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How To Get An Internship In The Music Business Without Having A Single Contact

notepadpenSo… you want to be in the music business? There 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 interns or jobs, we get somewhere between 100 – 250 resumes. 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 so this dear young aspiring music business mogul is for you. 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 their day and we leveraged our unpaid internships into paying jobs.

If you live in or near New York or LA, this guide will be easy to follow step by step. But if you don’t, do not fret. You will be amazed at how many small music companies are thriving in practically every city and state.

Policy note – Due to policies, 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.



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 the truth is there are so many people looking to get started that payment is not usually offered. So if making money is on your goal list, you will need to get a second job to feed your passion around music. Don’t let a little thing like money keep you from your dream.

OK, so 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!


Search your mind. Ask yourself what part of the music business do you want to be in? Is it Marketing, Radio, Publicity, Online Marketing, Touring, or A&R? You may not know the answer to this question yet and that is 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 you will fit or how they can fit you into their business. So having a list of general areas of interest is a necessity.

To get a working knowledge of what different parts of the music industry are available, here are two suggestions:

1. Buy All You Need To Know About the Music Business by Donald Passman. This fabulous book is still after all these years the bible of the Music Business, and it will give you a great breakdown of the key positions and the general overall makeup of the industry as a whole. Just leaf through – you don’t have to read the whole thing cover to cover.

2. Do Online research. There are countless articles available advising musicians how do tackle their own careers. So to do your research, put yourself in the artist’s shoes and start surfing and learning! If the articles resonate with you and seem interesting than you have found a good match.

Create a list of 3-4 areas that you can work in (if you only have 1 that’s OK too!).

General Music Industry Categories

Large Record Label (i.e. Sony, Warner Music, Universal, etc.)

Specify a department:






Radio Station

Specify a department:

On Air




Marketing Firm – There are many genres within:

Street Marketing

Online Marketing

Tour Marketing

Specialty / Lifestyle Marketing

Small Record Label (you probably won’t need to specify department)

Publicity Firm

Management Company

Booking Agency

Radio Promotions Company

Music Venue

Concert Promoter

Production Studio

Publishing Company

Film & TV Licensing

Music Website – Good for techies or writers or designers

Music Magazine / Webzine – Good for aspiring journalists


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.

If you love a specific band or artist, look up whom 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 14 years).


Next, create the MOST AMAZING 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 so I’m not going to get into much detail here. But please heed this advice:

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 more than you would on a “corporate” resume.


This next piece of advice is a little bit non-traditional as well…I call the first people that have great reference letters in for interviews first!

Call an old employer, a professor, or a person in your life who can write you a spectacular recommendation letter. If you can ask the person writing the letter to mention strengths that will be cohesive with the job, you want this. It will really make you stand out.


Now that you have your list, there are three places you can go:

Straight to the companies of your dreams that you have discovered – 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 that you found out about their company and you would love to be considered). Then ask to whom the resume should be addressed.

Websites where employers post for interns – We use, and at any given time there are plenty of internships available on it.

Your college’s career office (Don’t count on them as your main resource – my best interns found me by looking online).


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 CALL and politely ask!

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”. And

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 ONCE? 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.

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, 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…” 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 (the real #) of friends on (MySpace/Facebook/Bebo/any other cool social networking site here”

If you are applying to a marketing or PR firm that involves an online space, HIGHLIGHT how many MySpace and/or Facebook friends you have, and if you are on other new social networking sites or on Second Life. This could be your golden ticket! Everyone likes a well-connected intern. It’s a huge asset!

“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.).”


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 (remember to address with a specific person’s name!).


Back to my 150 candidates from this past month – NOT ONE called to follow up to see if I had received the resume! This not only mystified me but also annoyed me to no end.

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 CALLING – trust me, I know.

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!


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.

THE DAY OF – CALL first to confirm your interview. It’s professional and a great way to stand out.

Be 10 minutes early (not more), and remember the music business is casual so a three-piece suit is highly discouraged. I suggest business casual.

Bring a book or a magazine in case you have to wait.

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 questions that you have researched by looking online at this specific company and come prepared!


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 that interviews you, 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!


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 turn into a winning internship experience, and I would love to hear from you and find out how this guide worked for you – please email me at talkback [AT]

I may even publish your story!

Ariel Hyatt founded Ariel Publicity & Cyber PR 11 years ago and her firm has worked with over 1,000 musicians and bands of all genres. The Ariel Publicity mission states that all artists deserve to be heard and there is a place for artists of every level to receive exposure. Ariel Hyatt has managed to place tens of thousands of artists in countless outlets from national magazines and TV to the most grassroots online fanzines. Her company is now 100% digital and helps artists increase their online exposure. She also runs a company that creates newsletters for musicians.

Ariel Publicity’s Sound Advice is a free monthly e-zine for musicians & entrepreneurs who want marketing, promotion and PR tips for navigating the new music business. Sign Up here:



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