The Best (On and Off Campus) Music Jobs for College Students
If you’re in college, you probably know a few people who don’t work so they have more time to focus on their studies. Maybe this sounds like a good idea—after all, a good GPA can open the door to awesome academic opportunities, plus you don’t have to spend six hours on your Saturday night serving drunk jerks at a sports bar. In a fast-paced industry like the music business, however, you need to always be one step ahead of the competition. If you already have relevant music industry job experience on your resume while you’re still in school, you have an advantage. Plus you’re putting yourself in a good position to meet people who can help you grow in your career, mentor you, or just become really great friends. You’ll also get a little bit of extra cash in your bank account…and some pretty sweet perks.
We selected the following workplaces and positions as the best music industry-related jobs for college students because the experience you’ll gain in these roles will set you up for success—through the networking opportunities, hands-on experience, and the fun you’ll have. Depending on where you go to school and if you’re attending a music degree program, these may be hourly, work-experience, or even volunteer positions, but they will all get you on the track to your dream career, and besides, it’s not like you aren’t spending a good deal of your student loan on concert tickets and vinyl anyways, right?
Tons of work goes into bringing your college radio station to the air, which means there are lots of behind the scenes work opportunities for those who have shown a commitment to the station. Keep in mind if your college radio station does have paid positions, these are usually held by people who had proven their dedication through serious volunteer work prior to getting hired.
Of all the positions at the station, DJs have the most visibility. If you dream of working at a commercial station after graduation, this is where you’ll get the training. Working as a College Radio DJ can even help you get work as a Club DJ at off campus at bars, clubs, and concerts if you’re willing to reach out to Promoters and Nightclub Managers. If you gain enough of a following on the air, working as a DJ can even help you get a foot in the door in music jobs unrelated to your board op skills or your mixing abilities. You’re sure to make connections, either through interviewing bands or through reaching out to local record labels to get their releases for on-air play.
The range of positions available at a campus station will depend on its size, its budget and whether it’s an FM signal or an online station, for example. The three jobs you can be sure every station has are those of the Music Director, Program Director, and Engineer. As a Music Director, your main job will be to select music for regular rotation, serve as a liaison with record labels and Radio Promoters, and sometimes even to book bands for in-studio performances or interviews. As a Program Director, you work with the community beyond the station, handle programming and scheduling matters, and manage the student staff. Again, depending on the size of the station, your campus station may have several positions for Engineers, although there will usually be one Head Engineer who oversees the others on staff.
Most stations will also have a Marketing Director, who coordinates sponsorships with local venues, buys advertising, and puts together giveaways and promotions. Your station might also have openings for Underwriting Reps, who go out into the community to sell ad space on the station to relevant businesses. The Training Director will teach aspiring DJs the ropes and make sure the station is always sounding its best. The Traffic Director schedules advertising and makes sure it airs at the correct time. The Production Director writes, records, and edits spots, and the News Director determines which news makes its way to the airwaves.
If you already have relevant music industry job experience on your resume while you’re still in school, you have an advantage.
Campus Record Label
If you’re lucky enough to have a record label at your school, you’ll have access to almost all of the positions you’d find at a successful indie—and if not, you could probably create the role you want. (Putting out records is not an easy business, and most people will take all the help they can get.) While there may be some overlap of duties, you’ll likely find positions similar to Director of A&R, Promotion Manager and Music Website Webmaster. Since college labels often do more in-house work than a big label normally would, you might also be able to find a position as a Recording Engineer or Record Producer. Enterprising communications students could create a position as a Staff Publicist, as this role isn’t always readily available at campus labels.
If your school has an all ages on-campus venue, you can immerse yourself in the world of live music without having to put up with the super late nights that can go along with a full-time job as a Talent Buyer or Nightclub Manager. As a Talent Buyer, you’ll work with outside Booking Agents to secure bands for the venue. As a Nightclub Manager, you’ll be there well before the show starts and after it ends, making sure everything is running smoothly. Aspiring Sound Technicians can also find work experience at a campus venue, and if you’re a performer looking to launch a career, this is a great place to start.
Campus Concert Hall
The positions you’ll find at your campus concert hall (usually an auditorium featuring an array of dance, theatrical and contemporary and classical musical performances) are similar in some ways to what you’ll find at a campus venue. However, you’re more likely to work in an assistant capacity here since professionals will be booking big names like the Moscow Ballet or Anoushka Shankar. While working at the concert hall as a Promotions & Marketing Assistant, you’ll be able to learn about advertising and community involvement, which can set you up for a role as a Concert Hall Marketing Director.
One of the best ways to get into this work environment is by getting a job as an Usher, a position for which halls and auditoriums always hire dozens of students. This could lead to a role as a House Manager, who will oversee the Ushers and ensure the behind-the-scenes logistics are being handled correctly. Working as a House Manager will put you in a position to learn from the full-time Stage Manager, and to set you up for a Stage Manager job yourself after graduation.
Working a music job while you’re in school is about building a future for yourself, in an industry you love.
Working as a Recording Tech will give you valuable on-the-job training if your goal is to become a Recording Engineer. In this role, students set up, troubleshoot and record live performances, usually under the aegis of the Music Department. You’ll be working with student orchestras, bands, choirs and smaller ensembles, which is a great way to gain experience with the world of classical music. Whether you’re interested in Mozart or not, experience as a Recording Tech will help you stand out from your Engineer peers, who have probably only worked on a much smaller scale, with four-person rock bands or seven person rap crews.
Campus Marketing Representative
Campus Marketing Representatives are usually hired to be the boots on the ground for a major record label, although independent label positions do exist. If your favorite label doesn’t offer this opportunity, you can always contact them to see if they’re open to creating one. These positions are also available through Radio Promoters and tech/lifestyle companies like Apple. Campus Marketing Reps usually work alone, but they’re out in the community, establishing relationships with local music organizations. In this job you could spend a morning passing out promotional posters to instrument stores and hip clothing boutiques, an afternoon checking out inventory and label displays at a small indie record store, or an evening throwing a listening party at a local bar or concert venue. If you want to work for a label this is a good way to build up work history and get to know label employees, but since you’ll be making so many connections in your local music community, the networking you do will expose you to an even wider circle of people who can help you get a job after graduation.
You know the people passing out fliers after a show? That’s a Street Team. Employed by record labels, radio stations, Concert Promoters, or concert venues, a Street Team Member’s main job is to make sure consumers know about upcoming events. They do this by hitting the pavement to drop off fliers and posters. It’s not glamorous, but you’ll meet a lot of other students with similar interests, and if you put in your time and show your dedication, you can impress the radio station or record label’s Promotions Department and get your resume noticed when an entry-level job opens up.
Working as a Record Store Clerk obviously opens you up to the possibility of someday becoming a Record Store Manager, but since this is one of those jobs that puts you in contact with the wider music community, you’ll also be able to work the connections you make to get you into all kinds of music jobs. If you work at a larger record store, you might be able to segue into a role in retail buying or publicity/marketing. And since many stores book in-store performances, this can be good experience for an aspiring Talent Buyer or Concert Promoter.
In all honesty, if you land one of these jobs, your friend who works at the sports bar on Saturday night is probably going to have more cash to throw around than you. But working a music job while you’re in school is about building a future for yourself, in an industry you love. It’s about gaining work experience, making friends, and building relationships with industry professionals before you’re in the workforce. You might be making minimum wage or a bit higher, but most of the jobs listed above also reward you with free concert tickets, CDs, and T-shirts, which will help you save a little money while getting out there and gaining valuable experience in the industry.
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