10 things i’ve learned from 10 years in the music industry

by s.

On my way home from work the other night, I read Tina Fey’s New Yorker article on what she learned from her time at Saturday Night Live, and it was such a spot-on lesson in marketing that I nearly fist-pumped with enthusiasm on the 5 train. It made me think, too, about the rich parallels to be drawn in each section of the entertainment industry, and a little bit about my own life.

The music business and I are celebrating our ten-year-anniversary, you see, and like all marriages, we’ve had some ups and downs. In the past year, I’m sad to admit, the fights have been long and bitter. In hopes of figuring out my next steps, I tried to get out of my comfort zone: cook new things, read new books, take some mental time away from the job when I wasn’t actually there. One night, I went to see a band I’d never heard of play a show at the Mercury Lounge.

They were everything I’ve ever loved in indie rock: unpretentious, deeply melodic, a little bit haunting but ultimately uplifting. The show was invigorating, and afterwards I ran around yelping “that was so good” to friends and strangers alike, convinced we were all now forever bonded by the experience we’d just shared.

It was the way I used to feel – and act – most days of my life.

Not long after the show, I more or less had my bags packed. A handful of interviews found me with one foot in the publishing world and a solid offer to consider, but I hesitated. In that moment of hesitation, the universe did what it does best and smacked me in the forehead with the right answer: I turned down the publishing offer, gave two week’s notice, and accepted the opportunity to work with the start-up that’s releasing the miracle band’s first record. I am SO EXCITED.

Anyway, ten years. Here are ten things I’ve learned, in relatively brief form: if you feel they require further explanation, that’s probably part of the problem.

  • Be nice to people. (Seriously, why is this even a thing that people aren’t?)
  • Keep your enthusiasm genuine. Every job includes projects that you’d rather not work on, and that’s OK. Focus on the people who will be excited about it, and try to speak from their perspective. When you do have something you love to work on, let your own interest help get other people excited too.
  • Don’t say no to new responsibilities, as long as you know you have the time to get them done. As an intern, someone asked me to do some data entry on a royalty spreadsheet. I found a ton of errors in the formula, and the next thing I knew I was the label’s royalty accountant. My whole career has looked something like this.
  • Look outside of your industry for the answers. Why would anyone in publishing even talk to me if I’ve been working at record labels for ten years? Because they got tired of talking to other people in publishing.
  • If you keep candy in your office, everyone will talk to you. One of the most helpful things I’ve ever done.
  • New technology is your friend. Duh. Also, though, know that it will become the old technology superfast so you a) better try to keep up and b) should be driving all your traffic back to your own website / email list / phone database / fan retention. Actually, can someone explain to me why people don’t already know this?
  • Don’t ever ask anyone to make something go “viral”. They are laughing at you behind your back.
  • Keep records of your failures. The stuff that doesn’t work is just as important as the stuff that does, and you’re going to need to remember the whys later.
  • The task you keep putting off either doesn’t need to be done or is the most important thing you have to do. I’ve yet to be proven wrong on this.
  • It is totally acceptable to show up drunk to meetings and smoke cigarettes in an unventilated conference room…if your name is Dolores O’Riordan and you used to be in the Cranberries. If both of those things are true, you will also start singing “Zombie” in the middle of the meeting and everyone will think you are the greatest ever.
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