Getting Started in the Music Business

As 50% of Dalton Koss HQ (DKHQ), I spend much of my time speaking to young people who want to work in the music industry. Most are aware that there are no regular, standard jobs in the music industry. There probably aren’t even any long term careers. More likely it’s a lifestyle of freelancing and projects. As such, it’s highly unlikely that there will ever be an advertisement in the jobs section of a mainstream newspaper for a high paid, permanent job in the music industry. But do creatives actually want bog standard ‘jobs’? I think not. I’ve always maintained that clever, creative and entrepreneurial people will always be in high demand, this is probably more so in the music and creative industries then any other sector.

When I mention the word entrepreneur people’s eyes begin to glaze over as they think of Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. I once worked at a creative arts educational institution with a remit of educating the new wave of performers, audio professionals and music industry free thinkers. I embraced this remit and provided creative solutions through, what I thought, was inspirational leadership. My job was to provide leadership, facilitate creative solutions while enabling and building a knowledge economy for the next wave of creative entrepreneurs, the radical free thinkers that the music industry desperately needs. I saw opportunity and value in students playing guitars and singing in the reception area, watching and editing audio/film on their smartphones and interacting via social media. I actively encouraged students to be creative at every opportunity regardless of physical location. The Dean of this institution stopped staff and students interacting and being creative in these unconventional learning spaces, as he believed learning could only effectively take place in a classroom. Apparently the ‘correct’ way to teach creative entrepreneurship is the schooling of students in Boston Consulting Group (BCG) quadrant charts, etc. He even went as far as buying a job-lot of white boards and marker pens with the direct instruction to do “the traditional stuff”. Another can of beige paint added to an already vast ocean of beige. I was out of that place as quick as you could say, “asymmetrical repurposed collaborative content with frictionless deliverables ”.

Sitting around and waiting for things to happen is not a good strategy in the creative arts and music business. In Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliners: The Story Of Success he repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule“, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. Interestingly Malcom Gladwell’s theory can also be applied to professional sport and in particular cycle racing. Going back to music, lets look at the 1960’s popular Liverpool beat combo The Beatles. Prior to leaving for Hamburg, The Beatles were arguably a second rate cover band who were not very musically proficient. Fast forward to Hamburg and as John Lennon noted “we had to play for eight hours solid a day, every day”, this was the inspiration for the single Eight Days A Week. This postwar model of an artist’s progress was a type of professional development. Artists didn’t burst from obscurity to celebrity with a single astonishing piece of work. They slowly climbed the ranks. They accumulated credentials and amassed a creditable résumé. Artists learnt their trade and craft, that’s how The Beatles became really, really good at what they did.

One of the most conspicuous things about today’s young creators is their tendency to construct a multiplicity of artistic identities simultaneously. You can be a musician and a photographer and a poet a storyteller and a dancer and a designer, a multiplatform artist. This means you haven’t got the time for your 10,000 hours in any of your chosen media. But technique or expertise is not the point. The point is versatility. Like any good business, you try to diversify. This is why I like the current buzz term “creative entrepreneurship”, or as academic Jeremy Tunstall calls them “media workers”, to describe the artists, artisans and collaborators of today. Creative types are no longer interested in putting in their 10,000 hours. We are sold the dream that today’s music business is about instant gratification. You appear on a Saturday night TV talent show and boom you instantly become a star. Sing a really crap song about going to school on Friday on YouTube and have millions of ‘hits’. Today’s creative entrepreneurs mostly shun the 10,000 hour theory believing that 10,000 social media contacts is much more important. I believe that there are three core elements to success in the music industry and creative arts: –

  1. Creativity – generating new ideas, evaluating them effectively and critically, and taking action to turn them into new products and/or services.
  2. Collaboration – connecting and working with partners, clients, stakeholders and other significant players in your network, which will probably be scattered across the globe and contain more ‘virtual’ relationships than face-to-face ones.
  3. Entrepreneurship – identifying opportunities in the marketplace and using business skills to monetize ideas into products and/or services.

These three core facets are best taught in a real world simulator or even better in the actual real world. They do not lend themselves to the strict beige classroom environment, flip carts and marker pens. Ask any young band out on the road, playing gigs, selling shirts, communicating with their audience via social media and sharing their music via on-line platforms exactly what it is that they are doing and I guess they won’t reply with “being entrepreneurs”. In actual fact that’s exactly what they are.

On my visits to various educational institutions around the world I regularly give master classes and lectures on careers in the music and creative industries. Over the years I’ve earned a living as a live sound engineer, tour manager, studio engineer, record producer, artist manager, A&R consultant, rehearsal studio owner and record label executive. Discussions with early career professionals nearly always focus on how I got started on my 34-year career in the music industry. What was my personal journey?

Space, place and time are extremely complex mediums and trying to make any sense of these independently, let alone in combination, can be infuriatingly difficult. As I stare at the picture below of a much younger version of myself, it is difficult to unravel the truth from the myth. If memory serves me correctly, this picture was taken in 1983 when I was just 20 years old. I had left school in the heat wave summer of 1979 and went straight to work in the local music scene. Initially, this was with a rag-tag and bobtail collection of ex-school mates and bands where my brother, Nick, played drums.

This PA system comprised of:- Two 1x15
This PA system comprised of:-
Two 1×15″ scoop bins, loaded with HH speakers.
Two 2×12″ mid cabinets, loaded with Celestion speakers.
Two 1″ RCF compression drivers loaded onto some fibreglass flares.
18meters of 12 way multicore with three return lines (left, right & holdback).
Foldback amp was a McGregor 120 watt power amp with 6 band graphic EQ.
Main PA was powered via a Traynor x3000 bi-amp amplifier. This was supposed to give two channels of 300 watts for the lows and two channels of 150 watts for the mids/highs. Originally the system was powered by two HiFi amplifiers in a home built, fan cooled plywood box, the ‘Rabbit hutch’. This died on the second or third gig, so I invested the first few hire fees into the purchase of the Trainer amplifier; money well spent.

Back in the early 1980’s, music industry/audio university and college courses did not exist, so entry into a career in these fields took a more ad-hoc and self-driven approach. Originally I played rhythm/2nd guitar in long forgotten ska-punk outfit before getting ‘promoted’ (due to musical differences) to roadie. This opportunity in disguise led me into a still continuing 34-year career in the music industry. At the start of this journey there was no business plan of what I was going to do or what the various career options were going to be, I just did it.

Very quickly it became clear that I had a particular interest in the audio side of playing live. All of my early work took place in the city in which I was born, Hull located in East Yorkshire within the UK’s northeast. In the 1980’s, Hull had the most fantastic underground music scene, partly due to the high unemployment rate and its geographical isolation. Prior to this period, Hull’s only claim to rock ‘n’ roll fame was that David Bowies’ backing band The Spiders From Mars featuring the world’s 64th greatest ever guitarist (Rolling Stone Magazine 2003) the late great Mick Ronson, came from Hull. This was set to change in the early 1980’s with the onset of the ‘Humber Sound’ and a flurry of band formations. Bands like the Akrylyk Vyktymz, Red Guitars, International Rescue, House Martins, Pink Noise, Everything But The Girl, King Maker and Les Zeiga Fleurs, all of which I worked with, made some type of impression on the UK music scene.

A reoccurring problem that I faced during this period was the PA system, or rather the lack of one. Either the system was of dubious quality and/or were ridiculously expensive to hire. That was because there was no local PA company based in Hull. All PA systems had to be brought into the city increasing costs for the live music scene and a logistical nightmare. Adversity often drives people into unconventional behaviour patterns and this is probably what happened here. Unable to source a good quality but reasonably priced PA systems for the bands that I was mixing, I took the massive jump to build my own system. The logic here being that I would learn about PA systems from the ground up, I’d get exactly what I wanted and upon completion I could hire it out allowing me to build more equipment. In late spring 1983, I had saved enough money, though not enough, and I went in search of a bank loan. Luckily a local bank decided that I was one of Mrs. Thatcher’s new breed of entrepreneurs. At the time I didn’t think so, but in retrospect maybe I was? Armed with an £800 ($1,540 AUS) bank loan, to be paid back over the next three years, and lots of magazine articles and books on PA cabinets, speakers and amplifiers, I set to work in my dad’s garage. A ‘Fab Lab’ long before they became trendy and ubiquitous.

Building monitor wedge speakers in my Dad's 'Fab Lab'. Each comprised of 1x12
Building monitor wedge speakers in my Dad’s ‘Fab Lab’. Each comprised of 1×12″ Celestion woofer and a 2″x5″ 200 watt piezo tweeter horn.

I arranged for a local timber company to deliver numerous sheets of plywood, lots of lengths of 2”x1”, wood glue and several large boxes of No. 6 screws. The only power tool my Dad owned was a very old, knackered Black & Decker electric drill, which I managed to spectacularly break in a hail of orange sparks after a few days. All the cutting of timber, screwing, filling, sanding and painting was done by hand; only the first few days of drilling were electric. After a few days of 10 hours shifts my PA was complete as was my new company Blind Entertainments. So named because I was doing this entirely blind, metaphorically, and it was also fairly entertaining.

Once I had built this PA a massive oversight came to the fore, how was I going to transport it? Maybe a flip chart and some marker pens would have helped me overcome this oversight? A PA system that couldn’t move from my Dad’s garage wasn’t going to generate much income. Luckily a very tired, ex-supermarket delivery Ford Transit van was sourced, re-sprayed plain white and I was in business. The PA fitted in the van perfectly, almost as if it had being designed for it (it hadn’t of course). The gigs came thick and fast, not because the PA was particularly good, more that I was young and was very enthusiastic about the bands I worked with. I totally embraced the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, I put the hours in and it felt good. I also found that owning a van provided a sideline income e.g. I got to drive bands all over the UK and mix them, a sort of start to my live sound and tour managing career. The PA system and Blind Entertainments grew in size and eventually led to the formation/evolution of my production company Total Concert Solutions (that’s a different story). It goes to show that a rag-tag, no experience and unconventional but enthusiastic school leaver can become a successful entrepreneur by doing what you love.

Jonathan Kingsley’s Dedication to Improving Our Health and Wellbeing

Dr Jonathan Kingsley is a Research Fellow at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health (The University of Melbourne). In addition to this role, Jonathan is a Founding Member of the Oceania EcoHealth Chapter and a Health, Nature and Sustainability Research Group External Partner.

 Jonathan talks to Dalton Koss HQ about his passion and dedication to EcoHealth, social justice and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health and wellbeing.

I am an EcoHealth Researcher who links ecosystems to animal and human health. My journey in this area started during my Honours year when undertaking research on the health and wellbeing benefits of community gardening. During my Honours study, I realised that I wanted to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Via a connection and introduction by Associate Professor Elizabeth Hoban, I met two inspiring Aboriginal mentors who are based in Derby, Australia: Dr Ann Poelina and Dr Ian Perdrisat. Ann and Ian welcomed me with open arms, providing guidance and teaching me the intricacies of how Aboriginal culture links to health and wellbeing. Over a four-month visit, I realised that Aboriginal culture, health and wellbeing is all intricately linked to traditional land (known as Country). This knowledge and experience shifted my trajectory. I wanted to learn more about Aboriginal culture where I grew up which is Victoria, Australia.

This led me to undertake a Masters research project on the connection Aboriginal Victorian people have to their Country and its association with health and wellbeing. Simultaneously, I continued working in a number of Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions located in northern Western Australia. On completing my Masters, I worked for the Victorian State Government, in academic institutes and within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector.

These experiences combined with my passion to better understand the human-environment relationship, led me to undertake and complete a PhD at Deakin University. This occurred over a ten-year period, nurturing my growing EcoHealth knowledge. This journey opened a number of leadership opportunities for me including: a contributing member for a number of international academic, non-government and EcoHealth initiatives. Such experience allowed me to become a keynote speaker at a number of international conferences and a recipient of environmental awards.

The six key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership include:

1. Practice: I believe each individual is born with talent, however, without practice and nurturing these skills will sometimes never be fulfilled. A good example of this is my presentation skills. When I started giving presentations I was terrible. Over the years my oration skills improved through repeated practice. Mentors can definitely help this process, but it takes the individual to make it happen.

2. Persistence: To be a good leader you have to be willing to fail and continue. I view this type of failure in a positive light for its ability to create change. You cannot blame others for this failure nor can you rely on others to help you move forward. This motivation has to come from within oneself.

3. Outgoing: If you do not push yourself into the unknown you cannot grow as an individual and evolve.

4. Flexibility: This evolution would not be possible if I had not been flexible towards change and able to recognise that sometimes my approaches need to be adaptable to situations. Working in government, NGO’s, universities and within communities has allowed me to evolve my communication styles.

5 & 6. Humble and Compassionate: there are people who believe they are leaders in the public domain but in private do not show leadership. Traits should not change no matter the social circumstances. To be a true leader you should show love and appreciation of family, friends, colleagues and communities you work with (obviously for these relationships to work reciprocation is required!).

In 2007 one of my close colleagues, an Aboriginal Elder from Western Australia passed away way too early in life. For many years I blamed myself for not providing greater support to him and his community. Through this experience I endeavoured to work better in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector. This led me to apply for visiting scholar positions in the UK and attempt to get into medicine. I quit my government position to work at the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. Eventually I was successful gaining a place in a Medicine and spent a year at the University of Cambridge as a Visiting Scholar. During this time I failed often but simultaneously had many successes. One example of this was my first presentation I gave at The University of Cambridge. It was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life but provided me with one of the most rewarding debate and discussions on my research topic. On return to Australia, I started my medial degree. During the first semester, I realised the blame and pressure I placed on myself was not helpful. I left the medical degree and moved back into the fields that drive me: EcoHealth, social justice and preventative medicine.

I attribute my success to my parents. They have always supported me. At school I had a learning disability where most teachers thought I would amount to nothing. My parents built a support network around me and connected me to teachers who were compassionate and provided the guidance I required. This experience taught me to be resilient and provided a foundation of critical learning that enabled me to succeed at university.

I don’t think you can invest in leadership. I think leadership comes through everyday living. I have been privileged to work in Aboriginal communities across Australia, taught and learnt at a leading university across the world, have supportive family and friends and always pushed myself in great jobs. All of these have been important in my leadership journey. These experiences cannot be quantified in financial terms or time wise.

I try not to involve myself in politics. I have a simple goal. I believe human survival can only occur through understanding our Planet and its diverse ecosystems. The way I practice this is through learning about Aboriginal ecological knowledge, research in the EcoHealth field and advocating my views of social justice. This has certainly meant my job stability has fluctuated in Australia as these types of ideas can often be shunned.

An old work colleague said to me once, “I am underpaid and overworked”. I would like to say the same goes for me. I give a lot of my time after hours and on weekends to my research and community work. But I also recognise that I am very privileged. I have grandparents who came to Australia with nothing other than scars of war and I work with people that live from day-to-day. I never want to take for granted that I often gain greatly from the time I give.

I usually exercise to maintain health and wellbeing, but of late that has taken a back seat to eating good food and drinking lovely beverages. What I really enjoy doing is listening to my wife play piano and sing, spending time with my dog Bobby, and going to the footy. Preparing myself to becoming a father makes me feel great too.

My tip is always try new ways of being. Never give up, especially when other people tell you otherwise. Often when people oppose your views, but you still maintain supporters, it means you are doing something right.

Organisations I recommend include Indigenous Community Volunteers and the Oceania Ecohealth Chapter. The Oceania EcoHealth Chapter can be found on Twitter @EcoHealth13.

For more information about Jonathan’s EcoHealth work, please follow these links:

http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2015/04/11/a-medical-student-explores-the-importance-of-aboriginal-culture-country-and-the-homelands-movement/

http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2015/03/24/postcard-from-montreal-towards-a-better-understanding-of-ecosystems-and-health/

Shelley Flett Is Helping Others To Become Great Leaders

Shelley Flett is a Leadership Coach at LFTC Coaching, helping others to reach their greatest leadership potential at work and within their personal lives. Dalton Koss HQ speaks with Shelley to find out about her journey in becoming a Leadership Coach.

My leadership journey began in the UK 13 years ago when I was appointed Manager of a bar in Surrey. Upon my return to Australia in 2005, I commenced work at ANZ as a call centre operator and worked my way up through the ranks. Over the ten years at ANZ I held 11 different roles and developed a reputation of being a balanced leader who inspired passion in the people I worked with to deliver the results of a high performing team. I now coach entry and middle level managers to improve their leadership capabilities.

Five key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership include openness, trust, integrity, influence and organisation. A good leader must create a level of trust in their team that allows open conversation and gives confidence to challenge each other. They will lead by example and take a balanced approach to ensure their team feel fulfilled in their roles and are clear on what is expected to succeed. A good leader will be well managed with their time and balance their work with their family/social life. 

There have been a number of key successes, challenges and failures in my leadership journey. When I first became a leader I was completely focussed on delivering and didn’t give too much thought to the emotional wellbeing of my team. I came unstuck when one particular team I managed made a bullying/intimidation complaint against me. It was this event that completely changed the way I viewed leadership. I realised that the work couldn’t be separated from the worker and in order to be successful I had to develop relationships with my team and take a genuine interest in them as people. Once I’d made this shift, the work happened almost by itself. I learnt that you must give in order to receive and much of this takes place on an emotional level.

I have been extremely lucky to have some amazing leaders to coach and mentor me throughout my career. The best managers are the ones that tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear!

I invest time and finances in my personal leadership and as a leadership coach. I attend leadership courses 1-2 times a year and invest in a life coach to help me maintain direction and set goals. I invest a great amount of time and a little bit of money in improving my skills as a leader, I think it’s important to constantly evolve and continue to learn.

It is important to learn the rules of the game and play it! Don’t get emotionally involved and be clear on what you want to achieve in the longer term, setting personal goals is extremely important. Finally, make sure your life doesn’t revolve around work…keep active, socialise, spend quality time with your family – create a balance, it will help build your resilience!

I volunteer regularly at ‘not-for-profit’ organisations to coach/mentor leaders and long-term unemployed. Volunteering keeps me grounded and teaches me to see things from different perspectives. I love the concept of ‘paying it forward’ and volunteering is the perfect way of doing this.

I am really disciplined with the hours I work, I start at 7am and leave the office by 4pm. Creating this time limitation prevents me from procrastinating or spending longer than I should on a task. This is important for maintaining my mental and physical health and wellbeing. I have two sons and a daughter on the way so I find it easy to switch off when I leave work, I love being a mum and I love having my career! 

Regularly reviewing my goals to ensure I’m still heading in the right direction keeps me ahead of the game. I also talk to a lot of people and ask a lot of questions to keep up-to-date with what’s going on within the organisation and leadership coaching…I like to be curious!

My top leadership secrets are to listen, ask questions and don’t assume…there are too many leaders who like the sound of their own voice and never hear what’s being said.

For those who want to move into leadership roles, I recommend joining Toastmasters & Business Chicks. It is a wonderful network of inspirational professionals and leaders.

To find out more about LFT Coaching please visit the website http://www.lftccoaching.com or if you would like to contact Shelley directly, her email address is: shelley.flett@lftcoaching.com

Dalton Koss HQ Leadership Series

The Dalton Koss HQ Leadership Series connects people to effective and successful leaders. By sharing leadership stories, readers can be inspired by, and learn from, the successes, failures and challenges of people doing extraordinary work from divergent fields across the globe.

At Dalton Koss HQ (DKHQ) we believe that each person has the capacity to be an agent of change.

The DKHQ Leadership Series will be a weekly online interview that will:

  1. Provide knowledge and inspiration to emerging and current agents of change.
  2. Create an indirect mentor experience.
  3. Provide pathways and secrets to becoming an effective and successful leader.
  4. Provide a one-stop-shop for harvesting ideas and building leadership knowledge baskets.