music business consultant
Request Magazine: how to get a job in the music industry




By Steve Knopper

You love music. You need a job. How can you get a job doing what you love? Do everything you can to get a foot in the door, work for little or no money, and amass as much experience as possible.

"The A&R guy needed help. I'm listening to tapes for him," says 20-year-old Dave Watkins an associate A&R coordinator (which is to say intern) at Priority Records in Los Angeles. "It's kind of cool. I open his packages, and he lets me listen to stuff. I like rap music, and this is a cool rap label."

Watkins, according to most people with titles in the music industry, is playing the game right. Get an internship, they say. Don't worry about money (easy for them to say). Do things: Go to concerts, listen to music, get coffee for the guys in ties if you have to. Most of all like music and be passionate about music you like. "You can learn publicity," says Bill Bentley, vice president/director of media relations for Reprise Records. "But you've got to live music. That's what I look for."

If you can endure all this humiliation and get a couple of lucky breaks, you might end up like Chuck Woodford. After working every possible job for the University of West Virginia radio station, he graduated and sent tapes to a couple of stations in Colorado. To his surprise, KBCO in Boulder returned his calls. He interviewed and earned a part-time job as a late-night disc jockey. Today, the 27- year-old is a full-time deejay and production director.

Here's what you can expect to have to do to find your way into some of the best jobs in the music industry has to offer, according to people who know.


It's really hard to get these jobs out of school," says 38-year-old Josh Grier, who handles deals for Bob Mould, Wilco, the Bottle Rockets, and Alejandro Escovedo. "It happens, but not too often".

"Chill for a little bit after law school", says Grier, a lawyer in the New York City firm Pryor, Cashman, Sherman and Flynn. "You don't have to comeroaring out of the gate and get a job representing Madonna. It's probably better if you don't."

After graduating from Duke University's law school in 1981, Grier decided against joining a firm. Instead, he worked his way up to general manager of the small Durham, North Carolina label Dolphin Records. Through local contacts, he represented Corrosion of Conformity and the Connells. Thus established, he joined a firm in 1987.

"I'm not hugely successful," Grier says. "I don't have Live or Michael Bolton. Still, somebody asks Bob Mould, 'Who's you lawyer?' and he says my name."


You'll need patience - and a cast-iron stomach - when your band calls from the Canadian border to say its opening act was caught with a quarter-gram of marijuana dust and an unregistered handgun. Your job is to convince everybody not to cancel that night's show.

"People were absolutely freaking out. I talked the other band's manager out of (canceling)," recalls Mark Bliesener, who manages Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Leo Kottke and others. "I said, "What are you going to tell the fans?' He said, "We'll tell them the people of Canada are too uptight.' I said, 'That'll look good in the Canadian press.' "

Bliesener learned how to negotiate during his first week in the music industry in 1964, as a band drummer in a high school band. After 10 years as a musician, he became a music journalist and then a concert publicist. Finally, he became a partner in the Denver management firm Morris, Bliesener and Associates. Sometimes, he's hiring.

"I look for somebody who's just so in love with every aspect of the business that they just have to do it," he says. "There's no choice - not, ' If it doesn't work out I'll be a realtor.' "

A & R

A&R or artists and repertoire, means "find good bands and sign them." To Rose Noone, this means two shows on Friday, one Thursday, three Tuesday, and three Monday. "And the week before, even more," says Noone, senior A&R director at Island Records.

After college, Noone booked an acoustic nightclub in New York City. Then she moved to England to write and work in experimental theater. She was poor, but she went to shows, met a lot of people, and did freelance college promotion for Nine Inch Nails. Back in New York City, she was hired by Island.

Wherever you are, she advises, get to know the music scene. Meet musicians. Introduce yourself to industry people at shows. Says Noone: "You may even get a call from the local A&R people: 'Do you know any bands?' "


To get this influential position in which you decide what's played on the air, you'll need to learn computers. Today, studios are filled with CD-ROMs, music-scheduling systems, and online services.

Then, expect to wait many years. "You're going to start out low," says Monica Starr, PD of the Chicago R&B station 106 Jams," and you're going to feel like you're a gopher and you work for peanuts."

If you're a woman, you should know that Starr is among the few female PDs in the country. "It's kind of dumb," says Starr, a former disc jockey, sales coordinator, production director, and pre-med student. "Especially in urban radio, where they skew everything toward females. Duh. Why wouldn't you want a female program director?"


Do everything. Then you may be qualified to call writers and write press releases.

Jill Richmond, publicist for Bar/None Records, has been a punk guitarist, sales assistant, concert reviewer and promotions coordinator. Bentley has been a drummer, music editor and nightclub promoter.

"I totally bummed around for five, six years," Bentley says. "Get life experience if you can."

Passion, Richmond says, can save your butt when everything else fails. After college, she applied unsuccessfully to all the big record companies, then scrounged a job as a Billboard magazine sales assistant. She wrote the reviews her editor friend didn't feel like writing.

"If you're the young, spirited person who says, "I'll go to that show!' and I'll check out that band!' it's appreciated," says Richmond, who recommends a job at a smaller label "because people get burnt later."


Don't even think about trying to be a producer. "That is totally unrealistic," says singer/songwriter Don Dixon, producer of R.E.M., James McMurty, the Smithereens, and Marshall Crenshaw, among others. "Anybody who tries to set that as a goal is just going to get knocked down."

But if you're not looking, producing could find you. An engineer - or a musician leaving the technical stuff to the engineer - can do the job. Dixon, a session bassist since he was 15, started out recording his friends. In 1985, Mitch Easter asked him to co produce R.E.M.'s Murmur. Some might call that a big break.

"It's not a job I would wish on anyone," Dixon says. "You're constantly trying to get this artist to get better - and yet accept something that's reasonable with the economic expectations.

"Producing is probably the most mystical of all the record-company jobs," Dixon says. "It's got the least to do with talent or ability or inclination."

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