Ever thought about a career in Music? Or wondered what it would be like to work behind the scenes of one of Britain’s major record labels? Impact’s Katie Feld tells all about her work experience at Polydor Records.
The “music biz”; it’s one of glamour, style, scandal and gossip. Whether it be X Factor-ing with Cheryl Cole or partying on the streets of Camden with Amy Winehouse, there is a certain attraction to the industry. But behind every great artist are hundreds of people at their record label working day and night to make sure that we hear them on the radio, see them on TV, and buy their music. Which leads to the ever-asked question: what exactly does a record label do? And behind the scenes is it still glitz and glamour, or is it where the real work lies?
As a music fanatic I have always wanted to work in the industry, completely clueless of what exactly I wanted to do, but as long as it was to do with music I would be happy. And so when I applied for work experience at the Universal Music Group and was offered a position in video at Polydor Records, it was then I realised that I actually had no idea how a record label functioned.
The best way to describe a record label would be to juxtapose it with an American high school dining room; each area represents a clique. So first up in the corner is the coolest of the cliques, also known as A&R (Artist and Repertoire), which is probably the most competitive side of the industry. This department is home to the scouts, who go out and about town searching for and signing new talent. Whilst very appealing, scouting is the most competitive job in the world of music, and extremely male-dominated. Working alongside the scouts are the ‘admin’ A&R, who deal with the recording, production and (obviously) the administrative side of singles and albums.
Next is the “alternative crowd”, or the Video department. Despite commissioning all music videos and online content for all Polydor artists, the video team consists of only 3 people, so walking into their office can sometimes feel like walking into a tornado of stress. That is if they’re not away shooting videos in LA, Copenhagen or Berlin. “Studious” Finance are always there to approve all budgeting and payments, alongside Business and Legal Affairs who make sure this all runs smoothly. Then there are the “cliquey” sub-labels, Fiction and Fascination. These sub-labels are part of Polydor but are created to help categorise artists by genre so that they get the best attention and work. Fiction (the indie label) deals with the likes of Snow Patrol, Elbow, White Lies and Kate Nash, whereas Fascination nurtures pure pop such as Girls Aloud, The Saturdays, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. Whilst both sub-labels demonstrate an impressive roster, they themselves are made up of only a few more people than the Video department. However the main area of our high school canteen is dominated by the jocks and cheerleaders of Marketing. Most definitely the loudest section of the label, with the intensity of a Gordon Ramsay kitchen, this is made up of PUK (British) and PAL (American) teams of Product Managers and Assistants, Press and Publicity, Digital, and Radio and TV Promotions.
As the new kid on the block (excuse the pun – their comeback single was released on Polydor) it’s quite intimidating being thrown into the frantic pace, but before long I got into the swing of the demanding lifestyle of the label. I can’t really describe a usual day at the office, as it can vary from having mini tea parties with colleagues or running out on set to fix something on a shoot, but most days started at half past nine and although formally ended at six, they generally tended to end towards seven or eight o’clock. Upgraded from photocopying and stapling, I was booking The Saturdays’ hair and make up, booking flights for White Lies, discussing potential video scripts with James Morrison’s management and helping Cheryl and Kimberley from Girls Aloud pick out X Factor songs. However most days usually consisted of solving last minute dramas and disasters, and I think I used the word “urgent” more times in three months than I had in twenty one years. Although music videos for bands like Kaiser Chiefs, Girls Aloud, Take That and Duffy seem to be exciting and glamorous, the process is somewhat lengthy and arduous. I seemed to spend most of my days (and evenings) attempting to lower video production budgets and begging Finance to approve them, but the end result of watching a completed music video is inexplicably satisfying. Despite the fact that working at a label is extremely stressful, unpredictable, badly paid and unreliable, there is no greater feeling than working in the very heart of the music that shapes and connects with society.