L.A. Internship Program: A Springboard to the Music Industry

Lesley Mahoney
April 8, 2009
David Celia, a film scoring major, is interning with Yuval Ron '89, a composer, record producer, world music artist, and educator.
Interns from the spring 2009 Los Angeles Internship Program. From left: David Celia, Tyler Prokop, Morgan Nusbaum, Jake Miller, Kristin Brooks, Hillary Messenger, Amanda Brigham, Jeannette Boling, Jaclyn Joyce, David Hellberg, Sylvie Simhon, and Ama Atobrah.
Photo by Lesley Mahoney
Photo by Justine Taormino

In Los Angeles, you'll find the heartbeat of the music industry. From record labels to music publishing, from film scoring to artist management, it's all here. This is the place to be for anyone looking to launch a career in these fields. Without practical experience and inside knowledge of the industry, however, a job seeker is bound to be just another face in the crowd, another name on a resumé. Berklee's Los Angeles Internship Program, run through the Office of Experiential Learning, gives graduates essential tools to enhance their employability. Students get hands-on, practical experience for several months, learning the ins and outs of the industry; in a short time, they learn how to walk the walk, giving them a leg up when they go to look for that first full-time job.

"I wanted to create the L.A. Internship Program to give students a more structured opportunity to put into practice within the Los Angeles music industry what they've learned in their Berklee classes," says Debra Gelinas, director of the Office of Experiential Learning. "I thought it was important to allow students to 'test the waters' in L.A. to see if they could live and work there, by providing them with short-term housing through the college and a variety of internship opportunities."

When it was launched in the summer of 2006, the program consisted solely of the internship component and workshops; in fall 2008, it was broadened to incorporate classes as well. Prior to the development of the L.A. program, students could intern in Los Angeles through the Office of Experiential Learning's Major Specific Internship, a two-credit program that is applicable anywhere in the world but does not feature classes or workshops.

The Benefits of Real-World Immersion  

The internship program gives students a foot in the door—no small feat in this competitive industry.

"It shows you took the initiative to get yourself immersed in the business, and you have people who can vouch for your abilities," says Justine Taormino '06, intern services coordinator for the L.A. Internship Program and a Berklee alumna who has participated in the program.

This initiative has real value when it comes to looking for a job after graduation. In fact, about 30 percent of students who participate in the program find jobs or other internships in L.A. and elsewhere as a result of the connections they make. There's Morgan Onopa '08, who interned at Epic Records and is now a partner in artist development company AEI Entertainment, staffing bands and administrating their summer tours. Stephen Herring '07 is the Creative Department coordinator for North Star Media, a job he landed as a result of his internship at the music publishing company. Alisa Nizhniy '08 interned at Sonic360 and Universal Music Group, and now works as an executive assistant to the president at D. Baron Media Relations, a pop, rock, and Latin music publicity firm specializing in print and electronic media. Jake Voulgarides's internship at EMI, one of the world's leading music companies, helped the 2007 graduate land a job there as film and TV creative coordinator. 

"Many students who have participated in the program have gone on to get jobs in the industry and now take on Berklee interns themselves," says Gelinas. "That's the most rewarding part of my job—to see the amazing opportunities that this program can create for our students and to hear their success stories."

And to prospective employers, program participants stand out.

"In these economic times, even entry-level positions might have as many as 100 applicants," says Peter Gordon, director of the Berklee Center in L.A., which develops strategic relationships for the Berklee community in Los Angeles, including assisting with connections for the internship program. "If you've not only got the Berklee name on your resumé, but an internship as well, you're going to put yourself into a much smaller and more desirable circle."

Along with serving as a serious resumé booster, the experience leaves students with a true real-world perspective. "To see the industry in action is what really matters," Taormino notes.

Most students choose to participate in the internship program during their final Berklee semester. Students can participate in a 13-credit full semester program in the spring or fall, or in the six-credit summer program. Fall and spring students must intern for a minimum of 300 hours at up to two sites and take three courses; summer students intern for 300 hours and attend workshops.

"To see the industry in action is what really matters."

— Justine Taormino

Students receive plenty of support from the Office of Experiential Learning and L.A. Internship Program Office, from reviewing resumés and cover letters to helping students navigate the interview and placement process. Students keep journals about their internships, which Taormino regularly reviews, and write a final paper that synthesizes their experiences.

And what better way to discover a new place than with a group of peers, a job opportunity, housing, and a built-in support system? Students can use their experience as a trial period. "They can find out: 'Is this for me?'" says Taormino, whose office is located in the Park LaBrea apartment complex south of West Hollywood, where the students live.

Along with getting invaluable experience, students learn firsthand the importance of making a good impression on their supervisors.

"I tell the students that the best thing you can do is make your boss's life easier," says Taormino. "If you can do that, they'll really appreciate you and want to keep you around. It's really a matter of making sure that you're indispensable."

Given the students' success at making connections, learning about the business, and transitioning from their internships into jobs in the industry, that's advice they've undoubtedly heeded.