There’s always two ways to approach every industry: to work your way up through the ranks or to just start something your own way. The music business isn’t any exception. Although the music industry was founded with an entrepreneurial spirit, many people have still risen to positions of power through good old hard work in a company.
Jody Gerson, now the CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, started her career in administration at Chappell Music, a publishing company. She moved her way into the tape room there and started to distinguish herself as someone who could find a hit. After years at Chappell Music, Gerson moved to EMI Music Publishing and later to Sony/ATV, where she signed Lady Gaga. Through every company, she solidified her reputation for being someone who could see trends before they happened and her tenacity to break an artist. Now, Gerson is the first female that is the head of a publishing company.
David Geffen is another example of working your way up from the bottom. He started in the mail room at William Morris Agency until he became an agent there. Geffen left WMA to become a personal manager for clients such as Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Jackson Browne. His inability to get Browne signed to a record deal led Geffen to start his own record label, Asylum Records. Asylum Records signed the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and became one of the most successful labels of that time. In 1975, Geffen left Asylum to be the Vice Chairman of Warner Bros. Film Studio. After a bout with cancer, Geffen came back to start another label, Geffen Records in 1980. He left the label in 1995 and formed DreamWorks with Steven Spielburg. He retired in 2008 and has been living it up ever since.
The list of music entrepreneurs is a long one because the music industry has always prided itself in being an industry where the best idea wins. One of my favorite examples of a successful music entrepreneur is Jimmy Iovine.
Jimmy Iovine started his career in the studio as an engineer for the likes of John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen. He worked for the New York studio, the Record Plant, until 1990 when he formed his own record label, Interscope Records. Interscope has been the home of some of the most successful artists of the past 20 years, including Eminem and Lady Gaga. Iovine started the Beats headphones company with the rapper Dr.Dre in 2008. In 2014, Apple purchased Beats and gave Iovine a position in Apple Music where he still works today.
These are just a handful of the success stories in the music industry. Proven by these examples is that it is essential to stay true to what you know and where your individual talents are but most importantly, stay familiar with trends and where the industry is headed. Jimmy Iovine worked with rock artists in the 70’s and 80’s but saw an opportunity in hip hop music. Jody Gerson was able to identify hit songs through her work in the tape room and used that skill to work her way up in the industry. David Geffen saw a flaw in the labels and just made his own. It doesn’t matter which route you take, as long as you work hard and stay true to your own talents.
Here’s some practical advice for anyone considering the entrepreneurial path: