Things To Do In College That Will Prepare You For The Music Industry

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If you follow our ongoing Spotlight series you will have no doubt noticed a discrepancy between various professionals on the necessity of a college education when attempting to enter the music industry. It is absolutely true that there are many professionals working today who have never stepped foot on a college campus, but there is also a very large segment of the industry that has, and whether or not it’s right for you will depend on a number of factors. Not every job requires a college education, but there are times when having the extra knowledge gained from such experiences can give you a leg up against the competition. At the same time, those who enter the industry at a young age and stick with it tend to excel faster than those who only begin to find their footing while in school. 

We can (and in the future, will) go back and forth on the topic of college and its importance for your desired career, but this post is intended for those either attending or planning to attend college while pursuing full time employment within the music industry. Higher education may not offer the hands-on learning experience others gain by touring or otherwise entering the industry work force for at a young age, but it does offer several unique opportunities to practice and prepare for entry into the industry that Highlight Magazine editor Jenn Stookey has volunteered to discuss with us today.   


I have been told time and time again that college is important for those going into “normal” jobs such as nursing or banking. But on the opposite side, I have heard that college is a waste of time if you are pursuing a life in the music industry. Having just finished my junior year of college, I have had this conversation with my friends too many times to count. I strongly believe college is important, but in this risky business, it is only what you make of it. Therefore, for those of you who follow in my path, a path down four more years of school before being released into the wild, here are steps of what to do in college to prepare you for the industry. Because again, college is what you make of it, and you need to make the most of it while you still can! 

1. Get involved in school programs, and set your eyes on the prize! 

School programs in college are much different from high school. They allow you to have real freedom of what you want to accomplish without a principal denying you a simple pleasure. They also provide opportunities of learning without a textbook. I’m talking real life opportunities. You will gain contacts, personal skills, and maybe even a bit of knowledge in event planning. Whatever it is, get involved. You will meet many aspiring students like yourself who will be an inspiration to your future aspirations. And don’t forget to set your eyes on the prize! Whether that means to go for the goal and apply for a leadership position, set a goal for how much money you want to raise and surpass it, or attend a conference your program has not yet gone to, it can be accomplished. The only thing stopping you is yourself. Not to mention, being involved in school programs are a much better resume builder than “being a hostess at Red Lobster for three years.” 

2. Get an internship and get an internship in something you don’t like

Internships are the most beneficial learning experience while in college. If you’re lucky, you might even get paid just to learn! But here’s my advice, get an internship every semester of college you can manage. The contacts you make at an internship are extremely vital to how you are perceived after you leave. Word of mouth in the industry is more relied upon than a flawless resume. But also do it to find out what you like and what you don’t like. 

Try and intern at multiple different places. If you need some convincing here, every section of the industry works together and the more you know about each, the more of a well-rounded professional you will be once you graduate college. It’s very eye opening for an employer to look at your resume and see you interned at a venue, a publishing company, a record label, and a management company, instead of just seeing you interned at four different PR firms. 

I also invite you to intern with a company you know you are interested in and one you are not. Taking an internship at both may surprise you. Internships are not jobs, and they are there for you to find out for yourself what you like and what you don’t. If you went to college interested in artist management, you may find out you hate having a 24-hour job. On the opposite side, if you thought you would hate working in music supervision, you may see that you love finding out about new music and acquiring the licenses for it to use in film. 

Both sides are very beneficial and you will be five steps ahead of your classmates who either never had an internship in college, or even only had one. 

3. Never pass up an opportunity

Never pass up an opportunity. Again, never pass up an opportunity! Let us all bask in that word, opportunity. I’m not going to lie, I do believe grades in college are important to some extent, but I strongly believe opportunities are even more important. When it comes to studying so hard to get an A on a test, or going to a show or event where you have the chance to introduce yourself to at least one industry professional, choose the latter. The contacts you make in college are the people who will start the beginning to the rest of your life. Opportunities you are given in college may not come after, so give it a go and choose opportunity over everything else. 

4. Converse with people you normally wouldn’t

If you aren’t a people person, I think you might be in the wrong industry. The industry is less about entertainment, and more about relationships. One of my freshman year professors told us once, “Look around you, these are the people you are going to work with for the rest of your life. Do you see someone in this room that you don’t like? Too bad, suck it up and be nice because you’re going to be partners sometime in the future. Do you see someone you don’t know? Get up and introduce yourself.” 

So please, I ask you, talk to people you normally wouldn’t. This business is all about relationships and if you make many good ones now, you will have that plus more down the road when you need their assistance the most. 

5. Work on the balance of patience and timeliness

The entertainment industry, both music and film, is a world unlike any other. You probably know that, and that is probably what drew you in. However, it is also a tricky business. There are times when stories need to be thrown together on the spot, and others where the person who lost a publishing deal did so because they weren’t patient enough to wait out the time. These are two skills that you need to start perfecting while in college. They are both massively important and prospective employers will congratulate you for having both. 

6. Start reading trade magazines and websites 

You may think that what you’re learning in school is the only information you will need when entering the real world of entertainment. False. Trade magazines and websites such as Billboard, Rolling Stone, Hypebot, Hype Machine, ect, are important to be introduced to while in school. Instead of spending an hour of your time reading your Facebook news feed, spend it reading one of these. It will keep you informed on the trends in the industry, what is wrong with it and what is working, and the newest artists who are going to blow up. We all have a part of us who loves to shove in our peer’s faces that we discovered something first, and if you are taking the time to read trade magazines while in college, you are set. This is real and current information that cannot be taught in a class that is using a textbook from five years ago. 

7. Contact industry professionals for afternoon tea! 

Okay, maybe not afternoon tea, but let me fill you in on a little secret; industry professionals will help you when you’re in school, but the moment you graduate, their assistance to you is not as well welcome. They were once in the same position as you, looking for an internship or job, surfing around to find the best fit, and they love bragging to people that they helped a young college student start their career. 

Send an email or be mutually introduced to an industry professional who you value their opinions and want to learn more about their job. Invite them for coffee or lunch, on their own time, and offer to pay for it. You have class at the time the want to meet? Skip it. You have $20 to your name? Pay for lunch anyway (most of the time they will pay for you anyway). The contacts you meet with and gain while in college, the better. The more about each section of the industry you know, the better. 

Because you reached out on your own time, it lets them know you are serious about your future and the industry at large. They will fill you in on real secrets that your friend who sits next to you in that class you skipped for this meeting, can only dream about one day knowing. But don’t forget, the moment you graduate they won’t be so obliging. Take this information and use it as much as you can before your time is up.

8. Create a Linkedin account

If you already have an account, wonderful! If you haven’t heard of Linkedin, it’s time to make an account. I know, creating yet another social media account may be a bit daunting, but this is one that will strongly help your future. Not only will it allow you to showcase to others who you know, it will allow you to find important contacts through your friends and already connected professionals you are linked with. Plus, it saves loads of time when trying to search for a contact you might want to find and ask to coffee! 

9. Create a visually pleasing resume

The music industry is all about being creative, even when you’re applying for a job or internship that’s more business related. Although the industry is a small part of America, there are thousands of young adults who believe they can make it, just like you, so you need to set yourself apart from the rest not just in content, but visually. 

I can’t tell you how to write your resume or give you a template for how it should look, because a resume is about you. Make it interesting to look at all the while conveying who you are. 

**Note: I will say one thing; make sure there are no spelling mistakes. Just a secret about the industry, people can be lazy, especially if they have 100 resumes to read. If there is a single spelling mistake, it is likely they won’t even consider you. So please, proof read 1,000 times and again! 

Jenn Stookey is a regular contributor to Highlight Magazine and one of the most promising young professionals we have ever met. If you enjoy this article, please make it a point to follow her efforts on Twitter.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.