The songwriter who wrote the hit “Wiggle,” the booking agent who tours White Panda, the scout who discovered Foster the People and the label founder who signed Maroon 5 each took his own path to the top of the music business.
But they all shared this one piece of advice with Washington University in St. Louis students during a March 27 panel discussion called “Making It in the Music Industry” at the Danforth University Center.
“You need to have the desire,” said Isaac Green, senior vice president of A&R at Columbia Records and a Washington University alum (LA ’96). “The music industry is not a complete meritocracy, and people move up or down at the whims of the world. Yet, at Columbia, the assistants who get in early and stay late get the leg up.
“They want it. You can tell.”
Green, who also founded Columbia imprint Startime International, was joined by Matt Adler, a booking agent for Paradigm Talent Agency; Ben Berkman, founder of Octone Records and Freesolo, a record label, artist management and music publishing company; and Sean Douglas, the songwriter behind the Jason Derulo hits “Wiggle” and “Talk Dirty ” and also a Washington University alum (LA ’05).
Sponsored by The Career Center, the event was created and organized by Doug Gleicher, a senior in Arts & Sciences and an aspiring songwriter who has worked with Green at Columbia Records and at boutique publishing label Primary Wave Music.
“My goal was to show the many sides of the music industry,” Gleicher said. “There are a lot of music lovers, but not everyone knows how many routes you can take into the industry.”
The panel took questions from students about how to build a fan base, where to intern and what to study today for a career in music tomorrow.
Douglas told students that a “curious mind’ matters more than the right major. He said his coursework in anthropology only tangentially prepared him for a career as a songwriter.
“Anthropology is about people; songs are about people,” said Douglas, who also has written for Madonna, Demi Lovato and David Guetta.
“A lot people at WashU, myself included, came here to enhance our brains and expand the way we think about the world. That can apply to the music industry as well as a lot of entrepreneurial endeavours,” Douglas said.
“I studied things I was interested in and that gave me points of reference that maybe other writers don’t have.”
That said, Douglas told students to pay attention in freshman comp.
“Communication is key,” Douglas said. “Some people can’t communicate to anyone outside of a recording studio that’s dark and filled with weed smoke. You need to be able to go into an office and talk about the trajectory of a project and write about who you are. That has made a huge difference.”
Panelists also dished insider information about Madonna, Bjork and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, who faced obscurity after his first band, Kara’s Flowers, flopped. But don’t get starstruck by celebrities, warned Adler.
“This is a flashy business by nature,” Adler said. “We’re talking about writing songs for Madonna. Meeting Foster the People. Sitting across the table from Adam Levine and asking him what he wants to do with his life. This stuff is cool. But make sure this is a business you want to be in. Because at the end of the day, this is a business. If you are not passionate about this, if you don’t understand it, then think about it.
“If you find what it is you are meant to do on this earth, you will be the best at it,” Adler said. “And to be the best of anything, no matter what that industry is, is cool.”