Pro Audio Files

11 Tips for a Successful Career in the Music Industry

There’s a ton of information available on audio issues and much of it is right here on The Pro Audio Files. But success requires a lot more than technical expertise, especially in this business.

In terms of audio production, I’ve been on both sides of the glass. I’ve collaborated with visual artists and other composers. I’ve worked on Broadway and in LA as a music copyist and proofreader, and have curated multimedia events and exhibitions. I’ve had freelance and steady gigs and I’ve performed in a variety of situations. What follows are some personal observations based on that experience.

Be Realistic

The best way to be let down and disappointed in a collaborator, client, engineer or producer is to expect people to be mind-readers. If you’re the artist, you need to clearly communicate your vision. Not doing so will lead to frustrated engineers and collaborators, and bad feelings all around.

If you’re the engineer, don’t expect the artist to know exactly what they’re looking for or how to get it. Like it or not, you are a collaborator in the process. Your actions (or inactions) can make or break a project yet your efforts may often be underappreciated or not justly credited.

But it’s your job to make things sound as good as they can — so tactful communication is key. It can be a challenge to be in a position to take appropriate action without having the decision-making power to do so.

Be Nice

Everyone knows the nice person. The one that always has something good to say. The one that sees the positive in all situations. The optimist. The humorous person that makes the best of a bad situation. The one you want to be around. The one that smiles and makes you smile. The one that asks about that issue you told them about weeks ago and wants to know how you’re doing.

Then there’s the other person. The one that is constantly bitching. The one that likes to talk about other people’s misfortune. The one that creates a black cloud wherever they go. The one that leaves you feeling a bit unclean.

Which person would you want to work with?

Be Responsive

Non-responders are my personal nightmare. You send an email or leave a message and get nothing back. Why? Is the answer no? Did they even get the message? Are they ignoring me? It could be they’re just busy, but that would be my last guess. In any case, non-responders cause anxiety.

Knowing this effect, I make it a point to respond as soon as I’m able, even if it’s just to say, “let me get back to you tomorrow.” Given the opportunity to work with someone that replies immediately or not, seems like an obvious choice.

Be on Time

Deadlines are a way of life in the music business. Get a reputation for being late or not delivering and you might as well kiss your career goodbye.

Be a Friend

At some point, you will be asked to be do something without financial reward. If you can help someone out — do it! Not everything is about making a buck and good karma has a way of coming back when you need it most.

Be a Teacher

Every successful person can list those people in their lives that made a difference. The person that cleared up some confusing issue or just took the time to show them a better way.

Although teaching may seem like a selfless act, there are benefits that are often overlooked. In order to teach something to another, you first have to have an in-depth and exhaustive knowledge of it yourself. Without this preparation, your shortcomings will become immediately obvious.

I often tell my students that the best questions are those I cannot answer. These are the questions that expose the darkness and reinvigorate a curious mind.

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Be a Willing Freelancer

I’ve spent the best part of my professional life as a freelancer and have loved every minute of it. Work in the entertainment business is often project-based as opposed to the nine to five grind, which I’ve always seen as oppressive.

The downside is the lack of security, benefits (unless it’s union work) and general certainty. The upside is that every project presents a new challenge and opportunities to learn, and your job is not dependent on a single company or client.

Living with uncertainty can be nerve-racking for some, especially those with families. But don’t believe the naysayers that want to convince you that freelancing is a dead end or too difficult. Those are probably the same people that hate their nine to five prisons.

Some time ago I heard British author Neil Gaiman speaking about what it takes to be a successful freelancer and the idea resonated with me. He said there are three things you need to be in order to have a successful freelance life (two of which I alluded to above):

  • Be on time
  • Be easy to work with
  • Be great at what you do

He goes on to say that if you that if you can achieve two out of three of these things you will probably always have work. This definitely rings true in my experience.

Let me end with four additional thoughts about freelancing that are often overlooked:

When the call comes say: YES!

It takes diligence and perseverance to get that first call to kick off your career. Be prepared to drop everything and say yes. This may seem like a no-brainer, but having the slightest bit of hesitation for whatever reason may cost you the gig. Opportunities often knock just once.

Everyone you meet is a potential client or knows a potential client

When you’re on a gig literally everyone you meet can potentially lead to your next job. The idea of selective networking may seem like a good strategy, but developing a reputation as a personable and communicative colleague as well as a competent one, will take you much farther in the long run. And besides that, everyone has a unique story with something to offer, so why not find out what it is?

Always ask what’s next

After a project is completed and you’ve done a great job, ALWAYS ask about the next project and when you should check back. This is crucial because it underscores the fact that you are available and willing to come back and it establishes a specific time to reconnect. It also gives you an opportunity to express that you enjoyed the project and the other people on the team.

Make the call

Now that you’ve established yourself with a client or company as a competent person do not be afraid to make that call back. Sometimes all it takes is a call at just the right moment and a little bit of luck to get you a few months or even years of future work.

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Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione

Philip Mantione is a composer, synthesist, guitarist, educator and sound artist active in the LA experimental music scene. His music has been presented in festivals, museums and galleries worldwide. His current project is TriAngular Bent, an electroacoustic trio featuring Don Preston (founding member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention) and circuit bending virtuoso, Jeff Boynton. Details at philipmantione.com

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