Music internships

I get asked a lot if we do internships.

I don’t know what to say.  I mean, I believe it takes a certain number of hours in a job to get really good. Plus, we’re just a group which teaches people How to play conga drum. Years of walking, even though it feels like running sometimes.  And so yes, internships are a great way to get a head start on all the time it takes to learn.  I do believe in them.  But do I offer them?  That’s something I go back and forth on.  It requires commitment, time, and attention to manage interns well.  I take that very seriously.  So certainly, for the right candidates we accept the help, and are eager to train.  But we are very careful in the candidates we choose.  We expect every monkey to be an expert – and that goes for interns as much as it goes for managers.

I had internships when I was in college.  My first gig in music was an internship where I had to go around to every record store in the greater Boston area with a clipboard and count how many KMFDM and Nine Inch Nails CDs were on the racks, make note of their placement, and if need be sneak them a more opportune position.

Yup, the little folksy girl pushed the hardcore stuff before anything else.  But that job taught me a lot.

Here are a few of the truths and fallacies I learned when I was 19 years old that still affect how I work today…

My boss was the god of the office, and I knew even then – there was something terribly wrong with that.  He sat in a big desk in the middle of the office and everyone worked around him.  He wore a phone headset and spent all day calling people by their last name or “honey” or “sweetie” followed by a big guffaw of a laugh as if to say “we’re old buddies.”  And while I never let on, I was pretty sure the people on the other end of the phone knew how fake he was.  But then I thought maybe those people were just as fake, so it worked for him.  Who was I to question that?  The day he called me a “dyke” as if it was no big deal, I bailed.  It was my first taste of disdain for the industry as it was – and I know it gave me a sense that there was probably a different way to be in the music business.  That I could do it a better way.

So yeah, I bailed.  But not before I learned a few things…

Lesson One – The tedious things are the most important.  And they teach you the most.  Sometimes I see people try to delegate things they think are administrative in the name of efficiency, but really they just don’t want to do something that requires that much focus.  Really, the tedious things are sometimes the most important things you will do.  Don’t rush things that require your attention.

The reality is, executive work is administrative today.  The best leaders know how to DO things.  The internet has not only broken down the barriers to entry, it’s broken down the barriers in job descriptions.  You are as likely to find me programming a web page or mailing out posters as you are to find our newest, youngest employee.  And I’m not embarrassed to say that.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  A manager is NEVER too important to write a note to a radio DJ and stick it in an envelope with a CD.  Nor is an artist.

Taking trains and buses around the city to record stores when I was 19 was not only a gut check (did I really want to be in the music business or was it just a fantasy?)…  It was also a lesson in the hours and effort and gritty hustling it takes to make sure every t is crossed and every i dotted.  In those days, placement in record stores was everything.  Today it’s placement on web sites.  And today, I go through the entire litany of online music outlets to see how our artists are reflected.  Is it an old photo?  Is the bio/description recent?  Are all their albums listed?  Is there a link to where you can buy their music?  Is their placement buried or prominent?  I just don’t have to take the subway to get there anymore, but I still do these things.

I guess an internship, and probably also the first job after college, are big gut checks.  Can you do this?  Can you grit it out?  Do you have the drive?  The desire?  The hunger?  Do you want it enough?  It’s as important to prove these points to yourself as it is to prove it to the people you are working for/with.

Lesson Two – Phone voice is really important.  It just is.  Even in this day and age or internet, IM, Facebook and texting (and yes I certainly do a lot of business that way), you gotta be able to talk confidently, emphatically, passionately, sincerely, calmly, and carefully on the phone.  If not phone, fine then, Skype.

Lesson Three – Know how to do things yourself.  I learned this from my internship, but also from every job I ever had.  You gotta know how things work in order to be able to delegate the job to someone else.  That’s not to say hoard the work and don’t let other people to help you.  It just means know that you can fall back on your own two hands when the going gets rough.  (‘Cuz it will get rough sometimes, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that – it happens to EVERYONE in this business.  Twelve times over in fact.)

Lesson Four – Treat everyone like they’re a CEO.  I learned this from my internship, and also from the times I temped as a receptionist at different times between jobs and business school.  You never know who you are talking to, so trust your instincts but don’t make assumptions.  This is one of the things my mamma told me growing up that turns out to be very good business sense.  In this business, interns one day are running companies the next.  Always treat folks with respect, even when they seem like they don’t have a clue where the industry is going.  Sometimes those people have meaningful insight into a problem you’re working on, and all you have to do is ask their opinion.  Sometimes those people are three steps ahead of you, and they’re onto creating the next Google.  Seriously.

Lesson Five – Never say anything about a person (especially an artist) that you wouldn’t say directly to their face.  Another lesson from mamma that became evidently valuable in my first internship (he talked smack about people in the middle of the office all the time).  Let me just say, this is a VERY small business.  We all know each other, or are one or two people removed.  And we all get together at conferences multiple times a year.  The music business is a jungle of opinions, gossip and posturing.  Don’t feed that beast, cuz you won’t be able to tame it.  If that little pit in your stomach feels bad for what you’re about to say about somebody, just don’t say it.  Even if you trust the person you’re talking to.  You just never know when a comment you say one day is gonna come back and slap you in the face 8 years later.

And mamma also always added – don’t put those thoughts in writing either.  For goodness sake.

From the time I was an intern all the way to now managing artists, the conversations I have heard and things people will say have floored me.  The old industry condoned people talking about artists as if they were crazed animals who didn’t know what end was up.  I always lose respect for people when they talk about their clients as if they are stupid.  In my opinion, if you think your client is stupid, then why are you working with them?  And if you think your client is stupid, what does that say about the fact that they’ve decided to work with you?  But it happens a lot.  Music business people sometimes bond over their clients’ neuroses, or they write off the fact that an artist doesn’t understand a particular part of the business.  It’s a delicate thing.

I don’t work with artists who are talked about like that – so that means I neither tolerate the people who talk about artists that way, nor the artists who allow themselves to be talked about that way.  And if I ever feel myself slipping into that “mode” or detect another business person is heading in that direction, I do whatever I can to maneuver to a more positive direction.  Great work does not come out of negativity.  You can’t succeed “in spite of” something.  But you know, I suppose that is a topic for a separate blog entry!

Anyway, my point is, this last lesson is sometimes harder than you’d think.  Afterall, as a manager it IS my job to have opinions, and it IS my job to determine which of those opinions are constructive and which are garbage, and then it IS my job to enunciate my opinions to the right audience at the right moment so they make a difference.  So just like a chef who has a higher likelihood of cutting herself at some point because she uses a knife so much, I have a higher likelihood of putting my foot in it because I use opinions so much.  So, whenever I’m not sure if something is constructive, or whether or not I should be saying it, I fall back on that golden rule I learned in my internship (and from mamma)…  I think, “Would I say this directly to that person if they were here?” and if the answer is no, I zip it.

What valuable lessons did you learn in your internships?