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What Not to Do While Interning at a Pro Audio Facility

It’s the summer and intern season for many young people seeking a career in pro audio. Let’s say you got the job. How do you make your mark and use that internship start a successful career? To begin, don’t make the same mistakes that many interns do.

An internship in a pro audio facility can easily turn into a great opportunity for a young person with the right stuff. But, as all audio professionals know from experience, everyone has to pay their dues. People unwilling to do that usually are spotted immediately and their career prospects are severely damaged.

Every intern goes through the same negative feelings about the position. Yes, there is always someone who will take advantage of the lowest person on the totem pole. The trick is to endure it with good humor and move on. Always view the process as a learning experience and use everything you are asked to do to learn the ropes of the audio profession. Everything, and I mean everything, will have value in the future if you land a real job.

Students at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences being trained.

Students at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences being trained.

Here’s some advice. At all times, be professional. Treat your internship as the most important thing you’ve ever done. Arrive at work on time and always stay longer than expected. Dress appropriately and treat the facility’s clients well. Offer them anything they might desire. Never say no to a client. Try to make things happen for them.

During a client’s session, always be an asset. Bring value to the session just by being there. If you are good at the job, you will naturally figure out how to do this in a balanced, friendly way. When you are truly valuable, everyone will want you around — both the audio professionals at the facility and the clients. This is a quick way to success.

Be careful to avoid doing any critical task wrong. Think before acting and ask questions if you don’t know. Damaging a client’s valuable project is a big “no, no” that can cost anyone their reputation. So when in doubt, always ask. Don’t be impulsive and make a huge mistake.

On the issue of asking questions, be sure to do it at the right time. It is not good to interrupt an engineer while he or she is working. Wait until the task is finished and the time is right. On the other hand, if you are tasked to do something and don’t understand it, ask a question…only if the time is right. If not, wait. Most audio professionals are happy to help you. Just approach them at the right moment.

Most interns have had just enough audio experience to be dangerous. Don’t use what you think you know to try to impress others in a professional audio environment. If you are good at something, it will reveal itself in time. Even if you think something is wrong, keep it to yourself. Telling others the “right way” is not a way to help yourself. Always show respect and leave your mind open to learning something new.

For musicians, songwriters or such, don’t even think of playing or giving away a demo recording while working as an intern. No one — and I mean no one — cares about your project — no matter how good it might be. Self-promotion in this environment can be deadly to any career. It is not the time or place to promote yourself.

In 1966, when Kris Kristofferson was a struggling young songwriter working as a janitor at Columbia Recording studios in Nashville, Bob Dylan was recording his album, Blonde on Blonde, in the building. Kristofferson was tempted to hand Dylan one of his songs, but he heeded warnings never to speak with artists working at the studio. Avoiding Dylan, which took huge restraint, probably saved Kristofferson his job.

This next one is VERY important. Avoid using a mobile phone or looking at messages on the phone while at work. This means even while waiting and doing nothing. Most younger people are constantly glued to their phones, but it can be very irritating to others. It will make any intern look unprofessional. If you need to make a call or send a text, go to a restroom or out of sight of anyone at the facility to do it. Keep your mind on the job, not a phone.

Finally, watch and anticipate what is needed based on what you have learned on the job in the past. This is called being proactive. For example, when a recording session ends and you know that cables need to be wrapped, don’t wait to be asked. Just do it.

Anticipate the job and do it right. Don’t make someone explain how to do it again. Create a job for yourself, even if there isn’t one. Always be working. It will be noticed compared to others who do less.

As a teenage intern myself in a radio station, I remember having a genuine enthusiasm to learn everything and to make myself so valuable they would have to pay me. Eventually, they did.

It was simple, really. Watch closely the most experienced people at work and pay close attention to everything they do. When you don’t understand something, write it down and ask for an explanation when the time is right. As time goes by, everyone picks up the necessary knowledge.

Details matter, not just the technical details, but how to accommodate the client and interact with others in the facility. Watch how audio professionals use their time and spend their day. What is most important to them? Keep alert and keep your eyes on the prize — which, in this case, is a career in professional audio.

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