Five Ways to Get Music Experience in College

Do you need a degree to work in the music industry? It’s a question that aspiring music business types turn over time and again, and the truth is: college is great – and experience counts. So, what if you don’t have to choose between hitting the books and learning the ropes? Good music industry degree programs help their students get hands on experience, but if you’re knee deep in another major or your school doesn’t offer such a program, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out. In fact, no matter what you’re studying, college provides tons of chances to create your own music industry opportunities and get your hands dirty. If you’re looking for ways to learn the music biz ropes while you’re still in school, consider the following options.

1. College Radio

Get ye down to your college radio station – stat. College radio is an excellent place to learn all sort of things about the music industry, from how promotion works to what makes a good PR campaign to the ins and outs of labels, release dates, live shows and more – and that’s before you even get to learning how the actual radio station operates! Working at college radio, on air or behind the scenes, will also allow you to immerse yourself in music and learn about genres and artists you might not have otherwise been exposed to. That is worth its weight in gold in and of itself. Did I mention you’ll also make contacts who can help you get music industry jobs? Go to your college radio station. Find out how to get a show. Find out how to intern. Stuff envelopes. Hang up posters. Organize promos. Heck, make the coffee. Get a foot in the door and keep it there.

2. Student Union

You know what a lot of colleges have at their student unions? Musicians playing. And where there are shows, there are opportunities. Those shows have to be booked. Those shows have to be promoted. Someone has to run the sound and lights. Someone has to run the door. Be one of those someones. Whether you’re an aspiring promoter, venue manager or sound engineer, there is plenty of experience to be had at the student union. Plus, like college radio, this is a chance to make contacts. If you’re the person who answers the phone every time a certain agent calls about booking their acts or the person who calls the local paper to secure some promo – and you do a good job at these things – then those phone calls you field could turn into connections for future work.

3. BYOB (Be Your Own Boss)

You are on a college campus. You are surrounded by musicians. What these musicians frequently lack is someone to organize stuff for them. You know, call the local club and book them a show. Design and print flyers for the show or new release. Keep an ear to the ground about opportunities. Yes, we’re talking about informal management here, and even a little promotion. The cool thing here is that everyone wins. You’re not being paid, so big deal if you flub your first call to the venue about booking the gig. You’ll learn from your mistake, and the band gets the benefit of having someone organized on the front lines for them. Again, you’ll make contacts doing this work, plus, you’ll notice a funny thing happens. Once you, say, book one successful gig, you’ll wake up the next morning as the most popular kid on campus. Every musician will want your help, which means more experience and contacts for you, plus eventually, the potential to actually make some cash.

4. Internships

Just about every college has a department that helps students land internships, and with any luck, your school’s internship team can help you investigate and apply for music related internships at labels, music publications, radio stations, television stations, agencies, management companies, promotion companies – you name it. Don’t wait until May to try to locate a summer internship – start asking your advisor about opportunities at the start of the year so you don’t miss any important deadlines. If your advisor can’t help, ask them who can. Check with your campus career center. Ask a professor. Don’t assume your school can’t hook you up with music internship opportunities just because you’ve not aware of any specific programs. Someone on your campus can help. Knock on doors until you find them – that in and of itself is good music industry experience. 

If there simply isn’t any appropriate internship program on campus, branch out on your own. Most major labels and many other music related business advertise formal internship programs on their websites – research them and apply. Alternatively, create your own internship. Is there an indie label, venue, studio or other music related business near your college? Maybe they are so small they haven’t considered interns – but maybe if you ask for some experience, they’d be happy to let you swing by and get some. Work hard, make a good impression, and it could lead to good things for you. 

5. Work in a Record Store

“Record store,” you say, “what is a record store?” Yes, granted, many record shops have locked their doors in the face of hard times in the music biz, but college campuses have a way of keeping their community record stores active. Don’t think that working in a record store means just scanning bar codes every day. You can learn tons about the music industry from behind a record store counter. You learn about distributors, release dates, PR campaigns, in-store performances, pricing – and of course, lots and lots of music. Any record store is good experience, but if you can land a job at a mom-and-pop shop, all the better for you. Smaller, independent shops tend to give their staff more responsibility than chain stores that tend to have more developed hierarchy structures. In other words, your local indie shop may need you to place an order with a distributor, call a band manager to confirm an in-store and price some used vinyl all in a day’s work, while a larger store may leave those jobs to people a little higher up the chain. However, any experience you can get – grab it. 

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