An internship can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a college education. Internships offer the opportunity for students to work in a professional field of interest to them, see how companies in that field operate, learn about a particular position or positions, and make contacts that could help them get a job after graduation or get ahead in other ways in that field.
For students wishing to have a career in music, internships can be invaluable. Music internships can bring students into the world of symphony orchestras, booking agents, personal managers, musical instrument manufacturers, record labels, and many other kinds of organizations and companies in the field of music. Factors such as where a student lives, what kinds of organizations, companies and professionals are in that vicinity, and the availability of internships will help determine where a student ends up.
Of course, different cities will present different opportunities for students seeking an internship. A city that has a lot of music organizations and companies will have more opportunities for the budding student intern than one with few music organizations and companies. If an organization or company doesn’t advertise for interns a student who is interested in working in either of these areas should feel free to contact them anyway. As can happen, an organization or company that hasn’t hired a student intern, may, upon being contacted, decide they could use a student intern after all.
Since students may be taking only a couple of internships in college, it is important that they plan wisely and select companies or organizations that are vital to their professional interests and could possibly further their budding careers. They should not apply for or accept an internship just for the sake of fulfilling major credit (that is, if a major has an internship requirement). Rather, students should put much care into finding an internship that is of interest to them and that can best benefit them, which means to start their search well in advance of when they wish to start, apply to many companies, prepare for their internship interview so as to maximize their chances for being accepted, and not give up in their quest to get an internship that they want and which will benefit them most.
Some companies hire from their pool of interns or give job preference to student interns. another reason why students should plan to do internships at companies in whose fields they might want to work after graduation.
At the same time, students should be open-minded about where they should apply. Some of my own students have reported that after interning at companies that were not their first choice, they learned from and enjoyed that experience so much that they would consider working in the field in which they interned.
Here are some kinds of companies music business majors at Manhattanville College consider in applying for internships:
Cover letters and resumes
Cover letters should be tailored to the individual companies to which the student applies. A generic cover letter should not be used, although it could be used as a template for tailoring cover letters. It’s prudent to have another person proofread a cover letter and resume to make sure there are no grammatical mistakes and that they read properly. Of course, if a college has a career center, the student should work closely with it to prepare his or her cover letter and resume.
Where to search
Students should research companies or organizations where they would like to have an internship, and then check their websites to see if they hire interns or if a student may apply for an internship on their website. Companies and organizations can be found in music trade magazines as well as consumer publications, and through online searches. There are internship websites, and one we use at Manhattanville has proven to be vital for our students. The website is called entertainmentcareers.net. Internships posted on this site are for companies and organizations at various locations around the U.S and are for internships in all kinds of areas of entertainment; positions can fill up quickly so students should visit the site often and apply as soon as possible to an internship that appeals to them. That of course means students should have their cover letter (that is, its basic template so it may be tailored to an individual company or organization) and resume ready to be sent off.
Interview and follow-up
Many companies require students to interview for internship positions. If a student is asked to interview, the student will need to prepare for it as best he or she can. To start, the student should research the company assiduously. For instance, if a student is interviewing for a record company, he or she should become as familiar with the various labels it owns or distributes, the genres of music it distributes, the artists on its roster, its current releases and chart-tracks, its past successes, and history of the company. Most companies have websites, so the student should go to the website of the company for which he or she is interviewing and study it.
Students should try to anticipate the questions they might be asked at internship interviews and figure out how they would like to answer those questions. On the other hand, if a student has any questions about the company or the internship position, he or she shouldn’t be shy about asking those questions. Good questions will be greeted positively, but it’s best for questions to be asked that are specific to that company and internship (as opposed to generic questions), and for questions to be asked that are not addressed on the company’s website. If students are not told what days and hours they would be required to work, or when a decision will be made about the position for which they have applied, they should feel free to ask the interviewer about these areas.
Prepare and practice for the interview. It might be helpful for students to role play an interview by having a friend or family member ask them questions along the line that they might be asked in an actual interview. The role play should be conducted in a way that bears semblance to an actual interview. If no one is available to role play with them, students can practice in front of a mirror assuming both parts. It might be helpful for students to prepare answers to questions they anticipate, but not in a way that sounds rehearsed, but which rather seem spontaneous and flow nicely.
Some interviews are in person, others are over the phone. If the interview is in person, students should dress appropriately, get there a little early (making sure they leave well in advance so they are not late), and bring copies of their resume just in case the interviewer does not have it (yes, that can happen).
There are many common-sense rules for the internship interview. Whether the interview is in person or on the phone, students should always be polite. If the interview is in person, students should sit up straight and give a good handshake. They should look the interviewer in the eye. They should not address the interviewer by his or her first name unless they are told they may do so.
Student interviewees should sound enthusiastic throughout the interview. They should be passionate about the company or position for which they have applied. As music majors they should of course have a great passion about music and should keep that in mind during the interview. And needless to say, they should always be cordial regardless of how the interview is going.
Students should follow up their internship interview with a thank-you note, which should be sent as soon as possible after the interview.
Preparation for the interview is the best way for students to maximize their chances of getting the internship position for which they have applied. If they have prepared well there is no need for them to be nervous. Students should of course get a good night’s sleep and feel relaxed and confident. With the right preparation students should have every reason to be confident.
Some final notes (and common-sense advice, again): Once students begin their internship, they should always do their best on the job. They should not be late for work, they should always be polite, they should always show they are interested, and they should ask if there is anything more, they can do if they find themselves not busy. Students should feel free to ask questions about the company, the field they are working in, or related jobs if they feel comfortable with their supervisor. They should ask questions especially if they do not understand the task they have been assigned.
If it turns out that students are unhappy with their internship or they are doing menial work or they are not doing what they were told they would be doing, they can see their college internship instructor or go to their college’s career development center for advice. An internship should be a positive and rewarding experience and their college should serve to support them in this endeavor.
Harvey Rachlin is an award-winning author of thirteen books including The Songwriter’s Handbook and The Songwriter’s and Musician’s Guide to Making Great Demos. His Encyclopedia of the Music Business won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music journalism, was named Outstanding Music Reference Book of the Year by the American Library Association, and was recommended by Academy Award-winning composer Henry Mancini on the 1984 internationally-televised Grammy Awards. His books have been praised by such music luminaries as Elton John, Aaron Copland, Richard Rodgers, Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach, Marvin Hamlisch, Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne, Morton Gould, and Johnny Mathis. He runs the music business program at Manhattanville College.