Recently, I was having lunch with a college-aged friend of mine, and while our meandering conversation took many turns over the course of an hour, a big part of it centered on music. If you know me, you’ll know that this is a common diversion, and it’s easy to make the leap to music as I find it is a great icebreaker in any conversation. Generally speaking, even if people have nothing to talk about, they enjoy talking about music.

Even growing up, I remember music tended to define who we were in a sense… it was almost always the very first question you would ask in a conversation with someone new. “So, what kind of music do you like?” It was the schoolyard demographic identifier. Every clique had its own tastes in music and, to a degree, you knew where you fit in based on what folks were listening to. Of course, there were (and still are), crossover acts that appeal to all sorts of crowds, but back then if you liked Kiss, and found another person with a similar appreciation for the band, you’d most likely found someone you could relate to.

Isn’t it funny, then that once we enter adulthood we stop asking this awesome question and default to the almost utterly boring and dead-end provoking question of: “So, what kind of work do you do?” We’d be better off sticking to the first question. And, then perhaps following it up with: “And how is your family?” Anyway, wishful thinking….

Back to this chat with my friend. Our diversion began because while we were eating I overheard a song playing on his phone that I’d never heard before, so I asked who the artist was. He mentioned he learned of the band from a friend of his who majored in sound engineering at school, but after not being able to find work was stuck living at home with his parents and working a gig in retail. Well, that’s a drag, I thought. But, the former academic advisor and music business vet in me perked up with the opportunity to possibly help. So, I asked: ”What sort of work does he want to do?” His reply:  “He’s not sure, but he says he just can’t get anything.”

Okay, so lets pull this apart a bit. Usually, this sort of cloudy thinking stems from poor positioning, and poor focus. If focus is the problem, narrow down your job interests. There are so many places to learn about a career in music today, its kinda’ nuts. If you’re not sure what to do, spend some time learning about what’s out there.

If you know exactly what you want to do, but are stuck without experience, then get some by volunteering. The music industry is full of people who got where they are by first working for free. So, regardless of age, do some volunteer work. Heck even at my age, I’m still volunteering to get experience. It works. And never forget that people in the entertainment industry tend to consider it a badge of honor to have worked for free, so just like we ask friends what sort of music they like, in the music business, we tend to ask “How did you get started?”  Also remember that with all the people willing to work for free to get started, if you’re the one out there looking for a paying gig with zero experience under your belt, who do you think they’ll hire? Even the Beatles put in extra “free” hours in Hamburg when they were getting started.

What if you live in the most Podunk town on earth? What sort of experience could YOU possibly get?

My belief is there are opportunities to get your start in every town. Case in point: Dellview, North Carolina.

According to census records, Dellview, North Carolina is one of the smallest incorporated towns in America, with only 13 residents — most of whom are related. Now that is a small town. However, within twenty minutes of Dellview are towns with a bit more opportunity: Cherryville, Lincolnton, and Gastonia. Each teeming with opportunities to roadie for live bands, do lighting or sound at bars, DJ at reception halls, and even work at radio stations. Bessemer City, also within 20 minutes is home to Son Sound Studios, in the recording business for twenty years. Not bad. Tons of opportunities. Just look at all the bands touring nearby. It’s ridiculous really, more than even I thought I would find!

But, let’s not stop there. If one was really determined, one hour from Dellview, is the Charlotte-Mecklenberg region, where even more opportunities abound. Recording studios? Check. Music stores? Yep. Record Labels? Without a doubt – Croquet Records. With good intentions and good effort comes success. There are a lot of opportunities out there, you’ve just got to go hunting.

Yes, sometimes climbing the ladder is a pain in the rear. You’ll likely be working a part-time job in addition to volunteering in order to survive. But that’s how you show your dedication, and that’s certainly how you learn, and edge out the other guy/gal. And remember, musicbiz folks aren’t the only people doing this sort of thing. Do you think doctors enjoy working 20 hour shifts and sleeping in locker rooms for a few years before they get to actually practice? How about architects? For them, it’s almost ten years of schooling and apprenticeships before they even get a chance to sign off on drawings. Getting there is hard work, but if you want it badly enough it’ll be worth it. And don’t forget, it’s okay to stumble. . .you’re not always going to get it right just out of the gate, just dust yourself off and keep going.

Getting a job in the music industry, or in any business you really care about, is all about setting goals, being persistent and following-through. And, by the way, your dream job doesn’t have to be in music for this mindset to pay off.

Maybe your life’s calling is helping people as a research librarian, or as the manager of a hotel, or owner of a nail salon… whatever it is, think about would make you happy, and do it. And to make sure you’re successful in your efforts, be vigilant about incorporating goals, persistence and follow-through in everything you do along the way. Do those things. Know you can do it. And, eventually, you’ll figure out the path to success. Get a resume together, create a cover letter that opens doors, make yourself the fish they won’t want to toss back into the water. Do it now.

Please, no excuses! Get that gig!

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