Last week Aztec Music Group hosted an Entertainment Industry Panel packed with speakers such as: Founder of Warped Tour, Kevin Lyman, Senior Vice President of Sales & Special Events at Live Nation, Deirdre McCready, Vice President of Urban Promotion at Interscope Records, Reza Sarrafieh and Executive Music Producer & Music Supervisor at Disney Music Group, Dave Curtin. Here’s what you missed…
- Kevin Lyman and Reza Sarrafieh gave out their email addresses
- The key to making it in the music industry
- How to be a successful musician without a label
- How to get music internships, careers and your music played
- How to run a successful event
- Plus so much more
A lot happened. Everyone jumped on their phones to quickly write down Kevin Lyman’s email address as soon as he said it—right after they looked around at each other thinking, “Did he really just give us his email?” Reza Sarrafieh and Deirdre McCready got into the advantages and challenges of being a woman working in the entertainment industry. The panelists provided tips for applying to music internships, approaching entertainment industry professionals, and getting your music played. So, let’s get into it.
The Key to Making it in the Music Industry
Each of the panelists could not stress this enough: building and maintaining relationships.
Sarrafieh was originally going to be an immigration worker, before his career path dramatically changed. He said he learned the most valuable skills working in restaurants because people skills get you far in the entertainment industry.
“It’s the ability to relate to people, the ability to build relationships and follow up. It’s getting to know the right people and making relationships,” he said.
The entire panel emphasized the necessity of this throughout the night. Further than the clichéd ideal of “knowing the right people” in the music industry, the speakers showed that it’s how you build each relationship that could benefit you in the future. For example, an intern that Sarrafieh met and befriended became an essential business partner. A fellow DJ that Dave Curtin worked with lead to him opening up a club in Tijuana. Building relationships is key, and not just for your own benefit.
Lyman encouraged, you shouldn’t create an imaginary “favor bank” when you meet someone—expecting something in return for every hand you lend. Instead, keep up to date with people by following up, checking in and being friendly with all coworkers to establish real relationships. Sarrafieh recommended the popular book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie for tips on networking and building relationships.
How to Get Signed By a Label, Be Successful Without One, and Decide If You Even Need One
During the Q&A portion, some aspiring artists asked how to market themselves in the best way in order to get signed by a recording label. Both Sarrafieh and Curtin stressed the fact that artists today don’t need a label to be successful. Sarrafieh said that in order to be signed, you need to be a good investment. Don’t go to a label asking for something. A label will not start you from scratch; artists need to approach labels with this already done. This means creating a hefty social media following and fanbase, dispersing your music on the Internet and marketing and creating a brand for yourself online. If you come to a label with these aspects already in tow, said Sarrafieh, you will be more valuable to a label and more likely to be signed.
He also suggested collecting fans’ emails and creating an email list in order to update your fans with new songs, merchandise and live shows. With today’s online tools and social media, marketing oneself is easier than ever, added Curtin. However, Sarrafieh revealed that even though he works for Interscope Records, artists do not need a label to be successful. That notion is outdated and more and more artists are achieving their own individual success. Of course, being signed is many artists’ dream, but it’s important to remember that success is possible without the help of a label. And, as Lyman suggests, it’s no longer about the corporate-driven ideas. Individual people are creating incredible things in their backyards and garages. Starting a music empire of your own, or just getting your music off the ground, is now up to you rather than giant companies.
How to Get a Music Internship or Job, Get Your Music Played, and Approach Important People
One artist asked Sarrafieh a good way to promote his music to record labels without being annoying or "spammy," to which Sarrafieh replied, “There isn’t one.” However, he said artists must “annoy tactfully,” which goes back to building relationships rather than constantly self-promoting. He created an example of an artist wanting a club DJ to play their music. Rather than approaching the DJ with a song and demanding it get played, Sarrafieh suggested buying the DJ a drink and thanking them for the good music. Then repeating that the next week, remembering their drink order, and continuing to be friendly and appreciative of the person, slowly building a rapport.
Lyman offered another example, this time touching on how to approach a person or company you’d like to intern or work for. “Do your research,” he said, “find people in the business and meet them.” He recommended reaching out to people and offering to take them out to dinner. However, keep the conversation off of the music industry and instead find a few common interests you share and build your relationship with them that way. Lyman also suggested sending follow up emails, but only when you have something to say. He complained of email after email from artists containing nothing but self-promotion, but also said fluffy emails with no real substance are obnoxious. Lyman also said that interns who talk to their bosses and vocalize their ideas go far. McCready said that firm handshakes, acknowledging everyone in a room, eye contact and being humble goes a long way.
4 Things to Remember When Planning a Show or Event
1. “Don’t expect anyone knows about it.” –Deirdre McCready
McCready stressed the importance of marketing through social media and word-of mouth. Even if you know your friends are going, don’t assume that everyone else is, too.
2. “Find a great nonprofit partner; it’s becoming cool to be philanthropic again.” –Kevin Lyman
Lyman is the king of combining philanthropy with music, as he’s been doing with Warped Tour for years. His philanthropic efforts have won him Humanitarian of the Year Awards, economic success, and are part of what make him such a cool guy.
3. “What is success to you?” –Kevin Lyman
Lyman compared a hypothetical show with 1,000 pleased fans to a show with 500 hardcore fans that had the best night of their lives. He said go for quality over quantity. He also cited the fact that Warped Tour has done best when marketed to and entertaining a niche group of fans, and in the future he’s going to return to that model rather than trying to have something for everyone.
4. “Walk through it as a guest.” –Deirdre McCready
As the vice president of Sales & Special Events at Live Nation—overseeing over 40 clubs and venues—and a background overflowing with event planning experience, McCready knows what she’s talking about.
Women in the Entertainment Industry
McCready expressed the challenges she’s faced being a woman in a primarily male-occupied industry. She, and the other panelists, admitted the industry is still progressing towards gender equality. However, at the end of the day, McCready said not to overthink in situations where you may be the only female in the meeting and to instead focus on being the very best you can be. She said working with integrity, being proactive and being extra-professional has helped her rise to the top.
“I’ve always worked super hard and I’ve always sought out information,” she said.
Kevin Lyman continued the message by saying that with new jobs in the industry has come huge new opportunities for women. He said he’s the only male in his small group of advisors, and stressed the innovativeness and necessity of women in the entertainment industry. Sarrafieh offered a different perspective: in his industry, promotions, women have an advantage over men. Being successful in promotions comes with an ease of talking to and approaching people. Sarrafieh argued that people are more inclined to speak to women, and therefore females have an easier time approaching others in the business of promotions. The panelists agreed that different divisions and levels of the entertainment industry pose different challenges or advantages to female workers, but that as a whole the industry is beginning to open more doors to women.
The Future of Music Jobs
The industry is changing substantially and average incomes have decreased, said Lyman. However, new jobs are being created regularly and, according to him, innovation is now coming from tech companies. Brands now want to connect with artists and vice versa. Curtin said that years ago, artists didn’t want to connect with brands for fear of losing independence and integrity. But now, brand and artist connections are so common and accepted that the majority of music stars and celebrities are tied to a brand, or even a few. Lyman said that brands are now “cool” to work with and that many new entertainment jobs will arise from this connection.
Curtin emphasized the prevalence of music in new technologies, saying that we might Shazam a song we hear in the grocery store or listen to Spotify while at a coffee shop. Music is all around us and social apps are connecting music lovers and artists more directly than ever before. It’s an exciting time of innovation and new jobs in this industry.
Final Pieces of Advice:
“Take what you do seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously.” –Kevin Lyman
“Be open to change and open to try new things.” –Dave Curtin
“Never let anyone see you sweat and always be the most confident person in the room.” –Reza Sarrafieh
“Work really hard and always do what you say you’re gonna do.” –Deirdre McCread
Make sure to check out Aztec Music Group and stay up to date with more exciting events in the future. The panel was a great success that was both motivating and enlightening.