This original blog post has been fully updated for 2021.
So, you want to be in the music business and you need a music internship to get your foot in the door? There sure are a lot of you out there. I know this because I own a music PR firm and every time we put out a call for internships or jobs, we get a stupid amount of resumes.
Once upon a time, I was just like you: dying to follow my passion and trying to land a job in the industry of my dreams. It was a humbling and, at times, humiliating exercise; this article, my young aspiring music business mogul, is for you. Interns are needed in every facet of the industry, and most of my music industry friends (myself included) started out as unpaid interns before leveraging them into paying jobs.
If you live in or near New York or LA, this guide will be easy to follow step by step. If you don’t: not to worry! You will be amazed at how many small music companies are thriving in every city and state.
Please note: Due to policies, most larger companies need to employ only students enrolled in college looking to get credit. So, if your internship is not for credit, check before you get your heart set on a position you may not be qualified to fill.
You Will (Likely) Not Be Paid
I know you are spending a fortune to go to college, but here is the reality: 99.9% of all music business internships are unpaid. I know it does not seem fair, but there are so many people looking to get started that compensation is rarely offered. Most of the time you will need to do the internship for college credit. If making money is on your goal list, you will need to get a second job to feed your passion around music.
OK, now that you know you will be working for free and probably paying your college to get credit – so actually you will be paying to work – make it something you want to do!
Step 1: Identify Your Areas Of Interest
Ask yourself what part of the music business you want to be in. Marketing? Streaming? Publicity? Online Marketing? Touring? A&R? You may not know the answer to this question yet, and that’s perfectly fine! Once you acquire some some experience in a particular area, you’ll have a better sense of where you might fit in the industry. HOWEVER, if you don’t specify what areas you are at least interested in trying, the people in charge of hiring you will have no idea how they can fit you into their businesses.
To get some working knowledge of what different parts of the music industry are available, read blogs and do online research so you don’t walk in looking unprepared. Hypebot is a great place to start.
Step 2: Make A Dream List Of Companies & Artists You Love
Research as much as you can in your chosen field.
If you are interested in working at a music-related charity, refer to our comprehensive list here. Or if you want to work specifically for a woman, here are 100 women-run companies to choose from.
If you love a specific band or artist, look up who they work with and put those companies on your list. Nothing is more thrilling and satisfying than working for your FAVORITE artists and bands (I still get a thrill out of that, and I’ve been working in the music industry for 20+ years).
Step 3: Rock Your Resume
Create the best resume you can put together. There are many websites, books, and even your career counseling office at school that can instruct you on how to do this.
Some general resume pointers:
- Be Concise – one page only.
- Be Detailed – What did you do at your previous jobs that are listed? These should express your talents.
- Be Interesting – Include personal touches and hobbies or special interests.
TIP – The music business tends to be a bit more informal, so you have a little bit more room to play with your resume and make your personality shine through than you would on a corporate resume.
TIP – Add your LinkedIn and other social media links to your resume and make sure they look professional.
TIP – If you are in college, you probably don’t have a huge amount of experience, and that’s completely okay. Lead with enthusiasm and passion and you will go far.
Step 4: Get Recommendations
In an industry that’s so dependent on connections, it comes as no surprise that a couple of great key references can help get you where you want to be.
Call an old employer, a professor, or a great person in your life who can write you a spectacular recommendation letter. Ask the person writing the letter to mention strengths that will be cohesive with the position you want.
Step 5: Start Applying
Call the companies of your dreams. They may not be advertising for interns, so you need to cold call or email and ask first if they would consider accepting a resume. Be excited and tell the truth that you found out about their company and you would love to be considered. Then ask to whom the resume should be addressed.
There are plenty of websites where employers post for interns – we like entertainment careers. At any given time, there are plenty of music internships available there!
Your college’s career office is a great tool, but don’t count on them as your main resource. My best interns found me by looking online. In fact, our Director of Social Media & Design Kayla Coughlan started out as an intern after stumbling across Cyber PR Music online!
Step 6: Understand The Music Internship Golden Rules
Send A Cover Letter!
NEVER send a resume without a cover letter that is customized and mentions why you would be the perfect intern! It’s totally unprofessional.
Include the NAME, ADDRESS, COMPANY NAME, and INDIVIDUAL’S NAME on each cover letter, and customize each letter for that specific company. Yes, this will take longer but it will also get you results.
Note: Out of the 150 resumes I just received on my last round of hirings, only three people put my company name on the cover letter and wrote “Dear Ms. Hyatt”.
100% of all of these letters mentioned in the first paragraph that the candidate had excellent communication skills. If you are so excellent at communicating, how come my name was not mentioned? The letters that really annoyed me and made me never want to meet the candidate were the letters that said “Dear Sir” (I am a woman) or “Dear HR Dept” or even more gross: “Dear Hiring Committee” (I’m the only one that makes decisions at my company about hiring, 25 seconds on my website would teach you that).
Mention some things that relate directly to the company you are applying to – the names of the artists, your passion about what it is they do, how you became interested in music, etc.
Do not write any of the following lines in your cover letter:
“I have excellent communication skills.”
“I have loved music for as long as I can remember, since the day I was born.”
“I believe I am the perfect match for your company (unless you say WHY).”
“My extensive background in music…” Sorry to tell you this but if you are under the age of 25 you DON’T have an extensive background (an extensive background is 10 years or more).
If applicable, write the following lines:
“I have been a fan of (artist’s name this company works with here) since (year/concert you attended, etc.).”
“I have always wanted to learn about (company’s specialty here) and a position at your company would provide me just that opportunity.”
“I have already had some experience with (booking, promoting, etc), and would love to expand on what I have already learned at (school, volunteering, etc.).”
If you are applying to a marketing or PR firm that involves an online space, HIGHLIGHT how many social media friends/followers you have, and what music sites and blogs you like to read. A well-connected intern is a huge asset!
Step 7: Send A Physical Copy Of Your Resume
Most of these websites give you an interface to go through and you submit your resume straight to them via the Internet. Definitely do this and IN ADDITION, if you can mail in your resume, I highly recommend you do this as well (remember to address with a specific person’s name!)
Step 8: Treat Each Resume Like A Lost Puppy (Or Kitten)
Back to my 150 candidates – NOT ONE called to follow up to see if I had received their music internship resume.
A few days after you send the resume, call to follow up!
This is a great way to stand out in the crowd because NO ONE ELSE IS CALLING.
Even if the website says “don’t call us, we’ll call you” you should call and politely ask if your resume was received because 100% of everyone I know in the music business is so busy that they don’t have time to always follow up with the deluge of resumes. This could be a missed opportunity to land a music internship!
Step 9: Slay Your Internship Interview
So, you followed my steps and you got an interview set up? Wonderful!
If you get three or four interviews, go to the one that you are least interested in FIRST to sharpen your interview skills.
Call the day of the interview to confirm. It’s professional and a great way to stand out.
Be 5 minutes early (not more), and remember the music business is casual so a suit is highly discouraged. I suggest business casual.
Don’t get on your mobile phone while you are waiting!
Bring two copies of your resume, cover letter, and recommendation letter as well as some writing samples (if applicable – even if it’s a paper you wrote about the music business). This is interesting and it sets you apart.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, such as:
- What does a typical music internship encompass here?
- Do you have some specific projects I might be working on?
With most music internship interviews I do, I always have to ask if the interviewee has any questions. And it always leaves a weird taste in my mouth if they have NONE – even if you ask how many days the company is expecting interns to work and what the hours would be.
Make sure to at least establish a dialogue. I suggest preparing 2-3 in-depth questions that you have researched by looking online at this specific company.
TIP: The smaller the company, the more work you will end up contributing and the more experience you will gain – it’s just the nature of the beast.
TIP: If you don’t like the person that interviews you, do not take the job. Trust your instincts!
TIP: Don’t ask if the music internship will turn into a paid position. You are in charge of being the most awesome intern that they ever had. This will lead to a job – but first, you have to prove yourself!
Step 10: Follow Up. ALWAYS Follow Up.
Even if you didn’t love the interview, ALWAYS send a thank you email to follow up (or better yet a CARD!) to say thanks for taking the time to interview me for the music internship in (area of work, company name, etc.).
If you really enjoyed the interview, say so and include why. And don’t be afraid to say “after meeting you I am even more convinced that I would like to work with you!” Flattery WILL get you (almost) everywhere.
Want more tips? Get Ariel’s latest marketing book Ultimate Guide to Music Publicity
WOW. This article will be my bible from now on! Thank you so much Ms. Hyatt!!!!
Thank you so much for this information. I was really nervous about applications I am currently working on but your article really calmed my nerves and gave me the confidence to nail my application.
I’ve been using this article all term and finally applied for my first internship in the music industry so fingers crossed! Thank you so much for including advice on the actual interview!
You are most welcome!
How on earth am I supposed to find the name of the person doing the hiring for these companies?
For the past 3 months or so I’ve been applying to every music industry related internship within my field, across a half-dozen companies or so.
Not one of them has contact information accessible anywhere online and no indication of who does hiring, including on LinkedIn, and calling them just has them redirecting me to the initial application. How do we personalize the application or follow up when it’s intentionally made impossible to do so?
Jonny – it sounds like you are applying to large record labels. Am I right?