‘Tis the season for summer internships. This article is for anyone who is interested in hosting an intern (and that should be every working musician out there!) or anyone interested in being an intern, and how to make the most out of both experiences.
“Internship” means to work, often without pay, at a trade or occupation in exchange for experience. The verb “intern” means to confine (someone), as a prisoner. This cracks me up since I’ve heard horror stories of internships where all they did was sweep floors, sit in a corner, or answer phones.
Here’s the thing: ANYONE can offer an internship, or participate in one. If you are a band, a composer, a singer-songwriter, etc, and have a bunch of stuff to do that you keep putting off like making posters, booking a tour, or reaching out to licensing companies, or you simply can’t find time to do these things, you could have a lot to gain from having an intern. On the flip side, no matter how old you are and what your experience is, if you’re looking to dive deeper into the music biz, you could benefit from being an intern.
I started my career in music as an intern. I was studying biology at Cornell University and one summer I didn’t feel like working in the Ecology department anymore. I applied for an internship at a hip hop recording studio in New York’s Greenwich Village. I spent my summer washing a perpetually-up toilet, getting toothbrushes for the Bahamen, clean shirts for Talib Kweli and pads of paper for Mos Def. But here’s the thing… in between cleaning and running errands, the engineers working in the studio had me come into the sessions before and after the artists to show me how to set up patch cables, compressors, and drum kits. I had assignments to make lists of all the microphones in the studio and figure out their frequencies, what instruments they were best used for, and how to place them. I learned SO MUCH to take with me to future music jobs. I also learned that being a studio engineer wasn’t for me and decided to explore other areas of the music industry.
Now that I have my own writing/recording studio and work at composing and songwriting, I host one intern several times a year for anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months. The two lists below are what I have learned about making the most of hosting an intern, and being one.
Making The Most of Being An Intern
1) Manage your expectations: don’t expect to get paid, do expect to do grunt work.
2) Do the work you’re asked to do like it will make or break your future career.
3) Know that 60% of internships turn into paid jobs.
4) Ask questions. If there’s something that interests you but you haven’t been asked to participate, speak up! Your host will appreciate the enthusiasm.
5) Use the internship as a process of elimination. With very little commitment involved, (uncomplicated paperwork, a short-term timeline) internships are a great way to figure out what you aren’t interested in doing, as much as what you are.
6) Offer to help with tasks that interest you, even if that means staying late. Do whatever it takes to get hands-on experience. Don’t just sit in a corner and watch an engineer set up cables. Ask to watch more closely, have him/her explain what they are doing, and request to help. This will help you become someone they depend on, not just another intern.
7) Stay in touch with the intern host after you’ve left. The manager of the studio I interned at ended up starting a record label and PR firm. Not only do I continue to do various work with them, he and his wife were at my wedding.
Making the Most of Hosting An Intern
1) Don’t accept just anyone. You may end up doing more work managing them in the long run. I like to go through my alumni intern program (check with your alma mater’s career services) where they choose proper applicants for me. I also put out craigslist ads with very specific tasks, requirements, hours, etc, so any applicants know exactly what they’re getting in to.
2) When searching for an intern, be open to broad backgrounds of experience. Don’t just look for students majoring in music. I’ve had interns with marketing and communications degrees as well as music majors as interns, all just looking to learn more about different areas of the music biz. One intern used to be a video editor and made me brand new composing reels! (See #3)
3) Have a plan and play to their strengths. Know what you need from your intern and be clear about it with them. Have daily and weekly projects for them to work on. Ask them what they want to get out of the internship. I make a continuous list throughout the years called “It’d be great if I…” and when I get an intern, I show them this list. They pick 5-10 things that most interest them to tackle.
4) Be awesome with them. They are working for free. Make sure your space (if they are coming there) is comfortable. I always offer drinks and have snacks out at all times. Take them to lunch once in a while. Clean up and make sure if you have a pet to check for pet allergies before they arrive.
5) Know what you can offer them. My interns learn what cue sheets are, they learn marketing skills, how to write great pitch emails, they help set up mics for sessions, and I usually take a day trip with them, bringing them to recording studios, jingle houses, PR firms, etc. (Another reason it’s great to stay in touch with all companies you’ve ever worked with!). I also offer glowing recommendations once they participate in over 30 hours of work.
6) Ask them to come up with a project that would benefit you. Anything they want. I like to ask them, after a week or so of getting to know me, what they see is missing in my career, that if I had it, would make a difference. I’ve been amazed at what they can come up with. Sometimes a fresh, un-jaded-by-the-music-biz opinion is just what the doctor ordered.
7) Stay in touch and be proud when they move on to their dream job in the music industry. Be okay with being a stepping stone for them.
One last note for future internship hosts: You don’t need to own a multi-million dollar studio to be able to offer something to an intern. In your ads/flyers/facebook posts announcing your desire for an intern, just be super straight about what it is you do and what you need. People will respond if you have something they want. “Band working out of garage looking for booking help” can turn into “Tour manager and booking assistant” on a student’s resume. “Singer-songwriter needs marketing intern to pitch to music supervisors” can turn into marketing, pr, and pitch-writing experience for an intern.
For future interns and intern hosts: don’t underestimate your ability to contribute to someone else. Internships are a perfectly symbiotic example of this.