How to have a successful career in the music industry?
Do you always dream of making a living by doing the thing you love? Are you tired of the toxic corporate culture, and looking out for a way out? If yes, the good news is that you’re not alone. So many people like me have been there. Now I will tell you what I learned about the music industry by this time, leaving five years behind as a professional.
Around 15 years ago, I was rapping in the ghetto streets of Istanbul. I had a worthless microphone that nowadays people don’t even use when gaming but me and my friends were recording our songs with it.
When I was in high school, music became the major thing in my life. I realized that creating sounds and expressing feelings was fun. And it was making me more popular in high school which I was going to quit in a year.
In my first years of music-making, I handled the sound of my voice with Adobe Audacity. I was trying every tool on the software without even knowing English. I knew how every tool affected my voice, but I didn’t know what they do. However, people realized that my voice sounded better somehow. So, they started asking me how I did it and even asked me to do the same for them.
At that point, I realized that I was also having a lot of fun while tampering with digital music-making tools. I wasn’t going to high school, and I didn’t have many things to do than watch movies and surfing through the internet. Hence, I was searching for what could I do in the music industry, so I could start earning money without working at corporates.
It was obvious that I couldn’t earn money by only rapping. In those years, I didn’t even think about it for a second. The rap scene was too small, and even the biggest rappers in Turkey weren’t earning much from it. So, I searched if there was a job that could be done by turning knobs and manipulating the audio signals.
Then I looked for universities that could teach me audio engineering. It was a dream to do it as a job! I found a couple of universities that I could apply to. There were a couple of problems, though. First, I had to finish high school, which I quit. And then I had to learn about music to pass the exam to enter these universities.
After some years, I was very close to finishing high school. I was getting one-to-one classes from a local musician to prepare for the exams. One day I met a singer who was studying music at a university. I told her about my dream, and how I was preparing for it. She said that she had an audio engineer friend and that he still must ask for money from his father to survive. Even at the age of thirty!
It was one of the crucial moments of my life. I gave up because I was scared. I was scared because it was one of the scariest things for me not earning enough money and not being economically independent. I had to work and make money, and it wasn’t a choice.
I gave up on my dreams and thought that I had to live like everybody else. I stopped making music and went to school to prepare for the usual university exams. I went to a university in another city to study economics in a public university, just because it was possible. It was a bad year, and I also quit the university.
After spending a year thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, I decided that I made the wrong decision. I started working in the music industry. This decision made my life meaningful even though I couldn’t earn enough money to survive.
Finally, I studied audio engineering at SAE Institute. I was still working at a corporate job that I didn’t like but it meant money for my education. And I had the privilege to watch tutorials about audio and music even while I was working.
The next step was that I found a job at a digital radio station. They offered me almost the same amount of money with fewer hours of work. Still, I was thinking about if it was the right move to change my job before finishing my education. Frankly, I wouldn't make that choice of changing my job if I didn’t have my girlfriend -now wife. She encouraged me to do it. Now I can say that it was one of the most important decisions in my life. Because I met many musicians and created many opportunities while working at the radio station, which was my first real job in the music industry.
Then I collaborated with the guitarist of a local jazz artist, as a “freelancer”. They were preparing for their first concert after releasing their album. They asked the class group if anybody wanted to be their sound guy for free. And I said, “I would love to, but I don’t know anything about live shows.” I’m glad he encouraged me to do it.
I watched YouTube tutorials about live shows, and about the digital mixer, I was about to use. Also, I already knew the basics of audio engineering. When I went to the venue, I told the sound guy at the place that I didn’t have any experience at all. So, I asked him to help me with technical stuff that I didn’t know. The concert went great, and I realized that working as a live sound engineer was also so much fun!
After a year, my schedule was full of sound engineering and mixing work. I started earning more money than the radio station. So, another decision was made. I had to quit the radio station to work as a full-time freelancer. And I’m working like that for five years now.
What can you learn from my story?
Don’t change your mind because somebody says it’s impossible or hard to do.
What if I completely forgot about my dreams and finished studying economics? What would I do now with that diploma?
Maybe it would be much better for me to get into my music career earlier. It was possible if I didn’t listen to that person who told me that was impossible to earn money as an audio engineer.
After years, I realized that new audio and sound engineers were needed in the music industry.
Take the opportunities because they won’t come again
People love staying in their comfort zones. It makes sense in the matter of surviving. But it doesn’t work in the modern world we live in.
If I didn’t accept that radio station job, I wouldn’t meet that many people from the music industry. Only because I didn't want to get out of my comfort zone.
If I didn’t accept the first live show opportunity, I maybe wouldn’t work as a live sound engineer at all.
With the knowledge that I got from these concerts, I worked with a lot of artists and toured around the country. I worked with the biggest alternative bands from Turkey, which I was dreaming about. And of course, they paid me!
What jobs you can choose to have a career in the music industry?
You can work as an instrumentalist, and work with artists and producers as a session musician. Even though there are a lot of sampled instruments and sample packs on the internet, people still need to hire session musicians.
To be a session musician, you need to know music theory and understand what people want from you.
You can invest in your gear and the acoustics of your room and learn about the basics of recording technology. So, you can start your remote session musician career right away. There are websites where you can create a profile and be listed. What’s more, you can always use social media and create your personal brand to reach out to clients.
Artists and bands need touring musicians. If you can find an artist who tours often, that might be even enough for you. Also, you can find another band to tour with. What else, you can stay at home to work as a session musician at the same time.
Working as a touring musician might be challenging. And it might require some sleepless nights. If it sounds fun to you, you can think about being a touring musician to have a career in the music industry.
Do you trust your teaching and leadership capabilities? Do you think that you’re patient enough? Then, you might think about teaching an instrument, or music production.
If you search or ask professionals about the best way of learning an instrument, the most common answer you will get will be hiring a teacher. Not because it is the traditional way, but because it is still the best experience of learning an instrument for many.
The good thing is that you can do it as a freelancer, and online. So, it can be a comfortable and safe career to have in the music industry.
When you work as a composer, you can find various niches. You can work with the film and TV industry, the game industry, and, of course, the music industry. If you enjoy classical compositions, and if you’re capable of arranging different instruments, you can think about having a career as a composer in the music industry.
You don’t even have to compose for big movies to earn a decent amount of money. Nowadays, the gaming industry has a bigger revenue than movies.
Album cover art designer
Do you enjoy music a lot, but you don’t want to have a career as a musician, producer, engineer, or manager? If you’re good with visuals, you might think about having a career based on music as an album cover art designer. You can create album covers by using your photography and/or photoshop, illustration, or painting skills.
Artists and bands will always seek you if they realize that your art stands out.
Music producers understand the creative, technical, and business side of a project, and they lead the production. The idea of a producer has been changing in recent years, though. Nowadays, producers tend to do everything on their own. Such as songwriting, composing, arranging, mixing, and even mastering. Some might be multi-instrumentalists that can create a rock album and can play every instrument themselves. And some might not know how to play any but can hire session musicians to achieve their goals.
If you think that you’re capable of being a jackknife in the room, you might think about having a producer career in the music industry.
Good recording engineers can capture the moment with the best quality possible.
Having a career as a recording engineer in the music industry can be harder because of the lack of big studios. But who knows? You can give it a try.
Mixing and/or mastering engineer
Another career option is to work as a mixing and/or mastering engineer. You will be responsible for the final sound of a piece, and you will manage to be creative and know the technical aspects.
If you have an ear for the sound, and if you like to turn the knobs until you have something good, you can think of having a career as a mixing and/or mastering engineer in the music industry.
You can work remotely from the comfort of your bedroom studio, or you can work with big record labels in a big studio.
If you like creating music for yourself and want to make a living as a creative and be free from working for somebody else, you can think about having a career in the music industry as an artist.
Artists usually write their musical material, yet they can collaborate with other songwriters. Some artists also produce their music, but some hire other producers.
Additionally, you can earn money not only from streaming but also from touring and merchandise.
Do you think that you’re capable of negotiating, organizing, managing, and planning? If you think that you want to have a music career, but stay on the business side, you might think about working as an artist manager.
Artist managers shape their artists’ careers by their skills. Artists and bands need managers to book new gigs, create new opportunities, plan their album projects, create marketing strategies, and merchandise plans, and organize deals with companies. They get paid by having a share of the earnings of their artists, so they plan for long-term goals.
There will be times when you will sleep at the airport, and your life will be always on the road. You will get the benefits and fun side of touring, but you will have to organize and deal with the issues that will happen along the road.
Tour managers are responsible for making everything run smoothly. They organize and plan transportation, accommodation, and the economics of a tour. They are always there if a band member needs anything.
If you like to write songs and don’t want to have a career as an artist, and you want to stay behind the scenes, you might think about writing songs for others. That might include collaborating with artists or pitching your songs to big artists. You might also collaborate with other songwriters.
Having a career as a songwriter is not only limited to the music industry. You can also write songs and jingles for ads.
There are a lot of different types of careers that you can have to work in the music industry that I didn’t mention in this article. Such as touring roadies, A&R coordinators or directors, marketing coordinators, music journalists, music photographers, sound designers, sound technicians, and stage managers. You can see the full list of music career paths and decide on your career path.
The important point is to have a career that you will enjoy so it is best to think about what you enjoy in this life, and what you can enjoy in the music industry.
Remember that it won’t happen overnight. And you might work harder compared to a corporate job. There won’t be anybody to motivate you if you work as a freelancer.
Having a career in the music industry also requires networking. Just go out, be friends, and they will call you when they need to work with you.
Don’t lose opportunities because they won’t come again. If you reject a good opportunity that comes from a person, they won’t offer a similar opportunity again. They will call another person instead.
Have plans about your finances as you won’t earn enough money instantly.
Use the tools available to you to reach more people, such as this blog post that you’ve been reading so far.
If you need a producer and mixing engineer after starting your journey, you can contact me right away.