A Guide to Securing Internships In The Music Business
I’ve always believed in creating your own opportunities. Getting your first professional break can be really difficult. Not even receiving a response from an application for a junior position or internship, in any industry, is disheartening. Many years ago, I started the process of applying to artist management companies for my first job. It didn’t take me long to realise that I wasn’t the only one clambering for that first run on the ladder. I decided rather quickly, that if I couldn’t find an opportunity, I’d have to create my own. I listened to new music in every form imaginable, eventually finding a band, in a rundown rehearsal studio, that had never performed live together, and that had only written three songs. But I loved them. I boldly, perhaps a little crudely, made a pitch to be their manager.
It’s fair to say that it was the steepest learning curve imaginable, and I made a lot of mistakes, but I also secured a lot of wins. The record deal, the publishing deal, international tours, national press and radio support… I become intoxicated with every achievement, and stronger with every misstep. Eighteen years later, and I’ve never looked back. I don’t feel coy in admitting the pride I have in having done it my way – in creating my own opportunity.
So, whilst this remains a viable option for any self-respecting entrepreneur, I also passionately believe that I could have speeded the process up dramatically, and started from a more emboldened position, if I’d have had three things:
1. An understanding of the bigger picture – the entire music industry eco-system
2. A foundation in the very latest skills required for the modern music business
3. And experience, guided by professionals, of putting those skills into action
That’s why our work at SMB: The School of Music Business is truly life affirming. We’re working daily to educate, inspire and empower the music industry professionals of tomorrow. The latest skills, delivered with passion and excitement, for what is after all, the world’s most creative and exhilarating business.
I’m thrilled to regularly meet former students working at all levels of the industry – within major and independent record labels, at music publishers and sync agencies, management companies, as live agents and marketeers, and many who have started their own companies and made waves in doing so – today, our alumni are effecting tangible change in the music industry.
During our immersive Music Business Fundamentals course, we reveal the industry in its entirety - the eco-system if you will. In music, we can’t work in isolation. It’s vital to know what every sector does, exactly why they do it, and the methods they employ to do it so successfully.
After the course, we spend time, one-to-one with each student, to see how best to support them as they begin their careers in the music industry. This could be meticulously working through a CV, practising the best interview techniques, making considered introductions, highlighting new vacancies, supporting the launch and development of a new independent business venture… and often, helping secure internships.
The Internship Reality
Each year the music industry work with a lot of interns. Only a fraction of them will go on to full time employment. But they are an incredible opportunity to gain vital experience, and to demonstrate your abilities to potential employers. A good internship will provide an opportunity for you to see how a professional or a team, put their skills into action, and hopefully, it will let you showcase and develop your own. Let’s start with some home truths:
1. You want to work in the music industry? You’re in the many, not the few. The majority of exciting internship opportunities are inundated with applications; you’ll need to stand out from the crowd in this highly competitive space.
2. Many internships are unpaid, but some may cover expenses or pay a minimum wage. The UK does have quite specific laws about this, unlike the United States. Details of your rights can be found here: https://targetjobs.co.uk/internships/advice/275017-the-law-on-unpaid-internships-know-your-rights 3. Demonstrable experience is often a requirement for a junior position anywhere within the music industry, and as such, internships are heavily relied upon. This has led to incredible competition for music business internships, and it’s vital to make your voice heard above the noise.
Carefully Consider Your Future Role
It’s understandable that you may not be fully confident of where you want to work within the music industry; in which role you’ll discover your life’s calling. This is something we develop during our Music Business Fundamentals course, when we examine the question, ‘where exactly do I fit?’ Indeed, internships can provide you with tangible evidence to prove or disapprove the roles suitability. But it’s still incredibly important to have considered the various roles and created a shortlist of those that you feel most aligned to. A large company isn’t going to know where to put you, if you just arrive with a ‘passion of all things music’.
Draw up two lists. One list will be the music skills (practical/creative/business) that you possess. List things you are genuinely strong at; it could be anything from composing songs, to pitching, branding to organisation. Be honest and maybe get an impartial friend or mentor to help you curate this. They may have insights into your abilities that you haven’t even noticed. The second list should be the things you really enjoy. Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you enjoy doing it. Maybe you were good at organising an event, but actually, you’d much rather someone else take care of the logistics so that you can focus on designing the poster! At various points, these two lists will intersect. Those skills that you have in abundance, and that you also wholeheartedly enjoy, will provide a path towards a music industry role designed exactly for you.
Find Your Targets
There are many roles in the music industry with internship opportunities for each: marketing and promotion specialists , creative designers, booking agents, promoters, managers, tour managers, A&R agents, accountants, sync agents, music supervisors, social media strategists, music journalists… which seems to fit your list best?
Once you’ve decided, it’s now time to research who the major and independent companies are in that sector and formulate your targets. Do they have an internship programme? If so, what are the requirements, submission criteria and deadlines? If nothing is mentioned, use LinkedIn and their website to find the right person to contact with regards to any potential opportunities in the future. Call the reception to ask who CV’s can be addressed to, if there’s no explicit guidelines on their website.
Set email alerts for relevant posts on sites such as Indeed, Glassdoor and Monster. Many small independent companies seeking interns will even share vacancies on Gumtree and in relevant Facebook Groups. LinkedIn is also an incredibly useful place to find such postings, and while you’re there, ensure your profile is up-to-date and looking as good as it possibly can be.
The major record labels all have careers/jobs pages too: https://www.sonymusic.co.uk/careers https://jobs.jobvite.com/universalmusicgroup https://www.warnermusiccareers.com And if relevant for your role, check the websites of large publishers (Universal Publishing, Warner Chapel, Sony/ATV, Kobalt, BMG), management companies, PR firms etc.
Get into a routine of checking all of these places every morning. Don’t delay in submitting your application!
Present The Strongest CV Possible
Your CV has to succinctly showcase why you are the right candidate for the internship. As such, it needs to demonstrate personality, positivity, relevant skills, achievements and experience. Your CV should be carefully tailored to the role you are applying for. It’s obviously much easier to have one CV that you send to everyone, but the time involved in tailoring it to the recipient will reap rewards.
When applying for internships, it’s likely you aren’t going to have a long list of strongly associated work experience, so ensure you explain how experience you do have can translate to the internship you’re applying for. For example, if you are applying for an artist management internship, and while at college/university you were a student union rep, you may be able to demonstrate transferable skills in event management, organisation, time-keeping, and leadership. You will have had experience of bringing people from many different cultures, with very different personality types, together for a common purpose. You’ll have liaised with various departments and organisations to get a task completed. Make any experience you do have, work for you.
Focus on your achievements, not your responsibilities.
Many CVs I receive simply list the applicants’ previous roles along with a re-written job description. That’s neither interesting nor useful. Maybe in your job you launched a new product, you won an award, or increased sales? That’s more interesting to read than a list of tasks you were charged with. Keep the most relevant experience at the top of the page. Your GCSE’s probably don’t justify that prime real estate. Include any other relevant skills you may have – a full driving license, IT abilities, a social media ninja? Anything that’s interesting, relevant and true!
If you have studied at SMB: The School of Music Business, you’re already going to be ahead of the game! Put this in your CV prominently. You can proudly show your Certificate of Completion, demonstrating that you have not only committed to your chosen career by joining SMB, but you have also acquired the most up-to-date skills possible, from current industry professionals.
Your CV should be no more than two sides of A4 – one side is even better! It should be succinct and to the point, in a positive and confident tone. The music industry is different to most others, in that it’s a little less formal. A professional but warm and friendly tone in the CV and covering letter will generally serve you better than ‘Dear Sir or Madam’.
Every CV Needs A Cover Letter
If you’re sending someone a CV, you must also send them a covering letter. The letter sets the tone for the receiver, just before they examine your CV. No two cover letters are the same, and you must personalise each one that you send. You’re sending a letter to a human being, so you definitely shouldn’t begin ‘Dear Universal Music’ or even worse ‘To Whom It May Concern’! If you don’t know the name of the person, you’re submitting the letter to, it’s not the right time to send it. Find out who you are reaching out to and address them by their first name - this is the music business! The employer’s full name, company and address should be written on the cover letter.
This is your opportunity to directly present your amicable personality, to explain why you are applying, and precisely why you are the perfect internship candidate for them. Most cover letters I see will include a sentence along the lines of ...
“I am extremely passionate about all types of music”.
Are you truly ‘extremely passionate’ about ALL types of music? How much do you know about the fado genre? A big fan of solipsynthm? Be honest and your passion will reveal itself naturally. Some write things like...
“I have extensive knowledge of all areas of the music industry”
If you’re applying for an internship, you probably don’t have that just yet. Don’t be disingenuous in the cover letter. Be passionate, of course, but be focused and be honest too.
A good way to demonstrate your passion authentically, is to do so alongside a fact. For example, if you were applying for a sound engineer role, you might talk about how…
… your interest in the role began when you were 15 and attended your first ever gig, and noticed the sound engineer running on to the stage to correct an issue and saving the show, and since then you’ve read and studied as much as you can about the position, and taken training courses in sound tech. You’d now like to utilise those and develop them further with leading professionals.
I’m engaged with that story, and it’s instantly ‘real’.
Apply To Those Opportunities!
Treat getting an internship, as a job! You need to check all of those sources we’ve looked at, daily and apply as soon as you see them. Send both a digital and a printed version of the CV and cover letter, unless the application guidelines state otherwise.
Some of those you apply to may never respond. That’s okay. But you should follow-up once; a week after the closing date. This will show you are eager, and care about the opportunity. There will of course be some outright rejections. There can’t be many skins thicker than the skin the music industry employee has developed over the decades. Think of it as good practice for when journalists, or labels, or publishers don’t get back to you. Accept it with a smile and bounce in your step.
With every rejection, you’re one step closer to that internship or job that is perfectly right for you.
And then, you will be invited for an interview!
If you’re invited to an interview, even if you don’t go on to secure the position, treat it as a victory. Of all the many applicants, you’ve been selected as one of the best, and that’s a great achievement… well done!
The company may have given you some guidance in terms of dress-code, but in this business, probably not. Smart casual is the safest option. In 20 years of working in the music industry, I’ve never seen someone in a suit. That said, you do still want to illustrate to the interviewer that you’re serious about the role and that you aren’t taking it lightly.
Arrive five minutes before your scheduled time. Don’t arrive thirty minutes early and put them under unnecessary pressure, as you sit awkwardly in reception. Never late, but no more than five minutes early. You should also bring a few copies of any relevant supplementary material with you. If you’re going for a digital marketing internship, maybe you can bring some data from a Facebook advertising campaign you ran for your friend’s business, or if you’re going to be interning at a music magazine, some samples of your writing or photography would be good. At the very least, in any situation, bring several copies of your CV and cover letter.
You’ll need to find the balance between being overbearing and uninterested.
Ask questions such as:
- What are some of the tasks an intern at Warner Music may be responsible for?
- Are there any specific areas or projects you have in mind for me to work on?
- Is there anything I could do prior to the start of the internship to benefit myself and the team I’ll be working with? Background reading, project preparation, online courses etc.
The interviewer will ask at the end of the meeting if you have any questions, and those are the kinds of things you can say confidently. Always have some questions!
At this stage I would avoid questions such as:
- How long do I get for lunch?
- How do I claim back my travel expenses?
- Is there a guaranteed job at the end of the internship?
You haven’t got the internship yet, so those questions aren’t relevant. The decision is theirs, so don’t presume you’re starting on Monday! There’s never a guaranteed job at the end of an internship… you’ve got to prove yourself.
This is only the very start of your journey.
At SMB: The School of Music Business we do all we can to support students as they take their first steps into the music industry. Our Music Business Fundamentals course (www.theschoolofmusicbusiness.com/music-business-fundamentals) provides the important skills, alongside one-to-one careers guidance, to give you the best chance possible of a successful future in the music business.
Best of luck and let us know when you get your first interview!
Matt Errington – Co-Director of SMB: The School of Music Business
Tutor of Music Business Fundamentals