Sometimes, being in the right place at the right time can make all the difference. For fourth-year ethnomusicology student Forrest Mitchell, it helped him land an internship at Atlantic Records.
“The internship was sort of a tip from a friend who’s actually doing really well there,” Mitchell said. “He put me in touch with the woman who deals with all the internships there. I turned in my resume and she got promoted. It was a right place, right time connection-based sort of thing.”
Mitchell started his internship at the start of spring quarter and said it has been a great opportunity to learn more about the inner workings of the music industry. Beyond making copies and logging data, Mitchell said he has also learned about the financial and business aspects of Atlantic Records by working with his boss, Charles Bergmann, who is the studio manager and assistant to the company’s president of worldwide artists and repertoire.
“(Bergmann) basically manages the whole studio in Hollywood, so he’s being exposed to all facets of the music industry at a major record label,” Mitchell said. “I’m able to see what he’s doing and learn from him directly, because I’m basically his assistant.”
Along with academic demands and interning at the record label, he has also remained a faithful member of UCLA-based band Free Food and the group he has played drums in since high school – The Thirstbusters.
Mitchell said his immediate plan is to stay at Atlantic Records as long as he can, and he enjoys working and learning about the artists and repertoire side of the music industry.
A typical day on the job can be fairly unpredictable, depending on what the company’s needs are and what Bergmann asks him to do. Mitchell’s responsibilities range from clerical tasks to answering calls and interacting with visiting artists.
Within the realm of A&R, Mitchell is often responsible for looking for new talent for the label, which can be a daunting task. As a musician, Mitchell said it is often difficult to decide which types of music gets presented to the label and which artists are turned down.
“It’s really funny because in a lot of ways I’m like the bad guy to my former self,” Mitchell said. “I’ve already been in situations where I’m deciding whether or not we even look at various artists that get sent in. I’m on the other side of the table.”
Mitchell also said there are a variety of factors that he must consider when evaluating prospective artists, including their marketability and what is trending in the music world.
“It’s a lot of hypothesizing, and then just using my own ear and my own experience with music. We’re mainly looking at vocalists right now, and I can tell what a certain person’s experience level is or how much training they’ve had by watching their videos and listening to their recordings,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said that this A&R experience has helped him and his band resolve debates and figure out how to spend their time and get noticed.
“So many of those questions are being answered just from me being in the studio,” Mitchell said. “Of course, it’s just one label’s take on it, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what people are looking for right now, so that’s been huge.”
Mitchell and his Thirstbusters bandmates, including fourth-year ethnomusicology student Ryan Thomas and childhood friend Chase Jackson, will perform at The Roxy Theatre on June 20 and also hope to record an EP over the summer.
Jackson said he and Mitchell first played together in their middle school jazz band. He said Mitchell’s goal has always been to pursue music and learn as much as possible about the industry.
Thomas, who met Mitchell as a member of the Berkeley High School jazz ensemble, said he understands Mitchell’s time constraints.
“He’s learning a bunch of stuff over there, and he relates it back to us,” Thomas said. “It’s constant work. … We try to make the most of it and whenever we have a spare second we’re working on original songs or doing business stuff or working on our social media.”
Although he is still passionate about performing and creating original music, Mitchell said this internship has also helped him develop other interests related to the music industry. Mitchell plans to continue his A&R duties with Atlantic Records through the summer, and said he hopes to secure a permanent position with the record company.
“I really was super hard-set on being a performer, and that’s still the No. 1 goal, but since I am graduating and it’s kind of now or never, I’m trying to cultivate an industry-business side as well and make connections so I have multiple options,” Mitchell said. “I wouldn’t have thought to do A&R before.”