To paraphrase Harry Nilsson, I can’t live, if living is without music. Never mind the doomsday prattle about music perishing in the wake of pruned attention spans and reduced physical sales – us music obsessives are no less prevalent now than we’ve been at any time since the advent of popular culture.
It’s natural to want to maximise the amount of time you spend engulfed in your passions. Given the structure of our economic system, this means finding a way to extract profit from your obsessions. Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, right? It’s a nice sentiment, but forging a career in the music industry still requires a lot of hard work and fortitude.
Music Feeds has teamed up with JMC Academy to highlight a number of ways in which you can turn your music obsession into a genuinely fulfilling career. Of course, the foremost avenue is to become a famous musician, but there are plenty of other options too.
Audio engineering and sound production
JMC is perhaps most widely recognised for its courses in audio engineering and sound production. It has never been easier to record, mix and master an album from your bedroom, and the DIY approach has no shortage of proponents. Simply fang out a few demos on GarageBand, upload them to Soundcloud, and you’ll soon become a star. Surely.
But there are some drawbacks to the fiercely independent, DIY method. As Melbourne producer, mixer and mastering engineer Simon Moro (aka Ninety Nine 100) told Mixdown magazine, “There are a lot of great songs that are getting underwhelming results because the mix is failing. It breaks my heart when an artist stops creating music because their songs haven’t done well, but they never pulled together a team of experts to help them. Things get exciting when you’ve got the best team across each part.”
This doesn’t mean recording in a home studio is a bad idea, but there’s no need to resist expert knowledge. Melbourne producer and engineer, Tobias Priddle, has recorded the likes of Chitra, Kesmar, Tim Ayre, and IV League in the self-built studio in his share house garage. Crucially, however, he isn’t just flying by the seat of his pants. He entered the endeavour after spending years building his knowledge of studio design and engineering practices.
JMC’s audio engineering and sound production courses offer a hands-on examination of sound and music production, bringing you into contact with studio and live sound equipment and event audio production.
In order to make a career out of it, music must merge with business. The very mention of business is anathema to a lot of musicians, which is why managers have traditionally taken care of this burden and left musicians to focus on writing, performing and looking dandy.
JMC’s Entertainment Business Management course covers the many facets that modern-day managers are required to stay on top of, from digital marketing and social media strategy to event planning, production, publishing and distribution. Strictly speaking, these aren’t all managerial responsibilities, but they’re essential elements of an artist’s business.
Lorrae McKenna – of Melbourne label and artist management company Our Golden Friend (RVG, Jess Ribeiro, Jade Imagine) – is well acquainted with the challenges of the contemporary music industry. “We are living in this digital age, everything is moving so quickly. It’s about trying to be strategic, about planning the releases, trying to build a solid foundation,” McKenna told Noisegate in 2018. “All my artists are really working at a really grassroots level with community radio and different avenues that are building them those really solid foundations to platform off rather than just a quick hype thing that might last for a year or two and then trail off.”
Self-management is also on the rise, with many artists driven to take control of their own fortunes amid the seeming inscrutable chaos of the music biz. Starting out as your own manager is advisable as it’ll give you a crash course in the various tasks necessary for carving out a sustainable career. One of the most essential undertakings is to join your community.
As experienced artist/manager Jen Cloher told Music Feeds in 2016, “Go out and support your local music community. It’s amazing how many opportunities start to come your way when you take notice of what other people are doing.” Indeed, self-management doesn’t mean operating in isolation. An artist working without an official manager is still likely to liaise with a publicist, booking agent and record label as well as seeking informal advice from members of the community.
JMC’s Entertainment Business Management course is one way to meet the people that matter while also allowing you to identify strategies for selecting and acquiring the artists you want to manage, or developing proposals for agents and sponsors.
The first verse of the 2015 single, ‘Shut Up’, from UK rapper Stormzy dismantles he pejorative term, backup dancer: “Couple man called me a backup dancer / Onstage at the BRITs, I’m a backup dancer… Big man like me with a beard / I’m a big man, how the fuck can I backup?”
The dismissal of backup dancers as having no tangible impact on the outcome of a live performance is analogous to the common attitude towards session musicians. Pop stars tend to utilise session players in their live shows – men and women confined to the shadows, fiddling around with guitars and keyboards. They’re cloaked in anonymity and so might as well not be there. That’s the perception.
But technological advancements have led to a proliferation of solo artists across all genres. This means session musicians are increasingly in demand and play a central role in bringing live shows to fruition. Sydney multi-instrumentalist Ross James has been playing keys and guitar for the likes of Vera Blue, Wafia, Thelma Plum and Daniel Johns over the last six years. Along with performing onstage, he tends to be the music director; assembling the band and overseeing the optimal live rendering of the recorded tracks.
To be successful as a session muso, adaptability is key. JMC’s Contemporary Music Performance course is designed to broaden the horizons of up-and-coming musicians and performers. It gives you the opportunity to expand your technology and performance skills, as well as collaborating with other students and building a network of creatives that could prove useful once you start bagging gigs as a session muso.
To learn more about studying at JMC, head here.