What a record label internship might look like
Internships can be a funny beast. In one regard, you’re treated as part of the team, hanging out with the Vice President of Promotion, hanging out with your favorite bands backstage and walking around with that laminate of yours that screams “I’m with the band”. And yet, on others, back at the office (if you’re lucky) or on campus ( if you’re not as lucky, but still in like Flynn). . .you’re just the kid from the street team that hangs up posters and stickers the heck out of campus.
And, truth be told, for many of the music business internships you’ll have, the latter is more likely the role you will fill during a record label internship. Or, any internship for that matter. If you’re in radio, the same thing applies except maybe you’ll get the keys to the van. . .concert promotion you’ll get to hang out backstage and help move crates with the roadies, but good luck checking out the show. . .internships in the music industry involve more hard work than you imagine, and many times come with little real glory outside all the free cds you’ll get, and this is precisely the reason why despite all that free swag, a lot of interns drop off the planet or don’t renew their interest in internships the following term. For some, it’s just exhausting.
Using your internship as a pedestal for a music industry career
But, my bet is that if you’re a frequent reader of this page, you pretty much think that idea sucks. Great. That’s the attitude you’re going to need if you’re going to break through the cluttter. . .particularly if you’re not in a major ‘music city’.
So how do you stay on top and differentiate yourself from others in the internship program? Well, the answer lies in a mixture of booty-kissing and sincerity all rolled up in a nice little package of proper etiquette. Eh?
You see, in my experience as a record label intern at Virgin Records, management extern with the BoDeans and intern at SoundCore music and WZZO radio, I found the best way to stay on top of my game always include a gentle mixture of these three things. This was also true during my career as an academic advisor when speaking with successful students who interned as part of their Architecture program at the University of Minnesota.
These three elements: sincerity, butt-kissing (necessary, sorry) and knowing the right way to begin asking for more responsibility and a possible job after the internship (etiquette) is what got them noticed an later roles within their chosen field. Let’s take a look at them separately for a little feel as to what I’m talking about:
This one is simple. If you’re just a butt-kisser, only interested in greasing your boss or intern coordinator so you can get the best tickets, or the first copy of the cd, it will be so obvious to these folks that you will have already carved your own tombstone. However, if you demonstrate your passion, pick up the freebies as they come to you. . .maybe even be the last to ask. . .then you’re desire to be in music for music’s sake will be a lot more clear. I hope it’s obvious that just about everyone working in the music industry is there because they love music. It is, right? Most are musicians, many worked in radio and all of them love going to shows and getting free stuff like the rest of you.
But the thing you don’t know is that, if you’re a record label rep for example, or even someone with the band. . .a manager. . .publicist. . .roadie. . .anybody, really. . .the novelty of that lifestyle wears off really fast. After the 40th time seeing your label’s band perform the same songs, tell the same jokes and party in the same way the did the previous 39 times, you’ll understand how this happens. Just as a band member how he finds out what town he’s playing in if you ever get the chance. It’s usually because they’ve been told just before the go onstage, or as I have seen many times, there is a sign with the name of the city printed on it and plastered backstage so no one forgets. Most bands and the folks with them never even get to see the towns they visit and sleep during the day time.
So keep in mind that these folks are going to want to see that you can pass muster in this regard and you’ll be in pretty good shape.
For lack of a better term, this is really about going the distance with your responsibility as an intern. It means filing your intern reports on time, being where you say you will, when you say you will and generally being responsible and available to your internship coordinator or record label rep. Because you are essentially their eyes and ears on the streets of your city, they’re going to depend on you to fill them in on what’s happening so that they can, in turn, report back to their own bosses.
It might seem at times that the music industry operates in a vacuum far removed from what is really happening on the street and with music in general, but this isn’t really the case. Those folks you’re going to be touching base on a weekly basis depend on your input, and most importantly they depend on you following through on your obligations as an intern. They don’t just send you all that swag because they like paying the postage for it. . .they want you to actually hand it out. . .hold contests at radio station and in coffee houses and then tell how awesome the event went. They’re going to want you to take pictures and promote the heck out of it so they can justify the cost to their bosses, tell their bosses how awesome you are and look good themselves in the process. It’s all about scratching backs, yes, but in reality, that’s what your job is all about.
This is the thing people don’t get about doing a job and doing it exceptionally well. Some folks think that going above and beyond the call of duty is merely kissing up. . .they’re wrong. It’s about taking pride in what you do and treating everyone with respect. If you’re the right kind of butt-kisser, then you’re on the right track.
Etiquette, or (the best way to ask for what you really want out of your internship. . .a job)
Okay, so this is where it gets tricky. Most people in the world just don’t seem to get the idea of networking. . .they say they do, but they really don’t have a clue. I’m not sure what the real issue is but it basically boils down to one thing: people are generally intimidated with the idea of helping someone find a job. It’s bizarre really. . .and I discuss this concept quite candidly as it relates to how people most likely are going about their music business job search in my book: “The Music Business Guidebook: a clear guide to getting a job in the music industry. . .fast!”
Think about it though. If you come right out and ask someone if they can help you find a job this is what most people think about:
1. You’ve placed the burden of finding you work, something that in America we all seem to think we have tremendous skills in accomplishing, (until we’re out of work, that is) on THEM! Ouch.
2. Just by asking, you’ve made their own miserable little lives more miserable because now they have to do something OTHER than just show up. Boo hoo.
3. They now have to stick their neck out for you and that by doing so, they are in essence RECOMMENDING you. Bull.
Look, none of these things are true if you happen to work for or with someone who actually ‘gets’ what networking is all about, but I’ll tell you it is true for 90% of the working population in my not-so-scientific estimation.
So how then do you get around this ridiculous nightmare. Well, one single word will work wonders for you:
You, my friend are an intern, you are a sponge, made to soak up all that is good AND bad in the world of interning. You are there to learn, so learn your little pants off! Please don’t talk about “opportunity”, as in “what sort of opportunities exist after graduation”, and please, please please don’t use the dreaded “J” word. . .”job”, that is. . .unless you’re certain the person you’re speaking with loves the hell out of you. They just can’t handle it.
I wish I could take credit for this little nugget, but it was my own internship coordinator at WZZO radio that drilled this into my head, and trust me it does make a difference. Don’t place your boss in the headlights and cause him or her to suffer the dreaded three traits mentioned above! Be gentle with them. . .tell them you would like to ‘learn’ more about how this part of the business works, or ‘learn’ about how they got started. . always a good one. . .’learn’ about what it takes to have a long career in the music industry. . and on. . .and on. Use this word as often as it seems right without being an echo of yourself and watch it work to your advantage. Ask advice because people love giving advice, and they generally hate being asked to help someone find a job.
Now, of course, I’m over generalizing here a little bit. . .but just a little, really. You’ll have to gauge the environment of your workplace and see how people react to frankness and networking in general. If you’re in a crowd that ‘gets’ it, then you’re probably cool. If you’re planning on being a record label sales rep as in a record promotion person, or retail rep, you just might be able to throw this last part of advice in the can, because a lot of sales people, the good ones at least, know that if you’re not gonna’ ask for the job, you’re sure as heck not going to ask for the sale either.
So, as I say, it’s a delicate bundle of all three tricks. But if you watch them all closely and throw a little dash of passion in there when it’s appropriate you’ll be well on your way to a successful record label internship and quite possibly the career in entertainment you’re seeking. Cheers!
Oh, and by the way, before I start getting nailed with requests to help each of you creative music business types out there, please keep in mind that all of this applies to folks you’re already working with and who know you at least a little bit. . .I unfortunately am out of the loop on this one!!! Good luck! You can find a halfway decent listing of music business jobs and internships on our own job board. Check it out!
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