Making the Most of Internships Part 1: From Coffee Runs to Running the Next Meeting

Disclaimer: Please note that IXiiV Records, LLC now goes by IXiiV Artist Consulting. You can email us at consulting@ixiiv.com.

When most people hear the word internship, they think grunt work and no (or at least very little) pay.  When I hear internship, I think opportunity; I’ve always thought this, years ago as an intern and now as a business owner. Throughout my experience, I feel both interns as well as business owners often fail to implement important practices and/or maintain essential perspectives on situations to make the most out of this often doubly beneficial situation.

While internship experience can give you an edge on the competition when looking to break into most industries, it is crucial when trying to squeeze through the music industry’s ever-shrinking doorway. The music business has always been, and will without a doubt continue to be, a “who you know” industry.  While this may be true for many other big businesses, very few industries have the same flexibility as the music industry does when it comes to hiring. With the right experience and connections, anyone can land a job in the music industry regardless of their education.

My journey began as a Music Industry major at Drexel University. We were required to complete two summer internships in order to graduate. After my sophomore year I had sent out countless resumes and received nothing in return. I had a 3.8 GPA at the time and it mattered to no one. The music business is not about what you know; it’s about who you know and who can vouch for your abilities. Luckily, my brother’s good friend was working in the sales department at Atlantic Records and was looking for some extra help for the summer – enter my golden opportunity. The “interview,” if you could call it that, consisted of her calling me one afternoon to give me the low-down on the department, asking me a few basic questions to make sure I was a competent human being, and then asking when I could start.  It didn’t matter what grade I got in Music History II, everything I needed to know I’d learn on the job.

Working under the conglomerate Warner/Electra/Atlantic (WEA), my coworkers had backgrounds in everything from English to psychology, to accounting, to law school. Until recently, it was rare for anyone to major in the music business. In order to learn this unique field of creativity and mayhem, people relied on internships and mentorships to work their way up the corporate musical ladder. The industry is a revolving door – turning out disgruntled, burnt out workers and trading up for new, energetic, creative blood. Company heads don’t have time to be constantly interviewing, and with so many people trying to bust through the ever-revolving door, it’s more efficient for them to hire from their network of contacts. If someone doesn’t workout, there’s another eager person waiting right behind them. Interns are often the crucial training pool of up-and-comers in the music industry; the understudies waiting in the wings in every department that is filled with too few, and often overworked employees.

In honor of summer, the ever-popular season for internships, the following two-part blog is meant to shed some light on how to make the most out of internships for those looking to land one, as well as those looking to offer one. In Part I, we examine how interns can to turn an internship into bigger career opportunities.

Believe that we’ve left something out? Feel free to share your internship experiences with us in the comments below!

1. Be Proactive: Downtime = Go Time

Go Time l IXiiV Records, LLCAs a sales intern for WEA, I felt there were so many opportunities before me. After all, I wasn’t an employee. If I wanted to use my downtime to explore different branches of the record label, such as its legal or publicity departments, what would they do, fire me? Tell me that’s not in my job description? Tell me I wasn’t properly trained for that department? Of course not! I was trained for nothing (at that point). The only reason I was placed in sales was because that department had requested the extra help at the time. I was basically a free agent; they welcomed the enthusiasm and extra help wherever they could find it.

Upon starting my internship, I was working 20 hours/week. One day I stepped into my supervisor’s office and requested that I either work more hours per day and less days per week in their department OR work every day with the sales department for a few hours each day so I could use the remaining hours to help out the digital media department (which, at the time, was still a fairly new department). He applauded my enthusiasm and assertiveness and agreed to let me offer my help to other departments as long as I completed my tasks that he assigned me each week.

Don’t wait for your invitation; it’s most likely never going to come. Make your own opportunities. As the saying goes, ask and ye shall receive. Soon I was working 30+ hours/week, and, because of my connections within the other departments, I was offered a chance to be their College Representative (CR) in Philadelphia while I was back in school at Drexel.  They never had a CR in Philadelphia before, since they had a pretty effective sales team already in place.  However, they figured I’d create work for myself while there and I did.  After graduating, I followed my supervisor from WEA to Astralwerks, where I was offered a job as the Midwest Sales Coordinator.

2. Be A Sponge & Soak It In

True, working 30+ hours/week for little to no pay may seem insane and, for some, unfeasible. However, I knew that showing initiative early on would illustrate to them that I was serious about landing a full-time job post-graduation. In addition, I didn’t know much about the inner workings of a label at the time. As someone with the dreams of one day owning their own music company, I wanted to learn as much as I could as fast as I could. If I was already required to be there each day, as a requirement of graduation, I might as well have made the most of it, right?

No matter what company you may be interning for, ASK QUESTIONS! Show you’re interested and get something out of it for yourself. Think of it as school without the tests. It’s basically free knowledge and you’ll be learning from people who spend every day of their lives doing what you hope to do one day.

3. Turn Coffee Talk Into Real Talk

At WEA they didn’t have room for my desk, so they put me in the closet. Yep, the closet. All promotional materials and artist merchandise was kept in this “office” of mine and I was constantly being asked to grab random things from within, or fetch something or other for an artist when they came by the office, or even run to find the artist at another location in the city to get Coffee l IXiiV Records, LLCsomething signed. Instead of feeling isolated and thrown aside, I OWNED that closet. In an effort to make more room for myself in a tight space, I stayed late one day cleaning out and organizing the area. Ever wondered if they make Kid Rock condoms? They do. By the end, I had a nice little office of my own, knew the label’s entire inventory and created a new system that was kept in place even after I left.

Sometimes an internship does involve cramped spaces, brainless tasks and coffee runs. Sometimes that’s just the reality of it, so suck it up! Instead of getting angry and bitter that you’ve been stuck with such a brainless task, make the most of it.

For example, when asked to get coffee for the next meeting, assert yourself. Ask your supervisor if it would be ok to sit in on the meeting after passing out the coffee in order to get a better feel for the company. If allowed, make sure you have a pen and paper ready to take notes. You can then offer your notes to your supervisor for their reference, or offer up your take on the meeting once everyone has disbursed (be sure not to speak during the meeting unless called upon).

However, be sure to pick your window of opportunity wisely. Don’t broach the subject when higher-ups are clearly under a lot of stress or a major deadline. It could come off as disrespectful or distracting, and they may need you for other grunt work while they are in the meeting.

4. No Pay ≠ No Payoff’s

If your internship doesn’t pay, do not get discouraged. A paycheck is not the only payoff an internship can have. Besides all of the knowledge and real-world experience at your disposal, every person you come into contact with at your internship is a possible referral or recommendation for a permanent job offer, whether at that company or elsewhere.

While you may need to pick up extra part-time work to stay afloat, internships in your field of choice are often the only way to get your foot in the door in most industries, especially the music industry. Once you get that foot in, and work hard once in, it is much easier to move up or over within a company. Most companies hire from within; it is easier, it saves time and money, and they’ve already invested in training you. So, when calculating your rate of pay, be sure to include future dividends.

5. If You Can Afford To Say Yes, Don’t Ever Say No

When I asked to work in multiple departments while at WEA, I wasn’t doing it with the initial intention of landing my next job. I was curious and eager to learn as many facets of a label as I possibly could. When they offered me the CR position, my initial instinct was to say “NO!”

I was entering my junior year at Drexel, a year that was already proving to be challenging. I was hoping to have some downtime in between classes and another job I already had on campus.  However, when my supervisor approached me, he made it abundantly Yes No l IXiiV Records, LLCclear that this was more of a favor to me than from me to them. I knew if I ever wanted a chance at a job with WEA or any other affiliate, I would need to prove myself, and saying no wasn’t an option.

Unless it is absolutely impossible for you to commit to an offer, don’t ever turn down an opportunity, as it may not present itself again and you never know where it may lead. Even if you aren’t looking to secure a spot with that company in the future, they may prove to be a great referral or lead to an important contact down the road.

6. You’re Disposable, So Know Your Boundaries

While being an intern can leave you feeling somewhat detached from the company, as you are not an employee, you still have been hired in some capacity by the company to work for them and you are still a subordinate. You may not be as tied down as other employees, however you still have to treat the job as if you are an employee.

While I was an employee at Astralwerks, we had an out-of state intern who did some street team promotions for us. The person felt since they weren’t being paid they didn’t have to play by company rules. When the higher-ups found out the intern was selling promotional copies of albums we had sent to be distributed, they fired the intern on the spot and alerted all major contacts in the area of the act, advising them to think twice before working with that person. The intern not only burned a bridge with Astralwerks, but with all affiliates as well.

While avoiding illegal selling of albums may seem like common sense, this tip is also applicable to dressing professionally (unless otherwise instructed), addressing everyone in a professional manner, and being on time and ready to work. Especially in today’s day and age, free/cheap labor is easy to come by, so do not let your employer think of you as disposable. Show them you are not a dime a dozen and you’ll be sure to have a rewarding experience.

7. Facebook About-Face

When I was at WEA, Facebook was still in its infantile stages and only open to college students.  I could post and comment on whatever I wanted to (”liking” wasn’t even an option back then) without worrying about any consequences. Today, however, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are open to the masses. Companies, now more than ever, can monitor their employees in and out of the office in order to make certain their brand is being properly represented at all times. As in the previous point, you are an extension of the company. If they want to find what you are up to online, they can. Do not rely on just privacy settings to shield your online activities from their eyes.

This is not to make you paranoid, however you must be aware that your information, photos, and posts can be made public, no matter how careful you think you may be. Facebook has already been in hot water for messing with people’s privacy settings in the past; it could happen again. In addition, you never know who knows whom. It’s a small world, after all, is a saying for a reason. Things do have a way of getting spread online, whether you think you’ve blocked them or not. Do not take the chance of someone at work finding inappropriate pictures of you. Think about your online image before interviewing for or starting your internship; it may be time for some spring-cleaning.

Following these tips may not only give you a brighter outlook on what you may see as a grim summer of coffee and copying, but also the tools you’ll need to get noticed and secure a solid network for your future. Remember the image of the revolving door, or more appropriately, musical chairs. If you don’t hustle while the music plays, you may be left without a seat when it stops.

Stay tuned for Part II where we will provide internship tips for the employer to consider, highlighting simple things an employer can do that will make the difference between having an intern who does what he/she is asked and an intern who asks what he/she can do.

IXiiV Records would like to officially welcome Adam Krochak (@AKrochak) to the team as our Intern!  We are thrilled to have him and know he will be an invaluable addition to our company.

All photos courtesy of: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1499.  Published with permission.

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