Just like running for President, the skills needed to excel at your dream job are sometimes very different from those that will help you land the job!
Before anybody gets asked to mix a hit record or produce a new breakout artist, they will more likely be asked to make a fresh pot of coffee or time align some drum tracks.
This blog will discuss the most useful skills to land that foot-in-the-door internship in the short term. Some of these skills are obvious but difficult. Some of these are far less obvious but easy!
How To Land A Successful Music Production Internship
1) Be Ready For The Work
When seeking that perfect entry-level job in the music industry, it’s essential to understand the expectations they will have for you and the skills you need to stand out.
If you are looking for Audio Engineering or Production work, you will likely want to seek out an internship in an established recording studio in a major music city. The job requirements for these music production internships usually include knowledge of the software (typically Pro Tools) and the physical hardware you may need to use.
Pro Tools remains the industry standard Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) in studios and is a very complex set of tools. It’s not universal, so research to figure out if your dream gig might involve a different DAW.
Getting excellent DAW training before interning is nearly a requirement. On top of just learning the tools, spending many hours developing speedy fluency will allow you to be quick enough to be helpful in a fast-paced session environment. There are plenty of practice sessions available online, even if you don’t have a recording setup at home.
For an intern, the most important skills will be speed (learn your shortcuts!) and editing tasks. Track editing is a task that’s often handed off to an assistant engineer, and it’s quite possibly the best way to accumulate big-name credits — far beyond what you might be able to claim as a mixer or producer for years.
Unlike the software, the hardware studios use is often very unique. Fortunately, every major studio gladly shares its gear list. This means that even if you don’t know a particular console, microphone, or compressor, it will be reasonably easy to do your research and learn how to work with these pieces before you even show up for the interview.
Likely the studio, engineer, or producer you work with will be training you to work their way, but starting with at least a general foundation will allow them to have a much smoother conversation with you.
The same basic principles apply if you seek an internship with a Record Label, Publishing House, Management Firm, or something else. Research the company and learn as much as possible about how they work to ensure you have put the time in to get yourself ready to work.
2) Find The Right Fit
Like most creative fields, landing the right internship involves tough decisions with no clear path. There are a few things to look for in a great internship, and between your research and the questions you can ask in the interviews, you should be able to determine your best option. The ideal music production internship should offer both experience and connections. All other decisions will revolve around your ability to develop these two areas.
To determine if an audio production internship will help you develop the necessary experience, a former intern is the best person to ask. In the days of social media, it’s often a speedy process to find and message a few alumni from a particular studio or other internship.
In the course of an evening, you could message former interns from all your top choices to gather their opinions. It should become fairly straightforward whether they were given any training, had access to studios in downtime, and had access to observe or assist on actual work.
In any freelance industry, but especially audio engineering and music production, connections are vital to growing your network and career. By comparing the clientele of various studios and seeing how busy their schedule is, you can get a good idea of how likely it is for you to meet and work closely with professionals in your particular area of interest.
For example, suppose you want to work primarily on Hip Hop. In that case, working at a studio with primarily country or rock artists in their credits may not be particularly useful. You may develop experience but are not likely to find meaningful industry connections.
It may even make sense to reach out to your industry idols to get their opinion on the best place to start. That producer, engineer, manager, etc., already doing your dream job will likely have invaluable insight into their favorite places or success stories. Reaching out via social media is hit or miss but well worth trying.
It can be challenging to decide between equally great options, and it may not even be apparent (for a while) if you’ve made the right choice. No internship is perfect, but any progress is worthwhile, and nobody signs a long-term contract as an intern. If you find that you are at a dead-end gig, don’t be afraid to step back and try again somewhere else.
3) Land The Gig
Once you have narrowed your options, it’s time to land the gig. Getting an interview or meeting can be tricky, but it can be done with a bit of persistence!
The obvious first step is building a professional-looking resume. Templates within Canva or other services provide a great starting point but make sure that it targets the specific skills and experience your internship will require. Listing a quick series of unrelated part-time jobs will not help, but showing a strong work ethic and longevity and a job certainly can. Using industry-relevant references is powerful, but so are previous employees in unrelated fields (assuming they will give you a great review!).
Preparing for the Interview
Once you land the interview, all your preparation to get you to this point should be presented in a way that shows your dedication and work ethic, but definitely not in a way that comes off as arrogant or self-aggrandizing. Most places want an intern that is eager to learn, rather than one who thinks they know everything. Many prospective interns have been rejected because they thought they knew everything, and many others have been hired because they acknowledged how eager they are to learn!
Generally, employers are looking for interns with a great work ethic, teachable attitude, customer service mentality, humility, and the ability to make their studio or business run smoothly. It’s often just a cherry on top if the intern is also technically capable.
4) Make The Most Out Of It
Now that you’ve landed the gig, it’s time to get to work. Many music production internships will have a certain element of competition among the new recruits, but they probably won’t acknowledge that. Nobody will likely be forcing your pace, so it’s entirely up to you to ensure you get the most out of every day!
The most powerful tool you can bring with you is a small notebook and pen to take notes. Often our minds are overconfident, and a simple list of tasks or reminders of workflows can set you apart from the other interns. Many producers expect that if they ask an intern to handle five tasks, they will likely only accomplish three or four. This means it’s actually relatively easy to stand out with some basic time and task management skills!
Producer/Engineer Greg Collins (Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, System of a Down) has described his test for an assistant. After sending them out to pick up lunch, he would check the order thoroughly to see if they had double-checked the order AND gotten plenty of ketchup to go with the fries! Anybody who doesn’t care enough to take care of the band’s lunch details probably can’t be trusted with a full session setup.
Any moment of downtime should be spent learning. If there is access to equipment or studios, time spent experimenting and practicing is invaluable. Mistakes are inevitable, but making them in front of clients isn’t!
Don’t ever wait until crunch time to try to get good at something. Coming to your internship coordinator asking for more work is also a great (and subtle) opportunity to show that you have completed your tasks well. The surest path to success is to be the most eager and hard-working person in the room and one who can make the studio and production crew look amazing.
There’s no perfect template for breaking into the music industry, but with persistence and targeted effort, you can make it work! Finding places where the people you admire are making music and locating some way to get next to them is the best thing you can do to get your foot in the door. By seeking out these hot spots and learning to thrive in that environment, you’ll find yourself moving rapidly toward your dream job and meeting some great people along the way!
If you are interested in a career in the music industry, Dark Horse Institute’s music programs: Composition and Songwriting, Audio Engineering, or Music Business are a great way to take things to the next level!