We caught up with our Music Industry Studies instructor Peter Wohelski and picked his brain on his career, his role at DIME and tips on succeeding in the music industry.
What is your role with DIME Denver?
I am a Music Business Studies instructor at DIME Denver.
What is your current role in the music industry?
Through the course of my 25+ year career in the music industry, I have held a variety of roles. Radio Station Music Director, Event Promoter, Journalist, Underground Party / Rave DJ, A&R Manager, Label Manager, Publicist, Marketing Manager, Physical Distribution Sales Manager, Digital Download Retail Account Manager, Tour Manager. I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and that has served me well given all the changes and evolutions I’ve experienced in the music business, from physical product, to digital, to streaming, and whatever’s next.
Today, I am A&R Specialist and Strategic Label Manager based in the US for the German digital distribution solutions company finetunes. I sign record labels and independent artists with their own imprints for worldwide distribution through our service and work closely with them to develop their digital retail and streaming platform strategies.
I also have my own Label Management Services and Artist Development consulting company, Kick Drum Media & Consultants.
While I love all genres of music, my career focus has largely been electronic dance music. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Grammy Award winning and nominated artists such as The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and Tiesto along with leading DJs and producers including Claude Von Stroke, Richie Hawtin, Carl Craig, Photek, and loads of other established and developing electronic music artists.
How did you establish yourself as an industry professional?
I was fortunate enough to get my start answering phones, stuffing boxes with swag for radio station contest, and doing whatever grunt work needed to get done in a concert promotion company’s office while in high school. I loved music and enjoyed the machinations of the behind the scenes work so much that once I realized that I was not going to be a rock star drummer, I decided the business side of music was somehow ultimately my career path.
I was a Mass Communications major in college and my late teens and early 20’s were spent getting involved in my local music scenes, going to shows, and getting to know the main local industry movers and shakers. This evolved into my own terrestrial radio show and later a job as the music director at a community sponsored radio station with a very diverse music format – truly spanning genres from polka, folk and bluegrass to hip-hop, alternative rock and experimental music. While working with the station’s on air talent to present the best, most interesting music for their shows, I was also raising the station’s profile within the local and national industry by liaising with record company promotions representatives to expose their releases, reporting our airplay charts to industry trade magazines, and developing promotion opportunities for local concert production companies to promote their shows with international and national touring bands.
Many of the relationships with fellow industry people that I established then, I still am in contact with today, proving that as global as the music business is, it is still a small community.
Who were some of your influences as you progressed as a music professional?
I can’t say I had many mentors but I am thankful for a few trusted people who have looked after me and given me advice throughout the years. None of them are household names but I wouldn’t have the career that I have today without them.
As far as music industry people I respect and have had the opportunity to cross paths with, here’s three:
Rob Mitchell & Steve Beckett – A&R and Founders of Warp Records. I admired Rob & Steve’s ears and uncompromising vision for unconventional independent music. From a roster that includes the edgy experimental electronics of Aphex Twin and analog punk-funk of !!! to Flying Lotus’ leftfield hip-hop and Kelela’s dreamy take on R&B proves that great music eventually finds its audience and rises to the top in its own time. Sadly Rob passed away in 2001.
Richard Russell – A&R and Founder of XL Recordings. The man who brought rave to the UK pop charts for the first time with The Prodigy’s “Charly” in 1991 and continues to take chances by creating a home for interesting, inspiring artists like Radiohead, Basement Jaxx, The xx, Adele and others to be successful on their own terms, showing that an independent label can challenge the majors and be successful.
What was the first record you ever bought?
The first record I ever bought with my own money was Destroyer by KISS.
What was your best experience in music – (recording, live performance, participant, audience etc.)?
Running into the radio DJ who’s program shaped my early musical taste as a teenager at a conference and being told by him he was a big fan of The Chemical Brothers.
Seeing Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour, and Joseph Arthur, the latest signing to Peter’s label perform a version of “In Your Eyes” to an intimate crowd of 150 people for the launch party of Joseph’s debut album.
Having the opportunity to perform in my 3 favorite nightclubs in the world before I retired as a DJ.
What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?
Earning a RIAA Gold Record award commemorating 500,000 sales of The Chemical Brothers album Dig Your Own Hole and presenting it to my mom.
What gear, equipment, websites, publications etc are you using?
What are your top tips for young musicians and budding entrepreneurs wanting to be in the music industry nowadays?
Make and release great music. If you want to be successful, anything less just clutters the already crowded marketplace with mediocrity. And if it’s not good enough, keep trying until it is.
Be critical about your music and the strategy promoting it. Although you can write and record a song today, upload it to a distribution platform, and it can be live at iTunes, Spotify and all the major download and streaming platforms tomorrow doesn’t mean that you should. Think about how you’re going to promote it and create a plan.
If you don’t know how to create a plan to promote your music, hire someone who does.
Learn the business side of music too. Given the variety of different music monetization streams today, musicians need to have their own basic understanding of contracts, publishing rights, recording rights, etc. Your song lyrics, your compositions, are your legacy and need to be protected. There’s no 401k plan for musicians, so think of it as an investment in your retirement plan or kids’ college fund.
For Entrepreneurs & Music Business Professionals:
Working in the music business is amazing and full of perks and exciting creative people, but if you think it’s rock’n’roll all night and party every day, you’re fooling yourself. Be prepared to hustle and grind for everything you get, each and every day. But don’t forget to stop and smell the roses when good things happen for you, your company or the artists you represent.
Be professional. While we’re all fortunate not to work in a bank or some stuffy job, present and carry yourself in the way you want to be seen by other professional peers in your industry. You never know where an opportunity will come from – make the best impression possible.
This business is about who you know as much as, if not more than, what you know. This is a relationship-driven business. Get out there and mingle and meet others doing what you do or doing what you want to do. But remember, be cool. The people you meet on the way up are the same people you’ll meet on the way down.
Any last words?
DIME Denver is an amazing program. When I was younger, music business studies programs didn’t exist like they do today. I cobbled together my career between my Mass Communications degree, watching and learning from other people, reading trade magazines and music journalism, a bunch of street smarts and some luck.
With DIME, you don’t have to do it the way I did. You’ll still have to hustle, grind, and earn everything you get in this business, but this program will position you for success better than piecing it together like me.
The staff and instructors are a wealth of knowledge and information. We’re here to help you navigate the business. Take advantage of our experience. Ask questions.
I’ve been lucky to have amazing interns through my career who have gone on to have great careers of their own at major and independent record labels, management companies, publicity firms, and other aspects of the business. I’ve done some amazing things in my career that have made indelible marks in the industry, but these people are my legacy.
If I can inspire a new generation of music business professionals, guide them around the pitfalls and help them to avoid the mistakes that I’ve made over 25+ years to go on to have long and successful careers, I can go out knowing the music business is in some great hands for the future.