A tip for interns: In the music industry (and many others), internships are how many aspiring professionals get a foot in the door, and if you have the drive and put in the effort, they’re literally a fast track into your career.
Some people are in their positions without higher education because they had connections and started as an intern and moved up from there. This is common in the world of audio production. On the other hand, I was able to get connections to jobs through the career services department of my college and stand by my schooling as the only way I entered the industry.
Two out of the four internships I worked while in school turned into paid work. One that didn’t, however, gave me something arguably more important than cash. I was told after only a few nights at a club by the manager that I “wasn’t cut out for the club scene.”
That didn’t stop me in the least, and that rejection gave me added drive to get better and rise above average for next time. Two years later I used my knowledge of my mistakes and landed a paid job at a well-known club in Boston and worked there steadily for about two years!
There’s a big demand for good people in the live production field. There’s always an opening somewhere. Regardless, don’t wait if it’s something you’re interested in. Ask music teachers in high school if they have any connections, they probably do.
High school is a great time to work for free and gain valuable real-world experience because most aren’t yet paying rent. If this didn’t dawn on you until college, that’s OK but here’s the trick: Do not wait until you’re in the “internship” class to get one.
Go to the career services department on day one. If you walk in there and say, “I want an internship” they will likely reply, “Who are you taking the class with?” The comeback should be, “I’m not in a class, I want an internship.” This is usually immediately impressive, and they will be much more inclined to help you get the best opportunity possible. How do I know this? It’s exactly what happened to me.
Or, say that you have the name, email and phone number of someone who is seeking help with their business and it’s something you’re interested in. After the initial contact, cover letter and resume and usually a recommendation from the career services person, you don’t hear back from them. This is common – unless they’re desperate for help right at the moment they may not be in a hurry to get back to you.
Don’t wait – follow up. I did this at two clubs where I’d applied, and got both jobs. This pursuit might require a little research, but you have a phone and the internet, so you can find out just about anything. In one case, I called the club, asked the bar tender when they opened and asked the club manager what day my primary contact there was working.
At five o’clock the following Saturday, I showed up and introduced myself. He told me to come back the next week and you can bet I was there 15 minutes early. Two shows later I was running the sound by myself.
More To Do
So now that you’re on the schedule, there are still some important things to keep in mind. Even if you’re not being paid, take it seriously – it’s still your job. As an intern, you are your own brand, so market yourself accordingly.
There’s also some more research to do. When some free time is available (you might have to stay late), write down all the names of the pieces of equipment in the system, or take pictures, and find their respective owner’s manuals online.
In the studio world, we hear about situations where someone didn’t show up to a session and all the sudden the engineer is asking the intern to set levels on a compressor or patch something in. It would be great if you can do what is being asked correctly and without hesitation.
Something to keep in mind is that at most jobs, you’re going to have to ask for more responsibility. When I was interning at a live sound production company I gained the trust of the crew chief and often he was more than happy to let me mix the band at events.
I also found that I could often step into the role of stage manager because the full-time people had no interest in that duty. Keep asking if you don’t get a yes the first couple of times – the crew is usually willing to pawn off work to you, but they also need it to be done correctly. Gain their confidence!
Once you’re in the fabric of the business, you can show them you’re above average by going the extra mile. Don’t totally burn out, but if someone is staying late to work on something and could use help, stay and help, or at least just observe.
Many times, the crew will have personal projects that they’re working on after business hours and if you help them on your own time, it shows character and helps define your interest. This is true from the studio to live events all the way to automobile mechanics!
Another way to stand out among your fellow interns is to work off of their shortcomings. Never try to sabotage others because it will almost assuredly backfire on you, but if you’re observant you can rise above them. If someone leaves early, stay late. If someone complains about lifting stage decks, be the first to volunteer for the task. If someone makes a terrible cup of coffee, figure out how to do it better and beat them to it.
Also, never speak poorly about others, especially to full timers. You never know what that person’s level of interest is or what their current situation is. Don’t burn bridges.
Finally, I encourage someone who is established to give back. After a few months of running sound on my own at the club, I was getting a bit bored and needed someone to hang out with. It dawned on me that this was a great learning opportunity and I decided to bring on some people to both gain experience and keep me company. They didn’t get paid but I became friends with the ones who stood out and made the commitment, and you can bet that whenever I see them now, I buy them dinner.
Opportunity is out there and all one needs to do is go and get it. The people you become friends with at an internship will be more than happy to give you a recommendation for that big job and celebrate with you after you land it.