New School of Music Business

The new School of Music Business in London offers musicians short courses from tutors at the top of the industry, as well as giving something back in the form of grants from The SMB Fund. With courses ranging from starting a label, to music PR, social media success, and starting a music blog, plus media training from Kitmonsters’ own Terry Tyldesley, there’s a wide range of expertise. We spoke to the founder Matt Errington - an artist manager, music journalist and music business specialist - to ask him about the school, and give us his top tip for musicians.

What is the School of Music Business?

Well the official line is SMB: The School of Music Business provides short, evening and weekend business courses for musicians and future industry professionals. In reality, it’s much more than that. We’ve brought together a group of tutors from the top of the industry for SMB – international product managers, music supervision and brand specialists, marketing managers from the biggest labels in the world, national music journalists, award-winning indie label founders, BAFTA nominated film makers, BBC Radio 1 producers, some of the most successful artist managers in the country, and more.

With this team of tutors we’ve developed a programme of short courses that take place in a school in Kensington, the hub of the music business in the UK, with most major label offices a short walk away. I’ve seen a lot of low cost online courses available, but that misses a major aspect of success in the music business – networking. It’ll be fantastic for musicians and people going into other parts of the music industry to meet some of the people who have done it – and are the best at it! And meeting the other students is just as important: they could be working alongside those people down the line. You can’t get that studying in isolation online.

I also saw how expensive face-to-face, real world courses were, so we’ve worked to make ours genuinely affordable for artists. For example we have a course that shows musicians how to really succeed in their social media strategy, and it’s taught by the Social Media Manager of Deezer who has also had a background with Red Bull Records and Vevo, and we’ve managed to run it for £150.

Why did you decide to set it up?

I’ve spent years working as an artist manager and as a national music journalist. In both roles I’ve seen some phenomenally gifted artists not fully realise their potential because of bad business – bad business decisions, not fully understanding or utilising various income streams open to them, marketing themselves terribly or not at all, and so on. I’ve also seen some very talented artists be taken advantage of by the industry.

I want to change that with SMB – that’s the big goal. I want the school to arm artists with the tools to take advantage of the industry, rather than being taken advantage of by the industry, and I want to ensure those looking at future careers in management, music PR, labels, publishing etc. get the best grounding possible, from the most talented and most ethical people in the business. And I’ve found them, with my team of tutors.

And I wanted to do something else. 20% of all profits from the school are put aside and invested in to artists, or start-up music enterprises in the form of grants. Any artist or music business start-up will be able to apply for a grant.

I know how difficult it is to get funding, and how costly it is to make those initial steps with touring, promotion, recording and production. I want to be able, throughout the lifetime of SMB, to continually invest in music – the artists and the businesses. Not only does talent deserve that help, but we as an audience deserve to hear and see those talented artists succeed and, guess what, sometimes that needs money!

It’s not right that artists from affluent backgrounds have a better chance of succeeding in the business because they have the money to focus on it solely and pay for a promotional team and so on. Grants will help others have a chance, too. PRS, The BPI, UKTI – they all provide grants and do an incredible job. We want to help, too. We’re looking at some other ideas as well which hopefully we’ll be able to roll out soon.

You’re also running a ‘Sunday Surgery’ - what’s that all about?

I know how difficult it is for emerging artists to get some advice, however brief, when they don’t have management or a team around them. To help, I’m going to offer artists without that network, a chance to get some support… whether it’s looking over a contract, helping out with branding, tips on how or who to approach for various things, or just a contact or opinion. From 20th March, artists will be able to book an hour slot on a Sunday and I’ll help where I can, or put them in touch with someone else who can. This will be totally free for the artist - they just need to book ahead of time.

Some people say there isn’t really a music business any more, why is it relevant?

If someone wants to create music, and someone wants to hear it, there’s a business. It’s changed drastically, obviously, and the relevancy of various income streams has shifted, but there’s still a business and a great one. British music is an incredibly successful export – according to UKTI £100 million was added to the British economy from artists’ success overseas alone.

To say that making a living from music is tough is an understatement, with some bands that are charting and selling out Shepherds Bush-size venues still having a second job. But even to get to that level, you need to put yourself in the best possible position – whether by understanding contracts, developing a social media strategy, having media training, or learning how to market yourself. It’s about educating yourself and ensuring every aspect of your work as an artist or music business person is functioning to its fullest potential.

Who is it aimed at?

Whether you’re a new, unsigned artist looking to self-manage, promote and release your own music, or a signed, established artist looking for specialist media training, we have relevant programmes.

We have courses for people wanting to work in the industry including music supervision and licensing, artist management, music PR, even courses in setting up your own label or music blog. I’m already working with people to develop further courses in things such as tour management and international music marketing.

What kinds of courses and tutors will there be? We’ve got six that are open for enrolments now.

Starting Your Own Record Label taught by Jack Clothier, the Alcopop! Records supremo.

Introduction To Music PR, taught by Outpost Media’s senior publicist Federica Furlotti who’s worked with everyone from Bjork to Craig David.

Artist Management, taught by prominent manager Tim Ferrone, whose background includes working at EMI, Universal and then Ministry of Sound leading campaigns for the likes of London Grammar.

Start And Run Your Own Music Blog, taught by Never Enough Notes’ Kimberley-Marie Sklinar Green whose blog is in Style Of Sounds’ 100 Most Influential Online Music Publications In The World.

A Guide To Social Media Success taught by Mickey Tropeano, the Social Media Manager of Deezer UK

Media Training For Musicians taught by Kitmonsters’ very own Terry Tyldesley.

As you can see, we’ve got an incredible team! And we’re developing more courses with some equally amazing people.

What makes it unique?

The tutors are, in my view, the most qualified and renowned out there, and they all currently work in the business. We’ve tried to make the courses accessible to as many people as possible, in terms of schedules (evenings and weekends), affordability, central London location. We’ll never have more than 12 students on a course to really ensure time with the tutor. And The SMB Fund is to come and is really exciting – and a huge part of what we plan to do.

What’s your background in music business?

I started in music journalism and worked at a number of nationals. I moved into management, which gave me a really great overview and insight into many parts of the industry and enabled me to meet a lot of incredible people, a lot of whom I’ve brought in to work with SMB: people who I really respect and whose work I’ve admired.

You’re an artist manager - we are always coming across bands who really need a manager, there seems to be a real shortage. Do you have any tips for them, and will you be running any artist management courses?

We do have an artist management course, suitable not only for current managers who need some guidance, but for those considering a future in management, and artists who are managing themselves.

The reality is that many artists will have to either self-manage for a time, or have a friend with little experience but a lot of enthusiasm trying to help. The course would be hugely useful in either situation. I wish I had something like that when I started.

As with labels, often managers will come to the artist when the time is right. But finding someone in the very early stages is tough. I’ll be honest: I haven’t worked with an artist that I’ve found from an unsolicited demo. I’ve usually found them myself, either at a show, or a small piece of press somewhere.

Aside from the music, I think having a strong identity, a brand, a unified online presence and so on, is important. Artists should put themselves in the best possible position to be seen and heard, and hopefully prospective managers will notice.

Can you give us a top tip for artists?

Collaborate. Don’t just network with the industry figures, but with other creatives. So many opportunities come in an artist-to-artist manner. Successful bands want their mates who are in a band to support them on tour, or they’ll want them to feature on a recording or in a video.

Bands that work in isolation will find it more difficult, so be part of something rather than outside of it. And collaborate with others starting out: photographers, film-makers, even start-up businesses.

And if you’ve got to the stage of building your support team (agents, pluggers, publicists and so on) then make sure they are all pulling their weight, and fighting for the same goal. A weak link anywhere in that chain could really hold you back.

  • School of Music Business are offering 25% off all course bookings made before 21st March - use code SMB83 on the website.

    Later in the year they launch a monthly event called The Pioneer Series. Each evening a different, well-known & influential pioneer from the music business - including artists themselves - will discuss their careers, provide advice and give people the chance to ask their own questions.