Throw convention to the wind: Get inspired by unconventional career paths
shesaid.so members share their stories and learnings to inspire and encourage [Edited by Clare Everson]
The pandemic has affected not only University and College entry, but also the experience itself. Fees continue to increase and after recent chaos over UK exam grades and higher education entry, the question of how we define an ideal or successful career path comes under scrutiny.
Knowing that the route in to a music industry career is often not linear, we asked the shesaid.so community to share their stories of twists and turns in their career paths. The result is clear: linear is not the only way!
Julie shares her advice on why she often hires self-educated applicants instead of highly educated profiles in the music business: “The first reason is that autodidacts are usually way more motivated and resourceful. They naturally learned how to think out of the box as they have not been formatted to replicate the models learned at school.
The second reason is the curiosity and passion they developed on their own as others were learning what they were told to.
This also comes with great general culture, positive thinking and free spirit that bring a good energy within a team.
Finally, each of them was unique thanks to their singular journey.
I hired geeks, artist fans, and talented musicians in digital departments and I am convinced the success of those teams came from the uniqueness of its members.”
Leanne found that writing a music blog was her entry to discovering her strengths and talent.
“I started my career at 15 writing a music blog. A few of the acts I wrote about ended up being scouted by management companies, law firms and record labels from my blog which led me to becoming a scout for a management company at 16. I then went on to do work experience at Universal and EMI while completing my A Levels.
I decided to forgo university and through networking became a Management assistant at Maverick. I left just before I turned 20 and started my own management company called Brave Management. I ran that for 4 years alongside working at AEI Group as a Project Manager.
Last year I moved to Salzburg, Austria to join the team at Red Bull as their Global Artist Manager where I work with creative, sales, brand marketing and over 50 country teams to develop and execute global artist marketing campaigns.”
Leanne’s advice is:
“My biggest piece of advice would be to be persistent and consistent while never assuming anything.” (Leanne)
Helena learnt that in her case, practical experience was just as valuable as a degree.
“I knew when I was doing my A-Levels that I wanted to go into production and that experience was valued more than a degree. I could go to Uni for 3 years but I’d still end up making tea at entry level, just at 3 years older and with a lot more debt!
I managed to get work experience at the BBC and gave it 150%. At the end of the week, the producer said ‘you can come back next week if you like’. I did. I managed to assist the office to the point where they trusted me to get jobs done quickly, and then they started paying me. They were aware that I wasn’t living at home and needed to be self sufficient. From there I quit my part time job at Woolworths — rock n roll — and managed to apply for a full time job at the BBC. Fast forward 6 years, I arrived at Radio 1 and 1Xtra, and 3 years after that I made Producer.
“Know your industry and what tools you need — and equip yourself. Be humble, but persistent. Don’t have an attitude; no-one owes you anything. Make yourself indispensable; find a need and meet it. People will find it hard to let you go. And I stole this from Wretch 32 ‘don’t let the night before affect the morning after’. No-one wants a flakey team member!” (Helen)
Holly used volunteering at events as a chance to network, learn and refine her interests.
“I dropped out of uni, whilst studying for a Biology degree, having suffered a breakdown and being (mis)diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder… Unaware of how to get into the events industry, I noticed an advert on the back of the local what’s-on guide for a small grassroots festival. None of my friends wanted to go, so I called the festival office and asked if there was some way I could come and volunteer at the event. They put me in touch with their steward organiser… 14 years later, I run my own event management and training company, have worked at some of the best music festivals and events in the UK and get huge satisfaction from supporting others to start out on the journey themselves.
“My piece of advice would be don’t be afraid of volunteering at the start, you can gain a lot of experience whilst still enjoying the event. The time spent volunteering brings you into contact with almost every other group of staff at events, giving you the perfect opportunity to observe and decide which area of the industry you’d most like to focus your efforts on. From there, the options are clearer and you are meeting the people who can guide and support you on your own career journey.” (Holly)
Saira pursued an Apprenticeship as an opportunity to get hands-on work experience.
“Knowing that I always wanted a career in the Music Industry I decided against going to University. Personally I felt that an Apprenticeship would be a more beneficial way to get hands on experience. Finding an Apprenticeship was no easy task though! It took a lot of research, reaching out to countless companies before getting a response. I was successful in an Apprenticeship opportunity when I applied to go and see ACM (Academy of Contemporary Music based at Metropolis Studios). This is where I spoke to one of the student liaisons and used the opportunity to enquire about any Apprenticeship openings, expressing my interest in working in the music business. They asked for my CV which was handed over to the head of Publishing at Metropolis Studios. I was invited for an interview and the same day was offered the role of Publishing & Sync Coordinator. Since then I have been in the industry for five years, worked at four companies and loved every minute of it!”
“Based on my experience my piece of advice would be to not give up, not get disheartened by rejections, always be willing to learn outside your comfort zone and use every opportunity you can to network!” (Saira)
Emma shares her story on how she navigated a transition period from a career outside of the music industry in to Music Programming.
“I spent 9 years in London working in all sorts; the civil service, children’s book publishing rights, TV post production and TV broadcast rights… alongside waitressing on the side to afford my rent. I was bored to tears in my last London job in TV, and a friend suggested I help out with a tiny music festival her friend was putting on. My lunchtimes, evenings and weekends became consumed by that work, and when the weekend happened it was the most rewarded I’d ever felt. Through helping out on that festival, I not only realised that other people actually got paid to work on festivals — but I also met my current boss at a networking event. He asked me to move to Manchester to be his assistant, working on one festival. I took the plunge, and five and a half years later I’m responsible for all the music programming across our much bigger portfolio of events.”
Emma’s advice from her journey is:
“Take as many opportunities as you can to meet people. Whether you’re googling delegates of a conference before you attend so you know which to approach, or asking around at gigs to meet the promoters or reps to introduce yourself and get to know them; it’s about inserting yourself into those networks, making friends and seeing what opportunities arise.
At the moment while gigs and conferences are off, lots of conferences like Reeperbahn and Focus Wales are offering online versions with panels, feedback sessions and even showcases. I’d recommend immersing yourself in all of that — learning who people are and finding out how to get in touch with them if you think they could help you or teach you something.”
Similarly for Kathi, transitioning from a career outside of music started with the belief that she could turn a pipe dream in to a reality! Even when it meant learning a whole new language.
Whilst working in International Marketing at a medical devices company, a friend joked and dreamed of a career at a record label and the idea wouldn’t let her go.
“I started doing my research, soon choosing a big label in the Netherlands, so I began to learn Dutch, started applying for jobs and bought my delegate ticket for ADE to start building my network. After over a year of many rejections, six of them from my dream label alone, I was determined to go ahead. “Once I get to Amsterdam and learn the language it will get much easier” I told myself. So I quit my job, went on six months unemployment benefits and moved to the Netherlands.
When arriving in Amsterdam, I went to lots of underground techno parties to check out the scene… After four months I landed my first music job. I built up a massive network in Europe, got a great understanding of the music industry processes and event management, and had a huge exponential learning curve. In May last year I met my boss at a party. Turns out that he was looking to hire for his artist management agency. We had a chat, exchanged contacts, and two months later I started working with them.”
Following her move, Kathi emphasises the importance of expanding your skills however you can.
“Persistence is key. Especially when switching jobs or industries there is a lot that you might not have (just yet). So if you don’t have a skill, make a course and learn it. If you don’t have a network, get yourself out there and build one. If your applications aren’t successful, find a different way in. You don’t get what you don’t ask for, so keep pushing and believe in yourself, and you’ll be happy with the result.” (Kathi)
Jen used her skills in a role in politics to inspire and support her entrepreneurship in music.
“When I graduated college in 2014, I needed to pay off my debt, so I took a job in Washington, D.C. in political communications and speechwriting. Here, I learned just how political everything in the U.S. is, including music licensing laws, copyright law, etc. and gained immeasurable experience in understanding how you can organize and lead a group of people to change policy for the better. I also realized that some of the most visionary people in politics and tech are simply entrepreneurs with the gumption to try. So why not try myself?
I set up Girl Gang Music to help elevate women in music in 2016 when I exited politics, and am now a full time producer (at my own LLC Jen Miller Music LLC) and built up a roster of clients in sync and A&R. The skills learned at my desk job are utilized every day in this role, including organization, general scheduling, tech, liasing with various stakeholders, etc.”
“Direction over ‘goals’ & speed, always. Success is extremely relative, and failing is necessary for growth, so if you’re headed in the right direction, you’re doing it right.” (Jen)
Chantal’s early experience of being made redundant although initially worrying, gave her the opportunity to envision her own company.
“Sadly after 2 years of working at [a previous company], they went into administration. I walked into work one day only to be told to pack up my things because there is no company to come back to! At 23 (and a new homeowner) it was quite a shock to the system. I loved that job and was so sad that it had been taken away from me. I didn’t want that to happen to me ever again and knew I needed to find a way to be self sufficient.
Weirdly enough the week the company I was working at went into administration was the same week Cheerleading announced changes to their music rules following a lawsuit by Sony Music. These new rules stated that if teams wanted to use commercial music (editing and adapting it into a mix) that they needed a license. With my knowledge of Cheerleading, music production and licensing, I knew there wasn’t a viable solution that existed and decided that it would be the problem I solve and the new company I would build.
At one point, I was working for 4 companies (including Synergy and ClicknClear) simultaneously just to keep myself afloat whilst I built my businesses. Within 1 year Synergy Sounds was in a place where it could financially support me and so I took the leap of faith to go full time into starting ClicknClear.
Whilst the experience of losing my job to an administration was horrible, it was actually a blessing in disguise and led me to be the founder of ClicknClear, delivering officially licensed music to performance sports worldwide. I couldn’t be happier working for myself and watching my company grow. Ever since that turning point, I have welcomed challenges so I can overcome them and keep learning.
“When one door closes, another one opens. Embrace the change and always be ready to adapt to new situations.” (Chantal)
Sticking to the plan isn’t always the only way.
Hilde: “In 1994 I got my master in cultural psychology. When I couldn’t find a place to continue my study for a PhD, I started to help with post and contracts at the booking agency of my partner. Within 3 month I was working full time, shortly after I started to book bands myself. In 2001 I became partner in the company. I work now as European booking agent and Dutch promoter for bands from all over the world, mainly rock/pop and singer-songwriters, with cross-overs to jazz and world music. It took to 2012 until I combined study and work again. With Compass for Creatives I write articles about the mental challenges for artists, give guest lectures and coaching to musicians.”
“What I’ve learned during my long and unexpected career in the music business, is that all the planning you make is just a draft. Life will turn out different again and again. It’s difficult, especially for perfectionists like me. I’ve learned to loosen up a bit.” (Hilde)
Meena has found that that as a composer, her music and talent speaks for itself.
“I got my break as a TV composer when I was playing in a club. I was playing a set of beats and electronics with live violin in London one night, and was approached by someone in the audience who asked if I’d be interested in composing for a new TV show he was directing… From there, I worked on a slew of high-profile projects, and ended up moving to Los Angeles in 2004 after a 3-week trip became a decade in Hollywood. I moved from there to New York City, where I currently live.
“Nobody has ever had the slightest interest in qualifications, only experience and the sound of my music.” (Meena)
After ten years of producing in her spare time, Aubrey’s hobby became her career!
“Before becoming a producer I was Head of International Crises at the UK Cabinet Office. My job was to advise the Prime Minister on threats to the UK and I was involved in the COBR responses to the London Bridge terror attacks, and the attacks in Paris and Brussels. This followed a 10 year career in the Civil Service.
During this time I was producing clients in the evenings and at weekends. On payday every month I would buy a new piece of studio equipment. Then after about 3 years of doing this I was earning the same as my Cabinet Office salary (from producing) consistently. So I resigned and that’s when my career really took off! I’ve now worked with Little Mix, Simon Webbe (Blue), Charlotte Kelly (Soul II Soul), George Shelley (Union J) and Paige Turley (2020 Love Island winner).
“Work ethic is everything. If you are currently stuck in a job you don’t want to be in and dream of doing something else — then apply yourself, work hard at it and you can achieve anything. Success comes down to passion, determination and WORK ETHIC. Not luck or money.” (Aubrey)
Georgia learnt that going with her gut feelings played an important part in getting to where she is today, even if it means changing tact.
“…having the textiles background which then developed into a Fashion Degree at University has allowed me to develop my creative side (I was always more creative than ‘academic’)… Following college I went to Manchester Metropolitan University to study Fashion Promotion but learned whilst I was there that it was far too business-led and I only had one creative module which I loved and wanted to do full time… even thought I was under a lot of pressure to stay there by the university, I went with my gut and went to another university where I met some of my best friends now, and fell in love with Leeds. If I hadn’t have made that decision, I wouldn’t be where I am today!
And it taught me a valuable lesson to always go with what I’m feeling, or what I want instead of what I think everyone else wants me to do.
[A while later] I found the job at Skiddle and a month later I got the job after an assessment day. I’ve been here almost 2 years now and I’ve never loved a job or team more in my life. Here I have the freedom to implement my own ideas, I’m given responsibility and have the opportunity to really make a difference for a company I really believe in.
“I’m really passionate about telling young people starting out their careers that there really doesn’t have to be a linear path and you are more than capable of finding the right career for you.”
Thank you to all of our shesaid.so members who contributed their stories and shared their career paths.