Through my pursuit of one day having a successful career in the music industry, I have come to realize how important it is to have acquired experience. How, because of having gained experience, I am much more knowledgeable about the industry and all it entails, and have built relationships with many in the same domain as me. Without experience, over the years, I would have never been able to build upon both aspects: knowledge & networking.
Let’s start from the beginning of my experience in this industry: working with a pop artist from New York, Frankie Z. By being Frankie’s brand manager over the years, starting at the age of 15, I went from knowing practically nothing about the industry, to knowing much about it. How did I learn? By going to conferences, yes, but mostly, by doing research online and reading books regarding specific tasks I was working on. Say I thought getting Frankie on the radio would be beneficial, I would use Google to find out how I should go about doing that, who I should contact at the station, how I should pitch, and I would do it. Based on the response rate, I would then tweak my approach and build on it, for the next single Frankie would release and so on. Because I worked so closely with Frankie, I also used to travel back and forth to New York, several times per year, which allowed me to attend performances with Frankie, (and help with the event scene), go to the recording studio (and learn how a track is made) and wayyyy more. Because of the years of working alongside Frankie, I built up my accolades, and learnt a tremendous amount about marketing and management, even before I was learning theory about it in school.
After this, I started University and interned at Black Box Media Inc., (a modern music marketing agency) in Los Angeles, and am now at Universal Music Canada (a major record label) in Toronto. Not only has my experience with Frankie helped me become a qualified candidate for an internship position at both organizations, but it also gave me a solid foundation, which I continuously build on, with the other experiences I face through life. Plus, with the theory I learn in school, I find myself (at times), transferring concepts I have learnt in the classroom, to the work place i.e. turning theory to practice.
All this to say, had I only had the schooling on my résumé, had I not had my experience with Frankie, and then Black Box, and now Universal, who knows if I would have the same opportunities in the future as I may now. The music industry is not one that you can learn by going to class and listening to a teacher, it is one that you learnt best by going out there, working on real projects, succeeding, and even making mistakes that you can learn and improve from.
Paid/unpaid, my advice to you would be to take any experience you can. Although I cannot speak for other industries, I am sure that there is no harm in gaining hands on experience and taking part in extra curricular activities relating to your interests.