Go Behind the Beats of a Music Industry Career

Everybody loves music, but how many people understand what it takes to make a hit song or video? Not many. In fact, most people don’t realize all of the incredible behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating the albums and music videos that we’ve come to know and love. That all changed at the Grammy in the Schools program, hosted at Pace University (New York, NY) where a few hundred New York high school students got a backstage pass to a glimpse at the inner workings of the music industry. Not to mention hanging out with the big-wigs themselves.

Popular artists were at the event, including Grammy-winner ASHANTI, who performed soulful renditions of two hits from her debut record. Afterward, she offered up some sobering advice as a panelist. “Along with the good comes the bad in this industry,” she says. “You have to have skin that is tough like wood!”

The R&B diva graduated with honors from high school, and then decided to pursue a singing career. She struggled for quite some time trying to get her big break. That is, until she finally landed her current record deal with Murder,Inc. “If it didn’t work out with this record company, I would have gone back to school,” she says. “This is my third deal, and I was giving myself one more chance.” See? Divas have to work their way up, too!

What else is there besides being a performer? “A&R stands for Artist and Repertoire, and we basically help steer an artist’s career,” says Tina Davis, vice president of A&R at Def Jam Records. The music industry is a rough place, and an A&R person’s job is to help artists make decisions about which songs to sing, how to promote their records, organize tours, and reach audiences, she adds.

“Get a goal and focus on it,” Davis urges high schoolers. “Everything you do should lead back to that.” But what if you’re not a business-minded A&R type, and you’re not quite starving for the spotlight, but you’ve got musical ideas? Maybe you’re destined to be a producer — that talented studio someone who works with an artist to shape the songs and get the best performances.

Producers Andre Harris and Vidal Davis, who have worked with artists such as Mariah Cary and Mary J. Blige, shared their producing prowess on this note. “It’s all about the song, and doing what’s best for it,” says Davis. On a more general note, Harris adds, “You have to be prepared in this industry — preparation means opportunity.”

Next time you tune in to your beloved artists grooving like they’ve got it all together, remember that the magic you hear and see is the result of many people’s Ja Rule, there is room to make your mark with a career in music.