Becky Ayres is Managing Director of Sound City, the Liverpool-based event promoter and talent development organisation. Here she considers a blockage in the music industry's executive talent pipeline caused by young people simply not being aware of the different roles in the sector, and how they might go about pursuing a music business career. The solution, she argues, is more outreach by the industry into education and especially schools. 

Becky Ayres, MD of Sound City

Becky Ayres is Managing Director of Sound City, and a board member of the Association of Independent Festivals and the Liverpool City Region Music Board. Since 2008, in the role of COO and then MD since 2018, Sound City’s flagship festival Sound City has showcased 7500+ emerging artists to 550,000 music fans & music industry professionals from 40 countries in Liverpool and overseas. Becky runs Sound City Launch and Rip It Up training which have to date seen 500 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds go into further education and industry jobs including Spotify, Universal Music, Sony Music, Live Nation as well as to set up their own enterprises. In 2022, Becky set up Sound City Satellite: Music Careers Day a series of 5 events across the Liverpool City Region aimed at giving 14-16 year olds the inspiration and knowledge to take their first steps into the music industry. Since then 1000 young people across the Liverpool City Region have been able to meet and learn from industry professionals and artists who have given them inspiration and confidence to change their lives by embarking on a career in music. Becky is also the driving force behind Salt and Tar, a new 3000 capacity concert site in Bootle, North Liverpool which is part of the regeneration of a severely deprived area of Liverpool.

The music business is facing a critical challenge: a blockage in its executive talent pipeline that begins at the very foundation of the education system. While a lot of attention is rightly dedicated to enriching the music business workforce by attracting a more diverse range of candidates, there is a more fundamental issue that is often overlooked - that is societal perceptions of the music business itself.

Sound City has been at the forefront of career development in the music business for decades now. One thing I have heard repeatedly from various stakeholders looking to encourage talent into the industry is that the problem isn't just about creating opportunities; it's about where and when we start the conversation about music industry careers. This needs to happen earlier - not at graduate level, not even at the exit point for higher education, but early on in schools. Fundamentally, it involves changing the hearts and minds of not just students, but their parents and teachers as well.

Most music teachers, through no fault of their own, come from creative backgrounds, with a focus on playing instruments. They tend not to have experience or even awareness of the industry behind the talent. This gap in their knowledge is inadvertently passed on to students. Similarly, parents often view arts subjects as less safe compared to STEM fields, unaware of the diverse career paths that the music business offers.

First-generation university-goers often lean towards traditional careers like law or engineering, influenced by the clear role models and defined paths these professions offer. Everybody has a rough idea of what the work of a doctor, lawyer, accountant or civil servant does, what they might need to begin a career in those professions and what progression might look like in those industries to a degree.  

The music business, in contrast, suffers from an image problem. At best, there is a lack of basic awareness of the roles available within the industry. At worst, the common image of a music executive is still some cigar chomping (male) mogul sitting at the top of a skyscraper, surrounded by stacks of dollar bills. More than ever, I’d argue that role model won’t appeal to a broad range of kids in their early teens - and it certainly isn’t going to endear our industry to the nation's teachers and caregivers.

The only way we can illuminate this blind spot, counter the misconceptions and promote the positive impacts and experiences our business can offer, is to get out there and build relationships with the institutions that are shaping the minds of the next generation. We put so much time and resources into networking with tech companies, government bodies and other creative industries. We should be building similar bridges with educational institutions so that there is a clear unified message - yes the music industry can be exciting and glamorous, but it can also offer secure, fulfilling careers.

Yes, we need to continue efforts to provide greater access to our industry for a broader spectrum of people - and Sound City offers a package of complete support including training, mentoring and bursaries for participants to complete paid work placements, all part funded by CAPLL Ltd and Arts Council England - but we need to make the music industry an attractive proposition in the first place before access becomes a factor.  

And we need to play a proactive part in the wider issues as well. There are a number of industry education initiatives, funding opportunities and apprenticeship programmes available, but in schools and communities, music is seeing cuts rather than support. We need to make sure we are filling that hole, investing in and incubating professional talent just as much as creative.

This year, we will see plenty of headlines about AI, streaming payouts and catalogue acquisitions. I hope our industry’s professional pipeline gets just as much air time.The extent to which we meet the challenges and opportunities presented by all of the above depends on the people that are driving our companies. At the moment, we are missing out on some of the world’s biggest executive talent simply because they don’t know what we’re really about.

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