So, another week has passed here at BIMM… which means it’s your chance to get to know another of our highly talented BIMM tutors! And this time it’s the turn of Joe Sparrow – the Module Leader for Music Business and Industry Placement at BIMM Berlin. We asked him about his time in the music industry, his career highs and what he loves most about working at BIMM Berlin.
Over the course of his career in music, Joe has worked as a music writer, plugger, PR, marketeer, radio host, events organiser and more. His love of new music has seen him appear as a guest and commentator on BBC 6 Music, and organise major live events at SXSW, The Great Escape and Tech Open Air. Before joining BIMM Berlin, Joe taught at BIMM Manchester.
And so… over to Joe!
How did you get started in the music industry?
My career has had a lot of facets, and they all sort of form a bigger picture of what I do. About ten years ago, I was looking for an outlet that allowed me to combine two of my favourite things: new music and writing. Music blogging was fairly new at that time and it was revolutionary – for the first time lots of people were discovering music from outside the old system of magazines, TV and radio. I launched a music blog called A New Band A Day and wrote about, erm, a new band every day (proof that you don’t need to be complicated in the music biz!). The blog gave me opportunities to meet people and do interesting things: I wrote for BBC Introducing and appeared on BBC radio tipping new bands, got free passes to go to music conferences, and every time I got one of these opportunities, I’d meet lots of people – and I ended up working with lots of them.
I started working for Hype Machine, which is still the biggest index of music blogs online, and at the time was pretty much the most powerful website in terms of discovering new bands. Labels, magazines and radio all looked at Hype Machine to find the next big thing. When I came back to the UK, I started working in Manchester with a great man called Liam Walsh, doing things like music PR, artist strategy and guidance, radio plugging and artist development. I learnt so much from Liam (he’s worked with Oasis, The Killers, Depeche Mode – the list goes on) and it was via him that I started working at BIMM in Manchester! I also do some ancillary things to this – like edit a magazine called Montag and do booking for tech/art/music festivals, but I try to mostly focus on the music business.
What’s been the proudest moment of your career so far?
I’m not sure about pride, but helping run Hype Hotel (Hype Machine’s huge event at SXSW) was the hardest thing I’ve done… and the most rewarding. In 2012, Hype Machine and SXSW were the focal point of the new music scene and it was great to be in the middle of it all. When I was doing radio plugging with Liam, I ended up pitching bands to the Head of Music at BBC Radio 1 and it was weird to pitch songs to the station that I’d spent years listening to. There was one particular moment when I heard a band we’d worked really hard on get played for the first time on national radio and it was a great feeling. I met a few musical heroes too, like Jimmy Cliff and Peter Hook from Joy Division/New Order… most of the time it’s really pleasing to find out that these people are really ordinary – they’ve just led extraordinary lives.
What’s your favourite thing about teaching at BIMM Berlin?
One of the best parts of my job is working with emerging artists. I like to help them bring clarity to their work – especially in terms of communicating it to the outside world. At university, I trained as a painter, and I understand how frustrating it is when you’re not able to communicate what you intend to say through your work. So I enjoy sitting down with BIMM students who are taking their first steps in the music business and we try to cut to the heart of what they want to say, and to whom they want to say it, and then come up with a strategy to do it. We rarely talk about the music – we talk about communication with everyone who doesn’t know them yet. It’s hard work, but fun!
What advice would you give to new students in Berlin?
BIMM is a great time to get started, so get out there and start doing what you want to do. If you’re not sure, do it anyway – make mistakes, meet people and try new things. It’ll all be useful. The thing about the music industry is that you’re only ever one page behind someone who you think is an expert: the barrier to doing something you want to do isn’t only knowledge, it’s often simply the act of just doing it!