Internships: What They Mean For The Global Music Industry

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Guest post by Emily White of Midem

I used to be a kid who didn’t know a soul in the music industry, the field I dreamed of working in. I’m also from the middle of the United States, far from industry capitals New York, Los Angeles, and even Nashville. Since then, my name has graced the cover of Billboard magazine and I’ve had a music industry career greater than I ever could have imagined.

How did I do this? A ridiculous amount of hard work, diligence, and creating a reputation for reliability; no doubt. However, to get my foot in the door, I began my career by interning. While in university, I ended up doing a slew of internships throughout the music industry – in Boston, New York, and London. I knew I wanted to be in the music industry, but didn’t know what specifically I wanted to do. By interning at a variety of companies and fields within the music industry while in school, in hindsight, I created the ideal background to be a manager. As managers oversee all aspects of an artist’s career, I now can empathise with what it’s like to be on the other end of the phone when speaking to colleagues on my artists’ behalf. I even began working with Amanda Palmer and The Dresden Dolls as an intern – an internship that would change my life and career forever.

Full disclosure, I just put out a book called Interning 101, released by music industry visionary George Howard’s 9GiantStepsBooks. I had written what I dubbed as an “Intern Manifesto”, for our management and consulting company, Whitesmith Entertainment. I felt as though I was teaching a lot of modern business basics semester after semester, ranging from how to compose an email, to not fearing the phone. I figured it would be helpful to our interns to have a guide to reference as opposed to asking supervisors questions on small tasks. That way, they can learn more quickly and start to help on higher level projects faster and obtain that much more knowledge. I asked a few New York University graduate students who were interning for me, if I turned this information into a 100 page how-to book, would it be helpful to them and their classmates? The answer was a resounding, “YES!”

I’ve had a blast taking Interning 101 around the United States, connecting with students who often aspire to be in the music industry. However, I have hesitated on doing so internationally, as I have no idea what “interning” means in countries besides the US and UK (these two countries alone have very different definitions), or how folks outside of the United States began their careers in the music industry. So I decided to ask Midem attendees and veterans just that.

Internships in France: “you are paid 400 euros a month to work harder than an employee”

I started by contacting longtime colleague and friend, Charlotte Benoit. Charlotte almost singlehandedly has broken artists for me in France, and recently moved to Montreal. It turns out, that Charlotte began her music industry career in France, also by interning.

Says Charlotte, “As I started organising gigs in my hometown since the age of 16, I went on studying music business at Institut Universitaire d’Issoudun in the centre of France and had to do an internship to complete my license degree. So I moved to Paris, because the [record]industry is barely present outside of the capital city, and started an internship at Volvox Music. My internship was supposed to last 3 months, it became 6 months. By the end, my boss offered me a job and that’s also kind of the story of how [you and I met]. 

3_FW-141_AMAs music blogging and streaming services were a brand new thing, I started web PR for our album releases, and as music synchronisation was [newly accepted by artists], I developed for the company a wide database of music supervisors. By the time I turned 23, I was also A&R and Product Manager, but my emphasis was really on web market.”

I similarly asked Charlotte what the word “intern” means in France. Says Charlotte, “Legally it means you are paid 400 euros a month to work harder than an employee because you have to do your job and learn how to do your job at the same time. I don’t know about other countries, but as far as I know, in France you have to figure out things on your own, management rarely has time to train you. Besides, it means you are the “young” face of the company, so the cool one, who loves Snapchat and social networks. [Thus], you are an information source for management, you are well aware of the new trends, so if you play it well, you can use your youth to make a difference.

More generally, interns are treated like garbage by a lot of A&R or product managers; some never get a chance to see the artist they worked hard for when they play in Paris, officially because there is no invite for them. Later in my career, the label I was working for thought that interns don’t HAVE TO go to gigs, so I paid my own ticket and gave the invitation to my intern. This kind of behaviour is really sad. Personally, looking back, as an intern I felt lucky. My boss taught me a lot, trusted me and gave me a lot of freedom, but that could be the perks of working in a 2-employee company. Some of my friends who were interns back then were going through a real nightmare. Due to the economic situation now, it also means you’ll have to complete more than one internship to get your first job too.”

Charlotte’s experiences to me sound somewhat of what it’s like to be an American intern – you may or may not get invited to things, but ultimately it’s on you to put yourself out there in a hardworking and professional manner to get noticed. It also sounds similar to the definition of a U.K. music industry intern, because she did receive some sort of wage, even if it wasn’t necessarily a living wage.

Internships in the UK: a short-term, entry-level contract

I myself interned in the UK, and had an incredible experience working for Paul King and others at VH1 and VH2 in London. Due to this, I can tell you that “interning” in the US and UK have different definitions for the word. In the US, the vast majority of interns are in school. In the UK, the word “intern” is what Americans would call “entry level,” or a first job out of university. To delve deeper into how to break into the U.K. music industry, I reached out to fellow Midem ambassador, Grant Bussinger at Warp Records.

Here’s how Grant got his start, “I started out in music having Chicago Recording Company, a recording studio and post production house, as a client for web new media development and digital strategy. Through them I started getting traction with music clients, working directly with artists and management teams. From there I came to Warp and the rest is history.”

I further asked him what “interning” means to him in the U.K. music industry. Says Grant, “In the UK, I’ve come to find that means a paid, short term contract, that is focused on teaching grads the ins and outs of the music industry from a front-line vantage point.” He continues, “I personally love the way we do internships in the UK, whereas in the US it’s usually unpaid. There should be more grant opportunities to help interns fill in the gaps between what organisations are able to pay interns and their living expenses. Especially in places like London I’ve seen some internships become a real burden for those that don’t have a financial support safety net. Colleges, Universities and NGOs might find success in helping to augment the relatively low entry level salary by offering something like extended student living during those critical years after school.”

The beginning of Grant’s statement is something I hear from UK colleagues all of the time. Now I am a huge anglophile and love the Brits more than they could ever know. But I really want to clear up that “interning” in the UK means post-graduate and in the US, interns sometimes even start while as teenagers in high school. I constantly hear those in the UK touting their “system,” but in reality, the definition of the word “interning” is quite different. I certainly don’t feel that one way is right or wrong. As is it better for an intern to start as young as possible in the US or wait until they are 23 to begin interning in the UK in which they will receive a stipend? I was grateful for my 400 GBP monthly stipend from VH1, but ultimately I did receive a grant from my university to intern abroad as 400 GBP was all but impossible to live off of in London.

So Brits, I love you, but fully understand what you’re talking about before you disparage the American system. And Americans, maybe we can do better and offer similar stipends to what our counterparts and colleagues are paying interns in the UK and France. Even though the comparison is not equal as the UKand French intern stories outlined here consist of interns who are older, more experienced and have graduated already, which is not often the case for American interns.

Back to Charlotte, whom when I asked what advice she has for those in France who want to have a career in the music industry. She came back to me with such similar information as to what is in Interning 101, that I can’t believe she hasn’t read the book! Great minds think alike I suppose :).

Says Charlotte, “Besides work hard?! I would say try to go to as many gigs as you can, because that’s where you might meet your future collaborators, artists or boss. The network is more important than anything when you start and all along your work life. And if you don’t make it or leave the industry, souvenirs of great live music are the best you’ll get from it. Don’t take anything personally. If you are not invited to a gig or an artist you worked for doesn’t recognise or has better things to do than talking to you, it’s not you!!! It’s usually them! Before applying to a company for an internship, check how many of the artists on their catalogue tour. The more they tour, the better the relationships inside the company [as well as with]partners. Yes, even if you want to apply [to]a music label. Understand that you want to work in a virtuous circle. Then last but not least, if your professional network tells you not to work for a certain company, they are right!

I couldn’t have said it better myself. What does the word “interning” mean in your country and how did you get your start? Let me know in the comments below, online, and when I have the pleasure of seeing you in Cannes next month!

Artist manager Emily White is partner at Whitesmith Entertainment and co-founder of Dreamfuel. She also serves on the boards of CASH Music & Future of Music Coalition. She is a frequent contributor to midemblog and Midem speaker and moderator.

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