I get a lot of questions about music industry internships. How do you find one? What sorts of skills are they looking for? Do I have to take a certain school program to work in music?
They’re all great questions, and it alarms me how hard it can be to find answers to them. My rant on “the industry keeps trying to close the gate on the younger generation for fear of being replaced by people who know how not to ‘reply all’ with a personal question to the whole company” will be saved for another time. But there’s definitely a break in the chain of communication between industry veterans and those who want to emulate them.
I’m not an industry veteran yet by any means, but I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve applied for internships, received offers, and turned an internship into a full time career, and I figured it out through trial & error. Hopefully I can help eliminate some of the “error” from your own journey, and help you lock down your first music industry internship.
First, the basics…
So, music industry internships… should come with a warning. Avoid the industry unless you’re absolutely passionate about music. It’s not like other careers where you can help sell Lego (even if you haven’t played with it in years) because you understand how to market to their demographic, and be happy & successful. The music industry is a big ol’ dumpster fire. You work ridiculous hours for criminally unfair wages, sexual harassment is considered commonplace, and everyone is out to get everyone. The perks of free tickets to shows/events aren’t going to be worth it for you if you don’t love the culture.
(To be fair, even if you love the culture… these are all issues we need to fix. But it starts from the top and the top is still profiting from the current model so it’s gonna take some time.)
So be sure this is something that you’ll still love, even if you’re working a glorified desk job living paycheck to paycheck for the first many years. And — surprise! — most internships are unpaid. Occasionally a company will offer you a small stipend, but it’s usually just for school credit. However, there are the perks! As an intern, I attended listening parties and concerts for free, often going backstage to meet the band. I got bags full of free CDs and vinyl (my mom was dead convinced I was stealing). It’s not the same as being able to afford rent, but they’re definitely experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world. Just something to keep in mind as you weigh your options.
tl;dr: don’t get into this unless you LOVE music because the only thing that makes it worth it is the perks and if you don’t like the perks you’re screwed LOL
Find an internship
Seeking out internships is a daunting task, especially if you have no idea where to start. It’s easy enough to Google “music industry internships”, but how do you know you’re finding valid companies and not… a murderer???
Here’s an easy place to begin: make a list of ten places you’d love to work. Now visit their websites in search of a “careers” or “work with us” page. Some companies do this, some just advertise on other job boards… but it’s worth a look. For example, Universal Music has a super comprehensive careers portal. You can narrow it down by city or department — or you can look solely at internships! Other companies like Alt Press keep things more simple, with email addresses to contact for different roles.
If you can’t find the info on their websites (or even if you can — a lot of places are notoriously bad at keeping their own websites updated), there are a few places you can check online. LinkedIn and Indeed are pretty straightforward. If you’re having trouble bringing up the search results you want, I find just typing in “music industry” seems to do the trick. If you’re in Canada, a great option is WorkInCulture. It’s all Canadian arts & culture jobs on their own site.
There are a couple more niche options I’ve discovered just from being in the industry. There are places you’d never think to check unless someone else tips you off to it! For instance, I highly recommend any Canadians sign up for the Music Canada newsletter. They often share info about albums going platinum or industry news, but each email has a list of current job openings near the end. It’s perfect. I’d also highly recommend checking Eric Alper’s website daily. He’s constantly compiling current media jobs in Canada, along with other articles and music info!
I’ve also discovered the joys of Facebook groups (something I never thought I’d say again after 2008). There are so many online communities for different segments of the industry, from women in music to journalists to touring photographers. Often you have to be approved to gain entry, but it can open you up to tons of opportunities (and new friends). For instance, you can ask if anyone works for a company you’re applying to, and maybe someone can help get your resume into the right hands! Here are a couple of my faves:
tl;dr: check company pages & job boards, but also less popular spots like Facebook groups & industry blogs
Get an internship
Finding an internship and actually getting one are two different struggles altogether. Making sure your resume will grab their attention in a stack of identical papers, being able to sell yourself as a great addition to the team, and having the skills to knock their socks off… it’s a lot to think about. So let’s break it down.
First of all, most internships require it to be part of your school program so they can legally get away with not paying you. This may be something to keep in mind when you’re looking at school options. My course ended with a mandatory internship, and I specifically took a course in music industry management. However, you could take a course in marketing, public relations, communications… pretty much whatever you want that could be helpful to a work environment. That “internship for course credit” is the most important piece of the puzzle!
I’ve found a lot of success in having a more ~fun~ resume, while still keeping it professional. JobNexus has created a handful of free resume templates based on research about what employers look for & what they ignore — the Sylvie Rock one is my definite favourite! Canva has a ton of cool template options as well. Some of them get pretty artistic, which — depending on what you’re applying for — can help you to stand out amidst a sea of basic resumes. I’m personally a big fan of this one.
If you don’t have a ton of work experience to add in, try to add any volunteer or school related work that could be relevant. Maybe you helped with your campus radio station or wrote for the school newspaper, or maybe you have your own music blog. These are all things that companies see as valid experience, and they can actually give you a leg up! Any other skills like social media, graphic design, or web design are also great to note.
When you actually send in your resume, make sure to triple check everything before you click send. Make sure you put a good subject line, like “Marketing Intern Application – Your Name Here” unless the job posting gives you a specific line to use… in which case, do exactly as they say. Don’t send it from your middle school email address, because they likely won’t be responding to karatecutie13 (definitely not my old email address…) And for the love of Harry Styles, don’t write an entire epic in the body of the email. Leave that for your cover letter. I like to use a super condensed version of that in the body of the email, something that quickly sums up my skills but doesn’t dive into them.
And I know this should go without saying, but don’t forget to mention who you are and what you want. State your name, state the role you’re interested in applying for, make sure they have the appropriate methods to contact you back. Don’t be afraid to inject your personality. If they’re accepting resumes, they’re definitely reading the same thing over and over. Show how you’ll be able to mesh with the team!
tl;dr: Make a cool resume with any/all relevant info, show your attention to detail by not sending a disaster of an email, keep it short & sweet! And pray your school has an internship program.
Turn that internship into a career
This is the step that I feel like some people forget… and I cannot for the life of me figure out why. Once you’ve locked down an internship and gotten in the door, that’s not the end! You haven’t won yet! It’s not time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour. You have no fruits yet. You are FRUITLESS. MAYBE ONE FRUIT.
I was in charge of training our department’s interns when I worked at my past job. I couldn’t believe how many of them would try and sneak out early or just sit around doing nothing. The best advice I ever received was to treat your internship like a “real job”, so the people around you feel like you’re More Than An Intern. If you treat it like you’re a free labourer just doing your mandatory hours, they’ll see you that way. If you treat it like a career you chose and are actively choosing… then boom! You help influence how others see you too.
During my internship, I was worried about not doing enough. But I didn’t want to be annoying, so I’d sit quietly until someone gave me work. I voiced these concerns to someone I trusted, and she let me know that everyone is so busy… if I wait for them to assign something, I’ll wait forever. They don’t have time to think about what they need help with unless I stand there asking and giving them incentive to pass work along. Once I started going office to office offering help, I became indispensable. When my internship ended, my boss said they couldn’t imagine working without me and they offered me a job.
It’s all about finding those ways to become necessary for more than mailing CDs or doing admin tasks. Offer skills with music genres or scenes your coworkers may not know as much about. Organize shelves or product, or try to get ahead of what your coworkers will need later. Become someone they can rely on instead of just someone they can drop off their most hated tasks with. Even if you don’t intend on staying after your internship ends, it will make their recommendations that much better… and they may even keep you in mind for future opportunities.
tl;dr: take initiative in making yourself useful, try to make yourself an indispensable part of the team that they don’t want to go on without!
Hopefully you find some info in here that helps you in your quest to join the music industry. I really hope it works for you, and I’m here for you every step of the way! Comment below if you have any specific questions for your situation and I’ll help you out (or if you’d rather, you can send me an email!)