Training for the Music Industry

The fact that our industry is being asked to help design courses for 14-19 year old people should be grabbed with both hands. How many times does Government ask employers what sort of skills should be taught at school? I think there is a fear factor which is going to make this a slow start but I want to encourage you.

The music biz has traditionally avoided all the conventional routes through companies and also the conventional educational requirements from candidates. This reflects the fact that we like to think of ourselves as somehow different, perhaps even rebels, whether we are involved in music making or even in business affairs. Our passion for music is often what got us a job in the first place without any bits of paper saying we were good at it.

This shakes down when we get higher up the tree and are employers recruiting other hopefuls. We use the same model as before, and often just choose a candidate through the grapevine or just steal them from another company who seems to have been doing well in that area.

This method is partly responsible for the escalating HR costs – a bit like football, where clubs bid and outbid for the best players with the resulting upward spiral.

So are we afraid of people coming to our company with diplomas and bits of paper . . . maybe and maybe rightly so? Maybe the bits of paper don’t mean diddly to what we think our business needs. So isn’t it great that we are being asked to let Government know? Yes it is . . . but there is a snag.

Do we really know what we want? The music business has never been great at strategy, admit it . . . a three year plan for launching an act . . . I don’t think so . . . cinemas full of target audiences listening to possible choices for a single? They do it for toothpaste, but we think we are better than that. Well we’re not and the rubbish way we dealt with the inevitable digital revolution meant we lost control of our distribution. Twenty years from now the industry will have transformed again. Will we be ready? Well we could be by applying good business practises. For that we need skilled people, some of them coming from within and certainly coming from outside. So we will need a work force ready for action.

The first lot of young people to come into the industry with the new diplomas will be 2012. Does that seem a long way off? To the music business it’s a lifetime away. But let’s compare the Olympic situation . . . 2012 and we know we are already behind schedule . . . see what I mean?

I think employers in the business need to do a couple of things in order here:

  1. Some navel gazing . . . do we really run our businesses as tightly and well as we secretly think a research lab or car manufacturer does? Probably not. Perhaps closer still are there other areas in the creative sector who do things better? Before we can have a template to offer Government we should ask other sectors how they do what they do.
  2. Then we need to be brave and admit a few home truths e.g. we don’t get the best out of our artists; we have a failure rate on releases of sometimes upward of 90 percent; we don’t allow marketing, A&R and the artist to work as a creative team with a shared vision; we make enemies of our golden geese . . . many of the big artists publicly despise their funders; we come ill-prepared to the table for the digital download share-out and then take eachother to court after the fact etc etc etc.

I think if we grasp the nettle, take a good look at ourselves, take courage, admit our inadequacies and see how the next generation’s skills could help fix them we will achieve;

  1. Survival
  2. the ability of people to come in and out of the music industry from other areas so widening the gene pool.

All of this applies equally to artists and studio creators. Artists will need to learn how to survive. Music is a way of life, but it is also reasonable to expect to earn a living at it, and survive after it . . . none of these skills really exist as a cultural norm . . . it’s all luck and no judgement . . . is it an accident that so many bands who stay at the top got a lot of education? I don’t think so and that isn’t either fair or sensible. We need to stop exploiting.

I go to a lot of schools and attend career evenings. Two things really strike me. One is that if you are mad about music and want to make it your career but you don’t actually play anything sing or write, then I can’t offer any suggestions at all . . . ‘no sorry I can’t really recommend good courses for people who want to go into live promotion etc.’

The other thing is that when I ask what they want to do the usual response is ‘where can I earn a decent living.’

Robin Millar