I do not play an instrument or sing (though I used to), and I am not looking to be a musician, but I do want to be involved in the music industry. I was curious to know what you think about success in the music industry, specifically production and the creative side, without any formal music education.—Julia Mande, Foggy Bottom
I think a student of the business can do as well as, or better than, someone who has had a formal music education. But the advantage of being a musician is the ability to translate concepts to artists. Let’s say one is an A&R person working with a new band. Their best song is, in your opinion, almost perfect—except for that one thing. Can you describe it in musical terms? A nonmusician’s suggestion—“It’s not, you know, happy enough!”—might carry little weight with a songwriter. If one states it in musical terms—“The chorus might work better with more of the major I chord, and modulate the out chorus up one half step”—the writer may be more likely to acquiesce. Being able to articulate an idea on an instrument is also a main role of a producer. Instead of explaining an idea in technical terms, one might walk to a piano or guitar, ask, “May I?” and demonstrate. Don’t let this discourage you, but consider yourself warned: Without a way to substantiate your opinions with proper explanations, you’ll have to bring something unique to the game. —Bob Mould
Bob Mould’s album District Line comes out Feb. 5.