Music Management Skills: Volunteering to Gain Insight

If you’re a friend, a family member, or a fan enlisted to take on management duties for a musician, reading books about the business might not be enough to get you up to speed on what you really need to know. While you might think working for free is beneath you, it’s also essential to gain some hands-on experience from an objective source. Check out some of these options for building your management portfolio:

  • Intern for an established management agency. You don’t even have to toil away in some large company’s mailrooms. Most towns have a handful of smaller, experienced music managers that can use an extra hand for a few hours a week. Most of these professionals restrict real internship experiences to currently enrolled college students. It’s legit if your free labor earns college credit, but it’s a potential legal issue if you’re just working without pay on a for-profit venture.
  • Volunteer with a local arts agency or concert venue. Non-profits can use volunteer help in ways that established music management companies simply can’t. Whether you help produce a live event, work on fundraisers for a local public radio station, or curate a regular open mic night, learning how to put on a show can build your knowledge about what your artist will need to deliver for audiences.
  • Staff a local or regional music conference. Many conferences offer free or discounted admission for volunteer staffers who can wrangle guests, keep conference rooms running, or organize live shows. You’ll learn how to stage a complex event while building your network.

What you work on during your volunteer work experience is really up to you and your host, and a good mentor will help you work out an agenda for your time together in your first few encounters. Non-profits are often a little better at this, with volunteer gigs that often come with clear expectations and job descriptions. Regardless of where you volunteer, it’s important to keep three things in mind:

  • Keep a tight time frame. Most college internships last either a half or whole semester. If you’re volunteering outside of a credit-earning work experience, limit your exposure to a fixed period. That way, you won’t end up in an open-ended obligation that prevents you from spending time on the artist project you wanted to prepare yourself for in the first place.
  • Try to focus on a single achievement or on a set of specific, measurable goals. Learn how to work through the beginning, middle, and end of a project. If your host’s projects run beyond your chosen time frame, focus on one chunk of a larger initiative.
  • Make the experience about shared gains, not just about gaining a foothold for your artist. As someone who has mentored plenty of interns, the ones I continue to count in my professional network are the ones who helped us reach win-win solutions. Most upstanding music business veterans will happy share knowledge with interns or volunteers who are committed to paying their dues and getting everyone’s needs met. If you launch into an elevator pitch around everyone you meet during your work experience, don’t expect to build a strong network. This stage of your development is about putting your artist’s needs on the back burner for a little while as you build some core skills.

Remember to check out all of the posts in the Music Management Skills series…