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How To Become A Music Business Mogul, According To An Industry Expert

Some of the biggest personalities in music are not singers, instrumentalists, producers or DJs, but moguls. Label bosses or promoters have served as the ultimate cultural influencers, facilitating the careers of pop superstars or staging memorable events, respectively.

It’s a phenomenon that has long been recognised in the music media, with the annual publication of the Billboard Power List (2022’s #1 is Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of the Universal Music Group) and, here in Australia, TheMusic‘s Power 50 (last topped by the late Michael Gudinski). But the wider media, too, is invested in the stories of the entrepreneurs behind the scenes – the BBC even broadcasting the series Music Moguls: Masters Of Pop.

But today an aspiring Scooter Braun can benefit from vocational courses, rather than navigate the vagaries of DIY in a competitive business. The JMC Academy offers a Bachelor of Entertainment Business Management, an accredited course covering content production, tour and festival management, planning, marketing, branding, contracts and intellectual property.

JMC was established in Sydney as a private college in 1982, exclusively catering to the entertainment world with industry figures lecturing and mentoring. It then expanded to Melbourne and Brisbane.

Crucially, formalised studies are engendering greater transparency, democratisation and diversity in an industry historically known for its gatekeeping and structural barriers – women’s achievements especially receiving more attention. At JMC, students meet the players and create their own networks. Indeed, having an Entertainment Business Management degree is a strategy in itself.

THE MOGUL’S MENTOR

Adrian Marchesani, who heads the Entertainment Business Management Department at the Melbourne JMC Academy, has himself an impressive career in artist management.

Back in the ’90s, Marchesani ran Sirius Music, an independent dance music label and publishing company. Sirius launched the local producer Quench, whose anthem ‘Dreams’ went global and was nominated for an ARIA. Marchesani then joined Ralph Carr Management (RCM), the multi-faceted enterprise that introduced Tina Arena as a superstar, for over 20 years.

But, currently, teaching is Marchesani’s passion – the expert initially employed at Victoria University (VU) as co-ordinator of its Bachelor of Business (Music Industry) course. “I started in education in 2008 because I wanted a break from working at RCM,” Marchesani says. “I had previously been asked by the co-ordinator of the Bachelor of Business Music Industry course at Victoria University to do a guest lecture. This led on to the full-time role at VU. I worked at RCM at the same time, so I didn’t get the break – I just doubled my workload!”

He even counts the founder of the Unified Group, Jaddan Commerford, as one of his former students. “Adrian taught me during my studies at Victoria University and I’m thrilled for him and his future students at JMC,” Commerford comments. 

Beginning as a lecturer at JMC, Marchesani became Head of the Entertainment Business Management Department this year but remains hands-on. “I still lecture – it’s a big part of why I got into this. I could see that, with my experience, I could help a whole new generation of people coming into roles in the industry. Many things have changed in this industry, as we know, but there are quite a few fundamentals which [haven’t]. The Head of Department role is part making sure it all comes together, part making sure everything is kept state-of-the-art, and part making sure that people coming up into the creative industries know that JMC is the place to go; where education and training meets industry opportunity.”

Marchesani enthuses about recent renovations at the South Melbourne campus, entailing an open-air deck.

COULD YOU BE A MOGUL?

Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy, is one of hip-hop’s richest rappers. The New Yorker went from being a business student at Howard University to an intern at Uptown Records, subsequently guiding Jodeci and Mary J Blige as an A&R executive, to founding Bad Boy Records – home to The Notorious BIG. He’s now iconic for shaping pop culture through the ’90s.

Those seeking to enter the music biz may wonder what steps they should take early. Yet Marchesani stresses that there’s no timeline for any trajectory. He himself pivoted. “I don’t think it matters if you get in early or late,” he says. “I got into this business after I had my first job in another field – and it was because I toured a band from Adelaide to Melbourne, just to see if I could do it. The drummer from that band, Just Kidding, is now in the Melbourne Ska Orchestra and we still see each at the odd gig and on socials. I had so much fun doing this tour, and also made money from it, that I instantly thought, ‘This is the business for me.’

“It took me a long time to come across all of the information students [now] gain through JMC in just two years. The really useful steps, I would say, are to try and find the most interesting part of the business for you and work on that while doing the [Entertainment Business Management] degree. As you progress in the degree, you can also progress with your exposure to the business.”

As for the most important attributes? Imagination, passion and persistence are key. That’s how Brit label exec Simon Cowell boldly modernised the otherwise fusty TV talent show format with the Idol franchise alongside Simon Fuller. “As with success in all different fields, the [people] who progress are the ones who want it the most – and have access to the best training,” Marchesani posits. “[My advice is to] do the extra thing you think someone else is not doing. Everyone knows the saying, ‘If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.'”

STEPPING STONES

Since Marchesani commenced his career, the entertainment industry has become increasingly professionalised. In the past, prospective entrepreneurs undertook university degrees in business or marketing, or possibly just came in and learnt on the job – trial-and-error. Marchesani himself studied Economics at Monash University. But having specialised formal qualifications like a Bachelor of Entertainment Business Management can give a dreamer direction – and open doors.

“It’s true – many people in the entertainment business have general degrees or work on the job,” Marchesani states. “We only know of the ones who succeeded, but [we] will never know how many failed because they lacked more relevant training and qualifications. All sports people have specialised coaches, business is the same – and so are the creative industries. The business is becoming more qualified. Many jobs offered now around the world in the music and creative industries are asking for qualifications as part of the selection process. But, even if you are not applying for a job, the expectation of increased knowledge is a lot higher in the business overall.”

IS IT A GRIND?

Imagine that studying Entertainment Business Management might be dry? Not so. “To me, there are no parts of the course that aren’t fun,” Marchesani maintains. “All the units in the JMC course are there for a logical progression into the role you want to pursue in the industry. Some are on the creative edges, and some are on the business aspects. But it’s all part of a new world the students are discovering. Some have experience, and others are starting out, but all find it very pivotal.”

Students also acquire real-world experience – both first- and second-hand. “Real-world experience takes quite a few forms. There are the experiences their lecturers tell them about – ie, ‘This happened to me marketing this record and this is how it was solved,’ or industry people coming in to give guest interactive lectures and master classes. Then there’s internships where, through our relationships with businesses and organisations, we are asked to provide students to work at events across a range of functions – from production co-ordination to PR and publicity and roll-out.”

JMC pupils gain practical knowledge and skills working at the St Kilda Festival every summer. Lately, they assisted at the cred camping festival Pitch Music & Arts 2022 – among its acts the Detroit techno outfit Inner City, UK DJ auteur Floating Points, and First Nations neo-soulster Kee’ahn. “These are all things which enhance the experience each student has with the industry and helps them build their connections while at JMC,” Marchesani notes.

THE ART OF INFLUENCING

The JMC Academy has always responded to shifts in technology. In recent years, streaming services have massively changed the music industry in terms of presentation, dissemination, marketing, consumption and revenue. Symbolically, Lyor Cohen, formerly a chief executive at Def Jam Island and Warner Music Group, is now YouTube’s Global Head of Music. But, generally, the rise of social media has been a gamechanger for entertainment.

Social media has created new platforms for emerging talent. Scooter Braun, formerly Head of Marketing at Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Recordings, discovered Justin Bieber performing on YouTube. He’d share clips with Usher and the pair developed the joint venture Raymond Braun Media Group for their prodigy.

Of course, being an influencer, or viral star, on Instagram or TikTok is also now a vocation. In fact, many young people envisage that they can become entrepreneurs, and brand themselves, simply by harnessing apps. Marchesani agrees that it’s a “viable” route. But, having a Bachelor of Entertainment Business Management from JMC, which has core units in digital content creation, could help the next influencer avoid any perils.

“One of the things few people realise is that every successful artist has a manager – very few don’t have a personal manager, but all have a business manager, even social media influencers,” Marchesani says. “The more success you have, the more business-y what you are doing becomes. Artists should be concentrating on what they do well. If you are a skilled surgeon, you aren’t a skilled lawyer – you should be concentrating on being a surgeon and hire a good lawyer. If you are a skilled artist in whatever field, you should be concentrating on that, not on breaches of your copyright in a TV commercial on the other side of the world.”

PAST TO PRESENT

Ask Marchesani what he wishes he’d known starting out and he quips, “Everything I know now.” Today he has a clear understanding of industry dynamics – and the educator aims to share those insights. “Strategising, planning and building on relevant knowledge week-after-week would have been a great advantage,” Marchesani lists. Another thing he values? “Interacting with people who have had all the experiences you need to know about and who have said, ‘I am here to help you,’ rather than trying to find things out from people who, to protect their own self-interests, would rather you didn’t know it.”

BEYOND THE PANDEMIC ERA

The entertainment industry has obviously been impacted by the pandemic. But futurecasters see potential for positive change, progress and expansion. Marchesani, too, is upbeat about tomorrow’s moguls. “The arts has always been an area where funding is required. Artists at the beginning of their careers don’t have many ways to earn a living. If we nurture our creatives, the whole industry grows. We used to have national stadium tours just with Australian artists. We need to project positivity into the business.

“There will never be a time when people won’t listen to, or consume, music – it will be all around us forever. Even in the lockdown last year, [the copyright management organisation] APRA AMCOS revenue hit a record high of $506 million. The industry across the world continues to grow – and we should grow along with it.”

Learn more about JMC’s Bachelor of Entertainment Business Management and other courses.

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