The following comes from Doug Christman, digital account manager at Ultra Music.
“I’ve seen a lot of news lately about former interns suing the majors for compensation for their unpaid internships. My career in music started with an unpaid internship in the summer of 2010 and I’ve worked as a full time employee in the industry since January 2011. I moved from West Virginia to New York City on 3 weeks notice, postponed my college graduation, interned 40 hours a week, and did every little task I could just to be able to get my foot in the door.
I firmly believe that my internship is the single most important experience that helped me to land a job.
I’ve read the complaint filed against Warner Music Group and put together some of my thoughts under some of the listed “Facts”. I think the lawsuit is a bit ridiculous, but I can only speak based on my own experiences as an unpaid intern for a major label (not at WMG), and also my experience with having my own unpaid interns after becoming a full time employee (again, not at WMG).
Upon information and belief, beginning in or around June 2010, the Defendants employed Plaintiff and members of the putative collective to perform various office tasks, such as answering telephones, making photocopies, making deliveries, creating lists, preparing coffee, getting lunch for paid employees, running personal errands for paid employees, and other similar duties.
A good intern supervisor won’t make you get them coffee or run personal errands. I was very lucky to have one of those good supervisors. However, if she had asked me to get her coffee, I would have dropped everything to get it. She would have had coffee ready for her every day going forward without having to ask me. Need me to run an errand for you? You got it. Hungry? Let me get your lunch so you have it when you’re back from your meeting. It was all part of building relationships and getting people to know I was reliable. I would have done anything asked of me as long as it was legal.
Did I answer telephones, make photocopies, make deliveries and create lists? Absolutely. You know who else did all of those tasks? Every single paid employee at the label from the assistants to the department heads.
Defendants did not provide any compensation to Plaintiff and members of the putative collective for the hours worked.
I’m not sure why there is any confusion on what an “unpaid internship” means. I applied for what seemed like a hundred internships in the industry and most postings were very clear that compensation wasn’t being offered. If it wasn’t made clear in the posting, it most certainly would have been pointed out when the label offered the internship. The compensation here is experience, opportunity, and school credit. It may not put money in the bank now, but it pays off in the end.
Defendants have benefitted from the work that Plaintiff and members of the putative collective performed.
As an intern, I thought I was doing important work that the label couldn’t live without. Regardless of how critical the work I was doing at the label actually was, I took that into interviews and said “this is the work I did as an intern. Here is how I helped them and here is how I can apply it to your company.” That is what an internship is all about. I got an ego check once I got hired full time and there was much more pressure and much more work.
Defendants would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours had Plaintiff and the members of the putative collective not performed work for Defendant.
Labels run lean on staff. The help interns are providing is nice to have, but we can adjust and live without it if we have to.
Defendants did not provide academic or vocational training to Plaintiff or members of the putative collective.
My internship didn’t have academic or vocational training either. I had to observe, ask questions and show some interest. I went into everyone’s office at least twice a day to ask if I could help with anything or ask questions if I was curious about something. A lot of the times they didn’t have anything for me to do, but when they did I tried to learn why they were asking and how it fit into the big picture. If I wasn’t working on a project, I was learning about and listening to the artists on the roster, checking out Soundscan and iTunes, and trying to make friends with other interns and employees at the label. Occasionally, the company I interned for had guest speakers and I would go to as many of them as I could, even if they didn’t apply to my interests.
On the flip side, I’ve had good interns, bad interns and an intern that was escorted out of the building by HR (that’s for another post). The good interns all asked questions, came in ready to talk about the news of the industry and showed interest in what they were doing. They asked for more work and I let them be a part of anything I could realistically let them help with. They knew there were certain things I was going to ask them to do and they started working on them before I asked. Similarly, the bad interns all shared qualities too. Many times they would come in without saying “hello,” they put no effort into their work, and they would sit there texting or doing homework. That’s fine. If you’re just there to get your school credit, that’s all you’ll get.
Upon information and belief, while working for Defendants, the Plaintiff and members of the putative collective were regularly required to perform work for Defendants without receiving overtime compensation, although they routinely worked in excess of 40 hours a week.
As an unpaid intern, nobody forced me to be there against my will. Really, the only requirement I had to meet was the requirement set forth by my school in order to receive credit. Typically it’s a minimum of 100 hours over the course of the semester. During my internship, I worked 40 hours a week, just like a regular job. It wasn’t required, but it’s what I did. If I hadn’t been satisfied with the first 40 hours I was putting in each week, there is no way I would have put in extra hours.
Again, these opinions are only based on my personal experiences as an intern. Unfortunately, the industry is so small that not all interns can get jobs afterwards. I realize, and am grateful, that I’m one of the lucky few that was offered employment. Even if I hadn’t been, the experience offered me skills that could have applied to any industry and gave me realistic expectations of how a company operates.
TL;DR – It sucks that some people didn’t get the experience out of their internship that they expected or hoped for. The music industry is tough and requires a thick skin. A lot of times, we have to do things we don’t want to. That doesn’t change whether you’re an intern, an entry level employee, or a higher position. At least they’ve learned that lesson sooner, rather than later.
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