So… you want to be in the music business? There are a lot of you out there. I know this because every time we put out a call for interns or jobs at Cyber PR®, we get over 100 resumes. As you know I love breaking things down into steps (see: http://www.MusicSuccessInNineWeeks.com). So, I wrote this guide for you. Once upon a time, I was just like you: dying to follow my passion and aggressively trying to land a job in the industry of my dreams. It was a humbling and, at times, humiliating exercise.
Interns are much needed in every facet of the industry, and most of my music industry friends (myself included) started out as unpaid interns back in the day, and we leveraged our unpaid internships into paying jobs. Unpaid internships, however, were recently made illegal after a lawsuit against Warner Music Group. NBCUniversal, Condé Nast, and Viacom all settled as well. This is why many larger companies now only take on interns who are college students looking for credit. Have no fear though! Many of these for-credit internships can be turned into paying jobs after graduation.
But whether you’re looking for an internship, or searching for a full-time job, the following steps will help you get there.
Step 1: Identify Your Areas of Interest
Search your mind. Ask yourself: what part of the music business do I want to be in? Is it working at a label, a radio station, a publicity firm, an online marketing company, in touring, digital distribution… ? You may not know the answer to this question yet, and that’s alright. You are not supposed to know until you get some experience in a particular area. BUT if you don’t specify what you are looking to try, the people in charge of hiring you will have NO CLUE where to fit you into their business. So having a list of general areas of interest is a necessity.
In order to get a better idea of the different paths you can walk in the music industry, try doing these two things:
1. Go to music business related websites like Hypebot & Music Think Tank and start reading articles and news. There are countless articles available advising musicians and marketers on how do tackle their own careers. If the articles resonate with you and seem interesting than you have found a good match.
2. Research some different jobs/companies.
- Major Label (i.e. Sony, Warner) – Specify a department: Promotions, Publicity, Radio, Marketing, Licensing…
- Indie Label – You probably won’t need to specify departments. Indie labels are small, and it will be all hands on deck.
- Indie Artist – Remember many artists are DIY and would love the help of a capable person, so working directly for an artist is an option as well.
- Marketing Firm – There are many genres within: Regional, Online/ Digital, Tour, Specialty / Niche/Lifestyle
- Radio Station – Specify a department: On Air, Producer, Sales, Promotions, etc.
More: Publicity Firm, Management Company, Booking Agency, Indie Radio Promotions, Music Venue, Concert Promoter, Production / Recording Studio, Publishing Company, Film & TV Licensing, Special Events Company.
Research as much as you can in your chosen field. Again, think like a musician. There are a million resources available for musicians that list companies that help support them, and they all have websites that clearly show what they do and who their clients are.
Step 2: Make Your Dream List of Companies & Artists
If you love a specific band or artist, look up who they work with and put those companies on your list because 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 more than 20 years).
Step 3: Rock Your Resume
Next, create the best resume you possibly can. There are many websites, books, and career services that can instruct you on how to do this, so I’m not going to get into much detail here. But please heed this advice:
Be Concise – One page only
Be Detailed – What exactly did you do at the previous jobs that you list? This should express your talents.
Be Interesting – Include personal touches and hobbies or special interests.
Be Social – On your resume don’t forget to mention how many followers you have on Twitter, Facebook, and which music promotion sites you know how to use (Noisetrade, Bandsintown, etc.), and which tools and apps you know how to use (Buffer, Hootsuite, Flitter, Crowdfire, Spotify, etc.).
TIP: The music business tends to be informal, so you have some room to play with your resume and make your personality shine through more than you would on a “corporate” resume.
Step 4: Recommendations Rule
If someone has a great reference letter, I call them first! I can’t stress enough the importance of a good recommendation.
Call an old employer, a professor, or a person in your life that can write you a spectacular recommendation letter. If you can ask the person writing the letter to mention strengths that match the job you want, it will really make you stand out.
Step 5: Start Applying
Now that you have your list, there are three places you can go:
1. Straight to the companies of your dreams – in these cases, they may not be advertising for interns so you need to cold call and ask first if they would consider accepting a resume (be excited and tell the truth about how you found their company, and that you would love to be considered). Then ask to whom the resume should be addressed.
2. Websites where employers post for interns – We use our own blog and LinkedIn.
3. Your college’s career office (Don’t count on them as your main resource – my best interns found me by looking online).
Step 6: Know the Golden Rules
NEVER EVER send a resume without a cover letter. 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. If it is not obvious who to address it to, call the company and politely ask!
Note: Out of the 100 resumes I received on my last round of hiring, only three people put my company name on the cover letter and wrote “Dear Ms. Hyatt”. A few wrote “Dear Sir.” Under no circumstances am I a sir (a 1.1 second Google search will tell you this).
100% of all of these letters mentioned in the first paragraph that the candidate had excellent communication skills – and I thought are you kidding me?? If you are so excellent at communicating, how come my name was not mentioned anywhere? The letters that really annoyed me and made me never want to meet the candidate were the letters that said “Dear HR Dept” or even more gross: “Dear Hiring Committee,” enough said.
Mention some things that relate directly to the company you are applying to – the names of their artists, your passion about what it is they do, how you became interested in music, etc.
Please for the love of sweet God above DON’T write any of the following lines:
“I have excellent communication skills.”
“I have loved music for as long as I can remember…”
“I believe I am the perfect match for your company (unless you say WHY).”
“My extensive background in music…” OK, if you are under the age of 25 you DON’T have an extensive background (an extensive background is 10 years or more).
DO write the following lines (if they are not the truth of course don’t write these):
“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 (#) of followers on (Twitter/Facebook/Last FM/any other relevant social networking site here)”
“I have already had some experience with (booking, promoting, etc), and would love to expand on what I have already learned at (school, from volunteering etc.).”
TIP: If you are applying to a digital marketing or PR firm, it really helps to highlight how many followers you have on social networking sites. If you use Tumblr or write a blog, mention it. This could be your golden ticket! Everyone loves a well-connected intern. It’s a huge asset!
Step 7: Go Old School – Snail Mail or Fax
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 fax or mail in your resume, I highly recommend you do this as well. It’s so old school that it’s new again!
Step 8: Treat Each Resume Like a Lost Puppy
Back to my 100 candidates from this past month – Two people called to follow up to see if I had received their resumes! This is mystifying.
So – 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 following up.
Don’t get an answer? Try @’ing the company or executive you want to reach via Twitter or send them a message on Facebook.
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 job!
Step 9: Kill It at Your 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.
TIP: ON THE DAY OF: Call first to confirm your interview. 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 three-piece suit is highly discouraged. I suggest business casual.
If you have to wait, DON’T text or talk on your phone. Stay focused! It’s not a good look if your interviewer comes out and you’re hunched over your phone.
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 again!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions like “What does a typical internship encompass here?” or “Do you have some specific projects I might be working on?”
With most internship interviews I do, I always have to ask: Do you have 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. At least you are establishing a dialog! I suggest preparing 2-3 in-depth, specific questions about the company that you have researched ahead of time. Come prepared!
MORE TIPS: The smaller the company, the more work you will probably end up doing and the more experience you will gain – it’s just the nature of the beast.
If you don’t like the person who interviews you, or the vibe at the company, then don’t take the job – trust your instincts!
Don’t ask if the 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!
Bonus Step 10: Always Follow Up!!!
Even if you HATED 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! If you really enjoyed the interview, SAY SO and 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.
I hope that these tips get you a great internship or job, and I would love to hear from you and find out how this guide worked for you – please post in the comments section below!
Another great way to get exposure that may lead to a job in the music industry is to start your own blog. Click the picture below to read Part 6 of Cyber PR’s Social Media House course!
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