I was journalism major at Boston University's School Of Communications when I got my first and only internship. Those two years spent interning at the local branch of A&M Records changed my life, and set me on a path that I'm still gladly following today. The team at Cyber PR shares how you can do the same, even without the help of a college or personal contacts. - Bruce Houghton
So, you want to be in the music business? There sure are a lot of you out there. I know this because I own a music PR firm and every time we put out a call for interns or jobs, we get 100 – 250 resumes. Once upon a time, I was just like you: dying to follow my passion and trying to land a job in the industry of my dreams. It was a humbling and, at times, humiliating exercise so this article, my young aspiring music business mogul, is for you. Interns are very much needed in every facet of the industry, and most of my music industry friends (myself included) started out as unpaid interns back in their day before leveraging them into paying jobs.
If you live in or near New York or LA, this guide will be easy to follow step by step. If you don’t: not to worry! You will be amazed at how many small music companies are thriving in every city and state.
Please note: Due to policies, larger companies need to employ only students enrolled in college looking to get credit. So, if your internship is not for credit, check before you get your heart set on a position you may not be qualified to fill.
Your Biggest And Most Important Lesson? You Will Not Be Paid.
I know you are spending a fortune to go to college but here is the reality: 99.9% of all music business internships are unpaid. I know it does not seem fair, but there are so many people looking to get started that compensation is rarely offered. So if making money is on your goal list, you will need to get a second job to feed your passion around music. Don’t let a little thing like money keep you from your dream.
OK, so now that you know you will be working for free and probably paying your college to get credit – so actually you will be paying to work – make it something you want to do!
STEP ONE: Identify Your Areas Of Interest
Ask yourself what part of the music business do you want to be in? Marketing? Radio? Publicity? Online Marketing? Touring? A&R? You may not know the answer to this question yet, and that’s perfectly fine! You are not supposed to know until you get some experience in a particular area. BUT if you don’t specify what you are looking to try, the people in charge of hiring you will have no idea how they can fit you into their business. Having a list of general areas of interest is a necessity.
To get a working knowledge of what different parts of the music industry are available, read blogs and do online research so you don’t walk in looking unprepared. Hypebot.com is a great place to start.
Create a list of 2-4 areas that you would like to work in.
Some general industry categories: Large Record Label (i.e. Sony, Warner Music, Universal, etc.)
Specify a department:
Promotions, Publicity, Marketing, Licensing Radio
Specify a department:
On Air Producer Sales Promotions Marketing Firm
There are many genres within: Street Marketing, Online Marketing, Tour Marketing etc.
Specialty / Lifestyle Marketing Small Record Label (you probably won’t need to specify department)
Publicity Firm, Management Company, Booking Agency, Radio Promotions Company, Music Venue, Concert Promoter, Production Studio, Publishing Company, Film & TV Licensing, Music Website, Social Media, Digital Marketing, Music Magazine / Website
STEP TWO: Make A Dream List Of Companies & Artists You Love
Research as much as you can in your chosen field.
If you love a specific band or artist, look up who they work with and put those companies on your list because nothing is more thrilling and satisfying than working for your FAVORITE artists and bands (I still get a thrill out of that and I’ve been working in the music industry for 21 years).
STEP THREE: Rock Your Resume
Create the best resume you can put together. There are many websites, books, and even your career counseling office at school that can instruct you on how to do this. Some general pointers:
Be Concise – one page only.
Be Detailed – What did you do at your previous jobs that are listed? These should express your talents.
Be Interesting – Include personal touches and hobbies or special interests.
Tip #1 – the music business tends to be a bit more informal, so you have a little bit more room to play with your resume and make your personality shine through more than you would on a “corporate” resume.
Tip #2 – Add your social media sites to your resume and make sure they look professional.
Tip #3 – If you are in college you probably don’t have a huge amount of experience, and that’s completely okay. Lead with enthusiasm and passion and you will go far.
STEP FOUR: Recommendations
In an industry that’s so dependent on connections, it comes as no surprise that a couple great key references can help get you where you want to be.
Call an old employer, a professor, or a great person in your life who can write you a spectacular recommendation letter. Ask the person writing the letter to mention strengths that will be cohesive with the job.
STEP FIVE: Start Applying
Call the companies of your dreams. They may not be advertising for interns, so you need to cold call and ask first if they would consider accepting a resume. Be excited and tell the truth that you found out about their company and you would love to be considered. Then ask to whom the resume should be addressed.
Websites where employers post for interns – We use https://www.entertainmentcareers.net and at any given time there are plenty of internships available there!
Your college’s career office (Don’t count on them as your main resource – my best interns found me by looking online).
STEP SIX: The Golden Rules
NEVER EVER send a resume without a cover letter that is customized and mentions WHY you are the perfect intern! It’s totally unprofessional.
Include the NAME, ADDRESS, COMPANY NAME, and INDIVIDUAL’S NAME on each cover letter, and customize each letter for that specific company. Yes, this will take longer but it will also get you results.
Note: Out of the 150 resumes I just received on my last round of hirings, only three people put my company name on the cover letter and wrote “Dear Ms. Hyatt”.
100% of all of these letters mentioned in the first paragraph that the candidate had excellent communication skills. If you are so excellent at communicating, how come my name was not mentioned? The letters that really annoyed me and made me never want to meet the candidate were the letters that said “Dear Sir” (I am a woman) or “Dear HR Dept” or even more gross: “Dear Hiring Committee” (I’m the only one that makes decisions at my company about hiring, 25 seconds on my website would teach you that).
Mention some things that relate directly to the company you are applying to – the names of the artists, your passion about what it is they do, how you became interested in music, etc.
Do not write any of the following lines:
“I have excellent communication skills.”
“I have loved music for as long as I can remember, since the day I was born.”
“I believe I am the perfect match for your company (unless you say WHY).”
“My extensive background in music…” If you are under the age of 25 you DON’T have an extensive background (an extensive background is 10 years or more).
If applicable, write the following lines: “I have been a fan of (artist’s name this company works with here) since (year/concert you attended, etc.).”
“I have always wanted to learn about (company’s specialty here) and a position at your company would provide me just that opportunity.”
“I have already had some experience with (booking, promoting, etc), and would love to expand on what I have already learned at (school, from volunteering etc.).”
If you are applying to a marketing or PR firm that involves an online space, HIGHLIGHT how many social media friends/followers you have, and what music sites and blogs you like to read. A well-connected intern is a huge asset!
STEP SEVEN: Send A Physical Copy Of Your Resume
Most of these websites give you an interface to go through and you submit your resume straight to them via the Internet. Definitely do this and IN ADDITION if you can mail in your resume, I highly recommend you do this as well (remember to address with a specific person’s name!).
STEP EIGHT: Treat Each Resume Like A Lost Puppy (Or Kitten)
Back to my 150 candidates from this past month – NOT ONE called to follow up to see if I had received the resume.
A few days after you send the resume, call to follow up! This is a great way to stand out in the crowd because NO ONE ELSE IS CALLING. (I would know!)
Even if the website says “don’t call us, we’ll call you” you should call and politely ask if your resume was received because 100% of everyone I know in the music business is so busy that they don’t have time to always follow up with the deluge of resumes. This could be a missed opportunity to land an internship!
STEP NINE: The Interview
So, you followed my steps and you got an interview set up? Wonderful!
If you get three or four interviews, go to the one that you are least interested in FIRST to sharpen your interview skills.
Call the day of the interview to confirm. It’s professional and a great way to stand out.
Be 5 minutes early (not more), and remember the music business is casual so a suit is highly discouraged. I suggest business casual.
Don’t get on your mobile phone while you are waiting!
Bring two copies of your resume, cover letter, and recommendation letter as well as some writing samples (if applicable – even if it’s a paper you wrote about the music business). This is interesting and it sets you apart!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, such as:
What does a typical internship encompass here?
Do you have some specific projects I might be working on?
With most internship interviews I do, I always have to ask: Do you have any questions? And it always leaves a weird taste in my mouth if they have NONE – even if you ask how many days the company is expecting interns to work and what the hours would be. Make sure to at least establish a dialogue. I suggest preparing 2-3 in-depth questions that you have researched by looking online at this specific company.
Tip – The smaller the company, the more work you will end up contributing and the more experience you will gain – it’s just the nature of the beast.
Tip – If you don’t like the person that interviews you, do not take the job. Trust your instincts!
Tip – Don’t ask if the internship will turn into a paid position. You are in charge of being the most awesome intern that they ever had. This will lead to a job but first you have to prove yourself!
STEP TEN: Follow Up. ALWAYS Follow Up.
Even if you didn’t love the interview, ALWAYS send a thank you email to follow up (or better yet a CARD!) to say thanks for taking the time to interview me!
If you really enjoyed the interview, say so and include why. And don’t be afraid to say “after meeting you I am even more convinced that I would like to work with you!” Flattery WILL get you (almost) everywhere.