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Feature Fri Nov 27 2009
A few weeks ago, we looked at the current situation of interns in the Chicago music scene. While their optimism and good cheer seemed to bode well for the state of things, we realized that we'd need to see what the result of these many hours of free labor would provide. Did blood, sweat and promo e-mails pay off for everyone who put them in? Do the ones who end up with unsexy day jobs regret their fate, or did they still gain something? We started an open discussion with several former interns — some more forthcoming than others. Some are now successful entrepreneurs of their own, some are still finding their way. Some negative experiences were not elaborated on, and the juiciest stories had to be left out to protect the innocent/the storyteller's own hide. But short of inviting this gang out for a drink at the neighborhood watering hole and hearing them yourself, here are the tales fit for print from the intern veterans of Chicago.
Name: Caitlin Lavin
City of Birth: Chicago/Oak Park
Formerly Interned at: WXRT Programming spring '05
Q101/Loop Promotions intern summer '05
Q101/Loop Progamming intern fall '05
Touch and Go - '06-'07
Bloodshot - Radio promotions intern/assistant Apr-Dec 2007
Name: Robin Whitney
City of Birth: Chicago
Formerly Interned at: Billboard Magazine, Electrical Audio
Name: Andrew Mall
City of Birth: Ft. Worth, TX
Formerly Interned at: Touch & Go Records, 12/07-3/09
Name: Kristin Marks
City of Birth: Lake Bluff, IL
Formerly Interned At: Carrottop Records
Name: Matt Holland (pictured, left)
City of Birth: Chicago
Formerly Interned at: Flameshovel Records
Name: Coleman Brice
City of Birth: Chicago
Formerly interned at: Thrill Jockey, Waterdog Music, Rhythm Cafe (commercial music production),KBAQ Phoenix, Borg Warner Automotive, Cook County Recorder of Deeds
Do you have any favorite memories from internships?
Caitlin: Programming "Breakfast with the Beatles" on XRT.
Cole: Recording Foley art for some Foot Locker commercial. Probably the only creative thing I ever got to do as an intern.
Andrew: Going through a mail crate of demos, surrounded by garbage cans and a CD player, dashing hopes left and right. I did pass on the name and website of the one new band I've been excited about in the last few years, and apparently they were this close to signing when Cory started shuttering the place last spring.
Robin: How about most embarrassing memory: Interning at Electrical Audio in 2005, I was sent to pick up some "friends" of a studio client. I drove out to Wicker Park, they piled in the car and we started small talk. I asked if they were in town for the Intonation Festival, and they said they were. I explained that I was very excited for a couple bands- Andrew Bird, The Go Team, Magnolia Electric Company, Les Savvy Fav, Deerhoof, etc. I also didn't hold back on my complaints: "I'm definitely not a Hold Steady fan, and I can't believe the Decemberists get to headline. I've been avoiding their hype for so long, and I finally was forced to listen to them, and I thought it sounded just like REM," I griped. The conversation moved forward, we spoke about different artists coming to the studio, how the music industry was changing and big record labels were merging. One of the passengers interjected, "Yeah, we just recently got signed to a big record label, and it's a little intimidating, we have no idea how secure it is." "Oh," I responded, "Congratulations! What's your band, I'll keep an eye out for it!" He pushed up his glasses and answered, "The Decemberists." Thankfully, They told me they love REM and were flattered, and treated me really nice, as my face turned red and I almost hit stop sign.
Kristin: There was a guy that used to work at CTD who was moving. This guy, Michael, would always over-dress for work, like wear a tie and nice parts. He also had an obsession with making fake moustaches. On his last day we all showed up to work wearing ties and fake moustaches. It was awesome. Then, I got sent to clean some graffiti off the back gate (intern job!) and cars kept rolling by and laughing at me and I had no idea why. Then I realized I had been wearing my moustache the whole time. Good times.
Was your internship worth it? Would you have done anything different?
Robin: At Electrical, it was worth it to collect memories and anecdotes, but in retrospect it wasn't what I had hoped for and it ultimately caused a lot of heartbreak and frustration. I leaned a tough lesson on how much harder women have to work to be accepted in a predominantly male industry (audio engineering). And to top it all off, I recently had a potential employer call my studio reference only to find out he didn't remember me. It cost me the job! At Billboard, I was more fortunate to make lasting relationships and build up a network- it still serves me with some freelance work from time to time. But that's getting to be rare as publications have laid off nearly everyone I worked with and worked for. Something I would have done different? I'm not sure, honestly. I really felt proud to gain access to these high profile and respected companies, and at the end of the day, in this economy, I'm not really sure that any other internship would have turned out differently and provided what all interns need- a job!
Matt: It depends on how you look at it. I got my internship mostly due to the fact that I didn't have a job, and I wanted something to fill the time, and maybe with the end result of getting the job. Basically I went into this internship with no concrete expectations. On one hand I got to meet a bunch of my favorite musicians, become friends with them, DJ with them, and even play music with them. I recently toured through the east coast with members from two Flameshovel bands, and we have plans on recording a full length and releasing it. That for me is a small dream come true. On the other hand, I haven't seen much financial benefits from working at Flameshovel, besides free records, beer and access to shows. If I had to do it again, I might have had a bigger goal in mind with my internship. But hey, I'm still having fun with it and might get to tour more. You decide.
Cole: Yes, in a roundabout way. The internships taught me that there are basically no jobs in the music industry that pay a decent wage. Most of the people that I worked for were entrepreneurs. This kind of forced me to realize that if I was to make a living in the music industry I would have to start my own business, which I have done. If I could go back I probably would have done fewer internships and spent more time relaxing.
What's the most important thing you took away from your internship?
Robin: School credit.
Matt: Not sure, experience and networking, with the hopes of some kind of future, and not having it have been a complete waste of time.
Cole: See Above.
Any words of wisdom for people thinking about an internship?
Robin: There's no way around interning these days, so make it count! Really chase after the companies and industries that you are passionate about, and stay in touch with your network. One of my internships provided lifelong friends that I still use for references and freelance work. It's important to stay in touch and check in, even 5 years later!
Caitlin: A lot of intern kids come and flake out — if you want to make an impact, stick through the shitty work and it will lead to other things.
Cole: go to business school, and forget about any internship that sounds cool or glamorous. The boring nerdy accounting internships pay $25 an hour. Working for free is for chumps. But seriously, make sure that you are learning enough to compensate you for your time.
Matt: You're gonna be doing dishes and making food runs no matter what company you intern with, just try and listen and learn some stuff while you're there.
Dan Morgridge is a writer from Ukranian Village. He recommends making yourself a reliable friend or at least a pleasant enemy to anyone who's butt you might need to kiss later.