As a young person trying to break into music, it can be challenging to figure out what sector of music interests you most, when and how to network most effectively with music industry folks, whether you want to make it big with the labels giants or pursue a smaller and more independent route, or even the right direction in which to head generally. While I certainly don’t have it all figured out, I hope by sharing my experiences thus far to give some insight into how to navigate the music industry while in college!
My first music industry experience was interning at a music-tech start-up in Los Angeles. Vezt Inc. is the first music rights marketplace application where fans can share the royalty rights to songs that they love and participate in the revenue generated from them.
After two interviews with both the general manager and client services director, I was hired as a client services intern. I specifically worked with the client services director on all things client-related, from onboarding clients to maintaining relationships with clients to calculating royalty-related numbers that concerned the sales of our clients.
At Vezt, I had many responsibilities that tended to fall into two categories: outward/client-focused responsibilities, and internal growth-focused responsibilities. In terms of client-focused responsibilities, I sat in on phone calls and in-person meetings with clients, researched and cold-emailed artists who seemed like a good fit for Vezt, and set up meetings with artists and managers to pitch Vezt. In terms of internal growth-focused responsibilities, I participated in marketing meetings, brainstormed ways to increase Vezt downloads through promotions and live events, and analyzed royalty documents to calculate numbers for clients and for Vezt’s management alike.
The Skills Gained
During my time at Vezt, I learned a few specific hard skills and several interpersonal and communicative skills. On a more concrete level, I learned how to read royalty statements, which is instrumental for any music publishing/sales internship or job. Moreover, I learned how to make calculations from the statements that were instrumental in communicating financial expectations with clients as well as to assessing the benefits of putting a song on the app. On a communicative level, while I won’t say I’ve completely learned the art of pitching, I observed important characteristics of a good pitch and gained a greater grasp of how to concisely communicate why someone should care about a given company. I also gained confidence in sharing ideas as an intern in a staff meeting; it can sometimes be daunting to speak up amongst a room full of people twice your age, but you’ve got to start it at some point, and this was my point! Lastly, I gained some important research skills, particularly in scouring the internet for artist and manager contact information that is not readily available.
Working at a music-tech startup was a very interesting glimpse into the music industry in a less direct way than interning at a label, distribution company, studio, etc. By working on the outskirts of the industry and towards the future of the industry, I was able to learn about the importance of location and audience to the success of a music-oriented company (or any company for that matter). I had several key takeaways from this experience that I would want someone pursuing an internship or job at either a music-tech company or a music start-up to appreciate:
- At a music-related start-up, you must take initiative. While taking initiative is important at any company, particularly at a start-up, even an intern can have a dramatic impact on the success and growth of the company if you step up to the plate, bring forward new and unique ideas, and take on responsibilities that aren’t always given to you, but are rather sought out. This is something I wish I worked harder to do during my internship at Vezt and something I would certainly push myself to do at any start-up in the future. If you are better at hammering out work that is given to you rather than intently pursuing your own work, it’s worth considering whether a music start-up is a good fit, or whether it might be a bit of a tricky first music internship or job.
- For all music-lovers out there, keep in mind the type of music with which the company most frequently deals. I am someone who loves a wide variety of music from so many different genres, and even music I don’t love, I tend to be able to appreciate if done well. However, when you are working at an organization that revolves primarily around one specific type of music, it certainly doesn’t hurt to enjoy that music! At this internship, the main genre of music that was onboarded onto the app was trap music. While I am a fan of rap, my knowledge base of trap music was (and is) quite lacking. It wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t like the music that was most pertinent to the company, but rather that I didn’t have a lot to add to any given conversation about a potential client who was a trap artist. While my lack of knowledge of that genre wasn’t detrimental to my position, since I was instead able to help try and expand the company’s genre base by reaching out to indie, alt, rock, and r&b artists with the aim of onboarding some different types of artists onto the app, it would have been helpful to the company and more enjoyable for me if I had been more well-versed in the primary genre of music with which the company dealt.
- Expect the unexpected. The music industry is already an industry full of surprises and quick changes, and start-ups only multiply that. While there is so much excitement and innovation that comes with that, don’t expect to feel comfortable all the time. There is not much routine. Whether it be quick and last-minute meetings based on a possible client’s availability on a whim, staffing changes, or cold-calling in brainstorming sessions, I frequently found myself not as mentally prepared as I would’ve liked to be to take charge in a new and unexpected situation. From my experience at this music-tech startup, I understand the value of remaining calm and confident in any situation. With that, this internship taught me that it is better to speak up when you have an idea than remain quiet for fear your idea isn’t good enough. Staying silent in the corner at a start-up is not a good plan; it’s better to speak up and contribute anything at all.
Independent Radio Station
I was a general intern at Lightning 100. By not working within a specific department, I completed assignments and participated in meetings within the promotions, sales, and programming departments, as well as with the entire staff.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my internship with Lightning 100 was virtual, conducted primarily through Google Hangouts and email communication. However, by choosing to intern in the same city I am living in for another year and a half at least, I am hoping to still maintain those connections and eventually meet many of the staff members in person once the pandemic has passed. While remote work has provided a unique opportunity to work with companies across the country that might not normally be feasible, I think it is still worth keeping in mind that searching for remote work in the city in which you currently reside can be helpful to provide the opportunity for in-person interaction later on, as well as to build up your connection base within that city.
At Lightning 100, I had different responsibilities depending on what major events were happening at the station. I first began my internship right before Lightning 100’s massive festival, Live On The Green, was to occur. While the festival is normally held in person and thus has a variety of responsibilities related to putting on an in-person event, due to COVID-19, it was held virtually this year. Thus, a whole new set of responsibilities and challenges came with holding an event of that magnitude virtually and doing so for the first time. I had two major projects related to the virtual Live On The Green festival. I first went through video performances from artists to listen for curse words that would go against FCC guidelines, or for anywhere pauses that needed to be edited. Most staff members helped out with listening through videos since it was quite time-consuming. My second responsibility, which was a more personal project, involved designing and disseminating daily newsletters called “Live On My Green Ledger”. Each newsletter previewed the headliners and smaller artists who would perform that day, spotlighted sponsors, and provided other fun and important information regarding the festival. Using MyEmma email marketing, I inputted information and formatted the newsletter to be sent each day, reaching over 25,000 people. After Live On The Green finished, I began working on more regular and recurring tasks, such as writing multiple weekly blog posts for the Lightning 100 website, including various L100 DJ’s “DJ Pick of the Week”s and the station’s chosen “Local Artist of the Week”. In addition to those weekly blog posts, I wrote blog posts for special sponsorship events, such as a two-week-long “Hoptober Brews” series where a different beer company was highlighted each day. Beyond writing for the blog, I also occasionally wrote copy for social media, such as Instagram and Twitter captions. My other large contribution as an intern was my maintaining a “Music Meeting” sheets document in place of weekly in-person music meetings that existed pre-pandemic. By updating the sheet with new songs every week and sending the sheet out to the entire staff for voting, I was able to help ensure that staff was able to input their music opinions when deciding what songs to put on the L100 on-air playlist.
The Skills Gained
During my time at Lightning 100, I further honed in on a few pre-existing hard skills, and learned some new ones! Firstly, though I had previous experience with email marketing platforms with Mailchimp, I learned how to use MyEmma and was able to add that to my marketing toolbox. Moreover, while I’ve certainly used Google Suite, and specifically Google Sheets, frequently prior to this internship, I got more practice with creating and maintaining very user-friendly documents. Through the use of multiple document tabs, color coding, freezing certain cells and rows, and using the math tools to calculate votes, I was able to develop my technical Google Sheets skills for larger organizational use. In terms of new skills, I developed WordPress skills through consistently writing articles for the website. On the more technical side, I learned about WordPress readability and SEO standards, and how to meet those standards to increase the reach of any given article. Moreover, through practice, I became practiced at writing music reviews in a concise manner while allowing my voice to shine through. Prior to this internship, I had not written a significant amount of music review articles relating to music, and I found the weekly writing requirements helped me grow as a writer and as a thoughtful listener to music.
Working at an independent radio station was a really wonderful experience that made me feel very connected to both the music scene in Nashville and to Nashville generally. Particularly because of my role as music director on the executive board of my school’s independent radio station, I had a preexisting connection to independent radio that I felt was very much strengthened by my experience with Lightning 100. By working in independent radio, I was able to learn a lot about the important role that radio plays in the musical success of up and coming local artists, as well as to the livelihood of local businesses that depend on radio advertising. I had several key takeaways from this experience that I would want someone pursuing an internship or job at an independent radio station to appreciate:
- At an independent radio station, personal relations matter. I was constantly in appreciation of how closely connected Lightning 100 was with the Nashville community. Even with a small staff of 15-20 employees, it seemed that everybody constantly kept up a personal repertoire of friends in different career sectors and organizations around Nashville; thus, the station is connected to all those people too. Not to mention the close connection the station has with so many local Nashville artists, many of whom got their start on Lightning 100. I’ve noticed this most with Lightning 100’s “Save Our Airways” campaign. COVID-19 has caused difficulties for nearly every sector of the music industry, and Lightning 100 has recently had to call out for some help to stay afloat. The amount of local artists, both small and large, who have stepped up to publicly and vocally support the station has been so impressive to me. So my advice would be that if you are the type of person who really values personal connections and seeing your impact firsthand, an independent radio station might be a really great place for you!
- Understand the company’s place within the music industry. We all know the role that streaming has played within the industry in recent years. And particularly for college-aged folks like me, streaming has been the primary method of listening to music for much of our lives, which is pretty crazy to think. Independent radio is thus pretty much the opposite of streaming. A lot of people think that radio is on its way out because it just isn’t necessary anymore with streaming. But in my view, independent radio is much more of an all-encompassing experience that is simply irreplaceable. It provides a listening experience with a distinct DJ voice on air, a sort of musical guide, and newly released songs, maybe even the next big hit! With all this said, if you are after the big bucks, or chasing the future of the industry, independent radio might not be the route for you.
- Even when it feels like it, you aren’t pestering by consistently reaching out to colleagues! Due to this being a virtual internship, I couldn’t just walk up to a colleague’s office at the station and ask a quick question if I was confused about a project. So, I had to frequently send emails to different staff members with questions, and then follow-up questions, and often clarifications. Sometimes, I couldn’t help but feeling like I was just bugging everybody who was busy. But, the more I reached out, I began to realize that my consistent following-up and asking questions were valued, even if they weren’t responded to immediately. By reaching out so frequently, I was showing my determination to complete tasks and support the team. So even if you aren’t receiving responses or feel as though you are asking too many questions, remember that it’s so much better to show your investment in the organization than to worry about being a bother, especially when you are working towards ultimately helping the company!