If you get an opportunity, grab it with both hands and give it everything you’ve got and be as creative as you can. Once you succeed at that, it will snowball from there, and further opportunities will come your way.
As a part of our series about creating a successful career in the music industry, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing James Mack.
James Mack has been working in the music industry for over 20 years. As well as starting successful promotions company Listen Up 12 years ago, he also manages global recording duo Snakehips. James and Listen Up are widely regarded throughout the music industry as one of the top promotions agencies globally. Some of the major artists he has worked with include Grammy award winner Burna Boy, Grammy nominated Doja Cat, and Grammy winner Black Coffee.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in the South East of England in Essex.
I had family all over England so my family and I were always on trips exploring from the south, up to the lake district, to Yorkshire. We had a really large extended family who loved spending time together so the holiday periods were always big celebrations. I’m the oldest of 3 brothers so the household was always super competitive, mostly from Dad, he would never let us win anything!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been a music fan all my life. In terms of going down this career path, in high school there was a group of us who really got into electronic music and everyone had their own different tastes and preferences but all of us were very much into DJ culture. I was able to save up, and with my parents help, I purchased a pair of turntables — they were belt drives — the cheapest you can get! But I loved them and that started my love of buying vinyl and mixing records together. My first proper career step after this was at the Ministry of Sound in London, where at 16 I was able to gain a work experience opportunity through a family friend. I had no idea what the work experience would entail, I just knew that I was excited to be working in the offices of one of the biggest global dance music brands. I ended up being placed in the promotions department, and that started off my passion for PR and promotions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to say my wife. We met through the music industry when we were first starting off our careers. She has always made me believe anything is achievable through hard work and dedication and most importantly backing yourself!
You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Working with Black Coffee on his recent award-winning Grammy campaign where he took home the award for Best Dance / Electronic Album for “Subconsciously”. What made it extra special was that it was a small tight knit independent team. We celebrated after the win at Shake Shack with him, his son and his close team which was a humbling experience after just watching him win a Grammy. It also felt like one-of-a kind opportunity to experience the Grammy’s being held in Las Vegas.
Another cool moment was spending a day with Slash in Miami hopping between his gigs, parties and promo.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Getting booked for a DJ gig and finding out when I arrived that the music genre of the event wasn’t what I had expected or prepared for — always know your audience! I’ve taken this lesson to my current professional career — always do your research on your audience, whatever facet of the industry you’re working in.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Snakehips’ debut album is coming early 2023 — we also have just released a single with Tinashe called “Who’s Gonna Love You Tonight”, which is a full circle moment as it’s seven years on from their hit together “All My Friends”.
Listen Up are currently working on David Guetta’s global press across his various projects including a new single with Bebe Rexha. We’ve also got a run of headline Black Coffee shows at Brooklyn Mirage in New York.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Be ready for knock backs — because there will be plenty of them.
A strong pitch will always get read, what’s the worst someone can say — no thanks
Also, if you get an opportunity, grab it with both hands and give it everything you’ve got and be as creative as you can. Once you succeed at that, it will snowball from there, and further opportunities will come your way.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the music industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s incredibly important to find a healthy work / life balance — you need to set good boundaries between what you’re doing at work and at home.
Find something that you enjoy doing for your own self care — I’m an active practitioner of breathwork which helps enormously with stress levels.
Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in The Music Industry” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Educate yourself! Study up on other areas of the business no matter what your specialty
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Equality in Education and Health Care
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Always be honest.
I’ve had the opportunity to work on many projects over the years that could have been very lucrative in various endeavors — but if you feel as though you can’t deliver the results necessary, do not take it on. It may be a short term gain but not long term in the grand scheme of things.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to sit down with Ole Obermann, the global head of music of Tik Tok. How the platform is launching records from pop hits to underground dance records is such exciting new ground.
How can our readers continue to follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
James Mack: 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in The Music Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.