Career Fuel: Portfolio planning for the full stack freelancer

I loved Tiago Forte’s post on the rise of the Full Stack Freelancer.

I’d been skirting around this idea for a while but he brought it all together in a really succinct and and coherent way.

Tiago says:

Full-Stack Freelancers borrow freely — from tech startups, digital nomads, lifestyle designers, independent contractors, the sharing and peer-to-peer economies — but placing them squarely inside any of these categories is not quite right.

That’s because Full-Stack Freelancers manage a portfolio of income streams, not a job based on one set of skills.

These potentially include both products and services, online and offline businesses, digital and physical products, active and passive income sources, in-person and remote interaction, individual contribution and group collaboration, and offerings that are low margin and high margin, mass-produced and customizable, high risk and low risk, monetized directly or indirectly, short-term and long-term, or any combination of the above.

So what are these products and services, and how we can plan, organise and deploy them?

Tiago continues:

Social media shares and free blog posts are your lead capture, bringing people into your audience. They also keep you exposed to the wider world beyond your niche.

Your introductory offerings are your qualification and filtering system, helping you identify not only the people who are most committed to your message, but also the best ideas and formats to help carry that message.

Premium offerings are the cash cows, allowing you to provide the most value with your time, and be compensated accordingly.

Taking inspiration from a few people’s portfolios I put together a quick Google Sheet to map out how my own portfolio was shaping up. It was a very interesting exercise and I could easily see a couple of gaps to look at filling.

Then I thought: perhaps other people would benefit from a tool like this?

I’ve been using Airtable more and more over the last few months and whilst it’s not quite ‘sticky’ enough to be a go-to app for me just yet, it’s undoubtedly very powerful and also has some great social features built in for sharing and collaborating

So here’s a simple Airtable ‘base’ for modern freelancers looking to follow Tiago’s suggestion and go full-stack.

Hopefully it’s a useful resource to you. Any feedback, ideas or suggestions just drop me a line – I’d love to hear from you.

Check it out here:

https://airtable.com/embed/shrWaxQk6RzAjZydz?backgroundColor=purple

Career Fuel: How to get paid like a DJ

I don’t charge for DJing, I charge for flying to get there now.

The traveling is the aspect I charge for; the DJing is free.

John Digweed, Magnetic Magazine, 2012

John Digweed is a British DJ.

He’s never had a breakout hit song, never been voted the number 1 DJ in the world, and never been on the cover of Billboard magazine.

But he’s been a constant in the upper echelons of the electronic music world for over two decades. He has a hugely passionate fanbase across the world. He makes an excellent living and has made very few creative compromises in his career.

His fans would wholeheartedly agree he is a master of what he does, and despite championing pretty niche underground music and being closer to 50 than 30, in what we keep being told is a young person’s world he’s as in demand as ever.

And the DJing, the craft, is still free.

He charges for the travel time. Or rather, he charges for everything involved to get him to the DJ gig: the travel, the practice, the developing of the craft, the preparation.

Here are just some of the skills creative professionals have to invest in on an ongoing basis:

  • Professional development
  • Equipment and Tools
  • Planning
  • Editing
  • Filtering
  • Trashing
  • Drafting
  • Rehearsing

These are expensive – either in time, money or effort. They are all things most people don’t want to go through the hardship or cost of. They don’t offer instant gratification. They send us down difficult paths.

That’s why true professionals can charge what they do.

Charging for the travel (or any of these other things) also removes time from the equation. John Digweed doesn’t get paid per hour of travel time, he charges based on the market and his value within it. That value has been built over time by his investment in what he does.

The good news is that a true professional can charge a lot of money – far from the ties of the hourly rate. And over time that can compound.

The bad news is that it’s hard. It takes time, it takes effort and it takes trust. The results don’t appear quickly. In fact they appear slowly, and once you’ve had some good results you can’t expect tomorrow to be better or even the same as today – you have to keep reinvesting.

Which route would you like to take?

Harness your curiosity. Beware the Magpie.

I spent my youngest years growing up in a very small village in the Cornish countryside. For a long time we had a local milkman who would deliver glass bottles of milk to our front door each morning. You’ve probably seen the sort – the ones with the coloured foil lids.

Inevitably, lots of the bottles got attacked by the local wildlife. The crows and sparrows would puncture the lids and try and guzzle down the milk, but I was more interested in seeing if the early morning magpies would come out to steal the foil lids.

After all, legend has it the magpie is a bird that just loves shiny things.

Figuratively speaking, we all have our own personal magpies. Sometimes they’re relatively docile. On other occasions they are champing at the bit with an insatiable hunger.

And our magpies aren’t only loitering for the chance to grab some shiny yet low value items like milk bottle tops or Instagram likes.

The modern magpie wants to make impact. It wants to make positive change. It wants to achieve and excel. It wants to build a nest filled with valuable things.

I don’t know about you, but my magpie is ravenous.

tyler-quiring-21351

A Raven, rather than a ravenous Magpie. by Tyler Quiring on Unsplash

Accordingly to the Myers-Briggs test, my personality type is INFJ.

When it comes to careers, one of the INFJ traits is to dislike choosing one path, mainly because it means making the heartbreaking decision to abandon several other equally fulfilling and intriguing options.

Being naturally curious about different things and how they work exacerbates this.

Living in today’s always-on world, particularly in busy cities, amplifies it even more.

This combination creates particularly fertile ground for the magpie.

The magpie can find nourishment almost everywhere:

  • an article going behind the scenes at an interesting company
  • a new charitable enterprise to get involved in
  • a successful person with whom we can (subconsciously) compare ourselves
  • a request for advice from someone getting started or changing lanes
  • a new trend or idea in an adjacent industry

The magpie desires them all.

And like the fabled Scorpion, it’s not its fault – it is just its nature.

If we indulge the magpie it can harm us.

However, to avoid harm we don’t have to banish the magpie completely.

What we must do is tame it, even if we feel we are passing up golden opportunities by doing so.

Derek Sivers suggests a good heuristic when looking at a decision or opportunity is to respond with either ‘Hell Yes’ or ‘No’. If it’s not ‘Hell Yes’ then the answer should be ‘No’.

The magpie makes us say Yes when we should say No.

But only we know when it’s ‘Hell Yes’. That feeling comes from somewhere else the magpie can’t reach; it doesn’t know us well enough for that. And that is how we tame it.

When making decisions, ask yourself: is this me, or the magpie?

Depression in the music industry: Here’s one thing no one is talking about

Image: Ted Ed

In the last couple of years many of us have started to become more aware of our mental wellbeing. Meditation apps have millions of users; travel providers offer relaxation holiday retreats; schools, workplaces and even prisons are introducing programs to help develop mindfulness.

Awareness has led to talking about mental health more openly, particularly in the workplace. An increasingly open dialogue should be welcomed in the music industry as much as anywhere.

Over the past year a number of new initiatives and media pieces have helped increase awareness of mental health issues for musicians.

Most recently, in late July The Guardian newspaper interviewed several big-name dance acts about the challenges of their touring lifestyle.

A mainstream media platform giving space to this is certainly a positive thing, but strangely and somewhat sadly the majority of the 300+ comments below the line ignored the main issue being highlighted and instead focused on arguing the merits of electronic musicians as real artists.

There are two omissions from the article that would make for a more balanced and compelling argument, and by extension lessen audience focus on whether decks or drums are more legit.

The first is to feature viewpoints from a more diverse range of artists, and the second is to broaden the conversation to those working across all areas of the industry.


As with music, media is becoming a headliners’ market and the big names are what get media platforms the clicks they crave, but The Guardian not featuring the opinions of those in other areas of the scene feels like a sorely missed opportunity.

Steve Aoki. Photograph: Ross Gilmore

The touring schedules of the likes of Above & Beyond and Steve Aoki are no doubt heavy and intense, but the majority of artists travel in a less salubrious manner. For every DJ with a tour manager, private jet and a reservation at a Michelin star restaurant, there are hundreds more flying solo on Easyjet or Ryanair every weekend and making do with a hotel room club sandwich.

Viewing things through the eyes of these artists may improve getting the message across because their situation is far more relatable. Most of us have probably felt some pang of desperation while fighting fatigue waiting for a delayed flight home from a barren airport.


More broadly, it’s to be applauded that as well as artist support there are now mental wellbeing initiatives for fans with the likes of Calm Zones being rolled out.

However, no one seems to be talking about depression amongst those working in the industry away from the artist side. It’s a growing issue and one that should have a public platform; not just for the dance music scene but the music industry as a whole.

The issues surrounding those working as executives and service providers in the music industry differ from those affecting artists, but I would argue they are no less dangerous.

The risk of depression can loom largest for the service providers operating at the front line, representing the creative and mercurial; their roles can include strategist, hustler, debt collector, confidant, investor, therapist and a whole lot more. Sometimes they are part of a larger organisation, but often these are individuals or collectives trying to operate and grow a company as well as deliver for their clients.

All this in an industry that is highly competitive, mainly unregulated, rarely measured on meritocracy, often insular, and struggling to find solutions against wave after wave of disruption.

The perceived wisdom for moments of uncertainty and anxiety seems to be to either front up aggressively or hunker down and ignore.

Neither of these positions are effective in the long-term, and many in the industry suffer from status anxiety, if not something more serious.

‘Status Anxiety’ by Alain de Botton.

There are such a range of evolving skills, strengths and sensitivities needed by the modern music industry executive that even the very best are going to stumble from time to time, let alone the rest of us.


I wrote about the need for music industry mentors in this piece.

Alongside mentors, I suggest three more actions to help combat depression in the music business:

  • Professional coaching: How do you deal with a client who has depression? An artist having a manager is one thing; having a manager who is trained to deal with these issues is quite another. Knowing how a publishing contract works isn’t going to help when your client is threatening to self-harm in a hotel room on the other side of the world. There’s a great opportunity for quality executive coaches to help those in the music business.
  • Round tables and music mindfulness: A few conference panels have talked about depression, but they don’t feel like the best forum for such personal matters. Smaller, private groups where mindfulness and open discussion are encouraged would be a good step.
  • Artist awareness: A lot of the pressure for those working in the business comes from their clients. They may not mean it or even be aware of it, but why not find ways to increase artist awareness of the pressures their teams have to deal with on a day to day basis, in a way that builds genuine collaboration and empathy?

Depression is a real issue.

It’s positive that the importance of mental health for artists is being recognised.

It’s also crucially important not to forget all the tour managers, agents, managers, promoters, PRs and others who are taking care of business away from the spotlight.


thanks to Jacinta O’Shea-Ramdeholl for reading drafts of this article.

Note-taking, creativity and 80s action movies

I have a fondness for mid-late 1980s action movies.

Nothing particularly unusual there for a person of my vintage, except I seem to have a strange ability to recall relatively trivial and obscure details.

The character names of the first 3 marines who get killed in Aliens; the career path of the actor who plays crazy computer hacker Theo in the first Die Hard; the location of the parking lot where Doc and Marty test the DeLorean in Back to the Future…and much, much more.

Yep, I’m the life and soul of the party.

One of my favourite characters from the period features in the (rightfully) much-maligned Crocodile Dundee 2.

He is, of course, Leroy Brown.

Leroy Brown and Mick Dundee.

Leroy is trying to live up to his name of being a bad guy on the streets of late 1980s New York, despite being a humble stationery salesman who happens to have a better than average Rolodex.

He’s Mick Dundee’s connector, facilitator and enabler — hooking him up with the right gang leaders to know, creating distractions to get him out of sticky situations and generally being a man about town, all whilst rocking a leather flat cap, wraparound sunglasses and a purchase order for office supplies.

Leroy is the kind of guy I want to be around; not just for his fashion sense and links into questionable groups of NYC punks, but for his passion for stationery.

Stationery is one of the best paths to improved memory and creativity. Here’s why.


The joy of stationery

Technology now enables us to compile and sort ideas and information on the fly in all sorts of ways (Evernote, Apple Notes, Instagram, Trello are just four — there are literally hundreds of applications out there to help with this).

I use a bunch of software apps to help make lists and scribble down thoughts, but recently I’ve been returning to pen and paper.

My handwriting is still terrible, but going back to basics has helped improve my creativity, memory and ability to connect ideas and concepts.

It also prevents tapping away on a phone or laptop during a meeting, which most people find rude, even if you are taking notes about what’s being discussed.

My method is to take notes on paper, then either write them up into Apple Notes, before re-distributing them where they may be best utilised (a to-do list, new client database, a subject to research via a web browser, etc.), or put them up on the wall.

This may seem like duplicating work but my memory for the notes I make has improved significantly and links between things seem to appear more easily and in new ways.

I try to re-read my notes as much as I can, dipping back into notes from 3, 6, 12, even 24 months previously to see in which directions new associations, thoughts and implications may take me.

Two of my recent and exciting projects have stemmed from a couple of scratchy notes and drawings I made over a year ago, that only now have I been able to turn into fully formed ideas.


Note-taking for idea discovery

Steven Johnson’s book ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ is a great read for understanding patterns of innovation and the ways in which we can develop better ideas and creativity.

In the chapter ‘The Slow Hunch’, Johnson explores the stories behind some of Charles Darwin’s greatest discoveries, and the benefits of note-taking to help with the process.

None of Darwin’s major discoveries came about as sudden epiphanies or breakthroughs. They were nearly all a number of smaller hunches that collided, conjoined, crept up in stealth mode, or faded into view slowly.

To keep these slow hunches alive, Darwin regularly re-read and referred back to his many pages of notes and drawings over long periods of time. This process saw new ideas and implications emerge, with Darwin’s famous finches only becoming a fully realised concept nearly 2 years after the pieces of the puzzle started to come together in his notes from the Galapagos.

Without making notes, re-reading them and making associations between seemingly disparate concepts and ideas, Darwin’s discovery of one of natural science’s most important concepts may have never come to be.

Darwin’s finches or Galapagos finches. Darwin, 1845.

Stationery Selection

Ideas, concepts and hunches take many forms. It helps to have a mix of tools to write them down and develop them in different ways.

I recommend having 3 different sizes of notebook and a few different colours and types of pen.

If you want to take this a step further, you want to go down the route of legendary adman Paul Arden. A couple of his techniques include using watercolours or very soft pencils on occasions when the creativity process is more difficult than usual. That way you can’t focus on details, only on broad strokes and sketches.

Here’s my current stationery setup:

  • A4 lined ring binder style, with a few colours of Sharpie. This is for sitting in the park, hotel lobby or a coffee shop and I’m thinking about bigger ideas, letting the mind wander, or planning out longer periods of time.
  • A5 lined, with a biro and a fine line. Most business meetings where I may take 5–10 lines of notes that can be quickly written up and actioned
  • A6 graph paper, with a biro and a pencil. Great for sketching, diagrams, charts, and quick notes when on the move. Graph paper is especially useful when, like me, you can’t get close to drawing straight lines.

My current stationery selection (yes, I lifted a pencil from Ikea)

It’s also worth investing in a decent range of stationery if you’re involved in any kind of project or product development.

Masking tape, various colours of sticky notes, index cards and some colourful fine-liner pens will stand you in good stead to set up a really tactile and memorable agile board.

And for wireframes and even functioning product prototypes you can transform your sketches to digital using tools like the Prototyping on Paper app, before creating something more refined.

Technology continues to amaze me on a daily basis and has made so many tasks better, easier or simply redundant, but I recommend everyone gets themselves a nice line of stationery and take more notes.

It’ll also give you more clarity, help improve your memory, and maybe pull together some of those slow hunches that give the breakthrough you’ve been looking for.


Want more? A collection of productivity tools and resources can be found at my latest side project, Operator’s Handbook.

So you wanna be a boxer?

A love letter to the sweet science from a pacifist with two left feet.

This film is gold. If you haven’t seen it, please do. And if you’ve watched Bugsy Malone as an adult and haven’t felt a nostalgic pang for your childhood, you may well have a heart of stone.

This song is the one I always remember from the film, it’s just so damn catchy. However, I never wanted to get into boxing, let alone be a boxer. It just didn’t land with me as something I may want to do or that would be beneficial. Not when I first watched Bugsy Malone in 1992, not when I watched it again a few years later, not when Frank Bruno was a UK hero and top of the tree, and not even when Prince Naseem Hamed was the main man.

Maybe I was just too busy collecting football stickers.

Health & fitness in my teenage years was mainly PE classes (cross country runs and getting spear tackled playing rugby, seemingly always in freezing rain), a bit of football and cricket at the weekends, and then discovering girls and pubs. The idea of taking up boxing didn’t even cross my mind, and presumably not the school sport teachers’ either.

When I went to university I remember an ill-fated attempt trying Taekwondo — the less said about that the better. Other than that I did a bit of swimming, kept a somewhat regular attendance at the gym and did the odd bit of sprinting when the local beer monsters fancied jumping a group of students. The idea of taking up boxing still didn’t even cross my mind. In fact, my perception of it was of brutal backstreet beatings and intimidating, stinking gyms in railway arches. I’d pass, thanks.


Fast forward 8 years, and my music industry career meant late nights, high stress and too much on-the-go (aka unhealthy & rich) food. My skin was grey, I had dark rings under my eyes and I was tired and irritable more often than I should have been.

I found running boring and a killer on my knees, and whilst I played football most Sundays, getting regularly bamboozled by talented wingers 5 years younger was taking its toll. Something had to give.


Enter Paolo.

My gym had recently undergone refurbishment, and as well as a nifty new online booking system and app, the new space had a studio for various fitness classes. I used the gym but found motivation tough and a personal trainer pricey. I was in search of something that would up my fitness levels, started well after 7am, didn’t involve lycra and would keep me interested. £50 went into the app’s digital wallet and I was signed up to 6pm Monday boxing classes.

The leader of the class didn’t look like the boxing coach I had in mind. A diminutive man of very few words, his name was Paolo. I soon discovered Paolo had coached numerous Olympic medallists and pro boxers, was himself a former international champion and was in the process of opening a new boxing gym in Tottenham. And now I was his newest charge.

At first I was simply awful. My long skinny legs wouldn’t move quickly enough when we were in pairs trying to tag each other foot-to-foot. Bailing out of press-ups halfway through was emasculating. As someone very tall, my main weapon was the long jab, but even that supposedly lethal instrument became a feather duster after less than a minute of activity. I barely made it to the end of the classes — short on breath, drenched in sweat, feeling weak and unfit.

Despite all of that, I came back. Those sessions soon became a mandatory booking in my diary. There was just something about the mix of skills and drills, plus the dichotomy of simplicity and complexity that I found compelling. After a few weeks I could sense the faintest touch of style and grace coming — and Paolo’s quiet words of encouragement did wonders for my confidence.


The Art of Boxing

About 18 months after I started boxing, journalist, author and amateur pugilist Tony Parsons presented an episode of The Culture Show entitled ‘The Art of Boxing’. Frustratingly short at 30 minutes, he explores how generations of writers, filmmakers and artists (amongst many others) went to find out what was really inside them — and us all — by entering the boxing ring.

When I first started sparring, I came up against a chap who we’ll call Markus. He was jovial and encouraging, but clearly fitter, stronger and more technically skilled than me. He also had a look in his eye that suggested he’d done this more than once before, plus a constant and slightly maniacal grin indicated he may enjoy hunting me down just a little too much. 
We got to work, my usually advantageous southpaw neutralised by him also being left-handed. Markus let me throw a few shots, absorbing one and slipping the others. We kept moving, and I tried to remember the footwork drills (don’t cross your feet or you’re toast!). Markus’s right jab glanced me on the forehead, causing my guard to drop, before a bazooka left came from nowhere and thumped me on the bridge of the nose. I’ll never forget that fizz of pain, shock, fear and adrenaline all rolled into one, with the fight or flight mechanism kicking in immediately. So that’s what Tony Parsons was talking about.


My Monday evening sessions were doing a lot to keep my fitness up, but I also starting thinking about wider benefits and why I chose boxing above all other activities.

Other than the obvious improvements in strength, endurance, confidence and being more able to look after yourself if the situation may arise (although for me this is far down the list of why I box), there are a few other benefits of boxing I’ve come to value:

Discipline: taking a direct hit from Markus’s howitzer of a left cross makes you want to cry, run or make a frenzied attack. Discipline makes you do none of these and choose the right course of action. Discipline makes sure you finish the 3 minutes of jabbing the bag and the last set of burpees.

Focus: Mimicking the coach’s instructions for even the simplest combinations can be very hard to execute. A 4 or 5 punch combo with a couple of foot movements can leave you flailing and put you back to pre-school trying to work out the difference between left and right . To execute correctly you have to focus.

Co-ordination: Connected to focus is co-ordination. Co-ordination helps with all sorts of things, and boxing is one of the best things I’ve ever done to improve my full body co-ordination.

Range of movement: My arms and legs feel (even) longer; I didn’t even realise I wasn’t using the full length of my arms previously.

Dancing: Despite working in the music business for nearly 10 years, I hate dancing. I’m terrible. Thus, wedding receptions are kryptonite to me; awful music, drunk aunties, being cajoled to dance, being 6ft 6 and highly visible to all in attendance — no thanks. Until last summer, when my footwork drills (and yes, some champagne) enabled co-ordinated movement in time to rhythms! I could dance!

Finally, and most importantly:

Schools: Contrary to popular belief, boxing is more likely to instil discipline, co-ordination, trust and confidence rather than violence. I see clear benefits for schools by having some of the key principles and training methods used in boxing on the curriculum.


Now, my main goal is to train at least twice a week, whether that’s with Paolo, at another gym in London, or just with a like-minded soul now I’ve bought a good set of gloves and pads.

I’ll keep sparring but I’m not fussed about entering into a proper bout, let alone making a late charge to take on Anthony Joshua.

The subject of professional boxing and the potential dangers it brings is another discussion (and at the time of writing a very poignant one), but for anyone looking to build up strength, endurance, focus, discipline, co-ordination and a bunch of other skills through training you should wanna be a boxer.

And if you’re looking to spar with a long-armed southpaw, you know where to find me.

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.