Since Laura Gonzalez lost her job as a Spotify software engineer in December, when the streaming giant cut 1,500 employees in its third round of 2023 layoffs, she has struggled to reassert herself in a shifting music business.
As companies like Universal Music Group and BMG downsize for strategic purposes, Gonzalez has observed through job listings and interviews — that public-relations, media and streaming jobs are thinning out while the social-media and ticket-sales sectors remain more or less robust. “It is scary, I’m not going to lie,” says Gonzalez, a San Diego singer and guitarist who fronts shoegaze band Memory Leak. She adds that the “competition is insane,” noting she spent her one-year Spotify career building revenue streams for artists beyond royalties. “I found myself having to study and refresh on topics I had not thought of since I was in university — data structure and algorithms.”
From the point of view of music-business job-seekers, the employment landscape has taken a recent turn into the unknown. For the last several years, boosted by streaming growth and a spike in demand during COVID-19 home quarantine, labels, DSPs (digital service providers) and other streaming-focused companies were expanding and hiring. But UMG’s chairman, Lucian Grainge, has warned staff for months that the world’s biggest label is on the brink of severe cost-cutting.
For that reason, according to Pieter Wolter, founder of The Music Recruiters, an Amsterdam-based company that recruits people in the music business and connects them to job opportunities, job-seekers with music-business experience in human resources, finance or other transitional skills might consider recession-proof sectors such as health insurance. He expects music-business job growth in artificial intelligence, data analytics and the metaverse, but perhaps not imminently.
“It’s not like all these people who are laid off will be able to transition easily into those areas. This will depend on network and experience,” he says. “It’s clear the music industry is changing. There’s not a single area where I’m aware of super-strong hiring, like you could have seen in the past at digital distributors — or technology bursts you sometimes see.”
There are bright spots in the industry. Jon Loba, BMG’s new president of frontline recording, declared last month that he would immediately start beefing up his A&R team in Los Angeles. (In October, the Berlin-based label and publisher laid off 30 staffers as part of what CEO Thomas Coesfeld called “a strategy for future growth.”) And record-setting tours by Taylor Swift and Beyoncé have helped to create “lots of great growth opportunity for years to come” on the live side, Michael Rapino, president/CEO of Live Nation, told investors last August.
“Jobs will look different and there will be more competition, but I don’t think we need to completely freak out,” says Andreea Magdalina, Coachella’s community director and founder of shesaid.so, a music-business community of women and nonconforming gender people that hosts an online job portal. “What’s tough is people looking for jobs right now, because things are shifting really quickly. The market is going through a consolidation phase.”
For now, though, online recruiters are seeing bleakness in the business. (In addition to recent layoffs at DSPs and labels, music journalism has taken a devastating hit, with Conde Nast downsizing Pitchfork and newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times firing entertainment writers and editors.) Recent music-related opportunities on ZipRecruiter, according to Julia Pollak, the company’s chief economist, have been in teaching, therapy or junior-level positions.
“There’s not tremendous growth happening in these industries,” she says. “The sort of high-paying music-manager kind of roles that are the most attractive are in very short supply.”
Noticing the same trends over two months of unemployment, Gonzalez has broadened her job search: “I’m hopeful that I can find something where I can make an impact, whether it’s in the music industry or a different industry. It’s all a learning path.”
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