Make the Most of a Music Internship

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Seven tips to making the most of a music internship – as a host AND a music intern

Music internship

“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 music internship horror stories where all someone 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 composer, a singer-songwriter, a member of a band, etc., and have a bunch of stuff 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 have a lot to gain from having an intern. On the flip side, no matter how old you are or what your experience level, 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 a music internship at a hip hop recording studio in New York’s Greenwich Village. I spent my summer washing a perpetually backed-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 in before and after the sessions 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 two weeks to two 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, even if you haven’t been asked to participate, speak up! Your host will appreciate the enthusiasm.
  5. Use the music 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 applicants know exactly what they’re getting in to.
  2. When searching for a music 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 music 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, marketing skills, and how to write great pitch emails. They also 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 your intern to come up with a project that would benefit you. Anything they want. I like to ask, after a week or so of getting to know me, what they see as missing in my career, something that would make a difference if I had it. 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 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. Music internships can be a perfect example of how a symbiotic relationship works.

Music Internship tips

Cheryl B. Engelhardt is a singer/songwriter and composer and can tell you everything about herself in 30 seconds in the jingle she made. Her website is CBEmusic.com and you can follow her on Twitter @CBE. She authored the e-Course “In The Key Of Success: The 5 Week Jump Start Strategy” which will get your music career moving in the direction you want (go get it now and use the Disc Makers Special code IHEARTDM for 70% off!). Cheryl is currently compiling a book of stories from musicians about lessons they’ve learned – click here to contribute your story – and if you’re in the NY area, feel free to reach out to be a CBE intern!

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4 thoughts on “Make the Most of a Music Internship

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  3. Hey, my name is Jason. I’m from New York and i aspire to be a music producer and I’m having trouble finding an internship online. Do u have any advice on getting an internship in a studio.?

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