With Memorial Day quickly approaching, it’s time for the annual migration of summer interns, returning from school to fill their summer with a dose of real-world experience, an insider’s view of the industry, and the kind of work history that will actually mean something when graduation rolls around. Unfortunately, three years of academic study have not necessarily provided a background of fundamental skills for a day in the office. Having been a songwriter for almost 20 years before I ever got my first taste of an office gig, I can assure you that it requires some adjustment.
Whether you’ll be spending your summer working in a small start-up venture or wandering the halls of 550 Madison Avenue or Rockefeller Center, you’ll need to know more than how to run the coffee-maker. That “Critical Analysis of Music and Entertainment Industry Paradigms in 21st Century American Popular Culture” class you took might not have fully prepared you for 12 weeks in the trenches. Here are 10 Tips for Maximizing Your Internship, and Getting Invited Back Next Year:
1. Be on time.
Most music companies do not open at sun-up. A 10a.m. start time will not strike most of the working world as cruel and unusual punishment. Nevertheless, showing up at 10a.m. for a job that begins at 10 will put you ahead of 90% of the other employees and interns. It’s that easy.
2. Do some homework.
I know—school is out. But the homework continues. One hour on the company website and a little Wikipedia should be enough to give you what you need to know: the company history, top executives, biggest hits in the catalog, top current acts, whether or not the company is being bought or sold and to whom. Now that you have all the essential information… memorize it.
3. Read Billboard.
The people around you are watching their lives and careers rise or fall with the chart positions each week. If you want to understand their mood, share their humor, feel their pain or avoid their wrath, it’s best to know who’s moving up and who’s falling down.
4. Accept all invitations.
If you’re asked to check out a showcase, attend a video shoot, go to a rehearsal, put up fliers on telephone poles or join in a birthday party for another intern, it is not actually a social proposition. It is a command performance. Be there. Everything else you’re doing can be cancelled or rescheduled. That’s life in the music business.
5. Know the music.
No one actually cares what kind of music you like. Or what new bands you’re into. Or that you’re a hip-hop kid who happens to have gotten an internship at Sony Masterworks. You need to know the music that your department works with, whether it has any appeal to your personal taste or not. This is not actually about you. It’s about the music that pays the bills for the office you’re sitting in.
Even when no one is speaking to you. I had an intern once who overheard me speaking with someone about dub-step, and ten minutes later brought me information about an upcoming NYC show and two hot producers. Mastering the art of subtle eavesdropping is a valuable survival skill.
7. Elevate the communication level.
If someone asks you to give them an update, a report or a brief on something, they’re not looking for some jotted down notes on a piece of tablet paper or a print-out from the internet. Write a report, or a memo, or an email—with a proper heading, a consolidated and edited summary of what you’ve found, and bullet points for what you feel is the crucial information. Use spell-check. If you speak in a meeting, don’t ramble and don’t be shy. Especially in a large corporate environment, appearances matter, from the layout of your memo to your posture when you speak.
It is possible to go a full eight hours without checking your Facebook page. Try it. If you’ve got a YouTube video on your computer screen, it better be an act on the label, a song in the catalog, or an artist the company is looking to sign—not a funny kitten or an SNL segment. Unless your boss has your number, turn off your phone. Listening to your iPod will preclude listening to what’s happening in the office—see item #6. You’re at work. So work.
9. Ask questions—that aren’t about you.
Everyone likes an intern that is full of questions. But not the following questions:
“Will you listen to my band? “
“What do you think should be my career focus? “
“What’s the best way to work my way into a full-time gig at the company?”
“Can you introduce me to your contact at the company across the street?”
These are questions about you. The questions that are interesting to the people at the company are about them—the company itself, the artists or songs that the company represents, the people who work there, or the business strategies that are paying off or not paying off. Try:
“What were the key factors in deciding to sign that particular act? “
“What areas of this company will be the growth sectors in the next few years?”
“What are the skills that this company feels are the most important for entry-level employees?”
“How long have you been doing business with Joe across the street? How did that relationship develop? “
10. Bring the energy.
No one expects a young intern to know everything, to solve their company’s problems or even to drastically alter the workload. In fact, it’s pretty acceptable to screw things up once in a while—everyone’s done it. You’re supposed to bring the youthful energy. The know-how can come later. What’s not acceptable is to be tired, bored, distracted, or anonymous.
Even in the relatively small company where I work, we’ve had numerous interns who became full-time employees after graduation. We’ve had interns who we later signed to publishing contracts. We’ve helped interns get jobs with other companies in the industry. We’ve also had a reasonable number of interns fade off into the sunset, leaving no follow-up email address, no sustainable relationships in the company and no lasting impression on anyone. That’s a wasted summer.
This is a very bad business for boring people. If you can’t make some kind of impact over a 12 week internship, then you may need go back to school considering other career options. This is the first mark you’ll make in the music industry. Make it count…