Recently, a student of mine at Berkleemusic.com asked if I’d answer some questions about my day to day and past experience working in the music industry. I thought it would make a good topic for discussion in a blog, and perhaps illuminate some ways you might find your own industry doors opening.
Q: What is your name?
A: Andrea Stolpe
Q: What is your job and how long have you been doing it?
A: My job is diverse. Sometimes I am a writer, sometimes a producer, sometimes a recording artist, sometimes a publisher, sometimes a teacher, sometimes a clinician, and sometimes a song coach. I began my career in the music industry 15 years ago.
Q: How would you describe the main features of this position?
A: I am first and foremost an entrepreneur. I am responsible for deciding which projects to take, what performance opportunities to go after, where to put my time and who to spend it with. Even as I worked as a staff writer for various publishing companies, the direction of my career was my responsibility. I had to pitch my songs, network heavily, and stay creative all at the same time. This has been incredibly difficult at times, and I have relied on the expertise of others such as publishers and producers and engineers and other writers to refine the goals I have for my career. I also believe that luck plays an important role in this business, and so I’ve done a good job if I do the best I can to clarify what I want and then design a plan that puts those goals within reasonable reach.
Q: How many hours per week do you work?
A: I’d estimate I work 60-80 hours a week. That includes going out to shows and networking, lunches with co-writers, traveling to and from teaching seminars, etc. More of these hours are spent listening, networking and planning and marketing than are spent creatively writing.
Q: How flexible are the hours?
A: Extremely, and also not at all. Much of the time I make my own schedule. However, sometimes an artist comes into town and has 4 days to write the record. I get called in to write to the tracks, and I’m tied up in the studio writing until we get it right. Many times when it rains it pours. Other times there are droughts, and I’ll shift gears to writing for myself, going out to shows, etc, which is entirely flexible.
Q: How would you rate job satisfaction?
A: I am satisfied with how my job has grown over the years. As solely a writer for a publishing company, I had a difficult time finding the ability to be creative on a constant basis. I had trouble letting the music go, just letting it be and going on vacation or just taking a break for a cup of coffee. Writing all the time was such an inward experience, almost maddening at times. Conflicted with trying to write good songs and yet trying to be prolific for a publisher, I felt I rarely found the balance between those two seemingly opposing forces. Now, teaching and being a part of performances that are not my own, as well as writing books and conducting clinics gives my mind outlets. I enjoy the conversation about songwriting that others bring, and I enjoy music as a contributor of happiness to my life.
Q: How did you get started?
A: I got started as a staff writer with EMI Music Publishing in Nashville, TN. After moving to Nashville just out of college, I got a job working through a staffing agency in a small non-profit. I worked as fast as I could, so that I could leave the office early in the afternoon to attend any industry get-togethers or co-writing appointments, or simply to go home and write. I visited my contacts as ASCAP and BMI monthly with new song material, and went regularly to NSAI until I built up my network of contacts. I went out to shows and selected writers whose songs I enjoyed, meeting them after the show to find out where they were playing next and if they had any advice for me. After awhile, my network grew to an extent that I was writing with other signed writers, and therefore gaining access to publishers.
Q: Can you point to the previous jobs in the career path?
A: I was advised early on in my writing career to work a day job outside the industry. This was a hard decision back then, since my intent was to get involved any way I could with anyone involved in music. It turned out to be great advice, however, since when I did interact with musicians, it was purely as a songwriter and musician rather than as a paper shuffler or coffee runner.
Q: What jobs would typically be next for some one in your Position?
A: There isn’t a typical, and there isn’t a hierarchy. Moving up may always be the opportunity to work on the projects of my choice, the projects that involve the music and message I’d like to be part of. Every day I make choices to create the music I want to create, or to make the bank I need to make. Sometimes both are satisfied in the same project, sometimes not. Constantly assessing where I’m at and my needs and interests helps to determine which opportunities are right at different times.
Q: How important have the people you know in the industry been to advancing your career path? Can you give an example?
A: I am nowhere if not for the people I have known in the industry. Networking has been the single most important job of my career, and is more important today than it has ever been. Constantly staying in the minds of others takes a lot of dedication in the form of emailing, calling, and physically appearing in places music is made and performed. Much more of my job is spent with these activities than creating music.
Q: Can you make a full time living from this job?
A: Yes, as long as I am willing to do a variety of jobs. As I stated earlier, I am a teacher, a performer, a songwriter, and author. All these work together to generate income and to generate more opportunity.
Q: What is the best aspect of the job you do?
A: I enjoy the flexibility of my job. I enjoy being my own boss, and the fact that if I want to see a new project happen, I can create the platform to see it through. If I see the need for a new book, I can carve out time to fulfill that need, for example. Family has become more important to me in recent years, and so I’ve been able to adapt my schedule and my goals to those personal changes.
Q: What is the worst aspect of the job you do?
A: Honestly, the worst aspect is getting used to the idea that most of the songs I write will never go anywhere. It’s natural to disengage from the songs I write with the attitude that they won’t be heard, and this then completely stifles creativity and makes me lose sight of why I write in the first place. The challenge risking enough emotionally to connect with and care about each song I write, while weathering the disappointment of each song not being recorded. This has become easier as the years have gone on. I’m more settled in my spirit, more clear as to why I write and how it feeds my soul.
Q: How much do new and emerging technologies affect your Work?
A: As a teacher, new technologies such as conferencing and its various applications enable new learning strategies. As a writer, I am privy to many conversations between engineers and producers, as well as studio players, and my experience in the studio helps me to connect with people doing these technology dependent jobs. Technology allows me to become more structured and organized, particularly when it comes to mailing lists and sending emails. Sometimes I think that technology has complicated my life as much as it has streamlined it, adding the work of internet marketing.
Q: Are there any current issues that concern you in this? Industry?
A: The internet offers so many opportunities to market oneself, that it’s very difficult to know where to start and where to focus available time. Home-based studios has made recording affordable, so affordable that the average musician can now produce and mix his own project, narrowing the market for professional recording. The market is over-saturated with mediocre music, which makes high quality music more difficult to find. The independent artist has never had more control and more potential, however, and that freedom from the limits of record labels allows artists who never would have seen the light of day to emerge. The question I ponder often is whether the average listener is attuned to the difference between mediocre quality producing and writing, and higher quality producing and writing. At the point where art is refined to the degree of professionalism musicians who have been in the industry for decades strive for, the average listener may be lost. In other words, at that point, perhaps musicians are making music for other musicians.
Q: Do any Laws or Regulations affect the way you work? How do you find out about them?
A: As a member of the Association of Independent Music Publishers, AIMP, I find out about regulations that are important to songwriters and publishers and labels. Conversations with other co-writers is also how I stay current. I am not involved in being a voice for legislation changes.
Q: Did you undertake any training or courses for your job and can you recommend any for people starting in this business?
A: I went to Berklee College for music, and majored in songwriting. Then I went to Nashville for what I call my ‘graduate work’ in songwriting. I am constantly training as I write with other writers. At this stage, staying active in the industry is my training, and performing and writing are my daily practice. I wish I had more time to practice my instrument, and play with others who are more accomplished on their instrument. That, for me, would be the next step of training I’d like to have.
Q: what advice would you give someone looking to become a lyricist
A: Network. Go out to shows and connect with other writers whose music you love. Introduce yourself as a lyric writer, and continue to attend their shows until you build a relationship in which you can ask to work together with them. Get some simple demos done with a singer you think expresses your songs well. Don’t wait until you get perfect songs written, but start with what you have and record. Record simple demos, cheaply, so that you can keep recording new songs on a regular basis. Networking is everything, and for the lyricist, you’ve got a special and much needed skill. Begin to view yourself as an asset to other musicians, since lyric is often a weak area that other musicians feel uncomfortable or uncertain about.