Pick a lane. How many times have you heard that? For me, I’ve lost count. I’ve never been one for labels, boxes, or genre assignments. I feel that extends to every vertical of my life – down to how I live, work, love, and find joy.
In some ways, I took the whole “dances to the beat of my own drum” as far as I could. Just call me an Avril Lavigne lyric, because I am “anything but ordinary,” honey! Maybe that has stifled some of my success, but I would argue that it’s helped me more than it’s hurt me. I am resourceful, adaptable, resilient, and I relate to so many different human experiences – which in my line of work(s) has been nothing short of an asset.
For example I’ve been a songwriter for over 19 years professionally, a performer since the age of three, a major label signed artist at the age of 19, and I’ve worked behind the scenes as an industry professional since 2014. That being said, even as someone with years of professional experience it took me years to land a mid-to-senior level role working for a reputable music company. No one wanted to hire me, because I didn’t have a college degree and I never worked as a coordinator. For some reason that never applied to the men I used to tour with, but that’s a story for another day.
The question is… why aren’t we looking at future employees with a holistic viewpoint? Why are we assigning only one genre tag and then disregarding their potential because we can’t place them?
When I pitch music, the more metadata tags the better; I want to know the song can fit many opportunities, not just when all the stars align. Why are we afraid when a future teammate offers layers? Often in my interview process, I would get asked if “being an artist” was going to get in the way of my prospective job. It’s such an odd question to me, because as a freelancer most of my life was and is about time allocation. No one is more mindful of how I spend my time… than me. There’s also no one way to be an artist.
I see a lot of fear when it comes to hiring in the music industry. Hands-on experience in the creative music space is a huge asset and shouldn’t be looked at as a liability. Often, a potential employee goes to college, scores an internship, lands an assistant gig, and then shoots up the ladder… but they’ve never been to the factory. They don’t know how the product is made.
Here’s the thing – traditional music industry folk can’t empathize with the talent, because they have never lived it. They don’t speak the language.
When we don’t understand each other, can’t relate to each other’s experiences, and have no visibility in the day to day functions of each other’s jobs it can become a breeding ground for miscommunication.
Miscommunication is the enemy of progress and productivity aka the enemy of getting sh*t done.
Not to say there’s anything wrong with taking a traditional route to the top of the music business, but it shouldn’t be the only path and at the very least… go to the factory y’all!
When I received the opportunity to work for other companies (not just my own) – I jumped at it! To me, it’s just another tool in my arsenal. I had a front row seat to look into how the other side strategizes, rationalizes, moves mountains, and builds winning campaigns on behalf of their roster.
I got to hear the worst and the best from peers and senior executives that would have never kept it real with me as the talent/creative. I listened to everything intensely. What I heard motivated me to get to work. I saw how both sides need each other, that it’s a marriage and that marriage is rocky at best.
How do we save this union? Like anything in life… we seek to understand and we find better ways to communicate effectively. A strong tool I can offer you? Hire a former creative or active creator. Let them help fix what’s not working – they know how to. They’ve been small businesses for years. They’ve been on the road, they’ve had the odds stacked against them and they still got on that stage and SERVED. That’s someone I want on my team. The show must go on and they know how to deliver the goods.
As a songwriter I listen, internalize, and then externalize. I aim to understand and have others find themselves in the work. I create. I am a little big problem solver, so why would this be any different in behind the scenes business?
Open up your doors to creators and allow them to bring the positive tension this industry desperately needs. We only grow when we allow ourselves to be uncomfortable, so embrace the fear.
Creatives are builders, let them build. They may show up with big dreams, but they’re going to have the know-how to see it through. Give them a chance to bring home the bacon. They’ve been singing for their (YOUR) supper anyways, now let them sit at the table.
Jessica Vaughn is the head of sync at Venice Music and president of Head Bitch Music. Before breaking into the business side of the industry, Jessica began her career as an artist under the name Charlotte Sometimes, releasing a debut album on Geffen Records and later appearing on season 2 of NBC’s hit series The Voice.