio to start your search?
Well, here is what I would do, and if you follow these few simple steps, you’re bound to have some results.
First, hop online and do some searching for where there are recording studios in your town, or nearby where you live. If you feel you’re stuck in a town with absolutely no music scene and there isn’t a studio around, then you might want to read my initial Music Myth Busting Post: “My town is too small to get a job in music.” In there you’ll see how I break apart this myth once and for all by highlighting a ton of opportunities in what is statistically the smallest town in America. It might open your eyes a bit as to what sort of career opportunities in the music industry exist in even the tiniest of towns anywhere in the world.
So, back to our dream job of working in a recording studio. . .the next ProTools master!! Okay, so your dream is probably to either run a studio someday or work with artists in the studio as a producer or some sort of tech. My guess then is that you’re already somewhat familiar with what that job entails, but if you’re not, or if you would like to learn a bit more before you start to dedicate your valuable job/internship time searching for something that you might not enjoy, you might want to pick up a copy of what are probably the two best books on what it’s like to be a record producer and work in a studio day in and day out. The two books I would recommend are: Confessions of a Record Producer, by Moses Avalon, and Producing Hit Records: Secrets from the Studio, by David Farinella. They’re both brilliant insider books on a recording career.
Once you’re sure you’re set for a career as a recording engineer, or record producer follow these steps, and watch the magic start. Heck, it’s what I’d do, at least, and you’re results are only guaranteed by the time you put into it. When I was first starting and looking for my first college internship at a record label, I sent over 100 resumes out to the labels with a cover letter stating my interest in working with them and rattling off the experience I already had working for two years as an intern at WZZO radio in Allentown, PA. ‘ZZO is no piddly-ant station, yet despite this effort, and Lord knows how much money to have each cover letter typed (yup, this was a while ago. . .), it yielded only ONE single call. Which led, however to ONE single job. Yeah! I heard back from Sony, Crysalis, EMI, Capitol and a host of other record labels that they didn’t need my help, but one label. . .Virgin. . .got back to me, and that ONE single gig (after tons of energy) was the gig that sparked my career.
I mention this because I want you to know that no amount of wishing is going to help you get that music job. . .you’ve got to take some action. And remember, it’s NOT who you know. I didn’t know a soul at Virgin, and no one at my radio station vouched for me either. It was ALL hustle.
Okay, here are the steps as I would pursue it if I were looking for a job in a recording studio today.
- Read the aforementioned books to be sure I wanted this type of gig.
- Create a resume that highlights at least some of the experience I’ve already got. (This can be anything. . .even a mere love of music CAN get you places if you apply it logically for whatever job you’re trying to get. . .alas, you’re much better off if you’ve been in a band, worked with a band, have a home studio, recording stuff using some sort of MacGyver set up in the woods. . .whatever. . .just demonstrate your initiative.
- On your resume, skip the references section, and play like the big-boys and gals do. Include “testimonials” instead. These are written references from your bosses. So, instead of merely placing your boss’s name and number down, get him/her to write something say why you’re awesome, and put THAT in there!! No one your age will be doing this. . .trust me.
- Create a personalized cover letter. My advice here, is don’t get too carried away. MOST of these will not be read, and if you spend too much time crafting great letters for 100 people, you’ll never get anything done. Try to write a cover letter that speaks as directly to the studio you’re trying to get work at, while at the same time crafting it in a way that allows you to put it in a mail merge program for maximum productivity.
- If you’re not great at resume writing you can use any number of services out there that provide such a service. Folks like Employment 911 (who write music-specific resumes) and Resume Rabbit are good in my experience. You might also find folks who do this sort of thing locally and in-person. (In the interest of full disclosure, I do receive a commission if you happen to work with these folks.)
- Search online using Google’s business search to find the recording studios near you. If you’re going to be a recording engineer, you’re going to have to know where the business is at. So drum up a list and create an excel sheet with all the pertinent data that you can later import into your favorite letter writing program for a mail merge.
- Once you’ve got your list and your resume ready, stamp ‘em and send out the letters. Send them out in manageable bunches, because the most important step comes next, and you’ll want to leave enough time in your day to complete it successfully.
- Here it is. The most important step. Pick up the phone and call the people you sent your resume to. I guarantee you most, if not all, people who send out resumes to recording studios will never do this step. Call it what you will, cold-calling. . .warm-calling. . .whatever, it’s gotta’ be done if you want to score that job. If I had done this earlier in my career, I’m sure I would have had even more success than I initially had at the time. So, please pick up the phone. . .introduce yourself, and tell them why you want to work with them. This, by the way, is the stage where you’ll want to know more about how each studio works and who they work with. . .if you know what you’re talking about when you call, you’re two steps ahead of the game.
- Rinse, lather, repeat. Keep going. If you call and get no response. . .voice mail. . .leave a message. If you leave messages and no one ever calls you back, try putting a date when you’ll call in your cover letter. If you do that and it still doesn’t work, when you leave a message, ask if they can return your call with a good time to call them. If that doesn’t work, locate their address and show up at their door. I’m not kidding. Just go there. Again, most folks won’t do this. When I interned at ‘ZZO I dropped off my resume personally even though the person I was dropping it off for wasn’t there. Then I followed up with a phone call. In showing up and later calling, not only did I demonstrate a little chutzpa, but I also knew the receptionist’s name as well as the name of the person that just happened to cover for her when I came in for lunch. Ah, I hear you saying, “Now you knew someone!” Yup. But not at first! But with a little hustle you can do the same.
This system does work if you put a plan into action. Case in point of hustle in action: My new pal, Justin Travis. . .graduate of the Berklee College of Music and now intern at TopSpin. A month or two ago, Justin started following my MusicBizJobs account on Twitter. And like most folks, he was just “out there” in the stream. Yet one day I saw a tweet of his where he asked for folks interested in creating a podcast with him about the goings on in the music business.
Well, heck, I didn’t know Justin from “Adam,” but, it sounded like a solid idea, so I said I was “game” if he still needed the help. He did, and I was in. Now the MusicBizWeekly podcast is a weekly occurrence, and I even dragged my long-time compatriot, Heather McDonald from Musician’s at About.com in for the fun. The best part is, though, Justin took the initiative as he saw it to literally create a name for himself. Great idea, and SO do-able these days with the simplicity of blog writing and podcasting, etc. Just creating good content can get you noticed these days. . .in the 80′s and prior to that these options were not even possibilites, so the advatange is truly yours.
What’s even better about Justin’s story though, is that when I first spoke with him he wanted to land a job in LA. A good place to be for someone looking to work in the music industry, right? Well, damn, Justin didnt’ know a soul in LA, how could he land a 3 month internship with a new media/new music firm in just a month or two, without knowing anyone? Hmmm…well, how about majoring in music business at a great school? How about interning while in school instead of drinking beer every night and failing out? How about researching the places online where he would like to work, then hustling to get his foot in the door with a resume, follow-up and an eventual interview? How about putting together a MusicBizWeekly podcast with two veteran music people to show your initiative?
Clearly, you must see where this is going, right? Correct. Justin will soon be moving to Los Angeles to start what will, no doubt, be the beginning of a great career in the entertainment industry at what was his first-choice company as far as I know: TopSpin. Awesome-ness, made real by H.U.S.T.L.E!!
Go get ‘em. It is NOT who you know. It’s ACTION that makes your dream gig possible!
See you at the meet and greet! ™
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