By Shantell Ogden B.M. ’05
For Jerilyn Sawyer, the path to a job in the music industry working first for CTK Management, and now her own management company, Sawyer & Garner, has been paved with passion for music and excellence. She started singing at age 7, and after many years of performing, writing, and recording songs, she believed the next natural step would be attending Berklee.
Finding her own place in the “creative haven” she found at Berklee, Sawyer set her sights on studying voice with a concentration on music business and songwriting. She loved “indulging in every corner of the industry,” taking courses in conducting, music law, composition, and music therapy. She says these courses gave her the language she needed to “step in and take on the music world as a young female artist, writer, and music business professional in a male-dominated field.”
Taking a few minutes out of her busy schedule, Jerilyn shared some specific insights she has learned…
What is it like working for artist management (and Dolly!)? How did that position come about?
My first full-time music industry position was in artist management, which proved to be an incredible pipeline to getting into the thick of it all real quick. I have worked as the only female member on the management team for Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, KC and the Sunshine Band, Kenny G, Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, Candi Carpenter, Brenda Lee, Joey Jordison of Slipknot, among others. I got the job by being extremely prepared for a strike of luck to occur in a town where I knew no one. Having done seven internships in all corners of the industry, including publishing, labels, and management, I stood out among other contenders. I was also extremely persistent and confident that this was my gig.
What do you think are the most important things new students need to know about today’s music industry?
Students who will be entering today’s music industry need to know the following:
Preparation/Mastery: This is a dog-eat-dog world and you need to prepare yourself to be exceptional at what you do, whether that is play, write, engineer, or work in the business. There are many others out there who can do what you can do and you need to give no reason to be overlooked. Moments will come when you are asked to step up or step in and you need to be ready to do so with no hesitation. Also, ask for honest criticism – if you are not the best at something it is best that you know now so you can work to become better or find another avenue.
Stamina: The timeline from where you are now to your first opening door could be tomorrow or could be in 10 years. It is different for us all and you need to have unwavering passion and dedication mixed with belief in yourself. Know that the road to success will not always look exactly as you planned and is definitely not a straight line. However, it will most likely be more exciting than you could imagine! It is a stressful time trying to achieve your goals and the ladder is steep, but remember to enjoy the journey along the way.
Opportunity: Find a way to support yourself as you work toward your goals, whether that be a job in the industry or something completely unrelated. Be prepared to not feel like yourself some days, but being hungry and homeless would feel much worse. My first job was as a hostess at Hard Rock. While demoralizing, I kept a roof over my head until the big break came. Decide whether you want to expand your network by working in the business side of the industry or working a job elsewhere. Weigh the risks – the business can include 26 hours a day to keep up and you may not have time for your craft. However, you will meet key people. Working at a cafe will give you the freedom to master your craft. However, you may feel out of the music loop and find it hard to meet industry folk. Opportunity will come your way if you are doing both consistently. The first person who needs to believe in you is you.
Cultivation/Genuine Friendships: Now you have your foot in the door and everything looks different than you expected. However, now you are in and the possibilities are endless. Look around and take it all in. Offer to go the extra mile and show them what you’ve got – with modesty. Remember to be a good person first and foremost. No one, in the office, studio, or especially on tour, wants to work with someone who is entitled or rude. Don’t network per se—but make genuine friendships all around you. If you reach out a hand to pick someone up, they will do the same for you when you need it most.
Stay tuned for more from this passionate music professional from Berklee! Jerilyn has much more in store, including her first cut on a major label recording artist coming later this year!
Author Shantell Ogden is an award-winning singer-songwriter whose songs have reached no. 2 hit chart positions in both the U.S. and Europe. Ogden’s songs, known for being lyrically rich with authentic vocals, have also appeared on TV and in feature films. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Berklee College of Music in professional music and a bachelor’s degree from Utah State University in business.