8 workspace trends for 2018

Think about co-working in 2017 and one of the first names on your mind is likely to be WeWork. The company is valued at $20bn and is about to become London’s biggest private office tenant. Bear in mind WeWork only launched 7 years ago – that’s phenomenal growth by anyone’s standards.

In the last few months they’ve acquired an education company and a community marketplace, launched in Asia, started a gym chain and got into the apartment business. Questions remain over their valuation and ability to weather a downturn in the real estate market, but right now they’re showing little sign of slowing down.

With WeWork seemingly making all the headlines, what else is going on in the business of workspaces?

Here are 8 of the key trends I see continuing to take flight in 2018.


1. Snacking & Space Hopping

For freelancers and soloists in particular there are usually 3 components to a typical week; doing the work, talking about the work, and finding the work.

The latter often means traveling to meet people. Face-to-face tends to be most effective, but shuttling back and forth between meetings is definitely not most efficient.

For those hopping between locations or just wanting to utilise a workspace for a few hours of focused time as and when they want it, new services have arrived to serve this need.


One example is Croissant. For just over $100 they’ll give you 50 hours per month to be used at spaces across a number of US and European cities.

Whilst their supply of workspaces is still a little sparse at present, and the nature of their pricing model appears to be weighted more favourably towards the user than the workspace provider, the increasingly competitive co-work industry means a growing number of spaces will be likely looking at alternative ways to generate interest and revenue.

Perhaps snacking will become a key part of our (work) diets.


2. Keep it in the family

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 17.42.48

London headquartered Second Home are shortly opening a new space in the ultra-trendy* Hackney borough of East London.

The area already has a number of co-working spaces available (including a sizeable WeWork offering), so how are Second Home going to stand out?

Easy. They’re installing a fully operational creche service so members can have ‘bring your kids to work’ day, every day.

With terms of parental leave high on the agenda of employers and HR departments, and an ongoing shift towards a more flexible work/life balance, will the in-office creche become a fixture of companies’ perks lists?

It’ll be interesting to see whether the trend of more young families moving away from cities (as has happened in London) will affect demand too.

* I was a long-term resident, which perhaps negates this.


3. Values-based workspaces


NYC startup The Wing have raised both eyebrows and capital (from WeWork amongst others) with their female-only workspace and members’ club offering.

I’ve had a couple of interesting discussions with people recently around balancing the need for safe spaces vs. providing bridges and access for others to better understand the the challenges that caused these safe spaces to be created in the first place.

Personally I hope they’ll find a way to allow admittance to men from time to time as there’s plenty for us to learn. Maybe that’s for another article…

In either case, we’ll see more spaces appear built on values, interests and passions.I referenced this in a previous post here >

The challenge for these operations will be balancing niche focus vs commercial viability as it’s unlikely most workers will hold memberships to several spaces at once.

Expect The Wing to be one that keeps flying.


4. The excess capacity opportunity

Airbnb is the most notable example of a business built around leveraging the excess capacity of an asset class.

Spacious are taking this approach to co-working, operating around the hospitality sector. The NYC-based startup work with bars and restaurants to fill their often sparsely-populated weekday downtime with laptop-wielding workers. Just like Airbnb, it’s one of those concepts that at first glance feels like it shouldn’t work, but Spacious are growing at a fair old clip with a presence in NYC and San Francisco so far.


The recent New York launch of London retail pop-up startup Appear Here plus a glut of ecommerce fashion and lifestyle brands scaling up in the city makes me feel we’ll see Spacious’ model appear more in 2018; less agile bricks and mortar businesses will be looking for new revenue streams as they feel the strain of rising rents, lower occupancy and a continuing shift to ecommerce.

Where else could there be excess capacity to utilise?

If anyone fancies working out of screen 1 at the Union Square cinema next week, I’ll bring the popcorn.


5. The branded hangout


Working out of the local coffee shop? Forget it. Next year will see the rise of the branded hangout space.

On opening in June this year, Ian Schrager’s new ‘Public’ hotel instantly became a destination work and meeting spot for the knowingly cool set around NYC’s Lower East Side.

The Ace Hotel chain have been in this position for a few years of course. Rather than booting out the posse of people taking up the hotel’s lobby space all day for an average per-head spend of 1 cup of coffee, they’ve happily turned a blind eye. Presumably keeping the place vibrant post-check out and pre-check in gives them a nice bump of extra social proof, street cred and the potential for serendipitous collaborations that their brand will be inextricably linked to.

Quickly building their own work/hangout spaces are retailers like Lululemon and Dr Smood. Usually quietly stylised offerings in the basement of their retail operations, there’s definitely still an element of discomfort and confusion around utilising these places to spend a working day. However, they tend to be completely free of charge and in desirable locations – very appealing to the early-stage freelancer or startup founder. Also, anything with a stigma which is starting to disappear is well worth paying attention to, and I’d class these spaces in that category.

What’ll be interesting to see is which other brands jump in and how happy people will be to nail their colours to those office-shaped masts. Not everyone is going to be keen to be hanging out at American Apparel’s co-work, even if the coffee is good.

And yes, this is again connected with filling Excess Capacity…


6. Airport lounges

Like a lot of people I find the air travel experience trying at the best of times.

After flying a lot for business, I slimmed down my travel a little and found my loyalty cards getting demoted extremely quickly, along with my air miles being of little value for any of the routes I really cared about. No bueno.

Airports are generally pretty miserable places to spend time, and with the airline business being a notoriously difficult one to operate in, there appears to be some scope for innovation.

Monocle magazine have long been suggesting the growth in kiosk-style cafes, and they’ve made inroads in a few cities with this idea.

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 17.12.50

It appears there’s huge scope to serve airport visitors with an alternative to the business lounge, especially as rewards points tier are being jacked up and airport usage is on the up.

Don’t be surprised to see WeWork at JFK or Heathrow in the very near future.



7. The work club

Football club, member’s club, night club, jazz club. If it’s a club, expect to see it start offering business services to members old and new.

Soccer (football) clubs in the UK are putting community-focused workspaces high on the wish-list for their architects, with English Premier League clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace both with new stadiums in the works.

There’s a ceiling on match day ticketing revenue (especially with serious fan backlashes against recent price hikes – we’re looking at you, Arsenal…), so clubs are exploring everything from VR to branded offices to keep their fanbase engaged and coffers full.


Again connected with fulfilling excess capacity, nightclubs are also getting in on the act. Ministry of Sound in London sold their label business to Sony Music and just two weeks ago committed to a joint venture for their events brand which sees that team move out of the MoS office space adjacent to the legendary night club.

MoS are now actively positioning themselves as a shared workspace provider, and have already been using the cavernous ‘Box’ room of the club for a number of alternative live events. Perhaps there’s another joint venture on the horizon…


8. Return of the cubicle

The office cubicle. It’s almost a poster child for what today’s workers abhor; grey, closed, isolated, made of non-breathable fabrics. Surely its death should be cause for celebration?

Maybe not. A number of recent studies have shown that open plan offices have significant drawbacks, one being the difficulty for people to focus. In the days before Slack, WhatsApp and fluctuating Bitcoin prices this may not have been such an issue. Nowadays there’s a very strong desire from a lot of people to mute the noise and do focused work.

This study from furniture brand Haworth digs deeper. Broadly speaking, they recommend a mix of private and open spaces, encouraging recharging, and giving people control on where they spend their time.

We may not see the resurgence of the original office cubicle, but there’s plenty for architects and designers to set their minds to. All they need is a private space to do it…


And for your life outside of work…

Just as Marriott hotels are building apartments to compete with Airbnb, luxury residential real estate developers are moving towards the models of WeWork and Soho House – offering full workspaces, libraries, basketball courts, coffee shops and various other perks as part of your ‘living experience’. All at a price, of course.

One of the notable examples here in New York is The Eugene, next to the burgeoning Hudson Yards development.

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 17.15.13

In many cases these extra amenities are used as a clever hook to bring in tenants, but in reality get relatively low utilisation. Whilst the financials probably hold up, no one wants to see a bunch of empty common areas in a building, and some of the new build towers already have a ‘investor safety deposit box’ feel as it is.

Will this mean another case of excess capacity ready to be exploited?

It’s meta, but watch out for the workspace provider taking over the running of the workspace.



Got an opinion? Want to continue the conversation?

Let me know in the comments or drop me a line here.

A workspace for your tribe

The ‘X for Y’ high level concept gets bandied around a lot these days, and whilst Uber for…cats/dogs/washing machines/insert just about anything here has become something of a cliche it’s still a useful proxy to get a concept across in just a few words.

I’ve become increasingly interested in the future of work over the past few months, coupled with a long-term fascination of how city spaces are utilised for creative and leisure pursuits. The union of these two areas is the workspace sector, in particular co-working, and inevitably the behemoth co-work company called WeWork.

The company has grown to such an extent that I’ve heard founders describe their business as ‘WeWork for…’ (maybe to be ‘the X’ is now a vanity metric?)

There was a bit of kerfuffle when one of the company’s pitch decks was (allegedly) leaked, and more noise when they had to downgrade their earnings projections a few months later.

I’m not going to delve into the workings of their business model in this post (although you can check out the slide deck above for some insights), but I do sense that the co-working sector is starting to mature for a few reasons:

  • More institutional money is coming into the sector
  • Disrupted incumbents are reacting more forcefully
  • Larger co-work members/customers are looking at building their own competing services
  • Numerous small competitors are offering differentiated alternatives for underserved customers

There’s no reason to strongly believe these factors are going to hit a company like WeWork particularly hard in the immediate term; arguably the small competitors are the least threatening on paper, but it’s them who are the subject of the rest of this post.

Sector centre points

As a child of advertising I often get my attention caught by well-designed, snappy ads out on the street. Last week I cycled past an unremarkable building at the borders of the City and Shoreditch districts in East London, and noticed a new company had taken over the ground floor.

Rise is a new space created by the banking behemoth Barclays and it’s aimed squarely at being the hub for Fintech in London. Whilst it’s a smart although hardly surprising move, something that may raise a few more eyebrows is the opening of another sector-specific space a mile or two further East.

The founders of The Rattle are aiming their focus specifically at the music industry; a big part of the huge contribution the creative industries make to the UK economy, but an industry that has seen more than its fair share of pain, disruption and dislocation. The Rattle plans to connect both musicians, industry and technologists around workspaces that encourage collaboration and curiosity, with a sprinkling of Silicon Valley’s best practices baked in for good measure.

I’ve spent some time with The Rattle team over the past few months and I’m excited to see them launch this summer — there’s certainly an opportunity to provide an authentic hub for the broader music industry that’s independently-minded, genuinely collaborative and also commercially savvy.

Meanwhile, down by the river the city’s development agency London & Partners run a workspace with The Trampery focused on the future of travel & tourism. It’s notable the space is positioned front and centre of the London & Partners offices; a bustling innovation hub to greet the international visitors who L&P hope will (continue to) invest in London.

The rise of the tribe

Having said all this, the growth of industry-specific workspaces isn’t anything particularly new and it’ll likely continue to grow in the near future. What’s a little more nascent but also very interesting to look at is the rise of spaces being developed around a more specific tribe or theme rather than a specific industry.

A few weeks ago I was in Barcelona and visited Apocapoc, the first workspace in the city with a core focus on sustainability. They don’t have a focus on the sustainable development industry per se, but the setup, approach and ethics of the space and its members is designed with sustainability first and foremost. Not many of the Apocapoc members work in the sustainability industry, but they all identify strongly with being members of a tribe where those values are at the core.

The Apocapoc team told me about their plans to open a new space in the burgeoning arts & creative district of the city, complete with vertical farming, radio station and nursery. It’s going to be interesting to see how they’ll be able to grow their tribe without compromising on the values that first brought them to people’s attention.

The rooftop at Apocapoc Barcelona

Just like the sustainability movement, over time we will see growing involvement in co-working from more traditional sectors as well as narrower niche markets and interest groups. From jewellery design to marine surveying, clusters will continue to spring up and evolve, with idiosyncratic spaces designed to feel just like home. I’m also interested to see if more workspaces around sector-agnostic themes or values start to appear; for people and companies wanting to increase diversity in organisations, or where an activity such as language exchange takes more of a central position in why people join a space.

The Third Place

Some of these spaces may move beyond work and will become the ‘Third Place’ — not home, not work, something in between. Members clubs like Soho House exist to serve this need at a broader level, and their recent Soho Works concept in London and Los Angeles is evidence of how the blurring of these lines will continue as Third Place providers move into workspaces, and workspaces aim to become the Third Place.

Over the last couple of years I’ve sensed gap opening up underneath the larger member club networks as they come under the pressures that both scale and corporate investors apply. I believe we’ll see more ‘third space’ offerings starting up with an aim to reach audiences that have so far been underserved by the larger players, as well as existing customers who are feeling disenfranchised as their Third Place doesn’t really feel like theirs anymore. Additionally, younger generations increasingly value experiences over physical products, and are far more trusting of something when they can see exactly how and where it’s made and delivered; this adds to the sense that niche providers may see great success in the future.

The future of the workspace revolution presents a lot of opportunity for community & tribe builders, plus real estate companies, developers and the hospitality industry. The challenge for all parties is to deliver a seamless experience that encourages collaboration, connection, and not to forget it — productive work.

The spaces we use to work, play, learn and create have become a big focus for us at H Bureau; we’re excited to see which tribes, sectors, crowds and clusters form their own hubs in the next year or two, and how they go about crafting the places, communities and conditions they need to thrive. We’ll be diving into these topics in much more detail over the coming weeks and months so stay tuned.

5 lessons from a day with 300 next-generation creatives

Welcome to ERIC (via @ericfestival on Instagram)

Last Sunday I attended a careers fair.

The last time I did this was in 2004. It was rubbish.

I still remember some of the things that made it such a bad experience:

  • The stuffy sports hall with overpowering strip lighting.
  • Enforced wearing of name badges (I’m 6ft 6, at least let me be a little bit incognito…)
  • Roll-up banners featuring pixelated images of ecstatic people with whiter teeth and better dress sense than me.
  • Low-grade giveaway pens inscribed with company names seemingly made out of a bunch of barely-believable 18th century surnames.
  • Application forms full of checkboxes and essay questions.


Given this haunting past experience, why would I spend my Sunday at a careers fair?

I’m 33 years old and my weekend is sacred – I have DIY to consider (and postpone), 2-drink hangovers to wallow in, and flat white coffees to drink.

And I do have a job already.

Well, this time around two main things had changed.

First, I was one of the exhibitors, and second the careers fair in question had taken a somewhat different approach to what I was used to.

ERIC is a careers fair with a difference. In fact, it’s more of a careers festival; live music, relaxed spaces for talks and interviews, bespoke stage design, and independent food and drink vendors. The founders Mae and Sam have run two events so far and already signed up over 1,500 young people from across the UK.

I was there to introduce a new venture I’m working on that connects entertainment and education.

Accompanied by my ever-supportive partner, we focused on one part of the program (‘Soundcheck’, aka the music festival in a day that’s been running with schools, colleges and the V&A Museum amongst others). We put together a stand where attendees could pitch their own dream music festival business — on one sheet of paper.

As any iterating lean startup should, we aimed to maximise learning potential whilst providing as much value to our audience as possible.

A budget of £45 built us a stand, complete with Mondrian-style design on the walls courtesy of some coloured electrical tape (probably the best interior design idea I will ever have).

Here are a few of the things we learnt.

1. Choose the right social channel

It was all about Instagram and Twitter for the attendees we met, especially when it came to connecting and communicating about career-related matters. From over 100 people who signed up to receive updates from us, only 2 suggested connecting via Facebook.

WhatsApp is obviously a big deal, but used for the close circle only. Our visitors were pretty skeptical about brands of any kind (even our fledgling project) using WhatsApp to converse with them.

Snapchat was being used through the day, but the speed and simplicity of Instagram seemed to resonate best.

Many entertainment and b2c brands are already well on top of this; more interesting is to see how other types of businesses use social channels to connect with this audience effectively.

2. Offline engagement can still win

We were a bit nervous about our low-tech, non-shiny pitch and activities.

Surely we couldn’t compete with LED screens, live bands, free food and established brands?

It didn’t seem to matter — when a theme resonates and there’s something creative and open to get stuck into, our crowd had no problem with pens, post-its and paper.

Our one bit of tech was an iPad with a Typeform signup form; most people ignored it and put their name and contact info on a piece of paper.

The Soundcheck festival wall of fame

3. Mentoring and networks are more important than ever

We chatted with a lot of people at ERIC, and unsurprisingly most of them had attended with the goal of taking steps towards finding a job.

However, the desire to build a network and find mentors and guidance burnt just as strongly. Perhaps this is particularly prevalent in the creative industries, where issues around diversity, nepotism and unpaid internships have been heavily publicised.

This does contrast a little with some research around Generation Z in the US. 66% of Gen Z say their number one concern is drowning in college debt, and 75% say there are ways of getting a good education besides going to college.

As Elizabeth Segran recently wrote in Fast Company magazine;

“Millennials are the most collaborative generation, launching applications like Facebook and sharing everything with everybody, but Gen Z are a very independent and competitive generation, having been taught by their parents that there are definitely winners and losers in life. Millennials, on the other hand, were told that if you work together, everybody can be a winner.”

We believe that although Gen Z have a heightened sense of independence, there’s a need for them to connect with their peers as well as skills and opportunities. The creation of new types of networks and access to mentors are going to be a key part of this happening.

4. Tribes, but not as we know them

In the Fast Company report mentioned above, Generation Z is considered much more neutral and fluid when it comes to just about everything — clothing, style, conversation, even bathroom choice.

The fluidity of Gen Z tribes echoes an article from Spotify’s product team about how they get new ideas to market using Squads, Chapters and Guilds. These groups are still tribes, but not in the traditional sense. Members are able to shift between groups depending on what they’re interested in, rather than only operating in the traditional tribes designed by the business.

This is going to become a growing trend and more businesses will need to think about how they can operate in similar ways, as their future workforce will expect it.

5. Listening for value

ERIC took place on a cold Sunday morning, but 10 minutes after the doors opened, the place was packed.

Something else that struck us other than punctuality was how open attendees were, and how they wanted to listen and learn as much as they possible could.

However, they also were mindful about risk and value.

16–19 year olds are saving money far earlier than older generations, and one of their top 3 goals is safeguarding money for the years to come.

They want to pay only for what they use, and are increasingly pragmatic about getting value from the money they spend.

By spending a lot of time listening and asking us questions, we could see they were focused on assessing the risk and value of what we were presenting.

The people who are able to ask the best quality questions are also likely to be the ones to learn the most. The skill of asking the right questions is one we feel is going to be of growing importance in the future.

At the end of the day, we ended up with over 40 festival pitches. Some of the ideas included a festival for people who feel excluded by current political policies, crowd-sourced food vendors, and stages themed by human emotions.

Next up for us;

If you want to know more about what we’re up to or want to get involved, visit www.soundcheckfestival.com or contact me via www.howardgray.net

Where’s the mentoring in the music industry?

Career fuel, career angst and passing the torch

this article originally appeared in edition 3 of The Manifesto, a publication for the modern music business.

One of my favourite articles from the past eighteen months is a piece in the consistently excellent Fast Company magazine by Brian Fetherstonhaugh, Chairman and CEO of advertising agency Ogilvy One. Entitled ‘Here’s what you really need to get right about work’, Fetherstonhaugh shares his views on career trajectories and says that most people only think about the immediate next step, not a pathway.

Simply put, the article suggests careers can be split in 3 chapters of roughly 15 years apiece, with a different strategy needed for each.

The chapters are;

  • Taking on Career Fuel (Transportable Skills, Meaningful Experiences, and Enduring Relationships)
  • Pouring Gasoline on your strengths (finding your sweet spot, and setting high ambitions);
  • Passing the Torch (mentoring and staying fresh).

There’s also an introductory section around ‘Career Math(s)’ which emphasises the need to think of careers as marathons rather than sprints, and the need to ‘fuel up’ right from the off.

The world of advertising isn’t always the most nurturing of places for career development but this piece really hit the spot with me, and I’ve referred back to it numerous times. The ideas in these three chapters are simple and effective and also actionable. Rather like the best advertising in fact.

However, one thing that he proposes that I’d challenge is that the passing the torch should only happen in chapter three (i.e. after fifty years of age). The vantage point may be higher then, but I believe it can and should happen much earlier. One industry that would benefit enormously from more torch passing, mentoring and knowledge sharing of all kinds and at all stages is the music business.

Same as it ever was? Or worse?

So what happens if nothing changes? In an industry shifting and writhing as much as music is, I’d suggest that some or all of these things are likely to happen if development of executive talent stalls:

  • executive talent goes elsewhere
  • executive talent doesn’t fulfil their potential
  • artistic talent doesn’t thrive to their potential
  • deals within the industry decline
  • there is a ripple effect to wider creative industries

These are pretty dire consequences, but they are imminently possible if the business talent within music doesn’t thrive and help create a supportive and connected ecosystem.

The best way I can think of to prevent these consequences is through effective mentoring and the building of a virtuous circle where the next generation are guided by those that came before them.

Mentor mumbo jumbo

One definition of a mentor is this:

‘Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger, but have a certain area of expertise.’

The first rule of mentorship is to understand why you want one, and that probably means taking a step back and properly thinking about what you really want. This thought process will help you identify who the right mentors may be.

Be respectful of a mentor’s time. Their time is often their most valuable resource and should be respected as such — it’s something all of us only have a finite amount of, after all. Ironically, if you keep to time when meeting with a mentor and know when to bring the meeting to an end, they’re more likely to give you extra time.

When I’ve sought out mentors, I’ve learned to ask clear, tightly formed questions. It took me a while to learn this but I noticed the results I got improved dramatically.

If you’re emailing them be specific about why you’re getting in touch, why you think they may be a good fit for what you’re looking to achieve, then ask no more than three well-formed questions. Only expect a call or in-person meeting as a bonus if they have the time. This gives the mentor a chance to politely pass on one or all of your methods of request with neither party feeling aggrieved or uncomfortable.

A mentor relationship can come in many different forms. It could be conversations once a week in-person or once a year via email; someone you met once ten years ago, or the person you haven’t yet.

Make the preparatory steps first, and as the saying goes ‘when the student is ready the teacher will appear’.

Mentoring myths

Let me dispel a few mentoring myths:

  • they have to be from your industry / area of expertise
  • they’re considerably older than you
  • you have one mentor, not many.

Myth 1 is sometimes the opposite of where a mentor should come from. This example from a friend sums it up:

“A few years ago I decided to reach out to my old thesis supervisor at University. We hadn’t talked really since I graduated. I remembered that he always pushed my analytical thinking and made me want to be better. So I just casually started the conversation. Since that time we meet whenever we are in the same city. we email every three months. And I always ask his opinion when I need that sort of critical eye.”

Regarding myth 2, mentorship is not necessarily about age or decades of experience. It’s important to put ego and fear to one side, and to be mindful.

I’ve been recently been getting advice from someone too young to get my cultural references but their guidance in a couple of specific areas I’m working in has been extremely valuable.

And as for the third myth, whilst having a huge number of people to call on occasionally for sage advice somewhat defeats the point, I have found that getting a broad number of ideas and perspectives both clarifies things and also brings up new questions to ask.

If you’re looking for mentors, they can come from almost anywhere — it’s more about being curious and discovering people who you find interesting and do work you admire.

My experiences then and now

Running my own company several years ago I looked for mentors, but coming into the business as a relative outsider I found it extremely difficult to identify these people. I was seeking a fellow entrepreneurial soul who had climbed up the ladder a few rungs further than me but my requests for advice were generally met with indifference or a tenacious PA who spurned my advances.

Through a bit of serendipity and looking in alternative places I struck up relationships with a couple of mentors outside the music business, but having an industry expert’s view to complement those other perspectives would have benefited me enormously.

In the middle of 2015 I made the decision to leave my role as a booking agent to explore my interests in other industries. As I sensed a career crossroads approaching I embarked on something of a discovery mission to help ascertain where my path would lead. The voyage of discovery comprised mainly of seeking out people in divergent fields to ask for advice and find out more about their career paths, challenges and forecasts on what’s going to happen next in their line of work.

Looking back on the approaches I made and notes I took from the meetings I had, there are a few ham-fisted early attempts (later remedied by the framing I mention earlier), plus some wildly differing opinions, a few bits of feedback that were cast-iron in their consistency, and several new doors opened.

Most importantly, my brain had to work harder — reaching out to someone smarter, more worldly, more experienced than you means going out of your comfort zone. This was pretty scary at first but has without doubt made me more open, confident and also mindful as a result.

Where the music industry is lacking

Running a small industry networking event and talking to lots of peers earlier this year, there was a strong sense that the music industry is lacking in the following key areas around mentoring and knowledge sharing;

  • influence from complementary and divergent industries
  • transparency, clarity and insight from those in a position of influence on what it takes to become a success (‘hard work’ is the party line, surely there is something a little more to it?)
  • knowledge gaps and also assets; an overly aggressive stance, or putting up the defences to avoid the perceived threat
  • support to those who are nearing the middle or end of the ‘Career Fuel’ stage (i.e. late twenties to mid thirties)

This is emphasised by a recent ‘brain drain’ among executives that has been highlighted in prominent industry publications. It seems this drain is most prevalent among people in their late twenties to mid thirties. To me it feels like the career equivalent of teen angst — fleeting success and trying to make your mark on the world colliding head-on with new pressures and growing frustration.

Being in the middle like this is hard — some of the reasons I’ve heard for people either stepping out or getting close to it include simple burn out, frustration with monetisation, frustration with major label ways of working, artist and executive demands increasing alongside an insular viewpoint, and negativity breeding negativity in the industry.

All the more reason for mentors to provide guidance through this difficult adolescent chapter in a career.

Where can the music industry can take note from other areas, and who’s doing it well?

I’ve been interested in technology since my teens, and having kept a keen eye on it throughout my time in both advertising and the music business, it’s only relatively recently I have pushed myself headlong into the world of startups.

Yes, startups are the hip thing right now, so there’s bound to be a buzz of activity around them, but upon getting more involved I was still surprised at just how many events there are each week in London devoted to both the wider startup scene and many smaller niches. Most of these events are free, many have prominent speakers sharing a few secrets, and the majority of attendees are happy to pass on useful information and make introductions. The openness and lack of fear around hoarding ideas and information is refreshing. As the saying goes, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’.

Meanwhile in the hospitality industry, a new venture has started called Journee. It’s a collaboration space in the heart of Manhattan, offering a professional setting for a meeting, a place to study for a sommelier’s exam, or simply somewhere to connect with new friends and colleagues.

People may argue the music industry is consolidating more tightly than hospitality and doesn’t have the scale of tech, so why would we share important information, or be able to set up a collaboration space? I’d suggest that this is even more of a reason that things need to change.

Torch passing

I’d urge you to think about torch passing whatever stage of your career you are in. If you’re at entry level you can help a school/college student understand the paths available to them; if you’re in your late 20s/early 3os there’s ample opportunity to mentor interns and junior executives; if your age is around the forty mark there are a large number of thirtysomethings who could use your advice.

Why? It empowers the mentee, makes the industry more robust, and it’s good for your soul. In particular I’d recommend that perhaps you make a recommendation between two individuals whom you feel should meet with this idea in mind.

One of the reasons I left the music industry was the lack of mentorship and knowledge sharing; it shouldn’t be the reason for other people to do the same.

Let’s pay it forward and build for a stronger, more connected community of tomorrow.

Thanks to Michelle Sullivan, editor at The Manifesto, and Jacinta O’Shea-Ramdeholl for their feedback on the drafts of this article.