21/11/2014 06:24 GMT | Updated 21/01/2015 05:59 GMT

Investing in the Future of Music Through Internships

When a little-known experimental hip-hop trio called Young Fathers strode off the Roundhouse stage with the Mercury prize recently, one fact was startling: the band had sold fewer than 2,400 copies of their record in the UK.

If you think the award-winners might be under-appreciated, spare a thought for the off-stage workers who made their performance possible. Long before, and after, the glitz and glamour of the event, hundreds of music industry employees worked like crazy behind the scenes to ensure Young Fathers and the other nominees gave the performance of their lives.

And beyond the Mercury prize, what is certain is that bands like Young Fathers wouldn't have made it this far without the help of composers, publishers, engineers, producers, and the rest of the music eco-system.

The UK is known around the world for a thriving music industry. It contributes £3.8bn to our economy. It sustains over 110,000 full-time jobs, including those crucial behind-the-scenes roles. We are defined on a global stage by artists like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran. But it's not just those big names who bring in money. The less well known composers and bands keep the industry in business and help shape its future.

The future of the music industry that makes Britain great today relies on investment in young people and talent. The industry must help young people get the right skills for a modern music career and give them opportunities to allow us to maintain our world-leading edge in the future.

Like many other careers, starting out in music is not easy. Young people often struggle to get that first break, to give them the experience and networks they can then build on, especially if they don't know anyone already working in the industry. Many routes into the music world are unstructured.

UK Music is launching an Internship Code of Practice because we are committed to helping skilled and dedicated young people find a job in a music business. We also want to ensure a fairer workplace for budding music industry professionals. Offering paid internships is one way to ensure those entering the industry have an equal chance of developing their skills irrespective of their circumstance.

An internship should be a mutually beneficial arrangement, not just an employer exploiting free labour. For young people it is a chance to get a taste for what might be their dream job, to gain experience, to improve their CV. For executives already working in the music industry, having an intern gives them a chance to impart knowledge, to show that it's not all about being the lead singer, and to highlight the valuable roles the public don't often see, such as royalty administration, distribution or artist relations. A good internship programme should teach young people to see music as more than simply being on stage and performing, but as a business with long term employment prospects.

The UK Music Code of Practice will protect young people against exploitation by offering a formal structure and pay policy. Offering the minimum wage to interns is just one of the ways that we can work to ensure equality of opportunity in the music industry.

Saying that an internship should not be paid because it is an opportunity ignores the fact that some from poorer backgrounds cannot afford to take certain opportunities. For example, many internships in London favour the rich because of the prohibitively high costs of accommodation or travel.

The music industry is playing a leading role in showing other industries some best practice Universal Music's 12-month internship scheme offers young people a chance to experience every part of their business from A&R, marketing, promotions and digital through to creative strategy, finance and sales. Interns are paid the London living wage. Sony Music UK's Intern Academy provides 12 month paid internships for more than 20 young people every year. Live Nation gives pays interns at their London HQ and across the country at their numerous festivals and venues.

Some politicians were roundly condemned last year for criticising unpaid internships while themselves employing young people paid only expenses. But the Government is taking steps to tidy its own House: The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills is calling for fair and transparent internships.

We got help from the Arts Council England, HMRC and Intern Aware, to draw up our Code of Practice. It publicly states a commitment to set conditions to ensure internships are fair, paid and transparent however big the business and wherever it is based. It is a statement of intent.

I hope that employers will adopt this Code and its practices, and I hope Parliament, follows our lead. British youngsters deserve the best possible chances in life. The grown-ups in businesses up and down our country need to start behaving as if they understand their responsibilities. As the economy picks up, it is to the benefit of all our futures to ensure everyone gets an equal opportunity to learn and to forge a career doing something they love.