“I never would have guessed that music entrepreneurship would be my calling. I can remember walking around various college fairs when I was still in high school, waiting for a certain major or university to excite me.”
by Aidan Rush
Nothing about “generic” majors like communications and business piqued my interest – I wanted a colorful life that appealed to my artistic side, despite whatever peaks and valleys that might bring with it. You probably feel or felt the same way, otherwise you wouldn’t be visiting this website!
Music had always been a staple in my life, but I knew from a young age that a career as a professional musician wasn’t for me, primarily for two reasons: 1) I saw the hard work my talented relatives put into their musical careers without getting much in return, and 2) I simply wasn’t talented enough.
Not too long after worrying I wouldn’t find the right major or university fit for me, I stumbled across a school offering a degree in Music Industry. Working in the music industry field appealed to me. I thought such an education would allow me to somehow shed light on and empower talented DIY musicians like my relatives, and allow me to still be surrounded by music every day without having to air my mediocre talent to the masses.
Fast-forward 8 years from those 2005 fall college fairs. I’ve graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s of Science in Music Industry from Northeastern University, flirted with changing but reaffirmed my position on being a full-time musician (shout out to my old band, the Organic Sound Project), and am now wearing many professional hats in the music tech sector.
What is music tech, you ask? For me, it’s about working with online tools that help musicians more easily manage their careers. Primarily, I do business development and marketing work for a music startup, Presskit.to, a digital portfolio service that makes it easy for musicians and their team members to pitch a concise message to anyone that can advance the artist’s career. I also have my hands in several other music tech jars and have started to develop a nice little musician consulting business for myself. But trust me, getting here has not been easy.
Internships and Why They’re Essential
It is especially important to experience internships or co-ops (depending on your school) throughout the course of your undergraduate education, if you have any interest in any aspect of music industry. The entire industry is built on relationships, for both musicians and industry professionals. When your professors say that, they’re not just saying it – it’s absolutely true. Some quick words to the wise: meet as many other musicians and aspiring music industry professionals while you’re in school, and don’t make any enemies! This effort will pay big dividends down the road! Thankfully, I took advantage of all 3 co-op opportunities my school offered: one at an artist management company (Nettwerk Music Group), one at a music competition website (Ourstage.com), and the final co-op in a marketing and editorial role at Presskit.to’s parent company, Indie Ambassador.
The robust music industry curriculum at my school was also hugely important. I took a wide range of courses, because believe it or not, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in the industry until I stumbled into music tech (indecision seemed to be one of my strong suits during that part of my life). Artist Management, Music Marketing and Promotion, Music Entrepreneurship, and Music Non-Profits are some of the elective classes I took in conjunction with required, more traditional music classes like Theory, Music Literature, History and Traditions of American Music, etc.
With everything I learned under my belt, I foolishly thought I’d be a shoe-in for a good old-fashioned 9-to-5 job after graduation. I could not have been more wrong.
I graduated on Friday, May 6, 2011. The only pseudo-employment offer presented to me was to continue working part-time at Indie Ambassador, my last co-op. Without getting into details, suffice it to say that the small stipend they could offer me as a bootstrapped startup was not enough to support me in an expensive city like Boston, even with the promise of full-time employment when possible. So, though I continued to work part-time for them, I fought tooth and nail all summer long to find a better way. Aside from a series of interviews for jobs that I was either mildly interested in or that were totally irrelevant to my interests and degree, nothing came.
But at the 11th hour, just as I was running out of money and being faced with the pride-swallowing reality of possibly having to move back home with my parents, I found an online job site that had a few music-related freelance journalism opportunities. I ended up being offered one. Though I wasn’t too keen on the opportunity, and even though it offered the minimum viable wage I could survive on, I decided to tough it out, hoping that the startup I was working for would soon be funded, or another job would come calling. To this date, neither of those past visions has come true, though I have built out my freelance portfolio considerably and am significantly more financially comfortable than I was immediately after graduation. And I have much faith that many big things are on the way for every company and musician that I work with.
So what lessons can be learned from my short history as a music industry professional?
Most of all, I learned that you have to pay your dues. Your professors won’t tell you this because they like you to live under the impression that your tuition equates dues, but there’s really no way around the inevitable school of hard knocks you must encounter on your own. Sure, I know a decent number of people who did get their 9 – 5 job right out of school, but I can honestly tell you now that many of them have grown disillusioned with the career path they chose and don’t feel fulfilled at the end of the day. I may not have a budding 401k like they do, but I am thrilled to be following my muse at the end of every day, even if it meant that I barely made ends meet for 18 months.
Did my school help me get here? Absolutely. Despite the fact that I didn’t take a single class in the music tech field I currently work in during my time there (music tech wasn’t being offered back then), I learned skills that are broad enough to be applied to any industry. And I learned the ins and outs of the music industry itself like the back of my hand. This has enabled me to maintain a good balance of tech and music in my professional life. A guy working in music tech has much more credibility if he has deep knowledge of the traditional music industry.
That’s the first chapter of my professional autobiography and I’m eager to write the rest, which is all I can really ask for at this stage of the game. If I could leave readers with one last bit of advice, I would echo the words of a Sony A&R man I saw speak at SXSW 2013: “To make it in the music industry, you have to be incredibly ambitious and do it all yourself.” Onwards and upwards!