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Notes From The Deadline

TV Music From The Inside By Paul Farrer
Published September 2011

You've got to be good to get ahead in this game. And not just at mending cookers.

"I have a few tests to see if you really want the work experience placement...”"I have a few tests to see if you really want the work experience placement...”

I've been getting emails from people wanting help to start their music careers for many years, and I'll always offer as much advice and support as I can. Most of it involves me, rather pathetically, commiserating with people that Steven Spielberg never got back to them about that demo CD.

Thanks to the massive number of deeply mediocre music tech courses spewing out huge numbers of over‑qualified and under‑experienced kids with virtually no hope of employment, a good number of people recently have been sending begging emails, offering to make me coffee and sweep my studio floor for two years just for the experience. For free. And a good number of those people have degrees. One was even a PhD.

Aga Don't

In sharp contrast, I'm beginning to suspect there's also something about this bit of the industry that seems to attract the Stupids. The bloke who came to fix my Aga recently asked me if I knew anyone at the BBC.

"Yeah, a few people. Why?” I asked.

"Wondered if you could put in a word for me and get me a job.”

"Er, doing what? Fixing ovens?”

"Dunno really. Maybe writing telly music or something? I know they don't have adverts but I could play guitar like on some of their shows, and stuff.”

Recently, I stumbled across a post in an online recording forum asking what was the best way to mic up an accordion. We've all got to start somewhere, and yes of course it never hurts to ask and all that, but really? I'm going to make the staggeringly harsh prediction that if pointing the business end of a microphone towards the part of the instrument making the noise and pushing Record is a bit of a stretch for you, the chances are that there will be other elements of the multi‑billion pound, fiercely competitive UK music industry that will leave you feeling a bit like a guinea pig trying to follow a game of Monopoly.

This is a crowded profession, and most of the people it actually manages to sustain still feel only a heartbeat away from career flame‑out and starvation. And yet despite the huge amounts of information available about publishing, commissioning, marketing strategies, developing and growing your craft, there is still a frighteningly large number of people out there who genuinely think the likes of EMI and Universal Music actually open the thousands of Jiffy bags with CDs in that they get sent each week. Amazing.

The Golden Rules

So what advice can I offer? Start early. If you aren't working full‑time in the music business (in whatever capacity) by the time you are 20, it's almost certainly too late. Get really, really good at what you want to do. Meet as many other people in the industry as you possibly can, except musicians. Specialise in your chosen field as soon as you decide what it is. Keep doing it despite all the setbacks, and don't ever expect to make any money at it. Know who your clients are and understand what they want and how they pay for it. Know your limitations and your strengths. And above all, whatever you do, never, ever send me MP3 files of arrangements of Metallica songs performed on a General MIDI synth along with a note saying "Could you kindly pass these on to Hans Zimmer for me?”

You know who you are. You bastard.    

Published September 2011