Music Business

The Reason Unpaid Music Internships Are A Problem

1While internships can be a great way to put you on the road to industry success, unpaid internships can often class out promising candidates by not offering the support necessary for them to get their foot in the door.


Guest post by James Shotwell of Haulix

Internships are a great path to success in the industry, but by failing to support workers, the music business is blocking many from access based on their economic class.

There are many ways to land a career in music, but few offer the networking and learning opportunities provided by internships. A good internship can open doors and create the potential for life-changing connections that cannot otherwise be accessed by the thousands vying for a position in the entertainment industry. The problem is, most internships offer little to no compensation in exchange for work. 

It’s no secret that most music industry jobs are in two of the most expensive cities on Earth, Los Angeles and New York. Nashville also has many opportunities. However, the cost of living has consistently risen year after year as more people move to the area in hopes of escaping the high prices of the coasts.

Unpaid music internships create a barrier to entry and experience for many industry hopefuls based solely on their economic class. Interns are expected to work the equivalent of full-time jobs without compensation. Many are not allowed to seek employment elsewhere because it may impact their ability to please the employer who is not paying for their services. As Sarah Kendzior wrote in The View From Flyover Country, “Work is not a labor to be done in exchange for a wage, but an act of charity to the powerful, who reward the unpaid worker with “experience” and “exposure.”

3The ubiquity of unpaid internships sends a message that only those privileged enough to not worry about supporting themselves should pursue a career in music. Internships recast privilege as perseverance, suggesting that a lack of payment is somehow a test of one’s willingness to devote themselves to their craft. That view ignores the fact that, for many, working without compensation is not possible.

Some companies argue that requiring compensation for internships would lower or erase the intern opportunities they make available. While such a change would increase competition for the internships that remain, make the music industry more welcoming to people from all economic levels. 

Music history has been written by people who came from nothing. The people without parents or money to fall back on are often the ones who pen the songs that take the world by storm. Being able to support oneself for months at a time without compensation is not proof that the work will be above average. At best, such abilities are proof of privilege, and that should not have a bearing on whether or not someone is good enough for a position in the music industry.

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.

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