Getting a job in the music industry isn’t easy—sometimes you have to start in the mailroom to make your way up the ladder, other times it’s all about who you know. For the first installment of P&P Pro Tips, a new show chatting with industry insiders about the hidden secrets of the business, we tackle just that, going straight to the source about how to break into the biz.

Dante Ross, currently SVP of A&R at Asylum Records (which has played home to everyone from Ed Sheeran to Gucci Mane), explains his come-up, talking about how he knew the Beastie Boys at the start. Like many, his beginnings were humble: he was an office messenger at Rush Productions, which shared the same office as Def Jam. Ross went on to sign artists like De La Soul and Queen Latifah to Tommy Boy Records.

In the years that followed, he became the first-ever A&R to be hired at a major label—that would be Elektra—where he inked deals with Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth and Busta Rhymes. And he did it all without a college degree. “Life experience is probably the best education you’re going to get,” he says. “I think it plays a part in communicating internally if you work at a major label. It’s vital to be able to articulate what you’re going to accomplish. But the other side of that is you also have to relate to artists, and I don’t think you really get taught that in school.”

A long-established producer whose work has appeared on the soundtrack for 8 Mile and Santana’s Grammy-winning Supernatural, Ross encourages diversifying your portfolio to expand your business clout, pointing to Diddy and JAY-Z as examples of moguls who have kept hip-hop the center of their foundation. “There’s more money in the culture of music than there is in music itself right now,” he explains. Watch the first installment of P&P Pro Tips above.