Want to work in the music industry? Here’s how I did it

Claire Coulton is a music publicist at Murray Chalmers PR, a leading agency which counts Muse, Radiohead, Kate Bush and Robbie Williams among its clients. Here, she tells NME #Lifehacks in partnership with University of Salford how she went about getting ahead in such a competitive industry.

When did you realise you wanted to work in music PR?
“My second internship was at One Little Indian [record label] as a press intern, and I loved the role. With PR the results can be quite instant; it feels great to be able to achieve great coverage for an artist. I then went into working in artist management, but kept my journalist contacts and was always helping artists with premieres or getting reviews. So eventually I ended up back in a PR role. For anyone thinking they might like to be a publicist, I’d suggest an internship. You’ll get hands-on experience with press release-writing, contact-building and the strategy behind an album or single release. I had always loved the roster of artists at Murray Chalmers PR: Radiohead, Kate Bush, Garbage, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, The Horrors, Yoko Ono, Kings Of Leon, The Pretenders, Suede and Muse to name a few! So I was incredibly excited when a role came up and I was lucky enough to get it!”

How did you get a start in the industry?
“I decided to go straight into music internships, which gave me hands-on experience early and helped me build a network of contacts. My first internship was with Roadrunner Records and then I went on to do a three-month internship at One Little Indian, which led to my first role in the industry. I started as a press intern, and while I was there I was also helping book shows for bands. This led me to set up a sister company to One Little Indian called Medicine Jar Music, a live agency booking acts like O Children, Is Tropical and 2.54. I think early on it’s good to be involved with as many different areas of the industry as possible. Putting on club nights, DJ slots and taking photos for websites are all good ways to build your network. I now work at Murray Chalmers PR (MCPR) and feel my hands-on experience helped me get my role. As a small company, we value our different experiences and what they all bring.”

What was your first real professional setback, and how did you overcome it?
“I went for a job at William Morris [talent agency] as an agent assistant. I actually went for three interviews and even bought a new suit – and I’ve never worn a suit in my life! The feeling was I wasn’t corporate enough, and that is true to be honest! But at the time, it really upset me. By the third interview I thought I’d got the job and it’s a big setback when you don’t get a role you really want. But looking back now, I can see everything happens for a reason – you have to keep going, so I applied for more roles and eventually landed a role in PR and that led to where I am now.”

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about working in music?
“Always be nice! The industry isn’t that big and you’re quite likely to bump into someone twice. The people who are new in the industry one day could be running labels or PR agencies later on. Another lesson – build your contacts, don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Lastly, I would stress the importance of organisation. I learned this lesson while working at Key Music Management in Manchester; they’re a management company that looks after bands like Pixies and The Fratellis. To be an an artist manager or management assistant, you need to be super-organised and on it, as you really are the central point for the artist and the rest of the team. So making lists and prioritising is crucial; it sounds boring but it really works.”

What advice would you give to a young person who thinks they’d like to work in the music industry, but doesn’t know where to start?
“Apply for internships. Quite a lot of labels and agencies offer paid internships. You’ll get hands-on experience in the area you think you want to be part of. When I was starting out I reached out to various people in the industry for advice and guidance – I remember asking Jo Charrington at Capitol Records for a meeting, and she was really supportive and offered me some tips on approaching people for a job. Always surround yourself with supportive, creative people. I’m lucky enough to work for Murray Chalmers who is both of these of things. And before that, Derek Birkett of One Little Indian Records really helped to elevate my career – he’s given me great advice and introductions to others in the industry. Also, go out to industry nights and shows, and meet people. There’s nothing more important than a strong and nurturing network. It’s a hard industry but it can be very rewarding!”

Follow Claire on Twitter @clairebcoulton