Recording Industry, Careers in

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The recording industry is made up of small companies as well as transnational corporations. Many are concentrated in music centers, such as New York, Los Angeles, London, and Nashville, while others thrive in markets where corporate and private products involving sound are produced, such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Miami. Companies in the recording industry employ clerical and administrative staffs, accountants, and lawyers, though only the larger companies have in-house accountants and lawyers.

The everyday, essential staff areas are often the easiest way to gain employment with industry companies, thereby facilitating access to positions that are more directly engaged with creative processes. In major markets, there are usually temporary staffing companies that specialize in serving recording industry companies. Temporary assignments often lead to full-time jobs. Once an individual is employed in the industry, it becomes easier to find out about and move toward jobs that satisfy established desires and use specific skills. To land an entry-level position, a college degree, especially one related to the industry, is valued. Although it is possible to find employment without a degree, an individual in that situation must be able to compensate with positive assets such as daily dependability and the ability to deliver more than the minimum work that is requested. These characteristics can also lead to promotions and access to more responsible jobs. Recording industry jobs are part of the larger entertainment industry, a desirable place to work, so there are almost always more applicants than positions. Because of the highly competitive job market, even at the entry level, whom one knows and whom one has impressed can be very important.

Many people harbor the dream of becoming famous as recording artists, performing their own music. Few succeed, and the bulk of the industry is based on the expectation that dues will be paid before power and monetary payoffs are realized. For every visible star, there are at least twenty people behind the scenes working to keep them there. This is where most job opportunities in the industry appear. The recording industry is nothing without something to record, so beyond singer-songwriters, the song is key. Songwriters work on an independent basis, using personal and professional contacts, or under a contract to music publishing companies that market ("pitch," or "plug") songs. Personal managers, producers, and artist and repertoire (A&R) executives at record labels who have the power to include people in projects that they are overseeing are on the receiving end of these pitches. Publishing companies typically have creative and administrative divisions. Publishers' creative divisions decide which songwriters to sign, which songs to make demonstration ("demo") recordings of, and to whom the songs should be pitched in hopes of getting a "cut" (a song included on a recording). The administrative division handles payroll, distributes royalty payments, and keeps the bills paid. Getting a contract as a songwriter depends on the strength of the material one brings to market. Song pluggers are often successful songwriters themselves, former label employees, and/or individuals who have good connections around the industry. It is a business of relationships.

Personal managers and record producers stand at the crossroads of creativity and commerce. Personal managers have earned the trust of musical artists, and they work toward getting recording contracts and booking agents for the artists in an attempt to maximize the artists' income. In return, they receive a percentage of the artists' income— typically 15 to 20 percent—for providing that guidance. They have creative input into the songs that are recorded and their style and sequencing, as well as the photographs, packaging, and marketing of the final products and the artists themselves. Sometimes, managers and producers must caution performers to rein in their artistic impulses to fit better with trends in chart success, radio airplay, and sales. Personal managers also serve as the artists' legal representatives when dealing with record companies, booking agents, public relations firms, and so on. Producers, in command in the studio sessions, have to balance the musicians' desires to express themselves and realize their artistic visions with delivering a product that the record label can energetically bring to market. Producers also choose the studios to work in, which affects engineers, backup singers, and session musicians. Business managers, employed by the most successful artists, should be mentioned here. Also working for a percentage of the artists' income—only 5 to 10 percent—these managers collect the artists' income (making certain that the artists are being paid fully and properly), pay their bills, provide them with living expenses, prepare their taxes, and often oversee their investments. The overseeing of financial matters by business managers provides a check on the activities of personal managers and the excesses of the artists themselves.

A&R executives are the creatives at record labels, the ears of the companies who advocate for performers they like—to get them "signed" to recording contracts. After signing, A&R executives serve as liaisons to the artists' management regarding the label's vision for the performer and the marketing plans. Within a major company, the ideal A&R person remains an advocate for the artists that they sign, "selling" them to the sales, promotion, publicity, and advertising departments. Marketing is usually the largest of these divisions, responsible for getting the product to consumers by getting it into stores and the awareness of the consumers. Promotion involves getting the recorded product radio and video airplay, as well as arranging live appearances at retail and broadcast outlets when the artist is on tour. Publicity efforts try to get unpaid exposure (other than airplay) for recordings. Advertising involves taking out advertisements in trade and consumer publications to create awareness and to arrange cooperative advertisements with retailers to promote the key releases of the company. At smaller labels, many of these functions may be combined. Because of the complex business nature of the industry, many of the presidents of major recording labels are attorneys.

Many job niches exist in working directly for recording artists. Performers who have recording contracts are expected to tour, which creates a demand for bus and truck drivers, roadies who set up the equipment, and technicians who set up and tune instruments and provide onstage support during performances. Some artists employ singers or dancers to enhance the onstage presentation, wardrobe people to look after their stage clothes, as well as hairstylists and makeup artists who travel with them so they look their best onstage and at media appearances. Road managers travel with performers to keep the complex logistics of a traveling show straight—getting all the people and equipment to the right place at the right time and looking after payment upon delivery of the performers' services.

In the recording industry, getting the first job is usually the hardest. Established relationships, such as becoming a trusted friend, can make one a road manager or personal manager overnight. Landing jobs with major companies may require contacts, or a stint as an intern or temp, to get noticed. Maintaining one's reputation as a sharp, dependable, and discreet person will do the most toward maintaining career momentum. Making decisions that make employers money provides the best chance of upward advancement.

See also:Public Relations, Careers in; Radio Broadcasting, Careers in; Radio Broadcasting, Station Programming and; Recording Industry; Recording Industry, History of;Recording Industry, Production Process of; Recording Industry, Technology of.

Paul D. Fischer