I detest the concept of unpaid internships. That is my opinion and others may differ, and that’s their right. It’s never the interns’ fault, but I think they’re fundamentally wrong because I believe an hour of human labour should have a minimum value and that we have a minimum wage for a damn good reason. I can’t disassociate that from my political views. If anybody wants to forego payment of their own accord, that’s their decision and it’s a free country, and this is different to working for free on a movie and so on and so forth. Lots of people believe you have to pay your dues and yeah, there’s some truth to that. This is a bit different however. I also say this having worked for someone who was scrupulously fair and way beyond that and treated his employees incredibly well at the outset of my career, and perhaps that informs this a bit.
There’s a huge difference between the employee’s choice and the employer’s, and we have a legal minimum wage. Not looking to get into a political debate about that mind you, and to those who would do unpaid internships, you gotta do what you gotta do, and I think it’s great that people are proactive and try and get their foot in the door, so full power to you.
But employers, you DO have to follow some rules, because a) that’s the LAW, especially in CA, and b) that’s frankly, common human decency. They have to eat. We all work in music because it has this “higher calling” aspect to it, but that can blinker some and cause situations that really are wrong. Again, this is different to scoring someone’s movie for free because you choose to.
More to the point, nobody bar perhaps a tiny handful of people (e.g. some with the initials JW, HZ and maybe a small handful beyond) are so incredible in their presence that these rules of decency might *possibly* be suspended…and I’m reasonably certain that most of them wouldn’t ever dream of it anyhow, ironically enough. To everybody else, without exception, the rest of us can assure you that your farts smell the same as ours, so quit being a cheapskate and pony up some cash for people doing actual work for you.
The law exists in CA, and it’s pretty damn clear, unpaid interns cannot:
1) do work that is solely to benefit you and not directly to benefit the intern;
2) do work that would be done by your regular employees and displaces work they would ordinarily do;
3) do work that gives you immediate advantage or remuneration – an unpaid internship should ordinarily actually come at a cost to you to be a legal unpaid internship. That’s right, a cost to you.
To anybody who is using unpaid interns or thinking of doing so however:
THINGS IT IS OK FOR INTERNS TO DO IF THEY ARE NOT PAID
A) Watch and learn
B) Get stuck in on sessions or the days work, help out with the day to day running of things to a reasonable extent
C) Do things they might do in a similar situation in college (so, they might help set up microphones on a session in college, for example)
D) not really very much beyond that.
THINGS IT IS ABSOLUTELY, MOST DEFINITELY NOT OK TO ASK AN UNPAID INTERN TO DO:
A) Your laundry or cleaning your studio toilets (I’ve heard of it happening!)
B) Being your agent or rep and finding you work or similar
C) Writing music that you’re meant to write
D) Anything that you couldn’t reasonably consider to be bona fide training
E) Anything you ordinarily have to pay someone to do
F) Anything where you have any doubt at all, because 99.99% of the time, the doubt is because it’s wrong
G) Anything that actively makes you money.
Yeah, there’s NO chance they’ll sue you if you do the above. Because you’ll badmouth them if they do, or at least, they’re scared you will. It’s amazing how much is done out of fear. It’s a small industry.
Yeah, there’s lots of people wanting a foot in the door.
Yeah, that means you can find another in 10 minutes if one leaves.
Yeah, you might get five emails a week from people graduating looking for an internship.
Yeah, it’s hard to find great people amongst the crowd of good people and who doesn’t want to try before they buy?
Whatever. That’s not the point.
If you’re exploiting people, you’re an asshole.
If you think you’re so gosh-damned-spangled-awesome as your way of justifying not paying people for merely being in your amazing presence, and you’re not actively trying to teach them stuff (you will know if you are)…let me be the first and by no means the last to tell you that you’re not that awesome, almost nobody is, and you’re an asshole.
If you have people working for you on things that make you money, and you use that prior justification to not pay them (“they are learning by merely being in my awesome presence”) you’re an asshole.
If you give them anything to do that you would be actively hurt commercially if they don’t do it, and you can’t make your bottom line work without them doing it, and you don’t pay them, you’re an asshole.
If you think for a split second that the relationship might be a bit too much to your benefit, and feel a bit icky because of it…you’re right…you’re probably an asshole.
If you think for a split second that people aren’t bad mouthing you behind your back if you treat your interns like shit, think again. That gossip spreads like wildfire. We’ve all heard it. They think you’re an asshole. So do we.
If you EVER think, “what will they do, sue me?”, you’re a colossal, gigantic asshole.
As an industry, wherever you fall on the debate over composer fees, working conditions, whatever…unionization or not, whatever…any of that…whatever…a good start we can all adhere to is treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves.
PAY your employees, or be actually training unpaid interns in a meaningful measurable way and not exploiting them. Paid employees can walk if they want, and sometimes this is a tough business with difficult days, and yeah, the finances can be tough at times. We all know that. But money is the price of admission the employer MUST pay to that particular game, imho.
Maybe others disagree, but I’d dare anybody to say they think themselves awesome and genius enough to earn treating others like crap for no pay. I bet nobody has the balls to say it…so don’t do it. It’s great that the majority of people do right by people, but to the minority who don’t, don’t think we don’t take note. We do. And karma has this funny way of biting assholes in…funnily enough…the ass. People who are assholes to waiters in restaurants just because…karma is coming for you, and it’s gonna come in a spectacular way.
Here endeth the rant.