Live In Conversation: Emily White

Emily White

Co-Founder of Collective Entertainment, an Amazon #1 best-selling author and podcaster

Emily White is a best-selling author and award-winning podcaster. She shares her journey from Wisconsin to New York, highlighting the significance of her education and internships in shaping her music industry career. She discusses the practical experiences gained through various internships, emphasizing the importance of building a network and learning on the job. Emily also talks about her work as a music manager, author, and advocate, providing valuable insights for aspiring music professionals.

Cultivating Mental Wellness While Building a Sustainable Music Career

#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation with Emily White took place on Tuesday, April 30th, 2024, live from New York

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

In part I, Emily White discusses her music industry journey from Wisconsin to New York, highlighting her time at Northeastern University in Boston, where she pursued a degree in Music Industry while also being a scholarship athlete. She emphasizes the importance of gaining practical experience through internships and building a network from the start, sharing her own experiences interning at various companies and eventually working with The Dresden Dolls. Emily also touches on her philosophy of learning by doing, encouraging aspiring music professionals to gain field experience and share their insights with peers.

Marc Brown: Hi Emily and welcome to #HowWeListen Live: In Conversation.  How are you?

Emily White: I’m great. So happy to be here.

Marc: Me too. And where are you coming to us from? 

Emily: I’m in New York City.

Marc: Nice. Did you grow up in New York?

Emily: No, I’m originally from Wisconsin, north of Chicago.

Marc: How did you make it from Wisconsin to New York?

Emily: I went to Northeastern University in Boston, where they had and still have a great music industry program that alternated semesters, so going to school and interning, and I was also a scholarship athlete.. It was the perfect mix of the music industry, interning and division one swimming. 

Marc: Do you know if that one of the first music business programs offered at a University?

Emily: That’s such a great question. I first heard about that major on an Oasis music forum. 

Marc: What was the name of the program there? 

Emily: Just plain old “Music Industry”. I was a music major with a concentration in Music Industry. So I was applying for colleges and I got into the Northeastern Music Industry Program, I thought that although I’d never heard of that major or that school, that’s what I’m wanting to study. I did research other programs and found NYU but they were division three in swimming, which meant no scholarship funding. I also found the University of Miami, which was a little more on the recording/production side, so not really my thing. Middle Tennessee State University also has a great program, but they did not have a swim team. There were others at the time that I didn’t know about, but that’s what I could find on Google.

Marc: So over all what did you learn, and do you think it, was worthwhile? 

Emily: Oh Yeah. I definitely learned stuff in school. I do feel that the way a music business program should be viewed is that you really need to go out into the field, gain as much experience as possible, bring it back into the classroom and share those experiences with your classmates because you’re already building your network from day one. The person who sat next to me in Music Industry 101, the first college class I took, ever, at 17 years old, is my neighbour in Brooklyn. So while I was at University I also used to rip tickets and run the guestlist at some clubs. One of my classmates who was also working in that club is a manager now, for some big bands like Young The Giant. Building that community from the start is huge. Give yourself that grace and that space to get out there and try stuff to figure out what you want and don’t want to do rather then just scooping up a degree on a piece of paper at age 22, and then starting that process. By getting out there you can make mistakes early- you can make a mistake in the music industry, just don’t make it twice. 

Marc: My first job was volunteering at a record company. Now people don’t really do free internships with no compensation. What were some the internships you had in your program?

Emily: I got my first internship through the school’s database. I had never heard of the company before, it was called Powderfinger Promotions, they did college radio promotion and a little bit of PR. When they interviewed me I was so nervous, even though I was 19 and the interviewer was a 23-year-old graduate. She’s one of my best girlfriends to this day! That was really an amazing experience, but at that point, I didn’t know what I wanted to do within the music industry. So I promised myself that I wouldn’t do the same internship twice. We were on the quarter system for half the time I was in college so I was able to pack in even more experiences because of that. My first summer I had a great problem – getting accepted at two internships at once. One was at a small indie label outside of Boston, and the other one was at a big alternative radio station. Another of my internships was at what’s now Live Nation, where I was a PR intern. It was very corporate and there is nothing wrong with that, but that’s not really me. It is just as important to figure out what you don’t want to do. It was through that internship that I got that job ripping tickets and running the guest list at some of my favourite venues. It’s still one of my favourite jobs to this day. The following summer, I really wanted to go to New York City so I applied for a whole bunch of internships and I got one TV related. All I wanted was to be working at MTV where they’re doing Radiohead concerts. I learned a lot about television and learned a lot about New York City because I was running errands and running around the city. Then that fall I came back to New York. My friend and boss, when I was interning at Powderfinger, was also the editor of a local music magazine. She asked if I would cover the Boston Music Awards. I did and I also saw this amazing band called The Dresden Dolls perform. I introduced myself to the band’s singer Amanda Palmer, and I said “I’m studying music business and I write for a local music magazine, let me know if you ever need help with anything”. I was really nervous, I naively thought that since they were a local band on the rise, they wouldn’t need any help. Which of course in hindsight, isn’t the case. She said that she’d had offers from fans to help before but that I professionally presented myself so she asked me to come over the following day! I grew up professionally with that band! My whole plan, before I met them, was to intern in London, camp outside Marcus Russell’s office, who managed Oasis, until he would let me help with anything. What I did get was an internship at MTV in London. That was probably six months after I met the Dresden Dolls and they were so supportive, saying that  “this is your dream, go do that internship and we’re here when you come back”. While I was there, they were already starting to tour Europe. So I would take Ryanair and EasyJet to meet up with them. Then when I came back I was fully integrated as the band’s tour manager. They found an amazing manager, Mike Luba. When I was in my senior year, Mike told me I could come work for him in New York. That’s how I got my first job! I did graduate, but I didn’t go to my Graduation Cerimonies because we were at Coachella and starting a three-continent tour with Nine Inch Nails. So those were my internships, and I’ve never used a resume in my career since. That’s why it’s so important to go out there, try everything and grow from there. 

Marc: Definitely. I want to go back to all those internships because that’s the thing I think people worry about the most no matter where they are working in music. Did you find it hard to reach out to people? Or is that something you’ve become good at? How was it back then when you were trying to get started?

Emily: I was super nervous for my interview at Powderfinger, which is another reason to intern – get those nerves out of your system. In hindsight, when you’re that young, the people interviewing you might actually be entry-level and even your peers. I was nervous to introduce myself to Amanda from the Dresden Dolls but you have to push past those fears and insecurities. People seem to be even more scared to make contact now even though it’s easier than ever to reach out to people. What’s the worst that’s gonna happen? They’re not going to write back or they say no, like, who cares? It’s easier for me to say that now, but I was super nervous to ask those questions.

Marc: That’s actually the perfect transition, so if you look at the career of most artists, people might think they got a record deal right away and it all went relatively well but in reality, that’s not usually the case. You’ve written books, you’ve worked in music, you’re a mental health advocate and you working on getting people to vote in the US. So what I’d love to talk about is how you keep a lid on everything, knowing that you’re not going to be good at everything. It is an important thing for artists to understand – there’s going to be gaps that you don’t understand, and you need strategies for not being too hard on yourself. It is not easy for anyone, and you just have to learn how to make it easier. Is that why you decided to write your book?

Emily: I think you’re referring to my second book  “How to build a sustainable career and collect all revenue streams“. I didn’t set out to be an author. I’ve run management companies for decades, and musicians kept asking to get coffee and pick my brain, the same conversations over and over. So I was like “Why don’t I just write this down for everyone?”. The book and the podcast are the number one music and business podcasts globally. The book is an Amazon number one best seller. It’s all self-released and self-produced to save myself time. They cover the entire modern music industry from recording to release while ensuring artists aren’t missing a single revenue stream along the way. I’m really privileged to speak at a lot of music conferences and I’ve always said that the information in my book and podcasts is already out there, I’ve just never seen it put in order. The music business was set up in the 1950s to confuse artists, and when I do talks, I see artists in the audience who are spending a lot of money and grasping at nuggets of information. If someone’s trying to learn something out of order, that would be like trying to teach a kid multiplication and division before addition and subtraction. I’m really floored by the response to the book and the podcast, but in hindsight, I think a lot of us take for granted the access we have to music conferences these days. So when I see the podcast charting in Southeast Asia, Africa and in very different places all over the world,  think that’s why – it’s free, and people are trying to figure this stuff out in as short and organised manner as possible.

Marc: The right  “Order”, sounds obvious, but it’s not that one thing is more important than another, it’s more about timing. Can you explain your theory around the order in which things should occur? 

Emily: Yeah, so 

  1.  the first step is to get your art together. We can often focus on marketing, touring, and all of these next steps, but are you making art and music that’s true to your heart, soul and spirit? That’s what’s going to connect with folks for the long term. 
  2. The second step is the pre-order marketing foundation. You need to run a pre-order so you’re maximising monetization. That shouldn’t be a big surprise when Beyonce and Taylor and everyone are running massive pre-orders from their website. So make sure you have data collection mechanisms in place in the form of text message platforms, mailing lists etc. 
  3. The third step is getting your business affairs together. So make sure you have mechanisms in place to talk about and confirm songwriting splits, sorting out your producer deal, those kinds of things. 
  4. Step four, I don’t have to talk about too much. That’s how to record with or without a budget – you all are usually better at that than I am. 
  5. Five is how to land a sync placement.
  6. Six is its distribution. Basically, rolling out your distribution plan in a way that’s maximizing monetization, similar to the pre-order in chapter two. 
  7. Seven is how to market with or without a budget.
  8. Eight is your life strategy and efficient touring. 
  9. Chapter nine is merch reconnaissance. 
  10. Chapter 10 is the revenue stream checklist – by then I’ve covered every revenue stream. I have two lists. One is what’s owed to you if you write, record, release, and play live. The other are some bonus revenue streams where you might have to go do something like VIP tickets. 
  11. Chapter 11 is repeat and grow. When the release is winding down, and it’s time to go back to the beginning. 
  12. The last chapter is about when you need an attorney or business manager because a lot of times I see team members in place very early on. You don’t need something like that so early on. I’ve seen managers from some of the biggest management firms in the world buying copies of the book, so remember that everyone is sort of figuring these things out as a team, as they go.