Opening The Door To Your New Career: The Internship

Whether it’s in recording arts, digital and game design or another field, internships are a proven and valuable step that allows student grads to get their foot in the door of their chosen career.

Businesses, especially audio and digital studios, love interns: they provide an extra body or two to take up the slack and shore up the staff.  Additionally, they’re a potential resource for future full-time work, and -- if they’re a quick learner in terms of on-the-job training -- can be used to quickly fill the gap should conditions arise where an engineer or designer falls ill or decides to leave his post.

“When we hire an intern, I’m always thinking, this person will potentially fill in for one of my guys three or six months down the road,” says Donny Da Silva, former Facility Manager of Toronto’s Phase One Studios and now Noble Street Studios. These are two of Canada’s predominant recording studios and their clientele has included Rihanna, Akon, Sting, 50 Cent, U2’s Bono and Drake.

“I don’t just hire an intern for the sake of hiring one, because we always need a backup plan for what’s going on here. Essentially the interns fill those seats.”

For Phase One, which houses four studios under 7450 sq. ft. north of the 401, it’s not only a way in the door: it’s the only entrance.

“I only hire interns,” says Da Silva. “I never hire people off the street. Interns know the facility; they know what’s going on. Generally, if I’ve kept them around long enough, they’re close to being an asset and I can just put them into a session and I know they will be fine.

“It’s just the way we’ve done it and it’s worked great.”

Thomas Neuspiel, owner and president of Keen Music, Voice & Sound Design, a post-production facility located on Toronto’s Spadina Avenue that has also recorded musicians Lindi Ortega, Tomi Swick, Andy Stochansky and Simon Wilcox, says he only hires interns when he’s considering expansion.

“I’m hesitant, usually, to take interns on, mostly because when we’re really busy, it’s hard for us to give them valuable experience because we’re very busy, and when we’re really quiet, it’s hard for us to give them valuable experience because there’s not a lot of stuff for them to be actually involved in,” he explains.

“So I don’t take them regularly, just as a default. I take them if I see an opportunity for somebody to be really involved.  I will take somebody that serves a probation period to see if they can do the job.”

And make no mistake: typically, interns start out as glorified grunts. The hours are long. The tasks are mundane. But eventually, a small crack begins to open and the intern earns a chance to show their skills.

“A lot of it is just assisting everybody else in what they do,” says Keen’s Neuspiel.

“That might be getting coffee and setting up microphones, to manning phones and cleaning up. But it doesn’t take long for them to start doing things along the lines of where they have talent and they have some knowledge. If they’re smart, and they apply themselves, they’ll start making things happen quickly.”

Adds Donny Da Silva:

“They have to establish trust with the staff, and they have to show they’re competent and that they can perform duties well.

“For example, once an intern is here for four months, it’s inevitable that someone can approach them and say, ‘Hey, I need help with this set up. Mind coming in?’ Suddenly they’re sitting in on a session, watching, learning, seeing how things get done, and it snowballs from there.”

However, don’t ignore those routine tasks, which are more important than you might imagine.

“I’m watching at how much care and attention they’re putting into them,” notes Da Silva. “Because if they’ve cleaned the kitchen like I’ve never seen it cleaned before, that tells me a lot.”

Once you’ve landed the position, you can make your own breaks, says RAC graduate Matt Redman, who interned at Donald Quan’s Q Music and Hamilton’s Hyde Studios before interning – and eventually landing – a production assistant position at Keen Music, Voice & Sound Design.

“Nothing is a given with these things,” says Redman. “Sometimes it’s sort of like a job interview that involves you in the work. I consider myself proactive and pretty positive, so I got in there, worked really hard and showed them what I can do.

It’s all you can ask for in any opportunity – the chance to show them what you can do and find out if it’s something for you.”

Paid internships are rare; most are unpaid and require you to volunteer your time and effort, with the hope that you’ll land a job at the end of your tenure.

However, if that scenario doesn’t pan out,  Margaret Spence Krewen, president of Human Resources Consulting, a Toronto-based H/R firm that provides job search training and coaching,  says it’s an invaluable experience.

“Students need to understand that while some internships lead directly to a full-time job offer, many times they do not,” she states. “While this may be disappointing, it is by no means a waste of time. Internships offer real life, hands on training and provide students with a forum to apply learned educational theory.

“Well-played internships also provide students with positive work references and often invaluable networking opportunities.”

Because the audio and recording industries are highly competitive and “extremely close-knit,” she advises interns to treat their positions “like gold” and to “commit yourself to it completely.”

“If you are a poor performer, word will spread and you’ll find yourself unable to secure full-time employment in your field,” says Spence Krewen. “Conversely, if you dedicate yourself and do a stellar job, the internship acts as a referral.”

If you’re still in school, never underestimate the power of networking.  At Recording Arts Canada, (RAC), both Da Silva and Neuspiel have relied on the recommendations of lecturer and lab instructor Brian Nevin to supply interns.

“He’s a dear old friend at RAC, so he’s always the first place I’ll go,” says Keen’s Neuspiel. “I’ll ask him whether he has any special students in a particular class, and he’s never steered me wrong.”

Obviously, internship candidates possess specialized skill sets and great attitudes. But there are other qualifications that need to be considered.

“We are looking for people who are very passionate, and who would essentially give up the majority of their social lives to fulfill their dreams of becoming an engineer,” says Phase One’s Da Silva.

“People don’t realize how much time  -- and personal time -- it takes, to learn and understand the equipment, and excel or become exceptionally good at it.

“That requires a ton of after-hours devotion that could happen through the night or during the weekend.  It’s fairly difficult to keep up a good social life given those circumstances.”

For Keen Music, Voice & Sound Design, Thomas Neuspiel says punctuality and communication skills shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“Whether they show up on time for our meeting…how articulate they are – a lot of it really has to do with just how they carry themselves, and what their communication skills are like socially,” says Neuspiel.

“Being good at things like composing music, recording music, whatever it is that you do – is kind of the price of entry.

“I look for people who have really good personalities, who are really creative and communicate really well. I look for energetic, kind of turned on, organized, bright lights.”

And if you’re not prepared to work and endure a certain amount of sacrifice, you’re not being realistic.

“The real world is much more aggressive, much more fierce, and you have to stay on top of the ball,” says Da Silva, who served as an intern before becoming an engineer, and later, Phase One’s Facility Manager.

“You cannot stop learning your field: it is continuous and you have to essentially read every piece of literature out there on new material and new equipment, techniques, tricks, and essentially everything about the industry.

“If you don’t, you’ll fall behind: It’s a continuous learning cycle. I have multiple award-winning engineers come in here and they’re always bringing in books and  constantly learning. That’s important.”

As for the length of time internships should last, a good barometer is three to six months…although they can last longer.

“If they have another source of income and can wait it out -- I’ve held onto an intern for as long as a year,” says Donny Da Silva. “Other times it’s been three or four months.”

Keen’s Matt Redman also advises that you shouldn’t worry if an internship doesn’t seem like a fit.

“I’ve had a few internships, and this was the one I found was the best match for my skill set,” says Redman. “That was important for me to investigate – I needed to get my foot in a few different doors and see what else was out there.

“I was looking for music production, and I still want to do that, but I found something at Keen that I had no idea that existed – small companies like this that made original music, yet directed and wrote radio spots, and did records occasionally at night, and dabbled in various parts.

“I ended up with a really great job.”

-- Nick Krewen

For more info on the RAC Internship program, please click here.
For an Intern checklist to help prepare you for applying, please click here.