Over the past couple of months I’ve been teaching a group of A-Level Music Technology students here in the UK. During each session at least one of the students will proudly state that when they graduate they will find some kind of work or job in a recording studio… if only it was that simple! This particular class of students are incredibly talented, I don’t for one second doubt their abilities, which will one day enable them to thrive in studio environments but sadly the career market for jobs in recording studios just doesn’t exist, at least in the UK.
Over the last decade more and more studios have closed. Independent audio professionals, like many of us on The Production Expert Team, work from home studios. Our Editor Mike Thornton has referred to this career trend many times as the ‘Cottage-isation’ of the audio production industry and it has proven to us at least that it’s a format that continues to develop as we showed in our article What Kind Of Pro Tools User Are You? Now Check Out The Results From 2016 And 2018.
I’ve just searched for a job with the keywords “Recording Studio” in the London area on Monster.com. Absolutely nothing that relates to this field of work shows in the results. Same disappointment on other job sites such as indeed.com and Gumtree jobs. What do these results tell us? To the aspirational student fresh out of education these results will most likely make them feel as though there are no jobs in the music production industry… when in fact there are, they are just not looking in the right place. If you want to find a job in a creative industry then I recommend that you steer well clear of these type of job sites as in my view none of them cater for this type of work. Seeing a results list void of any opportunity can be soul destroying so protect yourself from the disappointment and take your jobs rod and go fish in another career opportunity pond.
I appreciate that’s easier said than done coming from someone like me who has built up a good standing in the music production industry. I have learnt where the ponds are and how to catch the fish, how then do fresh-faced students or talented music production artists find their career start? In this article we explore ways you can cast your net in the music production industry.
Network - Find Your Peers
There’s an old saying that is especially relevant in our industry “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. This can be interpreted in several ways, most typically people read into this, as knowing someone personally who is higher up the food chain who is in a position to be able to throw you an unconditional lifeline that will act as a catalyst for your career...
Let’s be realistic here, do you know anyone who got to where they did off the back of a hand out? I don’t. How I’ve interpreted this saying is much more down to earth. When I started out I recognised that I needed to know more people who work in the industry not for the hope of a possible chance of them giving me a leg up but to act as an example, a shining beacon of hope that I can also get a point one day in my career where I’ll be happy. Networking is key to success in this industry. You may find that you can easily pick up work from “colleagues” or "peers" as they know you have a particular skill set they lack that can earn you a small credit or wedge of income. Whatever the case may be you won’t get any opportunities if you don’t push yourself to network and get to know more people in our industry that may be able to offer you opportunities to show off what makes your special and unique.
Collaborate - Work With Others
No man, or woman, is an island in what we do. One day in the distant future when career success has been established you may discover that working on your own in your studio is the way to go, but for those starting out, working on your own, not working with others will seriously stunt your career growth. Collaboration runs in parallel with networking... it’s a two birds, one stone win here.
Be proactive in finding people just like you who are also struggling to find their way into the music production industry as these individuals will become your support network. Collaboration also helps to spread the word about you and your skills. Treat every paid or unpaid collaboration as an advertising opportunity, a chance to demonstrate what you are capable of and your value.
Establish Your Dream Teams
Through networking and collaborating you will quickly discover other people’s unique skills and abilities. Keep those who have proven themselves as assets close by. If you discover someone who is a fantastic rock drummer and someone who is a brilliant tracking engineer then encourage future projects and collaborations in which you can all bring your strengths to the table. I have several mini-teams that I can call on when certain projects demand it. Actioning these teams, aids the project and gives me that industry feeling that can easily be lost after long periods of working on my own.
As I mentioned earlier, teams, if only temporary, enable creatives to play to their strengths, which promotes a strong sense of achievement. I also find that potential clients prefer the idea of teams working on their projects. There’s a buzz and a camaraderie that comes with it that helps to reassure your self worth and career position. If you take anything away from this article I would strongly recommend this tip. Build mini-teams that you know you can call on or work in as at the very least these teams will give you that “I’m working in the music industry” feeling.
Word Of Mouth
Avoid falling into the online advertising trap. Social media and flashy websites will give you a false impression of career direction and self image. While both are useful tools, these alone will not help you to get a grounded start in the music production industry. By all means set yourself up a Soundcloud, Facebook Page and a website. Print business cards, flyers and t-shirts… do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel like a business person but know that you are only avoiding the reality and importance of networking and working with others in order to succeed. In today’s see-it-all social media world a strong reputation and word of mouth is refreshing and is in fact what most potential clients base their decisions to work with you on. Always remember people work with or hire people not recording studios. When people choose to work with me that is exactly what they get, Dan Cooper, not my company, though the company name is stated on the invoice.
Focus on what you have to offer as a creative professional, not the gear you’ve got at your disposal. Musicians and songwriters don’t care if you’ve got a $10,000 studio, they want to know you’ve got 10,000 hours experience under your belt. They want a service, a professional point of view, a creative and proactive contributor, a person who can take an idea and turn it into a product they never imagined it could be.
I hope this article has inspired you to take a more proactive approach in broadening your music production career path. It’s not an easy industry to grow in but it’s not impossible. Don’t try and find jobs in recording studios or music production online, instead become the job, the service or the person that people want to work with.