When it comes to pervasive music industry myths, the one I enjoy dispelling most is the idea that you can’t get a job in music unless you “know someone.” Hooey. This kind of talk is common when it comes to all sorts of tasks that involve effort — particularly sales and job hunting. You’ll be happy to hear this sort of tale is just that — a tale. If everything worth pursuing required an inside connection, we’d all still be asking friends from grade school to pass notes to our future husbands and wives.
While an inside track to a gig as a recording engineer, or record promotion person would be a beautiful thing, it’s simply not the only way to start or continue your job in the music business. Here’s one way you could do it without a single connection.
How to Get a Job in Music Without a Connection
Let’s say, you’d like to work in a studio as a recording engineer. Great. Think for a minute about how you might get started on the hunt for the opportunity to sweep the floors of the recording studio, and maybe mic a drum from time to time? Where would you even find such an opportunity. In my world, you create one.
First Step: Do your Research
- First, hunt around online for recording studios in your area, or, the largest area near to where you live. If you feel you’re stuck in a town with absolutely no music scene, check out “My town is too Small to Get a Job in Music.” In that post I show you how there are a ton of opportunities everywhere… even in, towns with under 20 residents! No kidding.
- So, back to our dream job of working in a recording studio. Maybe your eventual goal is to run a recording studio of your own. Or, maybe you’d like to join the ranks of NME’s 50 greatest producers of all time. Maybe you’re fond of the idea of mixing, and would like to create a reputation as a go-to mixer like the legendary, Bob Clearmountain. Whatever your goal, I’ll assume you’re familiar with the skills requirements of such work. If not, check out what are probably the two best books on what life is like in the recording studio: 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.
Second Step: Try this Job Hunting Blueprint
- Once you’ve beefed up on recording industry’s and work life, saddle up to your favorite computer-y device and bang out a resume. Yes, a resume. I know you hate doing them, I do too. And, I’ve written many over the years. I know they’re a huge pain in the butt, but you still have to write one. So…
- Create a resume that highlights at least some of the experience you’ve already acquired. (This can be anything. . .even a mere love of music CAN get you places if you apply it logically to whatever job you’re trying to get. Seriously. Of course, you’re in a much better place if you’ve been in a band, worked with a band, have a home studio, or are used to recording friends with some sort of MacGyver set-up in the woods… whatever… just demonstrate your initiative. I think one thing I mentioned when I applied for my first internship was simply that I *toured* the local AM station in town and was inspired. I also mentioned that I knew people in the entertainment business. It was a stretch to mention this family friend, but it was true. The goal here for your first gig is to simply show them you’re a hustler. That you want to do the work.
- On your resume, skip the references section, and play like the big-boys and gals do by including a “testimonials” section instead. A testimonial is essentially a written reference from those folks you’ve worked with. For examples of what you want folks to say about you, check out a few of mine on LinkedIn. Getting testimonials is also a great play if you haven’t yet had a “real” job. Just get those you’ve helped to say awesome things about you. No one your age will be doing this, and it will give you a huge advantage over other people trying parts of this traditional approach.
- Next, 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. Productivity wins. To write a cover letter you can use with multiple studios, create sentences that allow you to mention a specific studio, while at the same time crafting it so you can use it for many studios. I’d aim for something around 400 words. There is an art to this, so if you’d like an example of the type of cover letter I’m referring to, sign up for my newsletter — I’ll send you a copy of one I did this year for English teaching jobs in Japan. Again, they’re not fun, but they’re necessary. Don’t fret though, you can pull it off. Sign up for the newsletter, and I’ll send it to you. Maybe it’ll give you some ideas and save you some time.
- 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 pretty solid options based on my experience seeing their work. You may also find folks who do this sort of thing in your area. Search them out online.
- Once you’ve got your resume and cover letter written up, use Google My Business’ search function to find recording studios near you. It’s so easy to find places to work these days its ridiculous. When I was looking for music business jobs in the 80s it was hard as hell. So Google to your heart’s content. Once you’ve got a list, create an Excel sheet with the studio name, your contact at the studio (do NOT just send your letter to Sir/Madam), and the address so you can later import that info into your favorite letter writing program for a “mail merge.”
- Once you’ve got your list and your resume ready, feed them through your mail merge program and print them out. Yes, print them on paper. Paper. Put a good old-fashioned stamp on the envelope, and send out the letters. Here’s a sales prospecting tip: send them out in manageable bunches (maybe five or ten at a time), because the most important step comes next, and you’ll want to leave enough time in your day to complete it successfully.
- Okay, here it is. Your most important step. Pick up the phone and call the people you sent your resume to. Gulp. Ready? I guarantee you most, if not all, those who send out resumes to recording studios will never take 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, (It took me a few jobs in sales to figure this part out) I’m sure I would have had even more success than I initially had when I was just starting out. So, please, pick up the phone and introduce yourself. Tell these folks 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… (again Google is your friend)… if you know what you’re talking about when you call, you’re two steps ahead of the game. Because you also read books that talk about the job you want, right?
Then, all you’ve got to do once this system is in play is to Lather, Rinse, and Repeat. Just keep going until you land something.
- If you call and get no response… or, you get voice mail… leave a message.
- If you believe you’ll be leaving a lot of messages for people that will never call you back, you might be right. But, you can encourage them to answer your call by putting the date of your planned call in your cover letter. If you do that and they’re not around when you call, I still want you to leave a message. Either on voice mail or with someone who picks up the phone when you call.
- When you leave your message, ask if they could return your call AND ask that if they miss you when they call to mention a good time for YOU to call back.
- If that doesn’t work, show up at their door. I’m not kidding. Just go there. Most folks won’t do this. When I interned at radio station WZZO in Allentown, PA, I dropped off my resume personally even though the ad on the radio said to mail it in. Because I did that, not only did I show initiative, but I also walked out with the name of the receptionist as well as the person doing the hiring (I think the ad just mentioned to address it to the promotions director. Having both names when I called in a few days later helped tremendously with my confidence — the biggest obstacle with prospecting and job hunting. With a little hustle you can do the same.
This System Works: A Case Study
I have used this process for over two decades to build a business, sell for other companies, and to get jobs. It works. All you have to do is break down the process into manageable chunks and follow the steps you create. And, of course, this isn’t anything new, really… and I’m certainly not the only one doing this. But it does seem to have been forgotten a bit with the rise of the internet. Here’s a little story about a cat I know who never forgot the importance of hustle. Time to introduce my good friend, Justin Travis.
A few years ago, Justin was a recent graduate of Berklee College of Music. One day, I saw a tweet of his mentioning a desire to team up with a few folks interested in creating a music business podcast. I got back to him with my interest, and within a few weeks we were doing a podcast along with my long-time compatriot, Heather McDonald from Musician’s at About.com.
Do you see how this worked, though? I didn’t know Justin from “Adam.” He was just a guy with an idea, who put that idea into the Twitter stream, and I just happened to see it. But, it was Justin taking the initiative to literally create a name for himself. What he also did for himself was develop two references (me and Heather) AND created music business experience for himself where he had little previously. So, what did he do with those new contacts and new experience? He drafted a resume, sent out cover letters, asked for testimonials (me, etc.) and landed himself an internship in Los Angeles at TopSpin. Not bad for a few weeks of work and a whole lot of hustle. Since then, he’s worked for a few other awesome companies you may have heard of like HODINKEE, and Warby Parker. Not bad, right? Just a dude on Twitter. With an idea. And, some hustle. Sound like you?
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 Records (my first record label internship), and no one at my radio station vouched for me when I was applying for that gig. It was ALL hustle. So, 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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