Helping musicians make noteworthy career moves

“Music sort of grabbed me by the throat when I was ten years old and hasn’t let go,” says Peter Spellman, director of Berklee’s Career Development Center. Spellman moonlights as a percussionist with the ambient-jazz ensemble, Underwater Airport, but he also pours his musical passions into helping student musicians apply their entrepreneurial instincts to create success. He manages a seven person staff at the college of contemporary music, helping students and alumni find career paths.

“There are so many forms into which musicians can apply their musical interests,” said Spellman, who has guided many a performer, song writer, composer, arranger, producer, or engineer to their destiny. Many students, like Spellman, end up as so-called “business careerists” – carving out an unconventional niche in the music industry. Spellman has worked as a booking agent, label director, music editor, artist manager and producer before coming to Berklee.

With a database of jobs and gigs as well as handouts, industry trade directories, and information on competitions, festivals, grants, and scholarships, Spellman does his best to help students define and achieve professional aspirations. In an age of American Idol, he said that some students come to Berklee with that “instant fame idea, as if college is the magic wand that will work miracles on their career.” But he added, “When they arrive at Berklee, the talent is almost blinding. They quickly discover that a successful music career results from a combination of hard work, time, contacts and breaks.”

Q: With the jobless recovery, are times even more difficult for Berklee grads?


A: Students seeking “jobs” in the traditional sense, such as K-12 music teacher, entry-level record company position, or full-time music editor position are finding it more difficult. These graduates have to bring their A-game and figure out creative ways to position themselves for employment. Fact is, though, seven out of the twelve major areas of study at Berklee are more of a freelance nature. Freelance musicians don’t so much look for a job as for the work that needs to get done. They create their own jobs.

Q: What’s one of your greatest success stories, when it comes to helping a student develop or launch his or her career?

A: One who comes to mind is Panos Panay, founder of the Boston-based company, Sonicbids, a matchmaking website for bands and music promoters.

Panos, originally from Cyprus, was one of Berklee’s first Music Business/Management majors. He refers to me as one of his mentors, but all I did was review some proposals he was developing, provide feedback, and encourage his own potential. I knew from the first meeting with him he would do great things.

Q: When it comes to resumes, interviews, clothing, and other elements of job search, what aspects do students typically have problems with?

A: For most musicians it’s the audio portfolio or electronic press kit that represents their work. That’s where they can show and tell their musical story and then hopefully secure the audition or interview. As with all marketing communications, these can be plain vanilla or the whole kitchen sink. One is too understated; the other has so many bells and whistles you can’t even hear the message. Some musicians know how to pitch their story better than others.


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