3 tips for building a career in music while still in school

Today, September 6, marks the start of a brand new school year for most of America, which means many of you reading this now are likely doing so while ignoring or altogether avoiding something related to your education. If true, don’t fret. We aren’t going to tell on you or try to convince you that your time would be better spent listening to your instructors (though it may be), but we are going to say that this time you have to be in school is incredibly important. People will tell you that you don’t need higher education in order to make it in music, and while that may be true for some for others (in our experience, most) it is a absolutely crucial time for personal and professional development that should not be taken lightly. We plan to provide you with plenty of tips and tricks as you navigate the year ahead, but to get you start we came up with these three easy to apply pieces of advice for making the most of the time you have been given:

Experimenting is never easier than it is right now

Even if you think you know what you want to do in the music business you should use your time in college to experiment with a variety of roles and responsibilities. Maybe you try doing PR for a band on campus, or maybe you agree to manage them for a semester in hope of raising both of your profiles within the industry at large. Maybe you contribute to a music blog for a couple months to try and improve your networking skills with the PR firms you hope to one day work at. If you’re a musician, maybe it’s time you try that obscure side project you have been kicking around in your free time. If you rap, try producing your own beats. If you produce, try learning to mix and master the work of other producers.

One of the most important lessons you can learn about life in this business is that everything is connected. Success or failure in one area can impact the success or failure of something down the line. No matter where you want to end up in this industry it’s smart to have at least an understanding of what others do and what the demands of their role entails. You don’t have to stick with everything you try, but who knows? You may discover a talent for something you never knew you possessed.

One word, two syllables: Network

A career in the music industry is not entirely built on knowing the right people, but knowing the right people certainly won’t hurt. The funny thing about being in college is that you never know who among your peers will actually become some kind of power playing in the business, so it’s best to try and at least get along with everyone. Ask people what they want to do and how they plan on accomplishing those goals. Find those with a similar drive to you whose goals fall in line with your own. You don’t have to work together, but maybe you try it anyways because there is strength in numbers. Raise one another up while you’re still trying to establish yourselves and you will forge relationships that stand the test of time.

Speaking to networking with the industry at large, this is another instance where experimentation can be useful. As you try and figure out where you fit in you should be asking those who already found work within the business about their journey. Find people whose work ethic you admire and make yourself known to them. Send emails. Make calls. Do whatever you can to get on the radar of people who are in the kind of positions you want to be in yourself and ask what you can do to make their lives easier. I cannot promise this will end in work or internship opportunities, but it will put your name in their brain. That way, when opportunities do arise, they know they can turn to you in order to get the job done.

Start and maintain a portfolio of your work

There are numerous sites that will allow you to launch a basic portfolio portal for next to nothing, but I want to urge you to buy a domain that is as close to your name as possible and build a proper website. That may sound daunting to those of you who lack a lot of internet skills, but platforms like Squarespace make the process of creating a site customized to your and your skill set surprisingly simple. (Please note: They didn’t pay me to say that, but I do use their service for my own site.)

Your personal site will be the doorway the industry at large uses to know you and your work. Keep a blog that details your pursuits, upload images related to your work, and always keep a running list of things you’ve done and who you did them for. You probably won’t have much to write when you begin, but as you accumulate accomplishments and learn new skills maintaining a proper corner of the internet to promote yourself will be increasingly important. Starting early is your best shot at avoiding self-promotion headaches down the line.


James Shotwell is the Digital Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also the Film Editor for Substream Magazine and 10-year veteran of the entertainment business. James prides himself on his work to educate aspiring industry professionals about the realities of a life in entertainment, and he is currently working hard to finish his first book on that very topic. You should probably follow him on Twitter. If you wish to speak with him, email: James@haulix.com.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.