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The UnCollege Blog

How I Hacked the Music Industry

By Jordan A. Boyd

Jordan A. Boyd is the founder of EducationRevolution.ca, a blog that lists free resources for people to learn. An ideapreneur at heart, Jordan loves brainstorming ideas and creating vocal loops for random people on his YouTube channel. His first book ‘Future by Design‘ will be available in 2014. He’s also working on a documentary feature for CBC’s The National about the education revolution in Canada. It’s to be released in mid-April.

I’ve spent the last four years trying to work my way into the music industry. Although it’s an ongoing process, I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way. My experience is mostly in being a musician and producer but I have also interned at record labels, handling social media and marketing. To give you some background about my journey, it all began in 2009 when I decided to pass on an opportunity to play basketball for one of the top-ranked universities in Canada. Most people I knew thought I was making a terrible decision.

A week before this, I had received word from a friend in Vancouver that a promoter had heard one of the sets I had DJ’d. He wanted me to tryout for a resident position at his club. I had always wanted to DJ a club in high school, so I packed up my car and moved to Vancouver.

There were around 500 people my very first night at the club. The set list for the evening looked something like this:

9:00 - 10:00

DJ Pluskratch

10:00 - 10:30

Fashion Show

10:30 - 12:00

DJ Callie

12:00 - 12:15

Jordan Boyd

12:15 - 2:00

DJ Pluskratch

That fifteen-minute set turned into an hour... I ended up becoming the resident DJ at that club and another for about six months. This was before I decided that I was more interested in creating my own music rather than playing songs by other people. Working as a DJ was a great introduction into the music industry and gave me much-needed confidence. A lot of the producers I met during that time got their start in DJ’ing because understanding how to blend songs and being able to manipulate sound are crucial skills for music production.

In the end, the DJ world was not for me, so I branched out. After moving about three hours away to attend university, I also recorded my first album. My genre of choice was hip hop and I managed to scout out a talented young rapper. Together we created a ten-song album, released it on iTunes, made a music video and then began performing. We slowly built up a following of around five hundred Facebook fans and got around five thousand views on our music video through self-promotion and networking.

hackingthemusicindustry

Before I left for Vancouver I began emailing record labels, asking them if they needed an intern to help with daily tasks. It took three weeks of “no, unfortunately not” emails before I was contacted by an indie label in Vancouver. The label had about seven hip hop artists. They told me I would be in charge of managing the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts for the artists. It was a dream come true so I found an apartment and moved back to Vancouver.

Working for the label helped me understand the power of social media and marketing. I learned the fundamentals of producing a high-quality music video, and quickly figured out how to capture the attention of fans. I would definitely recommend working at a record label if you are interested in the music industry.

A year-and-a-half later, the label offered me the chance to sign on with them as one of their artists, once I proved my solo career. That’s what I’m working on now.

I recently started an interactive YouTube experiment: I get random topics from YouTube users and create vocal loops about them. From potluck suppers to gophers doing it with tadpoles, you never know what people’s creative minds can come up with. I love the challenge.

I’m also recording my first solo project with my drummer and roommate. I want to create music that inspires people to think, create and be happy. It took me three years and a ton of hard work to get where I am, but I’ve finally found my style in and passion for music.

Please feel free to reach out to me at jordan[at]socialpigeon[dot]com if you have any questions about starting your career in the music industry — I’m happy to offer advice! Below are some steps you can take if you want to pursue a solo career:

1. Learn the basics.

No matter what you want to do, you have to be a master of your craft. Practice as much as you can and try to envision what will make you unique and different. Be diverse with your skills.

Don’t rely on the skills of others to get you somewhere. I used to pay someone else, for example, to use his studio and help me produce my music. Since then I’ve taught myself production, so now I never need to pay for it again.

2. Do some research.

Where will you fit in the industry? Make sure you know about the music that you’re creating. Who is popular in the industry? Who is not? Why? Also learn the genre’s general history so that you don’t repeat things that have been done. You can also do research on new technology and be the first one to pioneer that kind of music.

3. Create content.

This is what I would tell artists at the record label: create YouTube videos about anything you can -- from the process of making your album to you covering a popular song. Make sure you have engaging content that portrays you in a positive light. If you share more of yourself, your fans will become interested in not only your music, but also your story.

4. Build a following.

The creating content step flows nicely into this one. How do record labels choose which artists to sign? Based on the size of their following. Think about it: if you have a huge following, it shows that your music is popular and that you’re willing to work hard to get where you need to get. Record labels want artists who won’t just rely on the label to do everything for them. This is particularly true of indie labels.

5. Perform live.

If takes a lot of courage, but you have to perform live. Go to an open mic night or arrange a group of friends that you can perform in front of. The more you perform, the easier it will become. Don’t forget to film or take pictures of yourself performing. This is another thing that record labels look for in a prospective artist.

6. Give back.

Last but not least, always remember to give back. If you choose not to be a professional musician, you can still continue to teach people to play music. It’s a great way to make an impact on the people around you, and to teach them a universal language — music.

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