So approximately 6 months ago, I got on LinkedIn and told everyone I lost my job. Now seems like the right time to tell you all exactly what happened next…
So, in the UK when a company plans to lay off more than 25 people at once, there’s a consultation period that legally has to happen. So, we were told we might be laid off before we actually were.
When I got that information, I started to take action immediately.
Step 1: I Emailed My Lawyer
I emailed to understand if there’s anything I should plan for such as:
- whether my non-compete clauses would be enforceable
- what to do if I was not paid my full entitled garden leave
- when I should publicly start looking (as we were not officially let go yet)
- as I was unfamiliar with the consultation process, I wanted to know if they recommended that I put my hand up as a representative
- If there’s anything they recommend I plan to do before I am no longer an employee.
A few weeks later, my previous employer, Pollen failed to pay the final paychecks of their employees so I also helped coordinate with my legal team on how to proceed with legal action against them to get funds owed for dozens of employees.
Shout out to Simkins LLP for being the best legal team a girl could ask for!
Step 2: Started Looking at Roles & Companies
As I posted a weekly jobs roundup on LinkedIn, I already had an idea of what was going on in the marketplace. So I immediately identified roles that looked like a good fit and started applying or inquiring. I always keep my resume up to date and am continuously networking, so I didn’t need to do much there.
Step 3: Started Contacting My Friends
As I was advised not to go public yet, I started messaging friends privately immediately. I just said, I wasn’t sure I would be safe and to keep an ear out for roles that could be a good fit.
It was actually quite fortuitous timing that Music Biz Conference was going on at the time so, though I wasn’t there, a lot of my friends were. There was a role at a DSP that I specifically had my eye on and I ended up with multiple friends at the conference with the hiring manager, so that poor woman heard about me from multiple people for 3 days straight 😂.
Step 4: Get a List of Everyone Laid Off
While we still had access to our work emails and Slack channel, I created a form to collect everyone’s contact info that would potentially be laid off to facilitate steps 5-7.
Step 5: Contact My LinkedIn Account Manager & Put Together a Workshop For Former Colleagues
I had recently been reached out to due to me being a LinkedIn creator, and thus had a contact at LinkedIn at quite the opportune time. As over 150 of us had been laid off, I reached out to ask what LinkedIn could do to help us. He was able to provide some support in the form of LinkedIn Premium trials and we planned together to lead a “Getting the Most Out of LinkedIn & LinkedIn Premium” session tailored to my former colleagues that we held virtually a few weeks later. I used the email list I compiled in step 5 to be able to invite everyone. Big thanks to Patrick Shea-Stamford for the help. It meant a lot to a lot of people.
Step 6: Posted On LinkedIn Marketing Myself & Help Others
Once we were officially laid off, that was when the real work started.
I wrote a series of posts with all my co-workers that had agreed to be tagged on LinkedIn that they were looking for a role. I organized by job function and included their (desired) location to make it easy on recruiters and asked people to reach out if they could help. In the form I used to collect everyone’s email addresses that I mentioned earlier, I also asked for this additional info and permission.
I also wrote a post on LinkedIn explaining that 150+ of us had been laid off, giving a rundown of my skills and experience, talking about the role I wanted to do next, establishing my boundaries & dealbreakers, explaining that I didn’t need a visa, linking to my personal website/portfolio, and linked to the posts I made of my former colleagues that had also been laid off.
I recognized there would be a lot of people writing about their recent layoff so rather than taking time to post about personal relationships/time at my previous employer I talked almost exclusively about the skills I could provide to my new employer. I still made sure to stay positive in my post.
There was plenty of time for reflection later but while I had everyone’s attention, it was time to sell myself.
I happened to be on vacation when we found out but I believed that time was of the essence so in my downtime during the vacation, I got these posts up.
This is where when the floodgates opened. Many people laugh when they hear my surprise, but though, at that point, I had 15K+ followers on LinkedIn, I truly expected maybe a dozen people to reach out.
That post got over 100K impressions & 70 different organizations reached out. 😲
People offered up to myself and my former colleagues everything from referrals, to part-time projects, to discussions about full-time roles.
Step 7: Get Former Colleagues Referrals
I maintained a spreadsheet of every company that reached out to provide any help and madedirect asks to most people.
I find that making direct asks and explicit offers of help rather than vague statements like “let me know if I can help?” or “any help you can offer…” saves everyone’s time, sets expectations and most importantly gets sh*t done.
I asked if I could send up to 3 referrals their way for whatever company they worked for.
I limited it to 3 to be mindful of people’s times and to make sure I could vet each referral to make sure it was a match.
From then, I sent my former colleagues a list weekly of companies that reached out. I told them to look for relevant roles at said company (sometimes for specific departments depending on who reached out). If they found a role that seemed like a fit, I asked them to send over their resumes/CVs and the job description link. I reviewed each one if I was familiar enough with the company to be able to provide feedback and then compiled and sent the requested referrals to the relevant people. I did this weekly for at least a month. I also included a link to the former employees at the bottom of all of my weekly job round-up posts for several weeks.
Several people followed up to let me know if interviews and even roles they secured from the referrals!
Step 8: Say Yes To (Almost) Every Meeting
I was privileged enough to be able to afford to continue to pay my personal assistant to help support me in scheduling calls, meetings & interviews, especially while I was on vacation. This resulted in me taking an interview moments after landing from a trip in a back room I may or may not have actually allowed to be in in the airport 😅.
So, from May through July, I basically said yes to almost every meeting. I had the advantage of free time (and what I thought would be my full garden leave payment… 🙄) to be able to take my time in my job search. This gave me an opportunity to catch up with people I hadn’t in a while and people I’d always meant to reach out to.
Of the 70 companies that reached out to help, 30 of those had roles or were open to discussing a potential role that was relevant to me. So, over those 3 months, I spoke with every single one of those companies. I had one day that I just spent in the cafe at Tileyard London‘s cafe where many music tech companies are based taking meetings all day like my own personal office hours.
The only meetings I didn’t say yes to were people that reached out wanting me to do free work such as advising/mentoring them or their company. Given that I had lost my primary form of income, it was not something I could prioritize. My canned response back was essentially, “I’m really flattered that you reached out but for the next few weeks I have to focus on paying my rent.”
Step 9: Create My Roles
One new thing that emerged from this job search that was different from any previous is that this time people wanted to create roles that were made specifically for me.
I was asked, “what do you want to do?” at least 3 times per week. So I had to craft that answer.
Over the course of 3 months, I wrote out several job descriptions (some quite high-level & some that were completely flushed out decks). I think I only had 3 completely traditional hiring processes throughout with an existing job description. Everything else was molded to me. Most of my conversations were with those at the EVP, President & C-suite level which made me always have to think strongly about what value I could bring to the organization as a whole. It was exciting but also quite daunting because I knew I had to be sold to other C-level execs and often boards & investors for the level of roles I was looking at.
The key to writing out your own role (or pitching your own ideas) is to always make sure you highlight why you’re the only one that can execute on this idea.
What is your unfair advantage? Is it your network, your education, your skillset, or all of the above? I always made sure to include that in my conversations so I’m never concerned that someone’s going to run off and give someone else the job because it doesn’t work without me.
Step 10: Be Everywhere.
For 3 months, in addition to talking to everyone, I was everywhere. If there was an opportunity to be in a room of potential employers, I was in that room.
I know additional forms of income are something people talk about quite often (because it’s very important!) but I think people don’t talk enough about having multiple titles/projects (be it paying or not).
Without a full-time role I was still able to get opportunities based on the volunteer work I do with shesaid.so as their UK Director and the work, I do running my conference & community, Measure of Music.
Thankfully, my network was incredibly gracious and despite not having a full-time role, the invitations were always extended that fell into one of the aforementioned current roles as well as looked to my past experiences.
So, all summer I was speaking, traveling, networking & more.
In three months, I had 9 speaking engagements including events organized by the PRS Foundation (Keychange & POWER UP), the BPI, Brighton Music Conference, and a talk at the LinkedIn offices to name a few. I was also invited to be a delegate by Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, to attend A2IM’s Indie Week in NYC, asked to provide nominations/judge 2 music awards shows and managed to get invites to YouTube’s Black Excellence Party and the Music Week Awards. I used every single one of these opportunities to help my job search. I think I managed to fit around 7 actual interviews into the 3 days I was in NYC alone not including all of the coffees & informational meetings.
Since I had been so public about needing a new role (plus, my layoff was mentioned in a Music Biz Worldwide article and Music Ally daily email update 😂), most people I encountered already knew and just really wanted to help. These invites went a long way to getting referrals but also intel on different companies & people I was interested in.
I was also very online throughout the time. I continued to post regularly on LinkedIn both my weekly job roundups in addition to long-form posts about what happened at Pollen and choosing a startup to work for. I kept my website & LinkedIn up to date and still applied for things like the LinkedIn for Creators‘ #LICreatorAccelerator Programme (which I got!).
Step 11: Ask For Advice & Make A Decision
As I was having ongoing conversations, I asked trusted friends about their opinions about opportunities, bosses, company culture, reputations of companies, etc. It was a lot of decisions by committee to help figure out what my next move would be. I was even pretty transparent with companies I was talking to about other companies so I could hear their feedback about their competitors/partners. I collected as much data as I could before making a decision.
In the end, I accepted a C-level position at Shoobs, a small Black woman-owned Y-combinator-backed startup in the live music & events space which is giving me the opportunity to flex a lot of muscles and execute a lot of ideas. My now boss was a previous contact from my time at Warner Music Group that I’m glad to have stayed in contact with.
Caveat About Mental Health, Privacy & Taking a Breather Before Taking Action:
I should add, many people needed time to unplug, reflect & take time away. It’s completely acceptable to not start your job search immediately.
I think this article, How to Navigate Being Laid off by David Fano is one of the best I’ve ever read that covers both the practical and emotional side of being laid off. It includes tips ranging from self-care to remembering to download your pay slips.
Some people also choose to remain private about their job search, which is also completely fine. Not everyone is comfortable telling the internet they lost their job and in some cases, there could be a competitive advantage with new potential employers not knowing you’ve already been laid off. Everyone’s job search is different, this is just how I approached mine.
Really my laid-off job search steps can be summarized as:
- Give help
- Ask for help
- Help yourself
This journey helped me identify the companies & people I wanted to potentially work with not just immediately but also in the future. It helped me identify potential partners & collaborators on projects for whatever role I did end up choosing. It helped me narrow down the companies to where people (especially ones that look like me) were happy, where people had good bosses, where people felt excited, and where people saw the value in my skillsets & expertise. I felt like I was evaluating the companies just as much as they were evaluating me and I used the opportunity to catch red flags (like multiple rounds of interviews/meetings and never speaking to a person of color…) and also managed to make some new friends along the way.
Overall, I want to give an enormous thank you to all of the people that reached out to offer help, support, and straight-up jobs! I told a friend I was literally flabbergasted by the outpouring of love.
It’s turbulent times out there right now, so even if you feel secure now, that’s not always guaranteed. You have to set yourself up to be able to help yourself (and ideally others!). It’s incredibly important to build genuine relationships and keep your support systems strong because you never know where your next opportunity will come from, who will help you and who you can help along the way.
So if you’ve heard me speak, you’ll know something I often say is, “the best and worst thing about the music industry is that anyone can be in the music industry.”
What I mean by that is, being in music is not like being a doctor or lawyer. There’s no test, there’s no degree, there is no governing body that gets to tell you you’re officially in the music industry so if you want to be in, you have to just do it. If you wait until you have whatever you think you need like a degree, someone’s co-sign or the right job, you’ll be competing against people that have 5+ years of experience for entry-level roles.
I’m saying all of this because last week I went to When We Were Young Festival and it felt so surreal because this was my entire world growing up. I grew up going to pop punk shows, going to at least a week of Warped Tour, and running a magazine about this world. I never outgrew it, my world, and subsequently my career, just… grew bigger around it.
Whenever I do interviews or talk about my career, I usually say something like… I got my start booking shows at 15, ran a magazine & filmed a documentary about pop punk, did my undergrad in Music Business & Journalism, and got my first full-time job in music tech at a ticketing company. I kind of gloss over it because everyone usually just wants to hear about my time at the major label or my time in tech.
But age 15 to 21 is why I do what I do now, so I wanted to actually take some time to talk about it. I want to call out some of the people who took a chance on me, all the opportunities people gave me (probably against their better judgment!) and why just saying yes and going for it made all the difference.
How It Started…
I knew I wanted to work in music since I was a kid. I remember watching the MTV Music Awards and seeing the artists get on stage to thank their mom, God, and then a list of other people. I remember even very young thinking, “how do I become one of those people thanked?”
So when I went to my first concert at 14, I slowly started to see this was possible. In the course of a few months, I saw Good Charlotte, Simple Plan, and New Found Glory in progressively smaller and smaller venues and it changed my life. The bands hung out after the shows, the local band that opened up shows or just came to watch were always keen to chat.
As that world opened up more, I went to smaller shows where in addition to national touring bands, I was seeing the bands from Baltimore, where I was from. So grateful to my parents who would drop off their 15-year-old daughter all over the city to see these bands. I started running the street team of a local band at around 14 or 15 and got my start doing street marketing and then digital marketing primarily on MySpace. I started making friends with the bands, making flyers, selling concert tickets, and just volunteering to do whatever they needed.
Then I Turned 16…
So in 2005, all my friends were having their 16th birthday parties and I started planning mine too. I booked a show. My 16th birthday was headlined by All Time Low. Whenever I say this, I caveat it by saying it sounds much more impressive now than it did then. Back then, they were just the kids from the same town as me that I saw most weekends on stage or just in the crowd at a shows. I booked a set of 6 bands and literally sent each one of them AOL Instant Messages (AIM) to ask if they would play. It was in the basement of a local church known for shows on the weekend and Will McCrory took a big chance to let me book this and a few more shows after it as well. I know I was an incredibly obnoxious 15/16 year old but he still said yes. It wasn’t a huge venue but I did a whole lot of marketing for it and it was a sold out show!
So that show kind of changed everything. I started my magazine right after that called Scene Trash Magazine and continued to book shows. It was the heyday of pop punk in a lot of ways with bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance on the radio but for every Fall Out Boy there were hundreds of other bands trying to get their break. Those were all the bands I loved.
Back then, we were all so young and everything felt enormous. The thing was, pure pop and hip-hop still ruled the world. The bands considered scene royalty were barely a blip on in the mainstream music industry. For context, Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Going Down” came out April 2005 and My Chemical Romance’s “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” was out September 2005. “Sugar…” placed # 40 on the 2005 Year End Billboard singles chart and “I’m Not Okay…” didn’t appear on 2005 or 2006. I would say the cultural impact of these bands goes beyond the charts but that’s a different article.
But what this meant in practice is, it was the wild wild west in a lot of ways. The people A&Ring these bands, the people booking the shows, the people writing the articles, the people making the marketing plans, the tour managers, the execs attached to the projects, the boots on the ground doing street marketing, and of course most people on the stages were all basically… kids.
When “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” came out in 2006, Panic! At The Disco’s lead singer, Brendon Urie was just 18 years old. It was an incredible time. Until a band was huge, the big label execs were much more concerned with Justin Timberlake than anything we kids were doing so we basically got to do whatever we wanted…
Working in the “Industry”
So, I found myself at 16 years old running a magazine about these bands. By the time it ended, I had a staff of 12 girls that spanned the US East Coast from New York to Florida. I was regularly interviewing bands like We The Kings, The Starting Line, Hellogoodbye, Metro Station, Cobra Starship, and of course, our hometown heroes, All Time Low (I believe we had them on 2 covers over the 40 issues released). I made amazing friends, made an incredible professional network, and got to “play my little part in something big”. I would email a label exec or a publicist who, looking back was probably only about 5 minutes older than me, ask for a press pass and an interview and it was shocking how often they said yes. Big shout out to Joyce Mealey for always answering my email.
Speaking of which, labels like Fearless, Hopeless, Victory and the infamous Fueled By Ramen were where everyone wanted to work. Without knowing him personally, I remember thinking Johnny Minardi (A&R at Fueled By Ramen) had the coolest job in the world when I was 17 (he still does). This is also how I discovered all of those jobs that existed outside of marketing and A&R. I watched Nano Tissera absolutely crush it as a manager during this time (he’s also still crushing it).
The possibilities felt infinite during these years and going to my first Warped Tour felt like being welcomed home. Over the years, I did interviews with bands during the tour, sold my magazine at merch tables, and met another person that was pivotal to my career. Bethany Lynne Watson, who was the press coordinator on the tour for many years took me under her wing and let me soak up all of her knowledge (and made sure I didn’t starve each day on tour). I got the opportunity to talk with the founder Kevin Lyman a few times each year and was all the wiser for it. It was like the final exam of each year to see who I knew, what I could do, who I could ask for help, who I could help, how far I could go and how much bigger this whole world could become.
The Right Place & Time
From 2005-2011, I was just in the right place and at the right time.
It was always a possibility that it would all end one day and I’d have to get a “real” job but at the time it just felt infinite and we all felt at the top of the world. Once in a while, one of our little scene bands would open up for the big dogs and I got to meet those bands I watched on MTV as a kid like Third Eye Blind, Fall Out Boy, Good Charlotte, etc. Little 19-year-old me trying to keep it cool talking to Joel Madden about The Orioles backstage at a gig that I was actually working at when 6 years earlier I had his poster on my wall. What a time to be alive.
I was in undergrad through almost all of this and towards the end of university, I ended up working part-time for Atlantic Records as a contractor running their street team for a brief period. I also got a grant from my university to film a documentary about how social media changed the way people interact with musicians, focused on pop punk bands. It was called Always Wanting More. It is a very terrible quality 90 min film but was filmed partially on Warped Tour and felt like a culmination of everything that happened to me over the previous 6 years.
I’ve talked a lot about right time, but the right place was also a big part of it. People tend to think they’re at a disadvantage by being outside of a major music city but being in Baltimore had so many upsides. One, I could easily go to a show in Philly, NYC or DC and still make it back home at a reasonable time to be up for my 10am class. It meant I could have meetings in NYC (which I did often while working with Atlantic). It also meant there was always a guest list spot or a press pass for me. I wasn’t competing with Rolling Stone when I was in Baltimore. I made some lifelong friends because me and my friends were the ones that knew the only diner still open after the show ended and the band knew no one else in town.
I don’t think anyone’s thanked me on a stage at an award show yet but if you come across a CD from a pop punk band in the Baltimore area from 2005-2010, there’s a chance that myself or Scene Trash Magazine has a shout out. Those were the years that made me who I am in so many ways.
So What’s the Point?
I was at a big music conference recently and mentioned I was going to When We Were Young Festival. The person scoffed, disguised by humor, and took this holier-than-thou attitude about it. To this day, this music is ridiculed but created some absolutely amazing music execs and artists who cut their teeth under the hot summer sun at Warped Tour, it made an amazing community of people, a shared experience that you really had to be there for. If you know you, you know. If you don’t… well, you don’t.
I’m writing all of this to say it’s possible. If you want to do something, do it. Yes, it takes a lot of luck, it takes a lot of grit, it takes a car breakdown on the side of I-95 on the way to Bamboozle Festival, it takes a lot of sleepless nights, it takes writing papers on your phone between sets at a gig, and it takes a lot of people taking a chance on a literal teenager but do what you’ve gotta to do for what you love and I continue to do so. Obviously, I went on to work for major labels, sitting in meetings with literally global pop stars, but at heart, I’m always that little pop-punk kid screaming along to Paramore.
“The best and worst thing about the music industry is that anyone can be in the music industry.”
I’ve done a presentation a few times now on helping artists leverage data for marketing & audience development.
I think people come to the discussion thinking one of these three things:
- It’s going to be a dry, boring conversation about streaming numbers
- They don’t have enough data because they’re just starting out
- Only artists signed to major labels can benefit from using data.
I’m happy to say after I do this talk, every time, artists & their team members are in awe of how much is available to them to actually leverage for decision-making, regardless of the size of the artist.
When it comes down to it, data isn’t just numbers. Data is information. Yes, it can be quantitative such as streaming & charts but it can often be qualitative such as focus groups or even just standing in the back of a music venue and seeing how hyped a crowd is.
So, I wanted to compile a list of my key tips for indie artists to use information to enhance their marketing & audience strategy.
1. Own As Much Audience Data As You Can
- Maintain an email & phone number list: In order to remain platform agnostic at all times, you should maintain a list of your fans. This helps you worry less about algorithms and what social platform is hot right now.
- Send out a newsletter & SMS messages: Use a freemium platform like Mailchimp and products like Community.com to send regular emails to your fans to let them know about new music & events.
- Have a website and web store: Have a website where people can buy your music, merch, tickets, etc. You can get fancy and set up Google Analytics on your website for even more stats about your audience.
- Sell your own tickets & host your own events: If you work with venues that allow artists to have their own allotment of tickets, then sell your own tickets with platforms that provide you with your sales data (have to plug my company Shoobs here!). You can also host events like album release parties, listening parties, etc. where you may be able to sell tickets & collect data directly.
- Create social media lists: Keep a list of fans that engage most with you on various social media sites.
2. Find (and Reward) Your Biggest Fans
Once you’ve started collecting this audience data, you can start taking action based on this.
- With the newsletter & web store, you’ll get back metrics (data) like open rates & engagement rates that will help you pinpoint what your fans are interested in by what they click on & open.
- Combine your email list with your other information & you can figure out who’s engaging with you the most either with time, money or both. These people should be your top priority. Let them hear music first, give them free tickets, give them meet & greets, follow them on socials, and just overall, make them feel special.
- As you grow your audience, you won’t be able to provide as many personalized interactions but these are also the people that you can have lead your fan clubs, manage your social accounts, join your marketing team, etc.
You should always have fans on your team.
3. Do Your Own Research
While you’re compiling this list, this is also the opportunity to leverage your fans for research. You can ask them who you should collab with, what singles they like the most, what they’re watching to help with sync pitches, what social media sites they like, or anything else you want to know. This can be informal (such as setting up a WhatsApp group) or more formal like actually creating a Google Form and surveying them. I’d recommend you incentive them in some way for providing their feedback (discount codes, raffles, etc.). If you don’t want to directly ask them, refer to the list of fans you found on social media and see what they’re talking about. This helps you make decisions about strategic partners, marketing initiatives, and more.
You should always have an idea of what your fans are doing when they’re not interacting with you.
4. Find Your Supporters
In addition to your fans, there are plenty of ways to find other people supporting you using data. Log into your DSP portals such as Spotify For Artists and YouTube Analytics. I have plenty more I can discuss around those platforms but one of my favorite features is the ability to know who’s added your tracks to their playlists.
Many professional & hobbyist playlist creators include their contact information in their playlist descriptions. Keep a list of the people that add you to their playlists. Say thank you to them for the playlist adds and send them a note when you release something new.
YouTube Analytics holds a special place in my heart because they provide info on who has linked to your YouTube channel/videos. This is an easy way to find out press coverage big & small. Just like with the playlist curators, say thank you and inform them of the next releases. If they’re a publication, also pitch for additional coverage, offer them press tickets, send album screeners, etc. Always try to support people that support you.
(YouTube Analytics External Sources)
5. Verify Your Information & Understand Context to Answer Questions
In addition to all of the above, I’d recommend getting access to Chartmetric to see additional audience, social media, streaming, and playlisting information. There’s a new artist tier that is only $10 a month (and allows you to track a few additional artists for a bit extra).
(Chartmetric Instagram Audience Insights)
With all of this combined, the best part of all this information is that when you have a question, you have multiple sources for answers. You can use this information for things like seeking sponsors. They may ask for stats about your audience which you can provide from your website insights, social insights, or your audience surveying. Or if you’re looking to tour, you can check out your DSP analytics to see what your most popular streaming regions are, you can ask your top fans where they are, and on top of that, I recommend doing a bit of additional research, for example, compare your listening audience with the overall country population to understand what percentage of your audience is represented.
The more data points you have that complement, correlate or confirm information, the better you can sell yourself.
I’ll caveat all of this by saying, make sure you follow local legislation laws (GDPR, CCPA, etc.) and do not add anyone to any email list that they didn’t explicitly sign up for.
I go into a lot more detail on these things and many more of my favorite data points when I’m working with artists or presenting but I hope this is a good starting point to make data feel manageable, actionable, and less scary. Most importantly, I hope, above all else, it actually helps you build your audience and feel closer to your fans. 💕
Over the past 6 months, almost everyone I speak to within the industry asks me some variation of… “why did you leave major labels?”
At first, when I left I was actually a bit taken aback by this.
Two things, I realized were:
- Many people (especially, outside of the industry) consider major labels to be the absolute dream job in music.
- It turned out, that far more people associated me with major labels than I presumed.
I actually didn’t perceive it as any sort of radical change. Really, I just happened to work at two major labels back to back. Ironically, whenever people brought up my working at a major label in any way my default response was often, “I never actually sought out to work at major labels…”
I’d always wanted to work in music tech (basically, DSPs & social networks rather than labels). Having grown up in the era of Napster & MySpace, I always believed that the music industry always listened to, hired, and/or acquired the tech companies. They always seemed like they were on the cutting edge while the more traditional companies were continuously playing catch up. As I completed my bachelor’s in music business, my MBA in marketing and my master’s in Data Science, I always thought I was setting myself up to work in music tech. While my first industry full-time job was in music tech when I left for Europe, the industry has other plans for me (TL;DR: the DSPs & social media companies rejected me a lot).
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely valued my time at Universal and at Warner. I learned so much. I made some amazing friends & mentors, got to see the world and I got to work with some of the biggest artists in the world and some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I also grew appreciative of situations where the companies knew what they didn’t know and sought the advice of those music tech companies I admired.
All that being said, I’m sure some of you are reading this expecting a scathing expose of the music industry & major labels. It’s not going to be that. Instead, it’s going to be about how I make decisions when it comes to finding a job (or really most decisions in life).
This is a post about priorities.
Every time I’m making a major life decision, I think about what my priorities are.
As a reminder: Priorities are personal and can change. You have no responsibility to anyone to maintain the same priorities in perpetuity. It is completely acceptable for your priorities to be monetary. It is completely acceptable for your priorities to include title. You are allowed to be ambitious. No one needs to give you permission. You owe no one anything including your loyalty. You are not irreplaceable. If you got hit by a bus today, your job would replace you tomorrow.
Keeping that in mind at all times, often people will ask me, “Christine, what’s your dream job?” To which I reply, “I don’t dream of labor, but if there was a better job for me than the job I have now, I’d be doing that.”
There’s no perfect job. There are some really cool jobs, really interesting jobs, challenging jobs, high-paying jobs, prestigious jobs, but no perfect job.
So, that means, for the most part, every time you make a professional decision, you are sacrificing something.
I’ve written about taking pay cuts, changing countries, and all kinds of things that were dictated by my priorities at the time, but below is my breakdown of the priorities I weighed when making my latest career decision.
If you’d like to TL;DR it, it came down to:
- feeling valued
- providing value
Unbeknownst to me at the start, nothing ended up being more important than those three things, though it manifested itself in numerous areas throughout the job search, they ended up being my north star.
Some of the things I walk through here are specific to a company, specific to major labels, specific to the music industry as a whole, and most often just specific to my experience. It is not meant to point fingers, or lay blame, but rather, to be transparent about my own experiences, and my own decision-making process (and to stop people from asking me this question over & over 😉).
I also recognize the immense privilege I have to be able to make these decisions–I have a supportive partner, I have a good education, a great network and a solid savings account. Optimizing your life to have options is the ultimate privilege and freedom.
Company Prestige/Name Recognition vs. Feeling Valued/Providing Value:
I found myself considering two external offers while still working my role at WMG.
Initially, the prestige of the company was a large consideration. Having an easily recognizable name on your resume opens doors much quicker.
But, on the flip side, the lower you are in the larger companies, the more you are just a cog in the large machine. I ended up choosing a lesser-known company that I felt I could add more value to and who I felt saw my value. It felt like Pollen really wanted me there. Everyone I spoke with was excited to speak with me. Every idea I had was met with interest & optimism. When I was on the fence about my decision, I talked with a now co-worker who gave me open & honest advice & support.
Company Prestige/Name Recognition vs. Flexibility:
After working remotely (and missing out on a lot of life) for 18 months, the literal flexibility of the workplace also grew more important. With Pollen, I had the option to be fully remote & work from anywhere, have unlimited paid time off, plus I could see the writing on the wall of travel & entertainment (T&E) budgets being slashed within most of music so I wanted to make sure I ended up somewhere where T&E was still an option for those not at the most senior positions.
Of course, the trade-off I was making was that I can’t rest on the Pollen name the same way I could rest on UMG, WMG or the other offer I had. (Though, this does give me, and everyone else at Pollen, much more of an opportunity to help shape what the Pollen brand can be, especially given that we all have equity.)
In larger companies, the rules and regulations needed to govern (tens of) thousands of employees often precluded flexibility & agility. In an industry that often feels quite arbitrary, I knew that I didn’t want my next move to be one bogged down with red tape & politics, which larger companies with more name recognition often brought with it.
The red tape & rules came into my job search quite heavy-handedly when it came to pay.
Pay, Flexibility & Feeling Valued vs. Title:
I found myself with a job offer from Pollen that was over 40K GBP more than my role at the time at WMG. I was actually relatively comfortable with my pay at WMG, so pay wasn’t actually a top priority for me. Knowing I could get a job paying that much was more important than actually making that much right now, basically earning potential was more important than the salary with my priorities during this job search.
But, also, obviously, I’m not an idiot.
So, with two offers on the table, I went back to the other company and said their offer was over 30K less than my other offer and given that salary wasn’t a top priority, if they were able to provide a signing bonus to make walking away from that much higher annual salary & equity worth it (since I’d also be losing my bonus at WMG) then I’d join them.
They wouldn’t. They said, they didn’t do signing bonuses and offered no other solution.
As I mentioned earlier I have an MBA and a data science degree and decided to work in music. Both of those degrees yield much higher salaries outside of music than within it. I’m giving up Goldman Sachs and McKinsey money to work in music. I’m continuously aware of this, therefore; as long as I want to work in music, I know I’m never choosing a role based solely on money.
So while on paper it looks like it was the money, it wasn’t. It was the flexibility. I thought… “If it was like this before I started, what would it be like once I was there?” I also realized that I’d find it challenging to hire top talent for my team in the future without this level of flexibility. When I turned down the offer, I actually never heard from the HR person again, not even to acknowledge my decline (though I’m still in touch with the hiring manager & actually admire her quite a lot).
So the reason I was willing to entertain the lower offer was because, at the start of my search, my title was quite important. I was an assistant director in 2017 and worked my way up to head of/director titles twice with pay cuts, job switches, and country & company switches along the way. I didn’t want to do that again. The other offer would have elevated my title to the place that I felt was more appropriate. The irony of it was that the higher title actually sacrificed the higher pay (which people rarely talk about).
So, when I was looking at yet another Director title, I felt frustration in yet again being denied that title I felt I deserved and again having to work for a promotion to be on track with the career trajectory I sought after.
I explained this to my hiring manager at Pollen, and while she couldn’t do anything about the title, she explained to me why, she was able to provide reassurances and sweetened my offer in other ways that again validated that they really wanted me at the company.
So with that, title became less of a priority while feeling valued grew in importance.
Feeling Valued/Providing Value, Day to Day Work & Career Trajectory vs. Company Prestige/Name Recognition & Title:
Speaking of value, that’s probably the space that actually speaks most to the title of this piece.
The thing I’ve found about major labels is that, in general, they need people to do very specific things very well. There are departments and siloes, levels & structures to allow people to do the thing they do very well. That thing may be rock + alternative A&R, influencer marketer, UK tax manager, data scientist, DSP account manager, etc. Most people are meant to be specialists and are very good at that.
In comparison, at smaller companies (such as startups) or sometimes within smaller label territories, the expectation is often that you need to be able to do a lot of interrelated things well. Most people are meant to be generalists. Meaning if you do marketing, you can do paid, social, CRM, influencers, audience development, etc. If you do commercial, you handle accounts, playlists, partnerships, radio, sync, etc. You get the point…
So being at a large company with experience in marketing, data science, live music, commercial & streaming, artist development, event management, public speaking, plus three degrees (especially the Data Science degree) actually did me no favors.
I never found myself in a situation where I could harmoniously use all of my degrees, skillsets & experiences. In fact, when I updated my resume for my job search I moved all of my tech skills and degrees to the second page of my resume (something I’d seen others with tech skills do to advance their music career).
Over the 4 years at major labels, with some exceptions, I often felt that I was valued only for my ability to churn out reports & models rather than my ability to be a strong leader, make strategic business decisions or execute on the research & models I’d built. Moving from a smaller territory to a larger one, I also found that I no longer had face time with artists or had the ability to influence artist development in meaningful ways as I had in the past. Of course, I acknowledge, some of this was due to the pandemic.
Still, I was told by the people meant to open doors for me that it would be difficult to progress in my role. Though, it was quite obvious that would be the case. As only a director, I was amongst the highest-ranked Black people within WMG UK. There were few women of color in leadership roles. Those with technical skills were not often elevated to senior positions. There was no clear path or place for me, there were very few people that looked like me to look up to and there was always a looming ceiling.
Another common question I got when I left both labels was, “they didn’t try to keep you?” To which I essentially say, “there was nowhere for me to go so there was nothing to offer.”
Because of this, I would be open to going back to a major label in the future but I’d be unlikely to entertain something that didn’t feel like I had broken that glass ceiling for myself, so I can reach down and bring up others.
So, that’s a long way of saying, I took the title of Strategy Director because I knew for the first time in quite some time, I’d get to use all of my skillsets to execute on decisions that meaningfully impacted the company. I’m 6 months in now and can say in addition to building decks & models, I present to the C-suite and make meaningful decisions on the path forward for the company in areas ranging from brand partnerships and audience insights to risk mitigation and organizational structure. I joke that after 8 years, I’m finally putting my MBA to good use (I still owe the US government 55K USD, so it’s about time…). All jokes aside, I’m using my experience in marketing, data science, audience development, international markets, and my network in new and interesting ways every day.
While the title staying stagnant at Director still frustrates me, I know that the work I’m doing will absolutely be beneficial for my career trajectory in the long run (plus I have equity, so if things work out the way I’d like, perhaps career trajectory is something I never have to think about again 😉).
Diversity & Inclusion, Org Structure, Manager vs. Company Prestige/Name Recognition:
As an immigrant Black woman, who ran an ERG for people of color. DE&I is something I think about constantly. There is value in feeling like you can bring your whole self to work and that you are represented.
For the two offers I had on the table, I would have a woman of color as my boss for the first time. It took 10 years of my professional working life for this to happen. Pollen gave me the opportunity to have a Black woman boss, specifically, for the first time. (In 7.5 years of higher education, I also had just one Black woman professor whom I still talk to, to this day.) Given the industry, I knew there would be very few times in my life where this would be a possibility, so I was excited about the option.
While the C suite is still very white and very male, Pollen has initiatives that I didn’t imagine would be possible in music. They aren’t DE&I initiatives. They’re just the company values.
- There is full pay transparency. Everyone knows how much everyone makes & how much equity everyone has.
- Global employee survey results & diversity stats are aggregated & displayed.
- All promotions, joiners & leavers are announced weekly.
- There is a referrals program that monetarily incentivizes referring.
- Rate of promotion cut by gender and ethnicity is disclosed.
- Professional development budgets are provided for all employees.
- Plus, so much more.
Again, I acknowledge that part of this is because smaller companies are just able to move quickly, and cut through red tape, but as Pollen surpasses 700 employees, it’s not that small anymore, yet continues to work towards transparency within the workplace which leads to removing biases and reduces arbitrary & unevenly applied rules. These initiatives make it feel like everyone is valued & every voice is important.
And something else…
While every other decision was a sacrifice and a balancing act, the last area is that intangible, undefinable thing.
After working at 2 major labels, I wasn’t sure that the third one was where I wanted to go next. (Don’t get me wrong, have some great friends at Sony!). I knew for my next role, I wanted to do something that I felt was unique, that was category-defining, that was of the moment, that felt exciting & new. When considering the move to Pollen, I had worked in live music before (I even got my start in music booking shows) so that specific vertical of the industry wasn’t new to me and after (kinda during) a global pandemic, I was eager to get back to that space but not to just book shows (not that there’s anything wrong with booking shows!).
What Pollen was doing–live music travel experiences centered around artists & fans for less than 5000 people, was exciting and felt like exactly the level of intimacy, experimentation & upside for an industry that had been decimated over the past 2 years. I knew I wanted to be a part of that.
So really to sum it up with a quote from my favorite movie:
“Rock ‘n’ roll is a lifestyle and a way of thinking… and it’s not about money and popularity. Although, some money would be nice. But it’s a voice that says, “Here I am… and f**k you if you can’t understand me.” And one of these people is gonna save the world. And that means that rock ‘n’ roll can save the world… all of us together.”
We 100% are not saving the world, but right now, being in this type of live space… feels magical and I’m happy & valued (plus, some money is nice).
I have a confession to make but it’s controversial.
So controversial that I always feel a little bad when someone asks me about it because it goes against all of the conventional wisdom that you hear when job searching.
You ready? Here goes…
Except one role, every job & internship I’ve ever gotten, I simply applied online or emailed a generic jobs email address.
Yeah, I know you’re thinking, “What? That can’t possibly be true.” Literally, roles in different countries, roles at major labels, internship at a music venue, 14 years of part time & full time experience, almost all in music, and all but once, I literally just applied online. No head hunters. No poaching. No super secret job boards. Not even a referral. Just applied online.
So, with that, you might thinking two things:
1. “How is that possible?”
2. “What’s the point of networking if it doesn’t get you a job?”
Let’s start with #1 because I know my experience is incredibly unique, especially in music…
How is that Possible?
1. Privilege & Unrelenting Determination
Besides being incredibly lucky to be raise in a middle-class family in the US and all that entails, I also had another incredible advantage:
I’ve always wanted to work in music. I’ve known this since I had a concept that the music industry existed and though often my parent’s didn’t really “get it”, they allowed me to pursue it.
Because of this, almost every major decision I’ve made in my life both professionally & personally has been in pursuit of that goal.
What that means is when someone looks at my resume, there is very little ambiguity. My undergrad degree is in music, I had a music internship, I ran a music magazine at age 16, I booked shows at age 15, all of my school projects were about music, my first full time job was at a music startup, etc.
Since I only want to work within music, and within a limited area of focus even within that industry, there’s really no need for a cover letter or much explanation. Given my experience and my education, I kinda just, as the Brits say, “Do what it says on the tin.”
2. I Can Code
I’ve only had one job in my life that wasn’t music related. A few years after I left university, I went back to work at the university I graduated from. It was a wonderful time in my life because it allowed for real, healthy, work/life balance. Within the role, I improved on my digital marketing and technical skills but outside of the role I also improved on public speaking as I started teaching workshops in tech & marketing, I got more experience as a supervisor, I started building my network as I met and consulted with startups, I also grew my passion for data as I completed my Masters in Data Science and completed courses and bootcamps in the space as well. Not only was I given the time to pursue, it was also paid for by my job. I even started dating my now husband during this time.
Those 3 years set me up perfectly to move abroad. While in the states I held product, marketing & strategy roles, when I moved abroad I knew pursuing those roles would be much too competitive but thankfully, I knew both how to make websites and how to write algorithms. It’s amazing how much more opportunity was available to me by adding Python and SQL to my resume. Even though it took me 6 months to find a role in Stockholm, I know many that took much, much longer and finding work in London has been incredibly easy for me. Having hired a few times now in Europe, the difference between music roles that require a coding language and ones that do not is literally a difference in applicants of often 10X.
I addition to roles I’ve had, though unsuccessful, I’ve also interviewed at Spotify, Amazon, TikTok, Google, all by applying online, all because I can code and know a bit of math.
To be honest, coding isn’t my passion and there are many people much stronger at it than myself but the amount of people that are willing to work music industry hours, make music industry pay AND can write a natural language processing Python script, is fairly small, and I’ve used that to my advantage.
So between those two things, I do what I always tell people, I find roles that I’m uniquely qualified to have. I learned to make websites as a kid, I have an undergrad degree in music business, an MBA in Marketing, a master’s degree in Data Science and every job I’ve ever had or even apply to has been in one of those areas.
While it might seem impressive, I have basically no other skillsets. I am woefully unqualified to do almost anything else. I can’t produce music, my grasp on global music rights is sometimes a bit shaky, and don’t get me started on jobs outside of music. I really struggled in natural sciences in school. When it comes down to it, I just play to my strengths well.
So that out of the way, the next big question is…
What’s the point of networking then?
Well, first of all… If you think the only point of networking is to get a job, you’re doing it wrong.
1. Like I mentioned above, almost every major decision I’ve made in my life both professionally & personally has been in pursuit of the goal of working in music. (Unfortunately) Work is very important to me, but the music industry is often not the kindest industry so having people around you trust to confide in, to seek advice from and to cry on the shoulder of, who just get it is incredibly important.
2. You should be building your network at all times (especially when you already have a job). Just because someone can’t offer you a job right away doesn’t mean they can’t eventually offer you an opportunity. I’ve hired people or been references for people months, and even years after we initially met. It’s not a sales transaction, it’s a relationship and many people will be in your orbit for possibly decades.
3. There’s more to a career than just literally getting a job. My network has afforded me some really great opportunities for freelance work, to speak at conferences, to meet amazing people, and this year, literally dozens of people helped out by speaking, judging, mentoring & more at my conference basically out of the kindness of their hearts.
4. All that being said, I do use my network for job searches but not just to “get a job” rather to understand the company, the work and the culture.
Here’s how I approach networking for a job:
- Tell people you trust you’re looking for a job.
- The further into the hiring process the more likely people will respond.
- Start with people most likely to respond to you (People that ask to be reached out to, people you already know well and people you have worked with in the past are more likely to respond to you.)
- Focus on building relationships with people in your hiring process. Even if it doesn’t work out, building that relationship helps open the doors for next time.
Often, people don’t know you’re looking for a job unless you tell them. Of course, you should be selective about who you tell that to (hence actually building relationships), but this opens the doors to opportunities you didn’t know existed. I usually start there in my job search.
Simultaneously, if there’s a company I’m interested in, I talk with close friends & colleagues to gauge their opinion on the company and possibly get a referral. I generally wouldn’t ask someone I’m not close with for a referral.
Once I’ve applied for a role, if a hiring manager or HR person has posted about the role, if I don’t hear back for an interview in about 3 days, I may send a follow up message to highlight my interest.
If its a very small company, I have someone in my network in the exact department I’m applying to, or I know the person formally in that role, I may also reach out to them prior to interviewing. Otherwise, I’ll wait until I have an interview to reach out to these people that I’m less familiar with.
Throughout the process, I’ll ask my HR partner what I should expect for each round of interviews so I can properly prepare. Your HR partner should want you to succeed and as you move further in the process it’s completely appropriate to ask for their help to prep for each part. Once you’ve 2-3 interviews in, a good HR partner will be willing to have an addition 1 or 2 chats with you just to help you prepare.
Finally, in later stages, I may reach out to people I don’t know/not connected with but formally in the role or with a similar background to myself prior to joining the team/company.
For each of these conversations, it involves a certain level of trust & vulnerability but you should be clear about your intentions and your ask up front. Besides reducing the risk of rejection/non-response, going in this order means you start with the people most likely to keep your secret that you’re job hunting at a time where it’s least likely that you’ll get the role.
You wouldn’t believe how many people I don’t know that send me messages that they’re job hunting and ask for my help. While I appreciate how much trust people seem to have in me, to be frank, you should be careful & thoughtful about your career, especially in an industry as small as music.
At this point, my network provides social proof—when I apply to music roles someone in that process inevitably knows someone I know which naturally builds trust.
It also helps with my overall brand & story. Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room and I know there’s a lot of people speaking my name in rooms I have yet to walk into and that’s not because I asked them for a job, but because I was good at a job I had or because I helped them (or someone they care about).
True networking is building relationships, being vulnerable, being curious, and showing genuine interest in people. I’ve grown my network most, not by asking for things, but helping people. With that track record, when I do get around to actually asking for something (which usually isn’t a job), it almost always yields positive results.
I get a lot of messages asking pretty similar things and I always feel quite bad that I can sometimes take quite some time to get back to people so thought this might be a good idea. Obviously, I don’t work in HR, I’m not a career expert (I also am not in A&R, so please stop trying to pitch me your artists/music 😉.), but I talk with a lot of people about music & entertainment and this is often my advice.
1. How do I get a job abroad?
I grew up in the US and have lived in Stockholm and now London, so this one is pretty common. Short answer for me is work in tech (or have a partner that works in tech), but generally…
The three easiest ways I know to get a job abroad is to:
- Work for a company that has multiple offices and then ask to be transferred
- Go to school in a new country–find countries that have flexible laws for staying to find a job
- Look into your ancestry or citizenship privileges, for example, youth mobility visa in the UK is reciprocal for places like CA, AU & HK
The most difficult is often finding a company to sponsor your visa. In many countries, you have to legally prove that someone already located in the country couldn’t do the job. Because of this, tech roles are often much easier to get jobs abroad.
2. How do I get a job at a major label/in music?
Even if it’s the case, no employer likes hearing you just want a job anywhere in music, so having a spray and pray approach likely won’t help you much. Building up your network thoughtfully and staying informed is the best way:
- Make a list of 5-10 companies you actually want to work for and check their websites, socials & job postings regularly.
- Following key people on LinkedIn (you don’t have to connect, you can just follow)
- Reach out to people at the same or just slightly higher seniority as you to connect (they often have a much clearer idea of what roles entail and get far fewer messages, so more likely to respond and have time to talk).
- Unless you already know someone well, or they’ve posted about a job, don’t just blindly ask people at companies about roles or recommendations. Most companies don’t work in a way where everyone knows every job or every team.
- Attend events relevant to the industry and meet people, make sure you have an elevator pitch of yourself for when you’re networking or if you send a follow-up message to someone that spoke. I run a free conference/hackathon called Measure of Music and many amazing conferences exist in music that are free or discounted for students.
- Build up your experience any way you can. Part of the reason the music industry is so hard to get into is that anyone can work in the music industry! Start a blog, a podcast, create a data visualization project, manage your friend’s band, do anything.
Most importantly, I always tell people to apply for roles that they are uniquely qualified for and consider your transferrable skills, so instead of competing against thousands of people, you’re only competing against a few. For example, if you’re fluent in Spanish and English, applying for roles on Latin music focused teams will likely give you an advantage. If you have experience in TV or film, sync teams might really find your profile interesting. You have to always think about what makes you the obvious best choice for a role and place your effort there rather than just applying to any role.
3. Should I Do Work for Free/How Do I Get Experience?
I don’t believe in working for free but I’m not saying that that should be everyone’s ethos or stance. I will say if you are going to work for free, make sure you get something out of it. (The only unpaid internship I ever had got me unlimited free concert tickets 😉). That thing should be tangible not just exposure or experience. For example, if you work on a project for free, you should ask to be able to put it on your website or share in your portfolio to show to future paying employers.
People often ask me if they can work on any projects for me, but unfortunately, there’s quite a lot of approval & procedures needed for me to just casually bring someone on to work on a project. Places like small start-ups and indie labels are far more equipped to do such a thing. And also, as I noted above, you can make your own experience or look at some amazing companies that are really focused on getting people experience like Fan to Band & Jonas Group Entertainment.
4. What roles should I apply for?
Stop wasting your time applying for every single role you see. Not only is it incredibly discouraging to receive so many rejections (or worse, silence), it’s also not allowing you the space to really focus on roles that are actually a good fit and tailor your resume to those roles.
Things to consider when choosing roles:
Are you likely to be more qualified for this role than the majority of people applying?
I’m not saying you need to check every single box (that’s a trap!) but if you’re applying for a marketing role and you didn’t study it, have no experience in it, and have not done any side projects on it, think realistically as an employer… why would they hire you over someone that handles social media for their own blog, someone who studied marketing in school or someone that has even a mock marketing plan on their portfolio? No matter how passionate you are, it literally doesn’t make sense from an employer perspective for them to do that.
Is it the role you actually want?
Sometimes job titles and teams can be confusing (which is why following people at the company on LinkedIn you can see the types of things they post about & projects they work on!) so getting an understanding of what a team actually does is important. For example, a role at a major label in the UK could easily be UK-focused, ex-UK focused, EMEA-focused, or globally focused. It could also be specific genre focused or departmentally focused, for example, an analyst role could be at a label, in the finance team, on the business development team, on a research team, etc. Make sure it’s something you actually want to do and make sure you go into interviews prepared to answer questions based on what the role is so you don’t have irrelevant examples!
What level is the role I’m applying for?
Each company is different so nothing I’m about to say next are the absolute rules but will help you set expectations. When I say experience I mean full-time relevant experience and generally if you do not have an undergrad degree, you may have to start off as a full time apprentice/intern. Usually, entry-level roles at companies are Assistant & Coordinator roles with 0-3 years of experience, after that you usually see titled roles like Analyst or roles like Specialist, Executive, Junior Manager, Associate, or Manager. Generally, these roles manage things (marketing, project, etc.) not people. These are usually 3-6 yrs experience. From there you will usually see Senior Manager or Associate/Assistant Director, this is generally the lowest title you see managing people but often these roles are still only managing things and are usually 6-8 yrs of experience. From there it gets much less standard. When you start seeing Director, Sr. Director, Lead & Head of roles, those roles often have small to large teams and can range from 8-15 years experience quite easily. After that it’s VP, SVP, EVP, President & C-level roles which is usually experience levels of 10+ years.
5. What skills/courses should I take to get a job?
If you’ve made that list of companies you’re interested in, this is a pretty easy one. Identify people that have jobs you want and find job descriptions that look interesting. Write down any skills, courses, degrees, experience, etc. that those roles ask for or those people have. Make note of ones that come up most frequently and prioritize those.
Part of the reason why it’s good to narrow down roles and companies is so you don’t go down the rabbit hole on a skill you don’t actually need. For example, if you’re interested in data and the companies you’re interested in all use PowerBI, it wouldn’t make sense for you to prioritize learning Tableau, even though generally it’s popular in the industry. While it’s good to know, in your case, obviously PowerBI would be better.
6. How do I transfer from whatever industry I’m in into music?
See above about what makes you unique & see how you prove you have transferrable skills. If you’re working in a hard science, you may have great data skills that could work in a music analyst role. If you’ve worked in eCommerce before, an artist services team that handle things like merch could be a good fit. If you were a student-athlete but love music, an agency that handles athletes and musicians would probably be a great fit. Be creative and connect the dots.
Again, not an expert, so take everything I say as a person just hoping to help you out and so whenever you have informational calls with me or anyone else you can skip the basics and get to the good stuff!
Recently I wrote an end of year recap on LinkedIn highlighting my habits & accomplishments professionally & personally for the year. This could not have been possible without the help of some truly amazing apps. So in honor of that post & those apps, I’ve decided to write an accompanying piece on how I track everything. Obviously, some people are not fans of being tracked, but I admit, I’m quite biased given I work in data, however; I think it’s a really good way to keep track of habits & re-prioritize your life, especially at the start of a new year! Note: Some links are referral links.
Last.fm: Track Music & Podcasts
I’ve been using Last.fm for over 15 years! It has the built in ability to track all your Spotify listening (I always joke that the Spotify Wrapped is never particularly surprising because I have last.fm). There are mobile apps that let you track podcast listening also. | View My Profile | Pricing: Freemium (0 – 30 GBP annually)
Trakt: Track TV & Movie Watching
Trakt is a site that allows you to keep track of all the movies & TV shows you watch and even let’s you know where to find the shows & when the newest episodes come out. I’ve yet to find and TV show or movie not in their database! | Price: Freemium (0 – 60 USD annually)
RescueTime: Track Your Screen Time
RescueTime is an absolute game-changer. I have it installed on my personal computer, work computer and phone. It tracks all of my screentime and categorizes it so I know how long I spend working, how much I spend mindlessly scrolling through social media and how long it takes to complete projects. I started using it years ago because I was working as a freelance consultant and wanted to make sure I was tracking my hours but I just love it so much even after I stopped, it was just so useful especially with setting productivity (and unproductivity!) goals. | Price: 72 USD annually
Google Location History: Track Your Location
If you don’t mind Google following you around, Google Location History is such an amazing tool to remember where you have been as long as you have your phone with you! If you’re in the Google ecosystem, I highly recommend Google Map’s saved list feature to keep track of recommendations, lists, and places you want to go! | Price: Free
Polarsteps: Track Your Vacations
If you prefer to track your location on when you’re on holiday, Polarsteps is a free app & site that will plot out your trips on a map and allow friends to follow along with your journey, upload photos, and write up blog content for your trip! | My Polarsteps | Price: Free
Toshl/Mint: Track Your Finances
Toshl & Mint (US only) are both amazing tools that allow you to track all your finances in one place (credit cards, pension accounts, loans, brockerage accounts & more). Toshl is especially amazing because it supports major banks all over the world (definite plus as an ex-pat!). You can see things like your net worth, create budgets, categorize spending, etc. | Toshl Price: 20 – 40 USD annually | Mint Price: Free
Fitbit & MyFitnessPal: Track Your Health & Food
First I must start off by saying, I do not recommend long term use of MyFitnessPal. I will use it for a few weeks maybe once or twice a year if I feel like my eating habits are getting out of control but I don’t think it’s healthy to police your eating long term. Fitbit, though, I love! I track my steps, calories burned, sleeping, heart rate, period, exercise, etc. with it. You can also track your water consumption, your wellness & more. I also have a non-Fitbit smart scale that logs my weight & body fat for a comprehensive look at my health. One big reason why I love Fitbit is because it helps me catch any irregularities or issues I should bring up with my doctor so that when they ask “how long have you had trouble sleeping?” I can answer… | Price: App is freemium but the devices vary in price starting at 100 USD
I’m a pencil & paper to-do list girl but I do use Google Keep often as my very simple digital to do list/post-it app, Amazon Wishlist for any items (even if not on Amazon thanks to their Amazon Assistant plugin) and Raindrop for bookmarking. Todoist is a more advanced list-making tool that I’ve tried off & on.
Exist: Bring it All Together
I’m obsessed with Exist. What is does is connects almost everything I listed above together, plus weather, social media, custom day tagging, and a daily mood rating into a single dashboard. Not only does it do that, it provides you with trends, shows you how things have changed over time, identifies correlations with different data points and tells you what things contribute to better or worse days. It’s also a perfect daily habit tracker! Honestly, it’s incredible and well worth the price. | Price: 57 USD annually
Other Useful Tools:
Not necessary tracking, but other productivity & automation tools I recommend to save you time & simplify your life:
- Revolut is an incredible product that allows you to have bank accounts in multiple countries/currencies, transfer money, invest in crypto, buy individual stocks, and more. It’s an absolute life saver.
- Monzo (UK), basically every ex-pat in the UK has it so it’s really easy to send money to people. Plus, the card is pink which I enjoy immensely.
- Curve is an ex-pat dream come true. You can add basically any Visa or Mastercard to the app and then switch between them. Similar to Apple or Google Pay but you have a physical card (not everywhere takes Apple/Google Pay!). In addition, you can switch the card you use up to 14 days after the purchase and depending on your subscription type, you get no foreign transaction fees. So, if, like me, you have credit & debit cards from multiple countries, it makes the buying experience much more seamless (and guarantees I get all my travel points!)
- Google Pay Loyalty Cards — one feature I’m not sure is well known within Google Pay is the ability to save your loyalty cards like for Walgreens or Boots so you don’t have to carry them around with you. It produces the barcode on your phone, so you just scan as you normally would when checking out.
Read more about my personal finance tools & tips here.
- TripIt is a fantastic itinerary creator. You can connect it to your email and it scans your emails for hotel, restaurant, entertainment and travel confirmations and combines them together for your trip. Really handy if you’re planning a multi-city trip especially!
- Opentable is the most comprehensive restaurant reservation site in the world. Easily find last minute reservations and it even has filters for outdoor dining to give you a bit more piece of mind.
- Culture Trip is a great site to help you find things to do in any city that go beyond what you’d normally see on sites like Tripadvisor.
- With Locals is affordable-ish private tours from locals in many cities around the world. You get an amazing guided experience without looking like a tourist. Also, recommend Airbnb Experiences for small group tours & authentic experiences.
- Award Wallet lets you track all of your loyalty & reward program points in a single place. It even keeps track of when your points will expire and how many points you need for higher tiers.
- Handy is a website that allows you to book services that range from recurring house cleaning to building Ikea furniture to electrical work. Available in US, CA & UK.
- Crashplan as a cheap full computer backup solution including getting old versions of files and Google Drive Backup & Sync as a selective backup solution (Yes, I run both! You can never be too careful!).
- Google Photos best feature is it’s search feature. It allows you to tag faces and then automatically tags any new photos of that person, plus if you turn on your location history so you can search by name & location in your photos.
- Clean Email is a tool that allows you to clean out unwanted old emails but more importantly for me, it can create a digest view of all your email subscriptions so you can pick & choose what you want to read without cluttering your inbox.
- Calendly syncs with your calendar so you can easily send people your availability rather than going back & forth with scheduling.
I get questions about working in data in the music industry a lot. I’m by no means an expert but this all comes from various jobs in the industry since I was 16 ranging from working with startups, radio stations, labels, live, etc. This doesn’t represent data at any one company or any one field, just a combination of working, hiring and being hired in this industry.
Before we dive into getting into it, let’s make sure you’re prepared.
The music industry is a tough one to get into.
It is highly sought after, so you’re competing with a lot of people for roles even with experience, a good network, education, etc., you are still one of the hundreds vying for a small number of roles in a very close-knit, well-connected industry. You’re competing with 25-year-olds with 8 years of experience because they started interning at labels at 17. If you’re looking to change countries in addition to all of this, multiply it by 10. Here is my post about getting a music job in Sweden.
There are more lucrative roles in tech out there.
If you’re motivated to work in tech because it makes money (no judgment, secure that bag!) then the music industry may not be for you. In my experience, the music industry generally pays less than equivalent technical roles that may be at startups, tech companies and especially in industries like finance. For the best of both worlds, roles at the music tech companies (Spotify, Apple, Amazon, YouTube) pay more favorably but are usually even more challenging to secure and often (but not always!) further removed from artists & the “business of music” in those tech roles.
Being technical in a creative industry is tough.
Any time you combine creativity & numbers, there’s a lot to reconcile. The music industry is full of passionate people that have relied on their guts for decades (and often rightfully so!) so coming in with an Excel sheet or an algorithm to tell VPs what to do is not always looked upon favorably. In addition to the technical skills, you have to have thick skin, confidence & strong communication/presentation skills.
Skills to Learn
All that being said, I absolutely love the music industry. Any negativity & cynicism I feel is washed away instantly when I see all the hard work come to fruition — hearing a song on the radio, seeing a live show, talking to an artist about what you’re working on, watching culture change because of what we do… It still gives me goosebumps.
If you’re not obsessed with music, there are probably better options out there for you.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move onto what steps to take. This is very specific to data & music because honestly, I’m truly amazed anyone ever gets a job transitioning into music not working in legal, finance or tech, so I give my perpetual kudos to those people.
Learn the Tech
Honestly, I think tech is the easiest part of this endeavor. I learned most of this with a mix of experience and education. If you have the time & money, I really love General Assembly otherwise, it’s easy to learn with a lot of Googling or cheap online courses like Coursera or Udemy.
- SQL: This is the minimum. This lets you query our billions of rows of data to get out what you need.
- Python or R: This will help you work with datasets larger than 1M rows (max for Excel). It comes in handy to clean, manipulate & acquire data. Both allow you to do data science and visualization. In addition, Python can also be used (more easily) for development, so with a little knowledge of web development, you can develop site mockups or handle some workflows for data engineering.
- Statistics & Math: Self-explanatory, but make sure you understand technically what the numbers are telling you.
- Data Science: Not everyone is going to be a data scientist, so this is optional but it’s as easy transition once you’ve learned everything else above so at the minimum understand what’s available to you in Excel like regressions and be knowledgable enough in Data Science to know how fancy AI data tools work so you’re not constantly being sold products you don’t need.
Learn to Tell a Good Story
- Basic Data Visualization: Learn how to display numbers in a way that people can digest them. I always say, “If I’m doing my job right, no one has to see an Excel sheet.” This doesn’t need to be complex… sometimes, it’s just a graph or conditional formatting.
- Advanced Visualization (Tableau, Data Studio, Etc.): Learn to make things interactive through any data visualization tool. Once you learn one, it’s pretty easy to learn the others. Google Data Studio is the one I recommend most because it’s free to use. Once you have the ability to do this, instead of answering one question, you’ve built something that can answer multiple questions (or multiple versions of the same question) thus saving you time and making others more independent and data literate.
- Teaching, Presenting & Communicating: No matter how good your work is, if you can’t explain it and tailor it to different audiences, it really doesn’t matter. Get comfortable explaining complex things simply and understanding your audience enough to recalibrate accordingly. You could easily have to show the same presentation to your boss, your peers, an artist’s manager, and an EVP in the same week. There’s usually an element of teaching others how to understand data which can require patience and an ability to explain why something is important enough to take the time to focus on it.
Learn the Industry
This can be tough without being in the industry but it’s possible! I also encourage networking to get some of this information first hand rather than just reading about it.
- Read Blogs & Industry News: Read blogs like Musically and Chartmetric and follow the industry as a whole through sites like Billboard. Read up on the industry lists (like Billboard’s 40 Under 40) to know who’s who.
- Understand how the music business works: Understand conceptionally how things work. How does a song get on streaming services? How do artists get paid? What is the difference between a publisher & a label? What are the major artists signed to each major label?
- Get your hands on publically available music data: I usually direct people to learn the Spotify API. As you’re doing data projects, it’s robust, clean data & accessible to learn. In addition to that, there’s tons of data available like charts, Last.fm, Chartmetric and more. Play around with them so you understand macro trends and know what the impact of things like playlisting, radio, and sync are.
Finding the Right Role
Part of the reason, the industry research is necessary is to help you figure out where you want to be.
What do you want to do in data?
So, if you’re feeling ready to apply to roles there are a lot of fields within data & music. I won’t go into all of them, but I’ve normally worked in marketing/commercial and data but I’m a bit of a generalist. I have a bit of experience in data science, reporting, data engineering, finance, marketing, development, visualization, analysis, insights, etc. If you’re in a small territory/country or at a small label, there’s a chance you’re only data person, so being a generalist is usually welcomed. As you get into larger corporations, you may want to try to focus on a certain field. Do your research & consider what you’d like your day to day to look like. If you’re transitioning from another field, consider what skills you have that may overlap to help you make that choice. For example, if you came from a role/have a degree with a lot of math, you may want to consider being a financial analyst or data scientist. Every field in music needs data from marketing to A&R.
What size & type of company you want to work for?
Think about what you want your day to day to look like? Do you want to interact a lot with artists? Do you want a lot of time to code & develop? Do you want to build products? There are big differences between indie labels, publishers and major labels. Even the tech companies differ from the startup to the Google’s of the world. There are also companies often overlooked like the RIAA, IFPI, Neilsen, etc. that are big players in the industry.
Prep for the Applying & Interviewing
- Understand the level of job you’re applying for. Titles can be a bit insane in the music industry, a manager title may not mean you have any direct reports, for example. So, ask around to understand where you’ll be in the food chain, especially if titles & hierarchy are important to you.
- Prepare at least one portfolio piece that employers can easily access. It could be a report, a Data Science project, a Tableau dashboard, even a Github link if you’re applying to a particularly technical role. Here’s an example of mine. This is especially important if you have no prior experience/education in data.
- Depending on what you want to do, consider making your resume a bit more creative. You don’t need to go over the top but remember you’re trying to work in a creative industry — a little color on your resume goes a long way!
- Even if you have a portfolio, be prepared to have to do a technical test AND also present it. This is to ensure you understand data and can explain it to others. If they don’t give you a test, it’s likely you’ll be the only technical person around which has it’s own advantages & challenges.
- Make sure you ask the right questions: What will my day to day actually look like? What limitations/issues exist with the company’s data? What the general attitude on data is in the company? Are there other data people around for support? Who’s job is it to do the things you won’t be doing (like how does the data engineering at the company work)? Does my supervisor have a background in data? This will tell you a lot about what your job will look like, what support you’ll have, and what challenges you’ll face. Coming from outside a company, it’s also tough to work out job descriptions often, so asking questions helps you understand the terminology, like does the international team mean you’re getting people in your country to listen to internationals tracks or that you’re trying to get other countries to listen to your domestic tracks, for example?
Despite everything I said above, a lot of this industry is knowing the right people, being in the right places, and having the right conversations. I’ve gotten as many jobs/opportunities applying through a website as I have by sending the right email at the right time. In a lot of ways, data in the music industry is still a very new thing so you have a lot of opportunities to carve your own path. So, just get out there & figure out how you can add value wherever you want to be. Don’t be obnoxious, though — no one wants that.
Speaking of that… Feel free to send me a message (I get a lot of them which is why I wrote this, so please be patient!). I’m always going to do as much as I can to help people passionate about music get to where they need to be especially women & people of color because they’ve historically had a tough time in this industry.
So, if after all of that, you still want to do this, I wish you all the luck in the world and would love to help!
Sometimes people ask me for financial advice, so I thought this was a good time to put a quick how to together of how I went from having $9,000 in credit card debt to having a full year’s salary saved in 9 years.
Obviously, I’m not a financial planner so this is mostly based on my extensive research and all the things I actually did, so you should probably do more research than just this blog post but I hope it helps. I won’t explain the why of everything because they’re a lot of much smarter people than me that have already done that, so I’ll drop links in when relevant. Most of my investment strategy is in a broad mix of companies in the stock market, which obviously isn’t always guaranteed to go up but historically has literally always grown in the long run and has given me 10-15% gains annually.
I’ve done my research in both the US & UK, so I’ve provided comparables for both and only include the currency in my little guide if it’s relevant. Though I lived in Sweden for 2 years, I still förstår inte tillräckligt med svenska to be able to write anything even remotely helpful. BTW, some of these links are referral codes.
So, without further ado, here’s my 6 step guide to getting your financial shit together.
1. Keep track of your credit score & spending
Mint is only in the US but Toshl is similar and available pretty globally. Credit Karma is UK & US. The latter allows you to track your spending and categories it so you can see where you’re spending your cash. The latter allows you to keep track of your credit score. All are free but Toshl costs a few pounds a month to connect your bank accounts to track your spending automatically. Mint does this for free.
2. Save an emergency fund
The wisdom is to have 3-6 months of your expenses saved in a savings account. I think that’s way too daunting if you don’t have anything saved.
I saved up enough to cover expenses that couldn’t be put on a credit card (i.e. my rent) for a month to start. So, to be honest, I only had about $1000 in savings for the first 2 years of living on my own but considering my rent was $400-$600 at the time, that would have gotten me pretty far. I’d recommend having at least a full month’s salary saved and always have your CV up to date…
Now my husband & I keep about 5K USD each on hand in a savings account, which could last us about 2 months. Everything else gets invested. We could have more in case, but we have investment accounts we could easily liquidate in the case of an emergency plus literally almost 100K in available combined credit on a few credit cards should a true emergency come up. Also, in Europe, the concept of emergency is much different than the US, for example, if I got fired, work still has to give us 3 month’s notice or 3 months of severance. So really, we have a 5-month buffer with 2 months worth of expenses in cash.
3. Invest in your pension (UK) or 401K if you have an employer match
Whatever it takes to get your company match, make sure you at least invest in there because it’s free money. In the UK you’re auto-enrolled to 5% and the minimum employer contribution is 3%. This means basically if you have a 45K salary (3,750 monthly) before taxes, you put in 2,250 a year (187.50 per month) and your employer gives you another 1,350 a year (112.50 per month). Totaling 3,600 annually. In the US, many employers offer a similar set up but may require you to put in a minimum before they give you a match.
The amount you contribute is tax-deferred meaning you pay taxes when you take the money out at retirement, not now, so even if you decided to not contribute, you wouldn’t see that full 187.50. In the US tax law is insane (different rules per state and you tax home more money because you’re married for some reason). The UK is pretty straight forward, so just going to use that. After taxes, and national insurance, your take-home would be about 76% of your net, so about 2,850 without a 5% pension contribution. With the pension your take home is about 2,700 meaning you’d take home 150 less for a 187.50 contribution + a 112.50 employer match. Basically, that extra 150 in your pocket now would cost you an additional 150 later not even taking into account the growth potential (yes, you pay taxes later but at retirement age your tax is likely to be low and you get to build wealth on the government’s dime because you didn’t give them your taxes up front…). The math works out pretty similarily in the US to this example & of course this doesn’t take into account any other stuff coming out of your paycheck like insurances.
Once you’ve seen your second payments come out of your paycheck, log in and see where they’re investing your money. Most likely, it’s some type of target date fund (meaning it changes in how risky your investments are as you get older). That’s a fine place but it’s a bit conservative for my taste. Many companies have some type of financial advisor for employees that will help them a bit, but to sum it up, figure out how much the fees are for your funds available, find the lowest ones for an S&P 500 type fund (or all world if you don’t want to stick to mostly US) and invest 80% in that and 20% in a high yield bond. 90/10 if you’re less conservative & call it a day until you’re like 40. Or, just leave it in the target date fund, whatever–it’s better than not having anything invested.
TL;DR: Just contribute up to your company match to get free money!
4. Pay off credit card debt
I’ve seen wisdom both ways, but I believe you should bank on your future self so contribute to retirement enough to get the match, then worry about debt but these 2 things could be switched depending on how you feel about debt.
By my junior year of college, I had a job paying me about $12K a year which was a lot for me at the time! Obviously, I spent way more than that, and I had about $9000 in credit card debt when I finished college. I paid them off only paying about 5% of my balance in fees. Here’s how:
- I spent on 0% interest credit cards so accrued no interest and paid what I could above the minimum payment while I had a low salary knowing that once school finished, I’d have a higher one (My first job out of school gave me a salary of I think $27K and raised to $32K after about a year).
- Once school ended, I consolidated all my credit card bills onto a single card with a balance transfer at a 0% interest rate (which means even if you carry a balance on your card there is no interest charged). I usually paid a balance transfer fee of 2-3%. So if I had a 5K balance, I’d pay $100 for the transfer (at 2%).
- If that card had 12 months of 0% interest, I’d divide my balance by 12 and pay that much monthly if I could afford it. So in the example of 5K, that would be 425/month (which is the original 5000 + 100 for the fee divided by 12).
- If I couldn’t afford that, I’d pay whatever I could and then carry over the balance to a new 0% interest card again, again splitting by whatever the time frame allowed for no interst.
I did this for about 2 years before I completely paid off my cards probably paying about $500 in fees for starting balance of $9000 which was only about 6% of what I owed vs. a normal credit card rate of anywhere between 18-35%.
I don’t recommend getting into $9,000 in credit card debt but this was the smartest way I saw to get out of it. Having a quick search, it seems similar cards exist in the UK, as well.
During these 2 years, though tempting, I didn’t spend any money on my credit cards. Yes, I was forsaking credit card points but I relied only on my debit cards to not put myself further in debt. I even had a fun competition with a friend to see how many consecutive days we could go without spending any money.
I will say, now that I’m out of debt, 0% interest credit cards are a great way to get a free loan for a big purchase if you know you can pay it off in time.
4.5. Deal With Your Student Loans
Undergrad was essentially free for me thanks to a merit scholarship that covered my tuition and my parents covering my room & board for the year & a half I lived on campus but I did go to grad school for my MBA which cost $55K.
Giving your salary right now (I’m assuming you’re probably under 40), it likely doesn’t make sense to pay more than the amount you need to pay for your loans (more power to you if you want to but there are better places to spend your money right now, imo).
Whatever you decide, make sure you are paying if you have to and figure out your repayment options. I’m on a US extended payment plan which means I pay about $400 a month until I die (well actually until about 2040 then whatever is left over is forgiven). But, there are payment plans that reduce your payments based on how much you make, so you could potentially pay much less or even nothing.
My plan is to keep paying my monthly $400 until I can afford to refinance to a 5-year loan with a lower interest rate and pay around $1000/mo and just pay the whole thing off in 5 years. My rate is currently 6.4% from the US government, so I’m blowing a lot of cash not paying it off but $400/mo is pretty inconsequential to my monthly expenses while I’d definitely feel $1000/mo for 5 years and would rather invest some of that money for a longer time to get market returns. I also hate giving anyone (except my future self) a large chunk of money, so it’s a balancing act of where I’d rather put my money right now.
Rule of thumb for those taking out loans, I always say, don’t take more out in loans for a degree/program than what you expect as an annual salary once you finish. For example, after undergrad, I ended up making $32K within a year of graduation which was just about the cost of my state school undergrad program at the time had I paid out of pocket (minus room & board). 4 years later, I completed my MBA, and took out $55K in loans. Within a year, I had a salary of about $58K.
I ended up only paying for 1 of the 3 degrees I ended up getting (and didn’t pay for the additional courses/bootcamps I took) because work paid for them all. One bright side of taking lower pay in the public sector is perks like this, so take that into consideration should you be interested in pursuing additional higher education.
5. Get a second form of income
After I finished my THIRD degree program, I finally had some time to do some work on the side. I started doing some freelance web development and marketing to make some extra income. I don’t want to get into the taxes of all of that right now, but I made about $2000 my first year & at my peak doing it part time, I made somewhere in the ball park of $18,000. About a third of that goes to taxes but it helped pay for a significant chunk of my wedding and allowed for extra retirement contributions. This could be earlier than step 5 in your financial plan, but given the 7.5 years of higher education, this is when I had the time.
Note about 2nd incomes: Consider what your earning potential might be with just getting a better job or going back to school for even a 12-week bootcamp course. Driving an Uber around may not be worth it in comparison to a 10% raise at a different company after investing in yourself. After my first few months of freelancing, I raised my rates up to $75/hour which is much more than almost any office job I could get right now.
6. Save & invest more!
So, you’ve got an emergency fund, you’re contributing to your pension, you no longer have credit card debt, you’ve figured out your student loans and you may even have a side hustle. Awesome!
For me, this was about 3 years after graduation. Once I was at this point, I made it a point to save at least 20% of my income between retirement & savings. The idea is that you should aim to have a full year’s salary saved every 5 years. 20% of your income x 5 years = 100% of your income. So if you start at 25, by 30 when you take into account the (hopeful) growth of your money, you should have somewhere around 1 year’s full salary saved.
6.1 – Get your access to liquid funds up to 3 months of expenses.
Liquid means easily available. This could be all-cash savings or maybe some available in a brokerage account, ISA, Roth IRA, etc. Make sure in an emergency you have capital available to you for up to 3 months. Decide on an amount and if you have to take money out of it at any time, you have to pay yourself back the next paycheck! To save your goal, make sure you pay yourself first (meaning you put money in savings before you do anything else). Once you’ve saved & paid your bills (including groceries), I felt completely fine to spend literally every dime left in my checking account every month because I did everything I was supposed to do already!
6.2 – Consider contributing to a Roth IRA/Stocks & Shares ISA
Roth IRA (US) or a Stocks & Shares ISA (UK) is money you invest with after you’ve paid taxes. These two accounts work almost the same way. Basically you pay the taxes like you normally would out of your salary and then you contribute to this account. Since you already paid taxes, you won’t pay any when you take the money out! So if you put a bunch of money in and have very good investments, you could end up not paying takes on thousands of dollars. This is a retirement account in the US, so you’re supposed to keep in the money in for a while but because you already paid taxes, the government doesn’t really care, so for both you can take out the money you contributed out at any time. In the UK, you can take even your earnings out at any time which is awesome if you’re planning an early retirement. In the US, you have to keep your earnings in your account until you reach 59.5 years old. The limit in the US is really low at only about 6K annually, so I maxed this out every year before raising my 401K contributions. One thing about these accounts is that it’s most beneficial when you’re paying low taxes, so once you’re in higher tax brackets, it might not make as much sense (or be allowed in the US). I’ll get to that next.
Regarding what to invest in, aim for high growth & high dividend low-cost ETFs (ETFs are basically a bucket of company’s shares in a single entity based around a theme instead of handpicking a bunch of different shares but they have a maintenance fee, so you want to find ones that have very low fees (called expense ratios)). Look for low expense ratios under 0.3% (meaning for every 100 you have invested, it costs you 0.30.
I use Fidelity (US) because that’s where my retirement accounts were from a previous employer. I really like it because they don’t charge a commission to buy ETFs (meaning there’s no extra cost per transaction). Vanguard is also a broker people like with low fees available in US & UK.
Here’s what I would do for a simple Roth split:
- 60% domestic – Example ETF: SFY (S&P 500 high yield)
- 30% international – Example ETFs: DVYE (emerging market high dividend) or VT (total world for more conservative)
- 5% bonds – Example ETF: VWOB (emerging market high yield bonds)
- 5% alternatives like something fun/risky – Examples: FREL (real estate ETF) or cryptocurrency like Bitcoin
I really enjoy this stuff, but if you don’t want to set it and forget it, consider Betterment‘s Roth IRA in the US or Wealthify Stocks & Shares ISA in the UK. These are both robo investors, meaning they ask you a few questions online and invest for you instead of you trying to do it on your own (kinda like those target funds I mentioned earlier).
Read More: Nerd Wallet’s What Is an ETF?
6.3 – Save for any big purchases.
If you’re trying to buy a house, have a kid or see the world. This is a good time to make sure you’re on track for that. I won’t get too much into all the options for home buying but look into what support you can get regarding tax breaks or lower down payment options. We were able to buy a home for less than 5% down before we left the states and in the UK, the government will match some of your contributions for a home up to 25% depending on your circumstances.
Set your goal and make sure you contribute monthly to that goal. I wouldn’t recommend investing money you need to use anywhere in the next 3 years unless you’re okay to lose a chunk of it but you can open up a savings bond that has a guaranteed return to keep it locked up and have some gains. Our big purchase was our wedding which I wrote about. It cost, including the honeymoon, about 55K USD. Of that, we paid 30K USD out of pocket which took a lot of savings (and stress!). Now, we usually save for big trips instead!
6.4 – Contribute more to your 401K/Pension.
Like I mentioned, because of taxes, anything you make above about 40K USD in the US or 50K GBP in the UK you should try to put into your pension/401K if you can. Because… taxes. To sum it up quickly, in the US after that much you start paying an income tax rate on the amount above 40K USD at a 22% rate instead of 12%; in the UK you start paying a rate for anything above 50K GBP at 40% instead of 20%.
Obviously you might actually need that money but if you’re not sure how much to invest, that’s an easy threshold to consider. The max you can contribute in the US is about 18K USD and 40K GBP in the UK annualy, so there’s a lot of room before you max it out.
6. 5 – Start thinking seriously about retirement
Once you’ve got all of this in order, you can use a site like Personal Capital (US only) for a more sophisticated investment guideline or start considering seeing a financial advisor.
When you start feeling pretty comfortable, you can start thinking more seriously about when you plan to retire and tax implications of your investments. Eventually, you may want to change up your savings contributions so they’re not all locked up until retirement age if you think you’re on track to retire early (or would like to be). So, I also have a brokerage account in the US. If it weren’t for very complicated tax law with being a US citizen, this would be my stocks & shares ISA in the UK.
My husband and I are currently at the point of considering early retirement in hopefully about 15-20 years. There’s a lot of considerations, like what country we want to live in but in the next few years, we will plan to figure that out likely after we’ve gotten dual citizenship (about 4 more years) so we can have more retirement location options (and may buy property again once we figure out where we want to live…).
I turned 30 a few months ago and successfully saved about a full year’s net income! Other than student loans & a now paid off home loan, I have been completely debt-free for 7 years. My investments overall make about 10%-15% annually. My returns in the market have covered the difference in my 20% savings with my lower salaries when I started compared to my higher salary now. My third-degree program (which work paid for) was for Data Science. Though it took a bit longer to get to my rule of thumb because I took a pay cut when moving to Sweden, I now make annually about what all 3 of my degrees would have cost me if I would have paid for them all out of pocket.
Though we’ve combined most of our finances now, my individual general split regarding accounts is:
- 70% – 401K/pension (46% in the US / 16% in Sweden / 8% in the UK)
- 20% – Roth IRA
- 5% – Cash Savings
- 5% – Brokerage (non-retirement)
Before you’re too impressed, a few caveats:
- Everything is easier with finances when you have a partner–most things are literally half the cost.
- We no longer own any homes (we had 3 in the states but sold them shortly after moving abroad)
- We both work in tech so the ability to save is aided by high paying jobs (in compared to national averages)
- We have no kids & don’t plan to have them for a very long time (if not ever)
- I still have over 50K USD in student loan debt.
The things I didn’t cover are things like the self-employed IRA I had while in the states, the credit cards I use to get cashback/points, why I hate owning rental property and all of the complications with changing countries twice; but ask me in person (or virtually) about all of that 😉
Here are some of the podcasts & apps I used to help me stay on track!
- Money Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips For a Richer Life (US) – best podcast for personal finance beginners! quick tips to explain even things you feel like you should already know but were too shy to ask and doesn’t make you feel dumb about it.
- Listen Money Matters (US) – great to feel like you’re learning along with someone.
- Stacking Benjamins (US) – great for money news & when you feel a bit more confident.
- Cash Chats with Andy Webb (UK) – tips for saving money in the UK and pretty good with basics.
- Meaningful Money (UK) – a bit more advance but has some great quick episodes explaining a lot about the UK financial system.
- Acorns (US) – rounds up your purchases & auto invests
- Moneybox (UK) – rounds up your purchases & auto invests
- Mint (US) – track your spending across multiple accounts
- Personal Capital (US) – track your spending & provides amazing investment advice
- Credit Karma (US & UK) – check your credit score for free
That was a lot, so… If you have any questions, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So in 2017, my husband & I sold all of our things & moved from Baltimore to Stockholm. When we landed, I had never been to Stockholm before and went to Europe for the first time 6 weeks prior to.
I thought it would take me 6 weeks to find a job once I arrived in Stockholm. My husband said it would take 6 months.
It took 6 months.