The entertainment industry has traditionally been a tough business for a young person to break into. The supply of people wanting to get in will always be greater than the availability of jobs, a fact that inevitably leads to fierce competition. For someone contemplating a career in music, anything one could use to get a leg up would be invaluable. Music industry insider Jeff Rabhan has written a book which could be that crucial edge. Cool Jobs In The Music Business is a comprehensive guide which describes career paths in every aspect of the business. The book features extensive interviews with professionals in the industry who give their insight and guidance to enable one to start preparing for a career in music as early as high school.
Of the 15 chapters in the book, ten chapters are devoted to a specific facet of the business, such as “Record Labels,” “Recording and Production” and “Concerts and Events.” Within those chapters there is a common format: “Are you ready to…” “You need to be…” and “In high school you can…” In each of those subsections, Rabhan gives specific tips to help the student prepare for a possible career in that particular field.
Given the extensive depth that the book covers, and the many interviews with noted industry figures, Rabhan says that the book came together surprisingly quickly. “It probably took about a year to write, and I was lucky because I’ve travelled around the music industry for so many years that I could draw upon my relationships for the interviews. I’d blocked out about ten days straight, set up all the interviews, and with the exception of a few people I was able to get them all done within that time frame. The difficult part was compiling all that, figuring out what were the gems, and how to piece it all together to create the journey. When I say ‘the journey,’ I mean exploring what the job is, what sort of skills you need, and what you need to be doing to get there. I looked at what these guys are doing on a daily basis. That was my goal—to take kids all the way from a basic understanding of what the jobs are to how they can prepare for them to making contacts and landing that first gig.”
When asked if he had any aspirations of music stardom when he was younger, Rabhan laughs. “I have a philosophy that if everyone in the music industry could be onstage, they would. For a variety of reasons, they’re not. I’m a musician, and a terrible one at that. I played in bands in college, but was never very good. When I went to school, I interned with an artist manager for two years while I was studying journalism, and from that I knew I really wanted to go into the music industry in some way. I was lucky enough to get a job at Rolling Stone right out of school, got a shot to write a few reviews, and that was really amazing for me. Without boring you with all the details of every job I’ve ever had, I tried to stay as close to the recording artists as I could. As a writer, you spend a little time with the artist, and then they’re gone. Following that, I worked at Atlantic and Elektra, but the labels didn’t always have the best relations with the artists. That was troubling, and it took me on the path towards artist management, where I could directly be involved day-to-day with the artists and their careers in an extended way.”
One of Rabhan’s most rewarding experiences in music in fact did occur as an artist manager. “I would say the most memorable and fulfilling project has been working with Michelle Branch. She and I worked together from the very beginning. Watching someone start with demos, to getting a deal, to going platinum and winning Grammys is a very rewarding experience. In my current position, having something do to with Clive Davis, who is a living legend, is really meaningful.” The position Rabhan mentions is the Chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded music at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. “I oversee faculty, curriculum, admissions, things of that nature, and I teach a variety of classes.”
Of all the illuminating and interesting aspects of the book, perhaps the highlight is just how many career paths there really are in music. Most young people know about what Rabhan calls the “glory jobs”—the A&R jobs, the artist management positions. “The joke is that if I did this book incorrectly, it could be three pages long—‘cool jobs.’ But there are significantly more opportunities, and I think that a lot of people are not aware of the full range of jobs that are available. Music publishing is one. Distribution is another. And that was my goal, to shed some light on some of the different career possibilities.”
“When guys like you and I were coming up, you learned by making mistakes, by guys taking advantage of you, or just on the job training. I want to be able to get to those kids who are interested in the music business before those things happen.”
The entertainment industry in general is driven by personal contacts. Although jobs may be advertised, more often than not the old adage applies: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Rabhan concurs completely. “This business is a relationship business. You have to do good work, of course, but the wider you can network, and the more information you can share, that’s the key to being successful. Knowing what’s happening, being involved, being ‘in the know’ is super important. Relationships are like muscles. If you don’t use them, they atrophy and go away.”
Music industry professionals have reacted to the book in an overwhelmingly positive way, says Rabhan. “They tell me they wish it had been around when they were coming up. The reaction from kids has been super positive also, and I actually learned a lot. That, to me, was important. I really wanted people to learn, and I wanted to balance between learning, and making it fun and readable. If it’s not readable, no one’s going to get the information. That’s my hope and my goal. If a kid really wants to go into the music business, to be able to help him or her is really special to me. This book can save you a lot of time, and a lot of energy. As you know, you don’t write for the money. You write for the impact, and hopefully my book will have that impact.”
Rabhan addresses the revolution in technology that has turned the music industry upside down in recent times. In the book he writes: “Great songs are as important in people’s lives today as they have ever been. 150 years ago, the only way to listen to your favorite music was to hear it performed live or to perform it yourself—now you can hold a music library on a mobile phone or MP3 player and listen to songs virtually anywhere.” He elaborates during the interview by continuing that thought. “The traditional part of the music business will never change. You need great music. The way it’s delivered may change, the way it’s consumed may change, the way it’s purchased may change–but the basics never change. That was really what I was trying to get across. Music is the end game–and the start game!”