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Backstage: Morna Cook from Universal Music
Article Post Date: Wednesday 03.10.2012

Morna Cook is the Senior Director of HR in the UK at Universal Music, the world’s biggest record company. This year at City Showcase: London 2012 Morna will be offering invaluable careers advice as part of the Finding The Future sessions at the Apple Store on Friday 12 Oct. And to get things started, we threw some questions in her direction about pursuing a career in music.
TW: Talk us through your own career, how did you start working in the music industry?
 MC: I have always had a passion for music. Whilst at uni studying English and Psychology, I also promoted and ran a dance night, so have always had an active interest. Following uni I did a post grad in HR, and while my early HR career in Scotland was in banking, for the past eighteen years it has been TV, radio, fashion and music. I actually moved to London so I could work in the music industry.
TW: What does your current role at Universal involve?
 MC: As the senior director of HR in the UK I’m responsible for ensuring the company has the people who can rise to the challenges of our industry. From recruitment and finding the best new talent through to helping staff further their careers with training and development, as well as all of the day-to-day work you would expect – the team are geared for everything to enable the staff to work to the best of their ability.
TW: For someone at the start of their music business career, what kind of entry-level roles are there at a company like Universal, and how can those who aspire to work at a music company decide which are the best for them to pursue?
 MC: There are entry-level positions across the whole business, from legal and business affairs to marketing and A&R. A number of entry level roles are part of our paid intern scheme. The twelve month paid intern programme is a great stepping stone into a full time job and it allows us to take candidates from the widest possible talent pool.
Many of the interns know broadly what area that they would like to be part of, but don’t realise how diverse our business is. Don’t narrow your chances by being too specific about which department you want to get into. Your aim should be to get a foot in the door and gain experience, so don’t limit yourself.
TW: How are entry level roles recruited – and how do people find out about opportunities?
 MC: Our website ( is the best place to find out about jobs, internships and work experience. In the ‘Working For Us’ section you can browse the positions we have available as well as being able to apply speculatively for any roles that may arise in future. Our labels also post jobs on Twitter and Facebook so make sure you are following @umusicuk as well as the labels. Beyond our site, industry publications such as Music Week and daily industry mailers like CMU and Record Of The Day often include opportunities for people of varying experience. It’s also worth using sites such as LinkedIn to build your network of industry contacts.
 TW: What makes a CV stand out when you are recruiting for entry-level roles?
 MC: Your CV should detail not only your paid work history, but any relevant work experience, paid or unpaid, either with a business or projects you have undertaken yourself. You need to show the person looking at your CV that you are proactive, keen and have used your own initiative. Junior roles are often heavily admin-focused, so don’t forget to include any experience in this area. A solid understanding of the digital landscape is obviously something we look for in all our potential employees, because it has changed what is possible so radically in all content industries. Most importantly, you have to show a genuine passion for music – it’s the one thing that ties everyone at Universal Music together.
TW: Does having some sort of music business qualification give you an advantage?
 MC: Of course a music qualification can be an advantage, but only if the skills you’ve learnt can be demonstrated and you can show some kind of appropriate experience. The classroom can give a great foundation in the theory of the music industry but it will never be the same as getting stuck in.
TW: So how important is work experience?
 MC: Any music-related experience is valuable, whether you’ve volunteered at a festival, done work experience for a small label, or worked on a blog or website in your own time. It’s always good to see work experience on candidates’ CVs. Volunteering to work shows not only that they are dedicated and proactive, but will also mean they have a better understanding of how things work in a practical sense. This will give you the edge over candidates who purely have theoretical knowledge.
TW: What would you say the advantages are in working within a big music company at the start of your music career, as opposed to working for a small label, promoter, management company etc?
 MC: All of these are good places to start. You’re more likely to progress quickly and move between jobs at a big company, but on the flip side, a small company could well provide you with much more hands-on experience with artists and products. All experience is good experience. No matter the size of a company, we all share a passion for music.
TW: We’ve read a lot about how the music industry is suffering in recent years, is it harder to get a job in the music business these days?
 MC: There might be fewer jobs in the music industry overall but it’s worth remembering that people who work in labels tend to be talent-spotters by nature, whether it be keeping an eye open for musicians or the executives of the future. So while there’s always been huge competition for jobs in our industry, it does tend to be that people with the right skills, determination and work ethic can still get their foot in the door. And don’t forget the “back room” jobs. It’s also worth pointing out there are opportunities to follow a profession within the music industry. The creative industries also need accountants, lawyers and HR professionals. These can be highly fulfilling careers for those who want to marry their passion with their chosen profession.
TW: Once you’ve got your first job in music, what can you do to enhance your career further?
 MC: The music industry is forever evolving. Once you’ve got that foot in the door you need to stay well read and up-to- date with the changing trends that affect our artists and our business. That social network, digital music platform or piece of technology that you were an early adopter of could one day become the key marketing tool for an artist. Also, don’t stop networking. The people you meet at gigs and industry events could eventually become your colleagues.

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