There’s never been a more exciting time to get started in the music business. 190,935 people are employed in professional music-related roles In the UK alone1, while the industry itself contributed £5.2 billion to the British economy in 2018 – and global recorded music revenues increased by 9.7% in the same year, marking the sector’s fourth consecutive year of growth2. Today, ICMP graduates are making an average salary of £24,000 (£5,000 more than other British music graduates3), and 94% of ICMP students enter employment or further education within 6 months of completing their studies here4.
Whether you’re planning to pursue a role in the spotlight or behind the scenes, your music career goals are equally important to us – and our highly connected Central London campus is the perfect location for you to get started on your path to success. ICMP’s expert Careers & Industry Hub team will guide you through the entire range of options available to you, and even show you how to expand your choices beyond the immediately obvious while making lifelong connections through socialising, networking, specially curated events, and many more career-boosting opportunities. Here’s just a small selection of the many music career options available within the industry you’ll soon be calling home…
1. UK Music, Music by Numbers 2019 • 2. IFPI, Global Music Report 2019 • 3. DLHE, Employment of Leavers from HE (DLHE) Survey – UK Domiciled Undergraduate Leavers 2016/17 • 4. DLHE, 2017
Music Industry Careers
A record label’s A&R scout is responsible for discovering the hottest new bands and artists, and informing the label’s A&R manager/director, who will decide whether to sign the talent or not. A&R scouts must spend their working hours constantly immersed in up-to-date music news, maintain a network of trusted contacts who can recommend emerging acts, scour the internet for tips and exceptional tracks, and of course go to as many gigs, clubs, and parties as possible (usually through exclusive guest lists). Although an A&R scout’s job may sound easy, it also requires a full understanding of the inner workings of the music business, the ability to spot diamonds in the rough, effective communication skills (especially when dealing with a cast of colourful characters, both creative and corporate), and a willingness to see through the hype and assess an act’s potential with a cool, rational approach to decision-making. A finely-tuned ear is also essential.
Although bands and artists may be great at the creative side of things, they normally need help when it comes to building a solid strategy for success – not to mention following it through with a carefully coordinated series of real-life actions. Artist managers take care of the “big picture” of an act’s career, as well as ensuring that the details are taken care of and everyone knows what to do. From organising gigs and tours to liaising with record labels, recording studios, producers, publishers, session musicians, and everyone else who’s involved in the band/artist’s career (as well as actively supporting their charges on a personal, professional, and sometimes creative level), a manager’s job is certainly hectic, but also extremely rewarding. Professional managers find incredible levels of gratification and satisfaction in watching as a plan comes together seamlessly, and pushes the band/artist in question to the next level of success.
Booking agents book live performances for bands, artists, record labels and management companies, covering everything from gigs and festival appearances to local, national, and international tours. A booking agent will also take care of contract negotiations, collecting deposits, and sending out promotional material. Although some booking agents are employed by agencies and other music companies, others may form part of a band’s in-house team, or work on a purely freelance basis for their own roster of clients.
Marketing executives (who may also be referred to as “marketing managers” or “marketing directors”) are responsible for coordinating and leading promotional campaigns that support a record label’s latest releases (traditionally albums and single tracks). Every aspect of a given campaign, from PR to music pluggers, press, advertising, social media, guerrilla marketing and street teams, websites, special events and more all fall under the marketing executive’s jurisdiction. This can be a complex and high-pressure position – but with plenty of passion, top-notch communication skills, an excellent eye for detail, and the ability to coordinate and manage an equally passionate team of music-loving creatives, this role can be highly rewarded when everything is perfectly synchronised and chart success is officially achieved.
The mastering engineer occupies the final stage of the music production process, ensuring that every track and album they work on is ready for release and considered “technically satisfactory” by the record label’s A&R team. Dedication to the highest possible sound quality, an insatiable desire to learn more about the latest music production technology, and the willingness to take direction and receive feedback from the band, their management, and label representatives are essential qualities for any professional mastering engineer.
Working with music production software and a host of extra gadgets and gizmos, mix engineers adjust recording levels, the balance of frequencies present in a given track, the position of instruments within stereo and multi-channel soundscapes, and a number of other technical elements in order to present a piece of music in the most impactful, enjoyable, and immersive way possible. A great mix engineer can make the most of the raw material recorded during a given studio session, and turn it into something exciting and repeatable. As well as technical and creative skills, mix engineers also need a detailed understanding of every aspect of the music-making process, from the idiosyncratic nature of each instrument to the psychology of the music listening experience, and be able to communicate professionally with other stakeholders in the production process, such as an act’s record label and manager – and the band/artist themselves.
The music media plays a crucial role in shaping the narrative around a given band or artist, and music journalists occupy a position of incredible power and responsibility as a result. By spending their careers reviewing songs, albums, and shows, interviewing bands and artists for special feature pieces, writing opinion pieces and essays about every aspect of music and the business itself, and featuring in documentaries, online videos, and panel discussion events at music conferences, music journalists can easily influence the opinions of music fans, industry insiders, and even the team around a given band/artist – not to mention the musicians themselves. For this reason, music journalists must have not only solid communication skills, but a complete understanding of the potential ramifications of their actions, whether writing for their own underground blog, a printed national magazine, or a globe-straddling online media platform.
Pluggers pitch songs, albums, and bands/artists to the media (including radio, TV, press and online platforms), aiming to get exposure for the acts they represent through live performances, interviews, and inclusion on radio, TV, and audio/video streaming playlists. A successful plugger needs to fully understand how their role fits into a larger marketing strategy, and meet the expectations of increasingly picky tastemakers. They also need solid sales and all-round marketing skills, as well as plenty of persistence and patience.
Producers organise and coordinate every aspect of a music recording session, which usually takes place in a dedicated recording studio. They work directly with bands and artists as they record their tracks either individually or in groups – a process that requires a special combination of technical, interpersonal, and psychological skills – with the help of a recording engineer. Producers also deal with record label A&R departments, ensuring that recording sessions are completed on time, on schedule, and within the agreed budget, and can also be involved in contacting and negotiating contracts with session musicians.
A music teacher’s role can be incredibly flexible, as they have the choice of working privately as one-on-one tutors and/or teaching within schools, colleges, universities, and community organisations. Teachers instruct, guide, and mentor students as they learn how to master a given instrument, focusing on a combination of technical skills and theoretical knowledge. Outside the classroom, teachers are also responsible for planning and scheduling lessons, gathering and preparing study materials, collecting fees, preparing students for examinations and performances, and general admin work (such as marking papers, exams, and homework). Freelance private tutors must also take care of their own business matters, such as finances and tax issues.
Music promoters promote live shows using a variety of marketing methods, from social media posts and adverts to physical flyers, posters, and gig brochures, as well as generating a word of mouth “buzz” through their own networks and encouraging bands and artists to help spread the news. They work closely with booking agents, band/artist managers, and venue promoters to organise shows, special events, and even large festivals and tours, taking on administrative roles (such as guest list coordination), negotiating contracts, securing the venue, and making sure that the lighting and sound meet professional standards. The ability to manage and work as part of a larger team is an essential skill for any music promoter, as well as the ability to implement the full range of marketing options made possible by modern technology, which never stops evolving.
Working on behalf of a band or artist, a publicist uses finely honed communication and sales/marketing skills to get an act’s work promoted through various media channels (e.g. the music press, blogs, and online promotional platforms). This usually involves creating and distributing press kits and press releases, arranging interviews, and overseeing promotional activities in person – especially when an act spends a day or more doing long strings of tightly scheduled interviews, or gets involved in specially organised events that require in-person appearances.
Radio DJs play music and entertain listeners over the radio, which remains a go-to entertainment format for drivers and office workers, as well as listeners who tune in through apps, mobile devices, and home speaker systems. DJs decide what music will be played on their show, interview guests, interact with audiences through phone-ins, texts, and social media, and operate studio equipment while sticking to very tight broadcast schedules. Successful DJs need an excellent sense of timing, technical skills, a deep understanding of broadcasting technology and music (including the history and latest trends within the genres they work with), a sharp mind and quick wit, and an outgoing personality as they fill in the gaps between songs with jokes and chatty observations.
Recording engineers run recording sessions under the management and supervision of a record producer. This usually involves setting up microphones and other studio equipment, ensuring that volume and recording levels are set correctly, operating the equipment and possibly adding effects, taking care of equalisation (EQ), mixing tracks, and keeping track of all saved and archived recordings. Recording engineers work closely with music producers and bands/artists (who may also co-produce recordings themselves), and need to be able to clearly communicate their actions and decisions – which often requires the engineer to “translate” highly technical concepts and issues into more easily comprehensible language.
Record Label Manager
Running a record label is a complex task that involves coordinating (and often individually supervising) every department involved in the label’s everyday operations. Label managers tackle this potentially daunting task head-on, dealing with everything from recording sessions and musicians to marketing and promotion, finance, HR, and contracts and other legal concerns. The ability to effectively manage multiple groups of people simultaneously, think strategically, communicate action plans across the company, enforce budget and deadline restrictions, and communicate with each department in their own technical language is essential for success as a label manager.
Session Musician / Vocalist
Session musicians are “guns for hire”, freelance workers who provide their services to solo artists, bands, record labels, and producers for in-studio recording sessions, live shows, and sometimes full-scale tours. Although session musicians are usually required to play parts exactly as written, some clients will request improvised solos and feedback on the music – and may even invite the session musician to join in with the songwriting and wider creative process. As a result, session musicians must excel at sight-reading, music theory, harmony, and instrumental technique and arrangement, but also be willing and able to think on their feet, improvise, compose, contribute to and understand the songwriting process, and communicate effectively while remaining aware of their place in the bigger picture of their client’s career and business.
Social Media Manager
Social media managers take care of a company’s social media marketing and advertising, including strategy, coordination, content creation, execution, analysis, and reporting the results to other departments. Social media forms part of a company’s wider content management, brand awareness, and general marketing strategies – and plays a crucial role in reputation management, which is vitally important in today’s era of instantaneous communication and viral scandals. Social media managers also engage with customers on a daily basis, and must have exceptional written communication skills, be able to recognise and understand the expectations of every stakeholder they deal with, and quickly and diplomatically defuse conflicts and complaints when they inevitably arise.
Although a songwriter’s job may sound self-explanatory, it also involves a great deal of additional behind-the-scenes work. As well as writing songs individually (or as part of a duo or larger group), songwriters can also work with instrumentalists, arrangers, bands, solo artists, record labels, and music producers – often simultaneously – and may even find themselves working on advertising, film, television, app, and gaming projects. Maintaining creative focus and high standards of quality and productivity, even while taking care of detailed communications through multiple channels in a high-speed and emotionally intense work environment, requires a total mastery of the entire concept and process of songwriting. Some songwriters achieve greater focus and play to their strengths by specialising in musical composition or lyric writing, although many choose to tackle both aspects at once, and do so very successfully.
Sound technicians control the sound and levels at live music events and theatre productions. They are responsible for and operate microphones, amplifiers, and the main control desk, organise and carry out pre-show soundchecks, maintain and repair equipment, and pack everything away after the performance has ended. In order to carry out their tasks effectively, sound technicians must discuss technical requirements and potential issues with bands and artists (or their representatives), which often requires the ability to “translate” technical jargon into everyday speech and find compromises where necessary.
Tour managers are responsible for making sure a tour runs smoothly, keeping everyone involved happy and healthy, managing finances, and making sure that the band and crew are completing their tasks effectively, on time, and within budget. The tour manager will also work with venues, promoters, and ticketing companies to confirm shows and make sure the band gets paid, and report to the band’s record label, general manager, and business manager – although many tour managers also take care of the latter two roles, acting as a human Swiss Army knife and taking care of all issues directly related to the band/artist in question. Tour managers need a complete and fully detailed understanding of the live music industry, must keep on top of the latest industry news at all times, and will need to communicate with everyone they deal with in a professional and effective manner.