This blog is about music, my love for it, what is destroying it and what is making it better.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Unpaid Internships: The Travesty

As summer winds down and school begins, I reflect back on the last three months with a little frustration. At the end of last year's semester, I realized that, like many other college students, summer was a great time to get work experience in the form of an internship. As I began my search for an internship late in the semester, I did not expect to find the internship of my dreams. But when I walked into the office’s of Universal Music Group, that’s exactly what I thought I had found. I marveled at the platinum record plaques, the glass wall full of graffiti by some of my favorite artists and the general feeling of fun. To get a taste of some of the big names aritsts they represent check this out. The interview went smoothly as the interviewer and I talked about the current trends in music. The official title for what I was applying for was “Netreach Online Music Marketing Intern.” Walking back to my car after the interview, all I could think was, “Wow, I really hope I get this internship.” Two day later, I get a call back informing me that I got the internship. Little did I know that, instead of work experience, I would be exploited and would also be forced to exploit others.

The description of the job that I received on the day of my interview sounded pretty good. To give you a synopsis, what I would be doing is gathering information about what people on the internet thought about artists. I would be doing this by posting about artists on websites, writing album reviews and researching what people had said about an artist on the internet. The only downside it seemed is that I was not being paid for my work. The interviewer proudly told me, “that I would never have to get coffee because it wasn’t one of ‘those’ internships. After working there for a few weeks, I realized that the interviewer did not lie to me but rather, he hid the truth in a very subversive manner. The only whole truth he told me was that I would not have to get coffee. Let’s break down his job description. I did write many posts on an array of different types of forums and message boards. What he didn’t tell me was how I was going to be doing it. I was told to assume an alias and post as if I were a fan. In my posts, I had to link to the artist’s website, write all the information about the release of an album and most importantly, subversively acknowledge that I was affiliated with Universal Music Group. I could do this by saying using the acronym “UMGD” which stands for Universal Music Group Distribution. In the three months I worked, only once did someone actually know what that meant. I basically had to lie. Here's an example. I did post album reviews but, all of them were obnoxiously supportive of the artist. Most of the artist’s that I had to post for, I didn’t like and thus, I had to lie again. Lastly, I did research the opinions of fans on the web. I did this by going back to my posts about those artists and recording the responses that I received.

On the Universal Music Website, they describe Netreach, the division of Universal I would be working under, “as a full-scale online grassroots marketing company, offering third party promotions, search engine optimization, fan postings, and the creation of artist fan clubs.” This is a pretty accurate description of what the company does as a whole except for the fan postings part because unpaid interns are doing these so called ‘fan postings’, not fans. This brings me to my next point; music fans are being lied to and exploited. I, in slang terminology, am a shill. According to, a shill is “A person engaged in covert advertising. The shill attempts to spread buzz by personally endorsing the product in public forums with the pretense of sincerity, when in fact he is being paid for his services.” I am not a true shill because I don’t get paid. In my opinion, what I am is worse. Many people recognize my posts as coming from a shill and simply ignore them or take them for what they really are, advertisements. It’s the people who don’t see these posts as advertising that I am primarily concerned about. I exploited their trust in order to raise awareness of artists and sell records. I have many issues with this and I hope to post how I dealt with some of them in future posts. Right now, I am alarmed at how this type of covert endorsements is spreading and changing. Today, I read in the New York Times that a senior editor of the blog, The New Republic, was suspended for anonymously writing rebuttals to readers who commented about his posts. This is very similar to what I have been doing and it alarms me because people’s trust is being taken advantage of all over the internet. Please be aware of who you believe and trust on the internet, people are trying to take advantage of you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

very interesting "arty james" you think that I am being watched? Late at night, I lay in bed and think about what people may have seen me doing...

2:59 PM


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