Ever since she was a little girl, the Academy of Country Music Awards show has been one of Katelyn Larson’s favorite nights of the year.
A lifelong country music fan, Katelyn loves the music, the artists and the hoopla that come with a show that celebrates the best and brightest in the country music world.
So it wasn’t surprising that as a UW-Eau Claire freshman Katelyn wrote on her Facebook page that she was looking forward to someday working for the ACMs.
Still she did a double take when her old ACM Facebook post popped up two years later as a memory — just days after she got word this fall that she’d landed a much coveted semester-long internship with ACM.
“I remember writing the post but it was really a hope and dream that someday I’d have a chance to be part of it,” says Katelyn, now a junior majoring in organizational communication with a topical minor in music management. “I’ve always talked with my friends about things like the ACMs as a career goal, but I never dreamed it would happen now.”
With just a few weeks left of her whirlwind semester working out of the ACM offices in Los Angeles, Katelyn says the experience was everything she dreamed it would be and more.
“I totally love it,” says Katelyn of her California-based internship. “There really are no limits here. They want you to learn as much as you can while you’re here so they let you just jump right in and be a part of everything. There are so many things I’ve done these last few months that I would never have thought I could do before I left Eau Claire in January.”
A native of Rhinelander, Katelyn says every second of the internship — from the lengthy interview process to finding her way around LA on her own to playing a part in making the 2016 ACM events a success — has been an adventure and a learning opportunity.
“I never thought I could jump on an airplane with three suitcases and head into the unknown,” Katelyn says of moving to LA for her internship. “Just doing that was huge for me. I’ve never been in a city this big before. I had a day to settle in before I started the internship. Just getting to work the first day was an adventure. It’s all been crazy but so, so good.”
The star-studded ACM awards ceremony in Las Vegas in April celebrates and recognizes some of country music’s greatest talents, but the ACM also includes a variety of popular events around the ceremony, including a weekend-long ACM Party for a Cause Festival.
Much of Katelyn’s internship centered on special events and the festival, which attracts thousands of country music fans and raises hundreds of millions of dollars for worthy causes.
Of the 12 interns hired this spring by ACM, Katelyn and one other intern were primarily assigned to the festival and special events.
“It was amazing to find out that I could get paperwork for artists to perform,” Katelyn says of her work with the festival. “I would help with the process of sending emails to managers; I couldn’t believe I was emailing Sam Hunt’s manager about his contract. There were so many things I’ve done now that I’d never expected to be able to do at this point in my life.”
As long as she can remember, Katelyn’s dreamed of being part of the music industry, not on the stage but behind the scenes.
“I loved going to concerts as a little girl with my parents but I always wanted to meet the managers instead of the artists,” says Katelyn, a singer and a songwriter who says she’s too shy to perform for a crowd but loves jamming with friends around a campfire. “My dream has always been to manage bands or be involved in the music industry in that way; it’s never been about being on the stage myself.”
Still, she says, it was pretty awesome to be backstage at the ACMs watching and mingling with some of the biggest names in country music.
“It was so exciting to be around all these artists,” Katelyn says. “You never knew who you were going to see or when. I’m a big fan of Cam’s and I got to watch her on stage and then shake her hand backstage. Kenny Chesney was there … I remember listening to him when I was little. It was all extremely exciting.”
With her eye on a future career in the entertainment world, being part of the ACMs as an intern is an enormous step toward making her dream a reality.
“I’m getting a chance to experience and excel in a field that I love, and a field that I hope to make my career,” says Katelyn. “I’m doing something that is so important to me that it’s giving me the drive to work even harder so I can be better than I’d ever hoped I could be.”
She took her first steps toward her hoped-for career in the music industry almost as soon as she arrived on the UW-Eau Claire campus three years ago.
She sought out on-campus jobs that are connected to the fields of communications and events planning, she’s had internships with Country Jam USA, and she’s worked at high-profile music festivals like last summer’s inaugural Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival.
Those real-world experiences convinced her she was following the right path toward a future that she believes is going to be something pretty great.
So when she learned about the ACM internship opportunity just a day before the application deadline, she knew she’d be staying up into the wee hours of the night to write her cover letter and polish her resume.
“Those other experiences were great but I knew that this would be about a hundred times bigger so there was no way I was not going to try for it,” Katelyn says. “A few days later, they called and asked if I could do a phone interview that night. The next week, I got an email saying I’d had moved on so they wanted to do another interview, about two months later, this time on Skype. That was new to me; the whole interview process was a great learning experience.
“I think my passion for it drove me to do better with each interview — I was so determined. I was driving home for Thanksgiving when they called to offer me the internship. I had tears in my eyes I was so excited and so thankful to be part of something so big, and to know I’d be part of something I’d been watching since I was a little girl.”
While she knew she’d have a lot to learn in her high-profile internship, she also knew UW-Eau Claire had helped prepare her well to make the most of the opportunity.
From professors who encouraged her to dream big to class projects that took her outside her comfort zone, UW-Eau Claire has created learning experiences that helped her succeed in what she considers a once-in-a-lifetime internship opportunity.
A special topics class she took in the fall that focuses on the music industry was especially helpful, says Katelyn, noting that the class, taught by Jason Anderson, touched on artists’ contracts and riders.
“Jason really sparked my interest in contracts,” Katelyn says. “We dipped into it in class, which really helped me in my internship. You learn a lot about artists from their contracts. It’s all confidential stuff so it’s a huge responsibility to have access to them.”
While the internship has been rewarding, it’s also been a lot of hard work, Katelyn says.
In the months leading up the April events and awards show, Katelyn spent time creating signage and taking care of countless other details that are critical to the success of the ACM festivities.
“I did a lot of things that I’d never done before,” Katelyn says. “I had to twist my brain in a lot of different ways to figure it all out. I had to figure out how to get thousands of people to the information booth or to the water stations. I had to figure out transportation maps that were reviewed and reviewed again for each different type of patron attending the festival, be it talent, production, a festival goer or an attendee coming from the shuttle. My work was important to helping thousands of people navigate the festival grounds so it was something I took very seriously.”
Seeing her work come to life in such a big way was an amazing feeling, Katelyn says.
“We got off the plane in Vegas, stopped at the hotel briefly and then headed straight to the festival grounds to start unloading trucks,” Katelyn says of the festival. “The festival went Friday to Sunday; it’s a really big deal. It was crazy being around these artists all weekend long. You didn’t know who you were going to run into but you’d find yourself walking by or talking to these amazing people. When the festival ended, we headed to MGM where the party continued at All-Star Jam, a party created by artists that continues after the awards show to keep the entertainment going. It was surreal being there.”
The internship is giving her valuable insight into the music industry, but she’s also taking from it skills that will serve her well in all areas of her life.
“It’s teaching me to be a professional,” Katelyn says. “I have to meet very specific deadlines, and do it while working around other people’s schedules. I had to learn how to rely on and work alongside others who have different work styles than me. There are a number of people involved in projects so we had to share ideas and work together. Those are the kinds of things that are really important in everything you do in any job but they are things you can’t get in a class or in a study group.”
And living in LA for several months has been a learning experience all of its own, Katelyn says.
The diversity of people living there is stunning, she says, noting that just within her apartment complex she’s met people from all over the world.
“I’ve become more sensitive to how others experience and see the world around them, and I think that’s a really good thing,” Katelyn says.
Now that she’s had a taste of being part of the music industry, Katelyn is more confident than ever that she wants to work in the industry after she graduates.
“I’d love to work for the ACMs someday,” Katelyn says. “I may move to Nashville to work in the industry there. Maybe I’ll start out managing bands so I can be on the road and experience all parts of the industry. Someday I’d like to be an agent when I’m ready to settle down in one place; managing an artist also is a future goal. And I want to keep writing songs.”
Katelyn hopes the knowledge, experiences and professional mentors she found through her ACM internship will help her get her foot in the door in the competitive music industry after she earns her degree in May 2017.
While she values the connections she now has within the industry, she also greatly appreciates being part of a campus community that encourages and believes in students as they chase their dreams.
“It was so cool to see so many of my professors, mentors and friends be so excited and encouraging as I was going through the ACM interview process,” Katelyn says.
Being part of that kind of community makes it easier to believe that dreams can come true, Katelyn says.
“I would encourage every student to pursue whatever it is that makes them happy,” says Katelyn, who hopes to work this summer at festivals in the Eau Claire area. “I’ve never been so happy and excited in my life.
“I’m now connected to an industry that I love, but also looking forward to coming back to campus to finish strong my senior year.”
Read more about Katelyn's experiences on the MY UWEC blog.
Top photo caption: Lifelong country music fan Katelyn Larson landed a dream internship this spring, which took the Blugold to California to work with the Academy of Country Music Awards show.