About the Author:
Like many of you I started off as a musician, playing instruments and recording them through a cheap microphone on my parent’s desktop computer. I was fascinated by the idea of capturing sound, and being able to store and playback something that had happened. I became obsessed, and wanted to learn as much as I can about it. So after high school I attended The New England Institute of Art in Boston, MA. where I studied Audio Technology. After getting my Associates Degree there, I moved to Chicago and finished off my Bachelor’s Degree in Audio Engineering at Columbia College. Since then I have been involved in numerous recordings, and have interned at two major studios before landing a position at Studio 11, located here in the heart of Chicago. Through my experience, I have learned a thing or two about internships that will be helpful for you, coming from someone who was just in your spot.
The music industry has gone through some changes over the years. It is no surprise that because of this, so has the recording industry. The invention of the computer has radically changed the way we write, arrange and record music. People can produce full albums from home, and now even have all the tools to “enhance” an otherwise poor performance. Unlike the days of tape, you had to be a great musician to be in the studio. Because if you weren’t it was a waste of time and money. Fixing mistakes wasn’t as easy as today where we can nudge, undo, redo, pitch correct, time shift, etc. So as a result of this new digital era, where everyone has access to record, mix and master, there are many more “artists” putting things out on the internet. So while there is more music than there ever was, there is also more crap, or poorly produced albums to wave through, because not everyone can make things sound “good”. That’s where you come in. By reading this, I’m assuming you have put time into learning about audio, whether it be through training, education or personal research. If you have come this far, you are already lightyears ahead of the bedroom producer who is doing this as just a hobby, and you want to take things to the next level and do it professionally. Because after all there is large difference between a home recording and professional one. Many artists may not know how to explain the difference between a home recording and a studio recording, but they certainly recognize it when they hear it. I always think of an engineer it in terms of a film producer. If he does his job correctly, you will not know he was even there. You are aiming to be the ever important, but completely translucent part of the artist’s music and vision.
So if you want to take it to the next level and eventually become an engineer at a studio, you must intern first. It is important to know, and something I realized during my time as an intern, that studios rarely hire engineers without interning first. They may allow you to freelance out of their studio, especially if you’ve been in the game for a while, but won’t throw you work or put you on staff without being their intern first. The reason for this is that it takes time to understand how their particular studio is run. Every studio has different quirks and signal flow, and while most concepts remain constant between studios, some take getting used to. It would be unfavorable ,for example, for a studio to hire someone who came from a studio working on an Avid C24, mixing entirely ITB, to a 96 channel SSL with all outboard gear, recording to tape. Your going to be a little out of your element, and it will take time to get used to the change. No matter how experienced you are, there is always a bit of a learning curve in a new environment with different mics, outboard gear, plug ins, DAWs, live rooms etc., so it makes it easier to have someone who already knows this stuff. So without further adieu, I will offer you 1) Tips on how to get in intern position and 2) Tips on how to keep the position.
If you are currently going to school, or are near graduation, do not wait until after you graduate to find an internship. That’s what I did, and it set me back greatly. The reason why it’s smart to look for internship while your in school is because most internships are unpaid. While you are in school, your loans are deferred and you can afford to work for free (unless you are paying for school as you go, then it may be a bit harder, but still doable). It may come as no surprise that after graduation the real world kicks in, and unless you have millionaire parents who are willing to throw bundles of cash your way , your like me and have to pay for rent, bills, and the dreadful student loans! So long story short, start looking junior or senior year of school and if your lucky , you may land a job around or shortly after the time of graduation.
When you start looking, don’t worry too much about your resume. Studio managers don’t care that you worked at Guitar Center for a year and a half , nor do they really care too much about the band you are in or that you “engineered mixed and mastered yourself”. What they are looking for in an intern is passion, someone who can think for themselves, someone who is driven, and someone who has a desire to learn. Don’t get me wrong, having experience is a plus, but there is a big difference between working on on your home setup and working at a professional studio with unlimited routing possibilities. So it’s key to realize early on that you don’t know everything, and you can learn a thing or two from these guys that have been in the industry for 15-20 years. So start calling all the studios in the area, send emails out. If you send enough, at least a few are going to respond to you.
When I finished my schooling in Chicago and was a bit intimated to apply for internships, because I had assumed that all the other classmates of my large graduating class school had already hopped on it. How wrong I was! Everyone must have been thinking the same thing as me, and assumed all the intern positions were taken. I sent out maybe 10 emails, and got replies from about half of them saying they were interested in meeting me for an interview. By the end of the process, I actually had options of where I wanted to go, and I chose accordingly. My only advice when writing the email is to show your passionate and want to learn. Make an impression. Mention your schooling, or training and maybe some things you’ve done, but show that your’e eager to learn. Once you show this, if they are looking for an intern, they will send you an email back saying they want to meet up for a casual meet and greet.
Now emailing and setting up an interview is the easy part, it’s the one on one interview that requires the most effort. Before I landed my position at Studio 11, I met with a handful of engineers for different studios. By the end, I had a pretty good idea of what they were looking for in an intern. And here are some things I learned about the meet and greet:
Don’t Treat it Like a Corporate Interview
Engineers of the music industry chose a job in music because they didn’t want to do a 9-5 corporate job. So don’t show up in a suit, or even a dress shirt. Wear what you would wear on a normal day. After all this is Rock N’ Roll, baby.
Treat the Interview Like a Conversation
Being yourself is the most important thing you can do in the industry. If you act like you are some seasoned veteran, when you are only a junior still in school, or have never touched a console, they will see right through you. Talk to them, ask them about their story. Every engineer who has been in the business for a while has a story that they are more than happy to tell. Who have you worked with? What kind of music do you listen to ? Which segues me into …
Be attentive to what kind of person the engineer/engineers are from the start. This will let you know what you are in for, and what you can and cannot do. I had an interview with an engineer that sat me in the back of the studio with him as he rolled up a joint and got high. From this I gathered that he is not uptight, and has a relaxed attitude about how to run things. I also had an interview with an engineer that brought me into his office, and immediately began on how he likes to “run a tight ship”. So be attentive towards the type of person that your employer is, and from there you can judge what kind of vibe you are working with.
Show Them that You Want to Learn
If your anything like myself your probably a gear head. And even if you’ve never touched a piece of gear, you already know how it works and the signature sounds that come from it. When you get to the studio, right away walk around the studio and closely examine the gear they have. This will show the engineer that you are enthusiastic about gear (a quality any successful engineer has), and you won’t be pretending because you actually are interested in this stuff!
So lets say you really jive with the chief engineer and he tells you he want you there 3 days a week. Cool. Now that you landed the job, here are some tips that I learned that will help you keep the job.
Every client that comes in , is going to assume you work there. They will either assume that you are an assistant, or a second engineer. Some will understand you are an intern, but will still think highly of you because you made it this far, so you must be doing something right. So don’t be texting or taking pictures to show on your instagram, bone head! (something that can get you in trouble legally if it’s the wrong client). Another reason to act professional is because you never know who is going to come in. It could be a crappy teenage metal band, or it could be a multi award winning producer who needs to get a few songs mixed while he’s in town.
This may seem obvious, but if a client says “Man, my throat is parched”, Get him or her some water! A happy client will come back, and remember that the staff was friendly and attentive. Or if the client says to the engineer through the talkback “can you raise this mic up a little”, get your ass up and adjust the mic, before the engineer does it himself or tells you to. If you miss this because you are texting on your phone, or in la la land, the engineer has full authority to beat you over the head with an RE20.
You are there to learn. So the best way to learn is to ask questions. But just know where and when to ask them. Timing is crucial. If you see that the engineer pulled up an EQ and is listening intently sweeping the frequency range , then it’s probably not the right time to chime in with a question. However if the engineer is bouncing down a song, or printing a song where he can’t do anything else anyway, ask away.
Know Your Boundaries
If there is one thing you shouldn’t do in the studio, it is question an engineers judgment, especially one that is significantly older and more experienced than you! Don’t ever tell him he should compress something , or he should do this or that because it’ll sound better. Believe me, he knows what he’s doing, he’s didn’t hire you for your advice. The only time where this dynamic can change is if he is trying to troubleshoot something that you may know, then by all means speak up.
Get to Know the Engineers
You’ve gotten to know the engineers a little bit during the interview, but go further with it.They are humans too, and were once in your position. After a session, offer to pay for a drink. The closer you guys are the more he can trust you, and the sooner you will beable to begin touching some gear, and running sessions.
Never heard of that Orban Compressor? Heard of the Puigtec MEQ5 but don’t know how to use it? Look that shit up, brotha! Take a picture of all the outboard gear, and hardware and look it up when you get home. Check out the specs, how people use it, and when people use it. This serves a couple purposes. One is that when you see the engineer turn a knob, you know what they are doing so can take note on when and how to use it in the future. Secondly, the faster you learn the equipment, the sooner he will see this and let you touch some gear for yourself. Also if you have any questions about the console, all studios have a manual for you to look at. If your smart, you’ll photocopy it and study it when your at home.
Learn the Patch Bay Early
The seemingly most intimating part about a new studio at first is the patch bay. It is the center for all in’s and outs, and is in many ways the heart of the studio. If you are fumbling with the patch bay it’ll affect your efficiently as a potential assistant or engineer in the future. The sooner you learn this, the sooner it will free up time for actual engineering. I know patching in cords makes you feel like your working as lab coat engineer at RCA labs in the 50’s , but it’s not engineering, it’s basic signal flow.
Come in as Often as You Can
This one is more obvious, but if you are only scheduled for 2 or 3 days of the week but are able to come in more, ask the engineer if you can just sit in on some sessions, even if other interns are there and they don’t technically need you. As long as your not in their way, chances are they won’t mind, and you’ll be able to soak up more information and faster.
If you go out of your way to please the engineer and clients often enough, they are going to notice. Think for yourself, don’t wait around for the engineer to tell you to put back the mics if they are done recording. Or don’t wait around to clean up after a session. As an intern you are exchanging your time for knowledge, and if the knowledge pertains to your dream job, then I think it’s a pretty damn good exchange. Go the extra mile, come in more than you should, be driven , be honest and you shall succeed!
Dan Zorn, Studio 11
May 13, 2014 (15:55)
Hi great blog. especially the part about them not caring about your resume.
Having produced and engineered records for 30 years in Nashville I have lived and seen things you talk about.
I am in Chicago teaching now, but if you want to talk to an old veteran would be delighted to check out your studio.
May 21, 2014 (05:01)
I’m glad you liked the article. It’s my view that people benefit more from blunt honesty (especially in the music biz!). Your more than welcome to stop by the studio. Always up for conversing about audio. Out of curiosity, where do you teach?
June 22, 2015 (23:04)
Excellent article, very informative, I had a completely different idea of how it works when you apply for a internship. I have a couple of questions that I hope you can help me with.
First of all , i’m obsesed with music, and sound in general, so the posibilities are soooo many, but after a lot of tought , I came with two options:
1) Travel to Germany (currently living in the U.S.) and study to become a Tonmeister in the university of Berlin.
2) Stay in the U.S. and try to get an internship, and hopefully become a profesional.
Now my priority is to travel to Germany, I just admire their sound so much, but at the same time I would like to spend the time that I have left in the U.S. (Until June of 2016 that is the date for admision exams in Germany) in an internship and probably working as profesional.
So my question is: How long are the internships? Once you finish the internship, do you start working for X studio given that you made an outstanding job as an intern? I need to save some money if im planning to travel to Germany, and if the internship isn’t too long then maybe I can save that money working on the studio instead of doing random jobs. Also, how many hours a week does an internship usually needs you?
Hope you can help me with this, my life literally depends of this.
Thanks for your time.