Music Theory and Appreciation Instructor Sky Stahlmann, B.A. in Professional Music from Berklee College of Music
The stereotype of the garage band kid with a dream to be the next rock star has been played out hundreds of times throughout film, pop culture, advertising, and literature. It usually involves some form of parental oppression and all the characters’ mentors, and authority figures say, “You should get a real job.” Our protagonist ends up proving everyone wrong and becomes the greatest rockstar ever. Thanks to a brief suspension of disbelief from anyone who’s spent 2 minutes in the industry.
However, while this is a trope in popular culture, we often find ourselves parroting a less cliche dialogue with ourselves that sounds similar to the archetypal “haters.” We often find ourselves saying, “Music is a risky career, I should have a plan B.” Sometimes you do need a Plan B, but many kids who are truly passionate about music are often turned off from the industry at an early age. As educators, parents, and mentors we have the best intentions at heart with these warnings. But it doesn’t change the fact that there are hundreds of former artists in jobs they feel deeply unfulfilled within when there was great potential for a music career.
Let me say one thing, I do not think that every kid who has a dream of being the next Billboard Hot 100 artist is going to achieve that. I think most of these kids would eventually end up discovering that on their own no matter what. What many of those kids don’t realize is that the world of music is so much bigger than the rockstar.
The performers, the superstars, the band members, those are all the people at the surface of the industry. They’re the ones who draw in the audience. They often write or help create the brand and music. Some of us may be able to rattle off a few other jobs in music like a producer, a songwriter, a talent agent, or a manager. You’ll be surprised to hear that I consider these to also be rather surface jobs within the music industry.
I’d like to introduce you to a few unique jobs that you probably didn’t realize were possible careers. We’ll talk about some of the behind-the-scenes players that help keep the music industry running.
1. A&R Agent
Many people view this role as similar to the manager. However, it’s quite different. A&R stands for Artists and Repertoire. This person is kind of like a sales agent for record labels. Their job is to look for promising new talent. You are being paid to listen to independent artists and go to shows. This is a fantastic job if your student is crazy about going to live concerts. This job will require a deep understanding and knowledge of the music industry, and a natural ability to see the potential before anyone else does. You need to be a fantastic communicator and connection builder. Learn more about this job from my alma mater here.
2. Tour Manager
The music industry makes the majority of its revenue in live concerts and tours. This is a behemoth of an undertaking. Even if your band is roughing it in a van, or going on an international stadium tour, the planning and coordination involved are tremendous if you want to make any return on your investment. This requires a sharp and well-organized individual to mastermind it all. Tour Managers are incredibly important figures in the music industry. From managing tours, festivals, or concert series, these concert managers are incredibly gifted in coordination and project management. If your student likes to be on the road and has a unique gift to coordinate many moving pieces and parts with authority and confidence may find great success in this role. Learn more about this job here.
3. Booking Agent
Does your student have a unique ability to manage themselves, despite having an incredibly busy schedule? That’s a key attribute needed to be a Booking Agent in the Music and Entertainment industry. These people also need to be excellent sales agents, with incredible interpersonal skills and the ability to form lasting relationships. In this job, your network is your net worth! Booking agents are in charge of finding opportunities, booking venues, and making sure your performers are booked, and making money. The live performance process starts with you! Learn more about this job here.
4. ASL Interpreter
This is one of the coolest jobs in this industry I think. So many people think that because music is a sonic medium, the deaf community doesn’t partake in live concerts. This is far from the truth! Many deaf and hard-of-hearing community members enjoy live music and want to know what the artist is saying. The leading figures in this budding industry are extremely animated, performative, and engaging in their sign language interpretations. Learn more about this job from AmeriDisability.com here.
5. Stagehand/Stage Manager/Roadie
Musicians and performers have a crazy amount of equipment they need to perform their shows. If you’re a theatrical performer, the sets, props, and backdrops are a huge undertaking. Someone has to set all of that up, and that’s where the Roadies and Stagehands come into play! If you’re someone who likes to work with their hands and enjoys getting the chance to travel, a Stagehand/Roadie job may be a great fit for you. You’ll need to have a basic understanding of how to set up, transport, and manage large amounts of sound equipment. In theatre, you’ll be managing the sets, effects, backdrops, and prop flow for the actors on stage. If you’re an excellent project coordinator with incredible attention to detail, you may enjoy a career as a Stage Manager. Learn more about these careers here.
6. Venue Manager
Running a live performance venue is a huge job that requires a well-organized individual to fill the role. As a Venue Manager, you’re responsible for the booking, staff, licenses, artist and crew management, rider fulfillment, contractual negotiations, and more for your venue. This career is perfect for outgoing students who enjoy working in the live performance aspect of the industry. You’ll have the opportunity to meet a lot of cool people, and you’re often the first person to discover raw local talent. Learn more about this career here.
7. Music Merchandiser
We all have a Band-T lying around somewhere in our wardrobes. Merchandise is where artists and labels will make the most money. Oftentimes, the live performance itself won’t net profit on ticket sales alone. As we’ve moved away from physical distribution for records, the industry has become increasingly reliant on merchandising. Someone has to make all of that merchandise, and artists want designs that their audiences will want to wear regularly! This job is great for students who are passionate about both music and design. You’ll be in charge of creating everything from fashion, cover art, posters, accessories, and more for artists and bands. Learn more about this job here.
8. Live Concert Photographer
Live music photos are a must for any performer. If your student enjoys live concerts and photography, this is an awesome niche for a photographer to focus on! This job requires a creative eye, and the ability to capture action and movement. Live Concert Photographers get the coveted backstage pass, and you’ll get the best seat in the house. Learn more about this career here.
9. Music Director
Managing a band from auditions to performance is a bigger job than most people realize. The ensemble needs to be rehearsed, songs need to be arranged, sheet music needs to be obtained and printed, it’s a large responsibility! Music Directors are in charge of managing all the ensemble members. They’re often in charge of auditions, and make sure all the musicians have the materials they need. They’re responsible for making sure the band is fully rehearsed and prepared for opening night. In the theatrical world, the music director is in charge of the entire orchestra! This job often requires a degree or several years of experience leading ensembles, and a deep understanding of music theory. Learn more about this job here.
10. Commercial Compositions
Next time you’re watching TV, pay attention to how much of what you watching includes music! From film scores to jingles, the commercial industry needs composers. There are many specific forms of commercial composition including film scoring, video game scoring, jingle writing, and more. If your student enjoys writing instrumental music or a gift for creating earworm melodies, this is a great career path to consider. Learn more about this career here.
While your student may not find success as a performer, encourage them to see their passion for music as a clue to their purpose and fulfillment. Advise them to do research, and interview people who work in the music industry to broaden their knowledge and understanding of the industry. You never know what ignites that burning passion for life and their work that we all hope for.
Sky finished high school and already had 8 years of experience performing opera, rock, and musical theatre. A graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, Sky studied various forms of musical theory including Classical Common Practice Theory, Jazz Theory, Counterpoint, Classical Composition, Contemporary Arranging, and Music Composition. While attending Berklee Sky received the 2018 Urban Service Award for her work in the local community. Sky was a homeschooled student who was able to find her passion in music while being able to perform and write her own music. Her own experience as a homeschooler has allowed her to create a music theory course that approaches difficult topics with a hands-on, step-by-step approach.