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Friends in High Places: Finding (and Keeping) a Music Industry Mentor

By Brock Harris

Imagine our young hero, bestowed by the gods with all the ingredients of music-industry success: a gleaming sword (a LAMN-approved resume), a completed apprenticeship (a few years of intern hell), and a burning desire to conquer the kingdom and win the treasure (whatever music industry goals you may have).

But lest our hero be waylaid in his quest either by poorly-chosen roads (picking the wrong companies), weak allies (not knowing the right people), or losing his vision (saying “screw this” and going back to law school), one vital ingredient is required: the well-chosen mentor.

What is a Mentor?
The word “mentor” comes to us from Greek mythology, specifically the “Odyssey,” in which the goddess Athena took the form of Mentor to give advice to the hero Odysseus. Mentor’s name soon became synonymous with a faithful and wise adviser.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose work inspired George Lucas’s Star Wars universe, defined many roles mentors can play: they can be teachers, gift-givers (think Obi-Wan giving Luke the light saber), motivators, or advisors.

Your mentor can be any one of these, but one thing is consistent: mentors help their charges achieve their goals.

How to Find One
A relationship with a well-placed, accessible mentor is #1 on the wish-list for most music-industry newcomers. Many strategies exist for finding one.

Cold-calling is one option, but it’s as effective as sending out unsolicited resumes to find a job. Cultivating existing relationships with established industry professionals is also a good idea: if the chemistry is right, a mentor/client relationship can emerge on its own. But perhaps the easiest and most effective method of finding a mentor is to join a professional organization that provides such a service to its members, such as the Los Angeles Music Network and its Mentor Program. Potential clients are asked to fill out a questionnaire, which allows them to be matched with industry volunteers, according to mutual goals and needs. I completed an application last year, specified music management as my field, and ended up enjoying monthly meetings with one of the top managers in the business.

Managing the Relationship
Now that you have an accessible mentor, you’ll want to avoid making some classic mistakes.

PROBLEM: The Relationship Fizzles. The two of you enjoy a lunch, talk on the phone, but weeks pass with no news, so you don’t call. Suddenly it’s a few months later and the whole thing has seemingly gone kaput.

SOLUTION: This is the #1 reason why mentor programs fail, but there’s one solution: set up regular meeting times. Once every six weeks is ideal. Establish goals, or “homework,” at each meeting so there’s a reason for the next one. Help your mentor do his job (maybe it’s his first time as a mentor) by asking for recommendations for conferences, activities, books etc. Remember, the mentor/client relationship is based on doing, not talking.

PROBLEM: To Call or Not to Call. Most mentors will make themselves 100% available, at least in theory. “Call me anytime” they say, so you do, but getting a call back is another story.

SOLUTION: Rarely call. Ask instead if you can email news and updates, but let your mentor know there’s no need to reply. Then send him two or three updates a month on what you’re doing. As Dan Kimpel writes in the July issue of Music Biz Magazine, “Everyone prefers to get on a train that’s up and running…You need to give the impression of growth, of career evolution, of really having something new to say.” Also, be of service to him – if you see an interesting article, fax it over with a note. Then bring it up at your next meeting.

PROBLEM: You’re Hesitant, or Overeager. Perhaps you find your mentor intimidating, or your mentor is misinterpreting your enthusiasm as insincere.

SOLUTION: Learn as much as you can about your mentor. Earn his respect by being punctual and respectful. And remember that while mentor etiquette pretty much forbids asking for a job, it’s a good idea to simply ask for anything else that could help you: does your mentor get free passes to expensive conferences or performances? Maybe he gets demos you would like to listen to. Just ASK. If he says no, respect his wishes. Remember, open communication is the rule of thumb for a successful mentor/client relationship. Ask your mentor to be as frank as possible about expectations and preferences, then adhere to his desires. You’ll both end up much happier.

PROBLEM: This is Not Working For Me. Sometimes everyone’s best efforts can’t make the relationship work, for whatever reason.

SOLUTION: Remember, a good mentor makes new opportunities and ideas available to you. If you’ve given your all but aren’t receiving clear benefits from the relationship after six months, be prepared to reevaluate your mentor, and find another. As always, be clear and forward about your actions. Thank your mentor for her time, and let her know you’ll keep in touch.

CONCLUSION: The Ideal Client?
Dr. Linda Phillips-Jones, a national expert on mentoring, acknowledges that while no single client matches the “needs, characteristics, and expectations of every mentor,” there are some qualities that comprise the “ideal client”: “You have goals…You’re willing to learn from anyone who can teach, and you learn quickly and well. You value loyalty but are willing to challenge your mentors when called for. You’re reliable and prompt, complete assignments, and aren’t afraid to take the initiative in new areas. You’re enjoyable to be around.”

Many industry professionals credit a mentor figure with much of their success. Find the right one for yourself, and your hero’s journey through this industry will be made easier and more fruitful.

Brock Harris is a music manager living in Los Angeles. He has been a member since 1999 and credits NARIP’s Mentor Program for introducing him to the best personal artist manager in the business.

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