“Are you sure there isn’t anything else you’d rather do?”

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Kevin Sweeney, COL ’16

The entertainment industry is a fickle beast, and the music industry is no exception. It’s the wild west, where there are no rules and the money follows the gunslingers with the strongest allies. It’s in an accelerating tailspin in the midst of a tech revolution with little hope for the future.

Talk to any manager, agent, or label rep and you’re likely to get some variation of these sentiments. A few will probably ask, “Are you sure there isn’t anything else you’d rather do?” And while youthful optimism will prompt an almost rhetorical “No way,” there’s plenty of truth to these prevailing themes.

And also plenty of untruth, as I learned this summer. Working as an intern in music management, I sat at the crossroads of the cogs of the industry. My firm, Mick Artists Management, represents a wide array of established acts including Childish Gambino, Leon Bridges, Passion Pit, WALK THE MOON, Frank Ocean and others. Watching these careers play out from behind the proverbial curtain, I got to test the advice I had received.

Fickle? Yes. Clients’ career arcs can be about as predictable as the weather. But more often, they follow carefully planned cycles, monitored through an endless stream of consumer data, and nurtured with a healthy dose of tactful pavement pounding.

While the relationship management with radio execs, label execs, and agents was left to the professionals, I had the pleasure of playing my own part. For WALK THE MOON, I assembled weekly reports detailing trends in album sales, radio spins, song streams, and social media engagement. I got to watch the rise and gentle decline of one of the summer’s hottest songs and provide some insights as we helped a client gracefully ride the wave of their success.

As for the “wild west” depiction, it’d be more accurate to say that the rules exist but they’re constantly changing. An artists’ union exists, as well as a whole number of fluid standards in copyright law, song royalties, and recording contracts. In reality, the business of a profitable recording artist is much less of a hectic money grab and more of a carefully divided pie. For my part, I did things as mundane as train uptown to retrieve royalties checks from ASCAP to more interesting projects like assembling archives and album metadata as an artist made a transition to full ownership over their recording catalog.

Last, the idea that the music industry is in irreversible decline is simply untrue. Live performance continues to enjoy some of the best revenue figures in music history, and the larger fish in the pond are frequently making strategic investments in music tech startups that seek to change the way we listen to, discover, and experience music.

I watched as a partner in my firm grew his own tech-influenced project – a rental marketplace for touring equipment – while others met with emerging tastemakers on services like Spotify and Soundcloud. I tried to help where I could, interfacing with various music tech companies that were looking to bring Mick on as a client, from concert streaming services to ticketing apps.

More than anything, this summer has taught me that the trenches of the music industry can be a confusing mess – one that entails talent reps from labels, agencies, and management firms, each with their own share of relatively unglamorous legwork to do. But together they deliver a profoundly unique product – one that can be as thrilling to sell as it is to experience. While it’s difficult to tell whether management is the right fit for me and my career, I can scarcely envision a future for myself without music business as a central component.

Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.