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Feature Thu Nov 05 2009
The music industry primarily runs off of the hopes and dreams of millions of kids wanting to be in a rock and roll band. Its slightly lesser known secondary source of fuel is the hopes and dreams of kids who at least want to work in a rock and roll business. All over Chicago, businesses large and small find interns knocking on their door — students, career-changers, hobbyists, and more. Transmission sits down to talk to some of them about where they're coming from, where they want to go, and what fun manual labor they've performed along on the way.
As a large number of baristas, waiters, actors, call center drones and Greenpeace street muggers can tell you, sometimes a college degree ain't worth a damn. According to a study by the National Science Foundation, "The total number of college graduates in the United States rose to 40,621,000 in 2003, an increase of 40 percent in the decade between 1993 and 2003." To put that into perspective, from the same study: "...33 percent of college graduates in the United States are younger than 40 years of age." What all this means for Mr. Poetry Degree and Ms. Art History is that whether or not they excelled in their field, there are a good number more people vying for the same position. And when you have the best of the best start to trickle down to jobs that might have been obtainable for the average college-educated folk before, suddenly even mediocre jobs become coveted prizes. Add a dash of recession to the mix, and kids will get into a fistfight just to be a receptionist.
With all of these factors in play, those who love music and want to work in it face quite a battle just to get to that first rung of the ladder. The music industry, like the people in it, does not follow the typical hierarchies and rules for advancement. Plenty of degrees (and even schools nowadays) have been created for aspiring music industry folk, and maybe major labels and radio conglomerates are more comfortable with putting fresh-faced youngsters into career management paths. But in terms of Chicago, and the many small music entities with staffs averaging in the teens, you're not going to start anywhere until you've proven yourself as all of them did — at the bottom, doing the unglamorous legwork that making a dime in the music business requires.
The dream of the business, covered by the reality of it... (photo by richardwitt74)
In the first part of this feature, we talk to four Chicago music interns. What we got was a telling cross-section of the state of interning — some things are fairly timeless (pretty much every intern in the history of time has handled a heat gun and hung posters) but newer trends like updating social networking sites and blogs is giving interns a new world of responsibilities.
Name: Jill Olchawa
City of Birth: Westmont, IL
Duties: At Bloodshot Records I am currently in charge of the street-team. I distribute promotional materials (posters and web-banners, mostly) to individuals for artists' performances and tours. I also research appropriate lifestyles shops around the country where tour-dates are scheduled and I mail posters to these shops asking if they would hang them up and spread the word. With the help of some awesome street-teamers, as well as some friendly lifestyles shops, many promotional materials were distributed and good times were had by all (or so I hope!). I also sometimes update artists' tour-dates on social-media/networking sites (MySpace/Facebook/ilike etc.), mail out postcards/demos/ and everything else that needs to get out during the day! At Schubas I post set-times and posters throughout the venue, tidy-up the greenroom, listen to and rate band demos, and do other miscellaneous tasks throughout the day.
I also do public relations and marketing for Dunkin' Donuts during my summer breaks. I set up promotional and charitable events in two of the local store back in my hometown to raise money for local organizations and increase patronage at Dunkin'.
Reasons for interning: I love music and I'm in love with the Chicago music scene; we are so lucky to have it! I have played bass guitar in a band (The Dyes) since high school, and my favorite things to do are go to live shows, play live shows, and go on tour...anything involving music! I have loved and respected Bloodshot Records for a while, and having the opportunity to intern there has only made me appreciate it more, especially being surrounded by the hardworking individuals who run the place on a daily basis and supporting the artists on the label. Schubas is also an amazing and legendary venue in Chicago, and I'm beyond excited for Lincoln Hall to make a great name for itself too. My ultimate dream/goal is to work for a venue full time.
Favorite experience from internship: Getting to interact with the street-teamers has been incredible. Bloodshot's fans are just as awesome as their artists; everyone is just completely passionate about the music.
Name: Eliot Gronstal
City of Birth: Cary, Illinois (hometown, I was born in Schaumburg)
Current Place of Internship: Pitchfork
Previous Internship: Touch n' Go
Duties: Fact checking, updating tour dates, sorting and opening the mail, sometimes doing the Forkcast, and other projects here and there as they come up.
Internships/Jobs held previously/since: I got this internship through Columbia College, they held meetings with Pitchfork at the Portfolio Center and I signed up and went in for a meet and greet with my resume and a cover letter. Before Pitchfork I interned at Touch & Go Records for almost two years, although that was unrelated to my major. I did it for fun and experience.
Reasons for interning: I love music, after Touch & Go I knew I needed an internship that actually applied to my major. Luckily this one does and it's just as fun and I get a whole different type of experience. I one day hope to get paid for what I write, and hopefully it will be about music.
Favorite experience from internship: The Pitchfork Festival was pretty much the best thing ever. I scored free tickets and got to go backstage. Also, getting to know the writers has been great. It's great to talk with people who love to listen to music as much as I do, if not more.
Name: Zachary Weinberg
Age: 21 woot woot!
City of Birth: Toledo, OH
Current Place of Internship: Bloodshot Records
Duties: I participate in an array of duties that tend to fluctuate every week, but I often:
1) Make calls to keep in contact with our retail accounts (Being personable is a must for independent music!). On the phone, I often go over recently sent out promotional CDs, posters, and new releases. With Bloodshot Records 15th anniversary Beer-B-Qs going on across the country this year, I've been keeping up with our markets that are hosting these anniversary celebrations/concerts and making sure they are receiving posters and other promotional items, and that they are utilizing ticket giveaways, guest lists, and hanging up our flyers.
2) Tracking our touring artists and submitting the number of pieces (CD and Vinyl) they've sold at their concerts. This information is then submitted into Sound Scan for national charting.
3) Warehouse duties; packaging orders, sending out promo material to the press, radio, and retail...takes up most of my time.
4) Tracking how many plays Bloodshot artists get on the radio across the country.
5) Updating tour grid for radio promotion.
Internships/Jobs held previously/since:
Music Director @ Radio DePaul. (Currrent)
Clerk @ Culture Clash Records
Clerk @ Boogie Records
Orientation Leader @ DePaul University
Faculty Assistant @ DePaul University (Current)
Touring Musician (Current)
Office Staff @ Barry & Feit Law Firm
Reasons for interning: I'm interning at Bloodshot Records because I'm excited about the releases and artists they work with. Because I receive no money and no college credit for my time at Bloodshot, I go into the office each week for the simple love of independent D.I.Y. music. As you can see from my past employment, I've always been surrounded by music, and if I don't find myself working somewhere in the music industry in future (either record label, touring musician, etc.) I surely fucked up.
Favorite experience from internship: Being able to help out at the Bloodshot Records 15th Anniversary Block Party at the Hideout in Chicago this year has to be my favorite experience from this internship. I was assigned the duty of drum tech, and I truly feel that I played an important role regarding the stage set-up. I got to meet a lot of our artists, and I was practically assigned a different drummer every hour or so that I was in charge of helping out. As a drummer myself, I felt that the staff over at Bloodshot Records really got to see me in my element, and that I am excited about the music Bloodshot Records releases...sharing a few drinks with the few drummers I worked with that day also didn't hurt the situation!
Name: Liz Demmert
City of Birth: Abington, PA; raised in Downers Grove, IL
Current place of internship: The Windish Agency
Duties: Contract Uploading, Maintaining Database and Website, Overdue followup contract calls
Internships/Jobs held previously:
- Windish Intern
- Working for artist management company Express Entertainment as an assistant while also helping develop and research for the launch of their new artist-friendly publishing company The Fourmula
Previously: Executive Assistant/Analyst, Spencer Stuart
Reasons for Interning: Interning is a great opportunity to learn a new business from the ground up. When the economy tanked, I was laid off and job opportunities in my previous field disappeared--which gave me a chance to take my career in a different direction. I'm 30, and my internship is melding my corporate experience with my love for music. My brother was in a band with Bob Nanna, and even at age ten I was the biggest fan of Fugazi. My old job gave me the ability to talk to CEOs and executives as a day-to-day affair, so working with artists here is only slightly different - I can talk to an artist like Cut Chemist (my favorite DJ) and be confident enough to work with him. Every day is an adventure: I might be learning about contracts, I might be on a quest to the Brazilian Embassy for legalization of documents. I'm definitely not bored. I prove myself to the company; I confirm this is what I want to do. What more could I ask for? ... save full-time employment.