Under the Influence of Music Business Mentors

By on 5-13-2010 in Music Business Insight

by Gary Powell

cap and gownUpon leaving academia, every career path in the music and media businesses immediately becomes unique. Successful individuals have each created their story, unless they came into their professional life as a legacy which is a whole ‘nother topic. Our unique stories is why global advice is so easy to get and so hard to follow; and is advice seldom effective in its practical application. Worse than that is the fact that the eduction we did get can be misleading or even harmful under the stress-test of a real-world artistic career. If you find that your cap and gown has left you disrobed or simply had nothing to do with who you are as an artist or how you earn money as an artist, then read on for the good news.

Whether the graduation robe was relevant or not, you will still have to create the success you desire….. yourself.

After working in the music business full-time since 1976, I still struggle to find time and money to produce what I consider to be the truest and best expression of my life and capabilities. Certainly, aspirations can fuel the search for perfect artistic and financially rewarding expressions. Also, maybe we have identified a mission for our music of some particular choosing. When aspirations are not enough or the poetic mission-statement fails, it might be time to take our dreams to the gym in the form of education; either formal or not. Figuring out what kind of education is right is the next challenge on the path to our unique selves. Oh, I forgot. You may already consider yourself educated. If so, continue reading.

We artists did not choose to study finance, accounting or business, so more than likely we will have to forge this new career path ourselves. Where were the courses in Entrepreneurship in the Arts when we were being educated the first time? Even in the height of my career, I continue to seek out mentors to discern some sage advice which might be applicable to my own psychology, circumstances and talent; all things which are in constant flux.

Other careers may have offered stability with dutiful profits and financial security. We didn’t choose that, did we? So, seek out music mentors, accounting and investment mentors and business mentors; seek out those who have walked a mile in the shoes you want to wear but haven’t even picked-out yet. Regardless the size of a mentor’s career, most successful people are surprisingly willing to help other aspiring individuals. Understand that their advice is not necessarily to be followed, but it is there to be integrated within your own circumstances. I’m still learning. I hope you will too. Whether the graduation robe was relevant or not, you will still have to create the success you desire… yourself.

All Content of Gary Powell’s Site is Licensed Under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License



  1. I really enjoyed reading this blog entry. A lot of my feelings about college and my current education coincide with your beliefs. The classes that we take are always applicable to our future careers especially when you consider a choice as specific as the music industry. However, I do have hope that while my classes don’t always directly apply, it does not mean that I won’t be successful. As you pointed out, music industry specific classes have only just recently made an appearance in the course schedule. If my musical forefathers made it in this crazy business without an industry-related class, surely I can too, right?

    But, I have struggled for a while to find the value in my current education. From a young age, the youth of today are taking classes to simply prepare for the next year of school, but when my schooling comes to an end what am I preparing for? More school? Dad sure would like that… A job? My classes aren’t totally applicable… My life? Well, yes actually. That’s the exact conclusion I have come to. I think that I have learned more in the three years I have lived in this crazy (and weird) city than I did in the eighteen I spent “preparing” in my hometown of Sugar Land. I have learned how to manage my own schedule, balance my own time, and ultimately decide what my true priorities in life. College life has thrust the necessity to learn independently and seek self-exploration constantly and I think that is some of the best preparation I can get for the music industry which may be more of a lifestyle than a career at all.

  2. I relate to this blog wholeheartedly. The ability to truly express yourself and using education as a way to improve your craft is something I’ve realized isn’t as common in college as many perceive. Believing you can simply “go with the flow,” and find yourself without any challenges, decisions, or struggles is impractical, but common.

    Taking a class in the Music school this semester did it’s job. I realized had I come in as a freshman, I would have pursued Music Business as my major. This would have likely led to me expanding my own talents; be it singing or writing, and may have likely come much closer to figuring out how I want to navigate the real world. I’ve always wanted to do something in Music, as most of my family has – but seeing what they’ve gone through, the roadblocks they hit, and the seemingly uncertain nature of the business itself; I chose to step outside of that.

    Looking back, I think the cap and gown is moreso a requirement of modern America than proof of education. I’ve learned the most useful information from individuals who have conquered struggles, or genuinely worked hard to get where they needed to be. I chose financial security before the expansion of self, which I believed was the best thing to do coming out of Houston at 18 years old; secure myself financially and live better than I had before. I will not truly be done with the Business path I started 4 years ago until December (which is SO CLOSE) but I know that I’ll learn much more the year after, when I’m finally honing the creative talents I know I have but have been unable to use in a business professional career path. True, I learned to manage my time with multiple jobs and school, crunch when needed, stay awake to get tasks done, and balance a social life on that – but I don’t think I’ve totally grasped it yet. This article gave further insight into that, and I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one thinking this way.

  3. Gary Powell’s description of using your education AS WELL as your connections highlights the ultimate road to success, especially in the music industry. As in so many industries in present-day America having a strong education is not necessarily enough to get a person his or her dream job, and business requires much more than just practical and conceptual knowledge. Things get even more complicated when examining the futile music business that exists today. As far as networking goes, “planting the seed” and nurturing each and every relationship to health can make or break a musician/music business entrepreneur’s career.

    In Gary Powell’s Intro to Music Business and Entrepreneurship course, taught at the University of Texas, Powell strives to implant this idea of nurturing relationships and creating opportunities for oneself in not only the music business but in all aspects of life. There is no way to know if the person standing next to you in the elevator could become a life-long friend, a mentor, or even a future business partner unless you initiate a conversation. Though this may seem simple, with advances in technology, many people are more focused on their iPhones than the networking opportunities that could potentially be all around them. As a result, individuals that are not afraid to go out and create opportunities for themselves are the people who come the closest to reaching and surpassing their goals.

    Education opens doors, and fearless personalities seal the deal.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *