The music business: viable career prospect?

by Sheldon Rocha Leal

Being someone who is in the business of training future music industry participants, this is a question that I am often asked by students and worried parents of students. I know that it was a major concern for my own parents when I decided to change career paths from what I was studying, Law and Psychology, to what I eventually went on to practice, music. I must say, that even though it was my calling and vocation, it took me quite some time to decide to change career paths. After all it’s not like you can open up a classified section in a newspaper when looking for a job in music.

The one thing I always tell people, who ask me about the viability of the music industry is whether or not it is better to pursue a career in something you don’t enjoy or rather make money doing something you love. The reality is that you can get a top degree as an actuarial scientist for example, and hate doing the job. The inevitability is that you will never progress in the field, because you don’t enjoy what you do. Isn’t it preferable to rather do something you love and naturally progress in your career because it is something you enjoy doing?

That doesn’t mean that the music industry is an easy place to navigate and it doesn’t mean that finding a job doing what you love in the music industry is easy. But neither are careers in any other field. Today’s labour market is highly competitive and anyone wanting to succeed in any field needs to be the most passionate and dedicated person within that field if they wish to succeed at what they are doing. Music is no different from any other career.

So the question: is the music industry a viable career pathway?


You need to put the business in front of music in order to create a music business…

Firstly people need to understand one thing: in order for people to understand the music business one needs to put the business in front of music in order to create the music business. The business comes first, and musicians are very esoteric about their creations and get lost in the emotion. At the end of the day it is a business and one needs to conduct oneself as such. If you are going to be over-pedantic and precious about the music you make, you will never release it, because it will never be good enough, or you’ll only be making music for people like you, who understand music. Unfortunately the people that buy music and enjoy it are not necessarily musicians. One of the first things one therefore needs to do is identify an audience and then cater to the needs of that audience. Unless you only want to make music for the sake of making music and are not concerned about paying the bills, this is an important starting point. The audience is also an integral part of the music making process. If you cannot communicate your message to your audience then you have lost the plot.


The audience is also an integral part of the music making process…

What many people don’t understand is the importance of the music business on the world economy and the complexity and pervasive nature of the business. The music industry is a complex industry that encompasses many different elements and therefore can accommodate many different people with different skills. One does not need to necessarily know how to play an instrument or perform on a stage in order to be a major contributor to the music industry. Alas some of the most significant people in the music industry are people whose name you may not necessarily know and most of them are not even musicians. People like David Geffen (one of the richest music billionaires and record company owner); Clive Davis (record executive and lawyer); Clive Calder (South African record executive and music billionaire). For every star there is an infrastructure of people that number in the hundreds and are responsible for making that star who they are. That’s why I believe that I am not only in the business of only creating stars, but also in the business of creating the infrastructure that will help support those stars and the audience that will support the industry.

Clive Davis


For every star there is a team of hundreds of people that help create that star…

The industry is populated by many people with varying skills: PR, Marketing; A&R; Songwriters; Lawyers; Stylists; Branding; Managers; Promoters; Agents; Teachers; Coaches; Musicians; Digital Marketers; Social Networkers; Gaming Specialists; Movie Makers; Event Organizers; Retailers; Instrument Makers; Aggregators; Content Developers; Publishers; Dancers; Actors. The list goes on and on and the industry, which is ever growing and fast moving, changes exponentially from one year to the next.

Clive Calder

So what does the music industry look like in numbers?

The creative industry is the fastest growing industry in the world and employs more people today than the financial sector. Whilst many industries have seen a drop in income since the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008, the creative industries are one of the only sectors that have seen annual growth and prosperity. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development the creative industries have seen growth of 13.9% in Africa, 17.6% in the Middle East and 4.3% in North and Central America. Creative goods accounted for $441billion in exports in 2011. In 2015 the Motion Picture Association of America reported that the creative industries added $698billion to the U.S. economy and that it is a major driver of economic growth and employment in the USA, employing 4.7million people. In the USA alone although the creative workforce only accounts for 30% of the working population, they generate over 50% of the national income. As a result of the influence of the creative industry on the world market, there has been an emergence of a new class: The Creative Class. Research has found that any country wanting economic prosperity needs to nurture and attract the Creative Class.

David Geffen


The creative industry is the fastest growing industry in the world…

The Creative Class is highly mobile and will usually gravitate towards places, which are culturally, ethnically and socially diverse, with a community that is generally highly tolerant, and in which many other creatives reside. Arts and Culture products are increasingly becoming more economically significant and have therefore changed the way in which industry and art schools interact with each other. In the last 15 years there has been a proliferation of creative districts throughout the world. These creative districts are becoming important parts of a city’s regional and economic development and urban renewal. Big business is now actively pursuing creatives and relocating to where creatives reside, in order to attract this new class of people into their businesses, affectively changing international migration patterns. Creatives and creative districts are now the center of economic prosperity.


The creation of creative districts is changing worldwide migration patterns…

Creativity is a skill that can apply to a range of various businesses and as a result creatives have become a highly sought after commodity in the world of business. Which means that a person studying within a creative field needn’t be limited to their area of speciality. Since the economic downturn, businesses have had to relook at their business models and have come to the conclusion that in order to able to maneuver through the economic recession they require the assistance of a new breed of employee: risk takers, lateral thinkers and creative people. These people look at situations from an entirely different and objective perspective. The Creative Class has therefore become highly sort after in the business world.

Quincy Jones

Out of all the creative industries, the music industry is the biggest generator of jobs and income. It is one of the great global industries driving the media and entertainment sectors and is worth over $1.4trillion worldwide.

So when asked the question: is the music industry a viable career prospect?…the answer is…YES!!!