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Breaking into the Music Industry: 4 Takeaways from the Head of Editorial for Spotify Nashville

Apr 12, 2022
Rachel Whitney (MBA'09) shared advice from her career in the music industry during the Distinguished Speaker Series

By Arial Starks

Rachel Whitney has been living out her dreams in the music industry for more than 20 years. The Vanderbilt Business alumna currently works for a company that creates ‘music for everyone,’ and in Music City, no less. Whitney began her career in music in 2004 with a small music marketing company, holding a few roles in the industry before returning to school in 2007 to pursue her MBA at Vanderbilt. Whitney returned to the music industry after graduation, ultimately landing a job with Spotify as Head of Editorial in Nashville.

Whitney spoke at Vanderbilt this month as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series (DSS), a student-led initiative where the Vanderbilt Business community takes lessons and advice from successful leaders in the business world. This series has included entertainment industry leaders like Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, and Coulter Winn, Design Studio Executive for Walt Disney Imagineering.

Whitney discussed her non-traditional career route and how an MBA factored into her success. Here are 4 takeaways from Whitney’s discussion. 

1. Don’t let lack of experience hold you back

 The road to the music industry is often long and winding, so Whitney encourages people looking to pursue music and/or entertainment to not to shy away from trying because of their job history. She shared her own experience with landing a job in radio. She knew the role preferred someone with 10 years of relevant experience, and while she had none at the time, she was still hired, simply because she put her best foot forward and honed in on what she could control – her extensive knowledge of the industry.

“It’s a qualifier to know everything about music. To win, you also have to know about technology, you have to have connections in the industry, and you have a good reputation. There’s just all of these components that go into it,” said Whitney.

2. Figure out what you bring to the table and build trust in the industry

Since the music and entertainment industry is so large and diverse, it is important to know your strong suits and where you will thrive. Whitney says the earlier you can figure out what you bring to the table, the more trust you can build within the industry and progress in your career.

“When you’re first starting out, you’re still subjected to what people know that you’ve done in the past. You have to think about what you’re bringing to the table and how you are exchanging that with an opportunity and the compensation,” she said.

3. There is no direct path into the industry

As a 20-year veteran in the music business, Whitney is often asked different variations of the question: “How do I get into the music industry?” Whitney says there is no direct path to breaking into the industry. She began her career in music in the early 2000s as a music video promoter, then she took a break to pursue an MBA before co-founding a marketing agency. She then ultimately returned to the music scene to work for big names in the industry including Pandora, YouTube, and now Spotify.

“I work in editorial where I certainly do not need an MBA to do my job, but I manage a team for a global tech company. That’s where that MBA has come in to help me navigate those corporate spaces much better than I would have otherwise,” said Whitney.

She acknowledged that her route is not at all traditional for people looking to enter the industry, but it worked out for her.

4. Be open to new things and be willing to grow

The music and entertainment world is a broad and ever-evolving industry, so it is important for those looking to work in the business to be open to learning and trying new things on the job. Whitney described how industry changes necessitated the creation of new roles for her.

“I have not had a job that has existed before I had it since 2007 and I think that’s happening in a lot of industries right now where technology is just blowing the status quo out of the water,” said Whitney.

You can watch a recap of the conversation with Rachel Whitney here.

The DSS speaker series is particularly funded by The Alec and Susan Taylor Visiting Speakers Fund.

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