Growing up singing in chorus and performing musical theater and dance, Alessandra La Barbera (BSBA ’24) always knew she wanted a music career. But the older she got, the more she realized being on the stage might not be where she wanted to make her mark.
That lingering thought took hold during her final year of high school because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That performance aspect of the arts was taken from me,” she says. “I didn’t get my last show on the stage and dance. I didn’t get my last chorus performance, and I had to figure out how to continue that passion even when I’m not on the stage.”
La Barbera’s goal of merging her passion for music with a career off the stage led her to major in business at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School while also minoring in music in the College of Arts and Science.
With the basics of business now in her toolbox from her studies and a business development internship at the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, the Tar Heel took a step forward in her future career this summer as an intern at Red Light Management. The company is the world’s largest independent music management company with a roster of artists that includes the Dave Matthews Band, the Strokes and Maren Morris.
Based in the company’s Atlanta office for the summer, La Barbera spent three months working full-time in the music industry, experiencing various facets of the business, from analyzing contracts to merchandising to networking backstage at a Styx concert.
“I had the best summer,” she says. “I had the most amazing experience. Most of the position was shadowing and me just kind of taking the opportunities and making what I want out of it and asking questions and learning through them.”
Though she had offers to work at the company’s Los Angeles and Charlottesville offices, the six-person Atlanta office, she says, was the perfect entryway into the industry.
Her day-to-day role included running the reception desk at the office and directing artists’ calls to their management teams. She made the most of that opportunity to pick the brains of people already making a living in the music world.
“It was the number given to our artists, their production crew, publicist, agents and tour managers. So, I was talking to very cool people all the time. I harped on that,” La Barbera says. “It wasn’t me answering the phone and transferring to someone. I started conversations with them. I ended up becoming friends with the most random people.”
She also worked closely on contracts with promoters and venues to update a database for the company and was able to tap into her knowledge from her branding classes when she was asked to help with merchandising for Styx’s most recent tour. That hands-on experience was priceless.
“I’m gaining the skillset and basis of what I need to learn in the business world at Kenan-Flagler, but I think the only way to really learn about the music industry is hands-on,” she says. “It makes it feel more real than learning through a textbook.”
Even with the strong foundation built at UNC Kenan-Flagler, La Barbera admitted she was nervous heading into the internship. She didn’t entirely know what to expect based on stereotypes about the industry and the people in it.
“I was afraid that people talk too highly about the music industry, and ‘You’re never going to make it unless you know XYZ people,’” she says. “I was afraid that maybe I would go into this space and be shied away because I’m not given the light of day or because I needed to take a certain path. That’s not what happened at all.”
The team members she worked with quickly became mentors, sharing their career insights and their paths to the music industry. Those stories and her own experiences over the summer have added fuel to her passion.
“It was encouraging to see that there’s not one formula or one way to end up somewhere, especially in an industry that people talk about being so cutthroat,” she says. “I realized that the one thing you need as a basis, which everything is built upon, is ‘Do you want it?’ I really realized when I was there, ‘Yeah. I do want it.’ I want to explore more, and I want to be thrown into it, and I want to fail, and I want people to say no to me because I know I can show them differently.”
“My first real experience was more encouraging than anything,” she says. “Honestly, it sparked excitement.”
By Brandon Bieltz, University Communications