Music Mentorship 101

Music Mentorship 101

Mylène Besançon
Pursuing a music career can be one of the most ambitious experiences you can undertake. It isn’t easy to make an impact and, with all the challenges faced by newcomers in the music business, you can quickly feel overwhelmed by the multitude of things you need to do in order to give yourself a fighting chance to succeed.

That includes the challenges associated with writing and recording music to the pressures of trying to get your music into the ears of your intended audience. It’s especially difficult if you’re trying to manage everything on your own and have no one in your corner supporting you.

As with any other field in business, finding success in the music industry is next to impossible if you’re doing it on your own. It's fair to say that all songwriters and musicians, who have ever managed to make a mark, have at some point benefited from receiving help and guidance from one or more persons who have more experience and, quite often, the right connections. It follows that you need support from people who understand the many hurdles you will come across and how to get over them. Someone who will give you valuable advice, help you understand the market, connect you with people who can make things happen, and even help you with your music material. You need a music mentor.

My team and I came up with the idea for this post earlier this year after one of the Tunedly monthly webinars. It became apparent that quite a few of the attendees could do with a mentor, or two, based on some of the questions they asked. It’s my hope that this article will help upcoming songwriters or musicians who might be looking for guidance.

Who can be your mentor?

All music mentors are not the same. For that reason, you need to think carefully about the needs of your career before setting out to find one to help guide your career. Some mentors can double as sponsors; people with strong influence in the music business who can make a call that helps you land a gig, pull a name that opens a door for you or even directly put you on blast among their circle. Landing a sponsor often requires some amount of networking, which means going out and meeting with people who might be interested in your music.

Another type of mentor is one who will act as a coach by giving you valuable advice to strengthen the weaker areas of your career. Maybe your songwriting needs tightening up, or maybe you aren’t working with the right people, or maybe you are lacking in knowledge about the business of music, or it could be a combination of things that are deficient in your career. Having a coach, who is knowledgeable about the business, could make all the difference, and put you on a path that helps your career take off.

Still another mentor could be someone you look up to but have never met in person. This is someone who you follow online, watch their webinars and videos, read their books, take their courses etc. This kind of mentor is helpful if you’re not able to get out and meet people, for whatever reason, but have a need to learn from others who have been there. There are a number of music professionals who host podcasts and webinars, do tutorial videos and courses, and publish books, etc. so there are many options at your disposal.

In addition, you can also get mentorship by being part of a knowledge-sharing community, such as a Facebook Group for songwriters and music-minded people, who you can learn from, and where you can even share your own experiences as well (you never know who might find value in your words). One thing to bear in mind is that you don’t have to limit yourself to one type of mentorship or even one mentor; you can have them all or a combination as needed.

Approaching a mentor

If you’re thinking of approaching a mentor to interact with in person, you need to be going out and meeting people. There are many music conferences and events happening that will allow you to not only rub shoulders with music professionals but also, in some cases, gain access to mentoring workshops that make it a little easier for you to make an approach. Most times, however, you will have to make the first move to encourage someone to be your mentor. Of course, I wouldn’t suggest bluntly asserting that someone becomes your mentor.

Sometimes you won’t even be able to get close enough to your target, so you want to be subtle and get to know the people around them first. Try to find out (not in a stalking way) the places where they usually go to hang out. If there is a mutual connection with someone you might already know, you can ask to be introduced. You can also find out if they offer coaching/mentoring as a side hustle and then take it from there. Yes, you might have to pay for mentorship but it can be worth it if they have a track record of success and if you both click.

If you manage to get one-on-one with a potential mentor, you can ask for a small portion of their time to talk business. You want to make it clear that you admire their work (do your research) and that you would love to learn from them or get their idea/opinion on a concern of yours. It’s a good idea to ask to meet over a cup of coffee, which is still within the realm of business but within their comfort zone. Once you get that initial meeting, you want to lay out your ideas and plans, maybe have them listen to your music and ask for their feedback and advice. This should all be in respect of their time, so whether they can give you five or forty minutes, make it count.

What next?

The music business is filled with a lot of rejection, so there is a high chance that you will get turned down by one or more of the people you’re targeting to be your mentor. If that happens, don’t take it to heart. Quite often, these people can’t fit you into their schedule right away. It could also be that your personalities clash, or they don’t feel they would be a right fit for you. With that said, when approaching someone to be your mentor, you want to make sure their expertise is relevant to your style and type of music.

Money is another reason why you might get declined by a potential mentor. In return for opening doors or helping you become better, they might want compensation, whether payment upfront or a stake in your music revenues. You might have to walk away if they are unaffordable at that point in time.

Now, if and when you do manage to land a mentor, you want to make sure you take full advantage of the opportunity. If you have to meet with them, take their constructive criticisms and work on the areas they have pointed out. Show that you’re serious by taking the time to listen, discuss, and implement their ideas. Be disciplined to follow the advice being given, even if it’s in a book, and give it time to work.

Of course, the results might not come right away from any type of mentorship you receive but if it feels right and you keep learning, the rewards might start rolling in eventually.

Mylène Besançon is the co-founder of Tunedly. She has been named a “Limit-breaking Female Founder” on Thrive Global and has been featured in: Billboard, CBC News, The Next Web, and HuffPost.