Music Industry Internships: How to Get an Offer

What does it take to find music industry internships that will help launch your career in the right direction? We asked a panel of three highly knowledegable professionals for their advice on finding “right fit” internships and parlaying them into jobs.

* Nicole Hennessey is a graphic designer and Director of Communications for the Music Business Association (Music Biz, formerly NARM), where she also manages the association’s interns. Music Biz is a non-profit organization of music retailers, distributors, and others involved in physical, digital, mobile and other forms of music distribution.

* Ken Lopez is Chair of the Music Industry Program at USC Thornton School of Music. He’s a professional guitarist, audio engineer, and former vice-president of JBL, domestic and international manufacturer of professional cinema, installation, and tour sound equipment. He has worked with international venues and artists including Miles Davis, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughn, Dr. John, Larry Carlton, Boz Skaggs, Santana, Tower of Power and Chick Corea.

* Katie Reilly founded Intern Like a Rockstar, a website designed to provide internship resources and support to those starting into music industry. In addition to getting her MBA and her undergraduate degree in Music Industry, she’s interned at record labels, a management company, a venture capital firm, an industry trade organization, a radio station, a publishing company, and a performing rights society.

What should a student look for in a music industry/music business internship?

Nicole: First and foremost, make sure you will be doing hands-on work in the particular segment of the industry that interests you. While there is still networking value in internships that primarily consist of coffee runs and laundry pickup, and you will probably be doing a bit of that no matter where you end up, the ultimate goal is to expand your skillset through real-world experience.

Don’t settle for something that won’t help you grow. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Take advantage of the expertise in the room. Being inquisitive shows that you are interested in what you’re doing.

Ken:

The most rewarding internships are those that allow you to become part of the business routine, with real responsibilities and an opportunity to work with others in the company on a regular basis. Many companies will set aside time each week where the interns can monitor meetings, calls, negotiations and other functions to gain knowledge.

We counsel students to wait until they have taken introductory Music Industry courses so that they have some knowledge of copyright, licensing, publishing, and legal and business tenets. Once these basics are in hand, a student will be able to choose more carefully, and will be able to lend some knowledge and skill to the tasks that are assigned.

Speaking with other students is a good way to find out about the best internship opportunities. The word will get out about the companies that only want you to carry out menial tasks, or that have a hostile work environment.

Katie:

Do your research and listen to your instincts to make sure that it is a legitimate company. Ask questions about the types of projects you would be working with and what an average day there as an intern might be like. You want to find an internship that is willing to teach you and give you new opportunities as well as allow you to network with employees throughout the organization.

Tips for getting an internship offer?

Nicole:

Make sure you do your homework. Make a list of companies you’d like to apply to, well in advance, then check their websites to see if they have an official submission procedure.

Once you’ve applied, see if there’s anyone who works there that you, your friends, or your family know. Send that person an email and explain that you’ve applied, and are wondering if they’d be willing to put in a good word for you.

Finally, when you get called in for an interview, make sure you’ve researched the company and the industry issues they’re facing. This will show them you’re serious and passionate, giving you a big leg-up on the competition.

And once you’ve gotten the job, buy that supporter of yours a coffee!

Ken:

Research companies and influential individuals in those companies before seeking an internship. An “informational interview” with such people will often present an opportunity to show that you have the attitude, intellect, knowledge, and communications skills to be of use in an internship, and possibly as an employee later on.

An internship must be a two-way endeavor, providing learning opportunities for the student, and useful work outcomes for the company. A more prepared, knowledgeable, and personable student will usually be given the opportunity over others who show up as less competent. I recommend multiple informational interviews as a strategy for learning about the industry, and the people that make it function.

As always, a positive attitude, strong “can do” work ethic, skills with social media and spread-sheet programs, and good writing skills will be very useful in securing an internship position.

Katie:

It’s often little things that make a big difference because most intern candidates don’t have a lot of experience to compete with. Research the company, explain why you want to work there specifically. Show your enthusiasm, customize your cover letter, send a thank you note.

Often in an internship, companies want some initial skills and knowledge but are most interested in someone who is excited to learn, wants to work with their company, and is able to behave in a professional manner without acting entitled or ungrateful. Demonstrate those qualities throughout the application process while also sharing any relevant skills or experiences you do have. These may be business skills from a part-time job, past music internships, writing for the school paper, playing in a band, etc.

What is important to pay attention to when considering an internship offer?

Nicole:

The most important questions to ask yourself are these:

  • Is the internship relevant to your interests?
  • Will it give you hands-on experience?
  • Will it help you grow?

Don’t expect to make much money, as the vast majority of music internships are unpaid. If a stipend is offered, then by all means take it. But if you make it a sticking point during your search, you will most likely find yourself disappointed.

Also, expect to do a little coffee fetching or envelope licking wherever you end up, and make sure you do it with a smile and to the best of your ability. Remember that these are the people who will vouch for you for your first real job.

Ken:

An internship often provides a window into other parts of the industry. An example might be a record label interfacing with artist managers, artists, concert promoters, agents, publishers, recording studios, and similar business activities. An effective internship will allow visibility of these functions, and some interfacing with others in the industry. Always look for those possibilities when choosing an internship, and take advantage and learn as much as possible while performing your duties. Often the contacts made will lead to another internship, and finally to a job.

Katie:

You really need to consider what you want in an internship. Did you like the work environment and get along with your potential boss? If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and if you’re still not sure if it’s right for you, ask if you can speak with a current or former intern to get a better idea of what to expect.

Tips for parlaying a music internship into a job?

Nicole:

The most important thing you can do while interning, or any time in your music career, is to network. Music companies are extremely popular with job-seekers, and a well-placed contact can help you break through the noise. To that end, make sure you attend as many industry conferences and meetups as you can to meet new people who can help you. Many of these events offer student discounts, (including our own annual conference, Music Biz). In some cases, you might even be able to get the company you’re interning with to pay your expenses. Most music people remember when they were in your position and will be willing to give you a minute or two of their time. So don’t be afraid to introduce yourself!

Ken:

An informational interview strategy should be an integral part of the internship and job search. Knowledge is power, and the more one knows about the industry and the people in it, the more likely it will be that a job offer comes sooner rather than later.

The greater the number of people that you meet, learn about, and interact with during informational interviews, the more likely that you will be successful in finding good opportunities. Meeting people by chance at industry functions is useful, but getting to know more about them in a well-constructed 20 minute personal interview is far more valuable.

Once you find an internship, look for opportunities to contribute well beyond your job duties. Be observant, and do what needs doing without being asked. Offer to stay late and help someone in another department. Go above and beyond expectations. Become indispensable!

Katie:

The best advice I ever heard about getting a job from an internship is to be so good they don’t want you to leave. This is tough though because most jobs won’t come directly through an internship. Meaning you won’t necessarily get hired by the company you are interning for on the spot. Don’t expect it to happen, but work as though it could. Just because you may not get the job from them immediately doesn’t mean they won’t recommend you for something there or elsewhere later on.

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