How to get into the music business

How to Get into the Music Business

The music business is a complex organism with different branches feeding, supporting, and stemming from one another. If you’re just getting started in your career, it can seem a little confusing and intimidating, but with a basic knowledge of how the various fields nurture different facets of the business, things get a lot less mystifying. What’s great about the complexity of the music business ecosystem is there’s a potential job for anyone out there interested in the ‘biz: a job that makes use of your unique skill set, passion, and educational background. Let’s take a look at the many different fields falling under the umbrella of the term “music business” and the jobs available in each.

Performers & Writers

Under this broad heading, we have the people who make the music. These folks are some of the biggest names in the industry: think Singers like Rihanna, the Lyricist who wrote the words to her latest hit, and the Music Producer who created the beat. Of course, not every artist in this field is a household name — so what other types of people work as performers or writers? And how do you know if you’re the type of person who’d be good at the job? These are some of the career opportunities for performers and writers you might encounter in Nashville, Los Angeles, New York, or any other big centers of the music industry. If the description sounds interesting, click on the job title to learn more about what kind of person would thrive in the role and what you need to do to make yourself a competitive job candidate.

  • Cruise Ship Musicians travel the world, save money, and perform a wide range of genres to entertain cruise ship guests.
  • Jazz Musicians are well-trained artists who are passionate about performing jazz. They often teach music and record with other artists to supplement their income.
  • Nightclub DJs pick songs to keep the dance floor moving at clubs, festivals, and parties.
  • Session Singers are hired to add backing vocals to recording sessions and sing backup onstage.
  • Session Musicians are highly-skilled performers who play their instruments to back up artists in the studio or onstage.
  • Songwriters write lyrics and music for famous artists to sing.
  • Sound Designers have composing and sound recording skills they use to create a feeling or an atmosphere, usually in a video game.
  • Video Game Composers write and record music specifically for use in the game industry.

Check out all the Performers & Writers careers here


You guessed it: these people record the music. That’s not all they do, however — if you’ve got technological know-how and gifted ears, there’s a wealth of careers in the recording world in which you can find your niche. This isn’t just the obvious stuff like Recording Engineers or Record Producers, but equally integral but less discussed positions like Mastering or Mix Engineers.

  • Arrangers work with Producers and artists who have an idea for a song or a section of a song and need a professional to write out and arrange the parts.
  • Assistant Engineers work with experienced studio Engineers to set up the studio and help maintain equipment while learning and developing their skill set.
  • Copyists work with Arrangers and Orchestrators to take the different parts of a song and put them down on paper so a member of an orchestra or a Session Musician will know what to play.
  • Orchestrators take a Composer’s rough sketches or ideas and turn them into full-fledged musical compositions.
  • Production Music Writers write music specifically for use in setting the mood in film, TV, or commercials.

Check out all the Recording careers here.

What’s great about the complexity of the music business ecosystem is there’s a potential job for anyone out there interested in the ‘biz: a job that makes use of your unique skill set, passion, and educational background.

Record Labels

Whether you’re jonesing to sign on with a major or you’re fiercely DIY, no one can deny the power and connections record labels have simply by virtue of having been in the game for so long and working with so many top notch professionals. Record labels are a one-stop shop for artists, which is why so many people still dream of getting signed today. Although smaller labels sometimes hire outside professionals for certain jobs, at a big label you’ll find the following departments: marketing, sales, publicity, promotion, A&R, distribution, product manufacturing, digital marketing/social media, and in some cases, publishing.

  • A&R Administrators work behind-the-scenes to ensure the A&R department runs smoothly and sticks to the budget.
  • A&R Coordinators find new talent for the label and oversee the completion of new albums.
  • A&R Directors find and sign new talent, pair them with established artists, and determine the musical direction of their label.
  • Artist Relations and Development Representatives make sure the artist is being treated well and help him or her make smart business decisions to develop and further the artist’s career.
  • Campus Representatives promote the label and its artists to college students and help set up events with local independent shops and media.
  • Marketing Coordinators handle marketing opportunities for a label and its artists in the digital, tour, and retail sectors.
  • Promotion Managers work to get radio play for a label’s artists.
  • Staff Publicists write press releases and garner media coverage for the label’s artists.

Check out all the Record Label careers here.

Publishing & Licensing

What types of jobs fall under the Publishing heading? What does publishing even mean? These are the good people who handle the words and notated music for songs, whereas record companies often just handle the recorded music (aka the finished tunes you hear on the radio and in clubs). If you work in publishing you could spend your day pitching demo versions of songs to labels and artists for them to record or you might collect income from sales of printed music. If you work in licensing, you’ll spend your day finding songs to feature in commercials, film, TV, and video games and trying to convince film industry types they should use said song.

Publishing is one of the fastest growing segments of the industry, yet many people still don’t know exactly what publishing entails…which means there might just be a better chance for you to get a foot in the door in this lesser known yet super important segment of the industry. Licensing is a very hot field right now, and with more productions in the works due to companies like Netflix and Hulu throwing their hats into the dramatic content ring, opportunities are always out there, if you have the skills and connections and know where to look.

  • Licensing Representatives pitch music from their catalog to film industry decision makers (such as Music Supervisors) in hopes of getting a song featured in a TVshow/film/commercial.
  • Music Publishers manage teams of Songwriters who write demo versions of tracks they can pitch to artists and their record labels for possible recording. They also own the rights to catalogs of music; performers must pay them if they want to record a cover version.
  • Professional Managers/Song Pluggers work full-time pitching tracks to artists and record labels to see if they’re interested in recording them.

Check out all the Publishing & Licensing careers here.

Live Concert Industry

So much work goes into putting on a concert tour. Behind-the-scenes there’s work for experts in lighting, sound, and different musical instruments. There’s the person who drives the tour bus, the person who makes sure the band hits the road on time and gets paid correctly, and the people who book and promote the concerts. If the atmosphere surrounding concerts is exciting to you and you don’t mind late nights, the good news is the live music industry is one of the segments of the business which continues to grow and bring in more revenue — which means more opportunities for jobseekers — whether you’re itching to hit the road or want to work at a specific venue.

  • Booking Agents work with Promoters and Talent Buyers to get artists on their roster booked at venues.
  • Concert Hall Managers manage all staff and oversee the daily operations of a concert hall.
  • Concert Hall Marketing Directors handle the marketing of the concert hall and its upcoming concerts.
  • Concert Promoters book artists, put together shows, and handle all aspects of marketing the event and dealing with artists.
  • Production Managers are the big bosses on tour, managing all technical departments, from staging to video to lighting.
  • Roadies, such as Guitar Techs and Lighting Techs, travel with touring acts to set up and maintain gear.
  • Sound Technicians make sure the live sound at a venue sounds great.
  • Talent Buyers book shows and find support acts for the specific venue where they work.
  • Tour Coordinators manage the financial aspects of a tour, reconciling shows and negotiating deals.
  • Tour Managers handle transportation and accommodations for the touring band and its crew, making sure the artists get where they’re supposed to be on time.
  • Tour Publicists work with media outlets across the country to get local press for an artist’s shows.

Check out all the Live Concert Industry careers here.

For those just getting started in the business, know it’s probably not going to be easy your first few years after graduation. It can take time to land your music industry dream job, but you can spend this time wisely by trying out all different kinds of positions in the business and learning how the different fields interconnect.

How to Get into the Music Business

If you’ve ever applied to a job opening at a record label, recording studio, or concert venue, you already know the competition is fierce for jobs in the music business. However, there are a few crucial factors that can really up your chances for success when looking for your first job in the business. It’s important to start early: like, “before freshman year of college” early. Here’s what you can do to get a leg up on the competition once you’re ready to start your music industry job hunt.

Choose your college and your college major wisely
Not all college music programs offer the same benefits. If you’re shopping for a degree program — whether you’re enrolling in undergraduate or graduate school — you need to do some serious research. Look for schools in or close to cities with a lively music scene. Outside of school, this will offer networking, internship, and mentoring opportunities. It also means a strong chance of your school employing faculty who are actively working in music, which means they’ll not only be up on the latest industry news and practices, they’ll also be well connected in the wider music world.

So, what kind of degree will properly prepare you for the career you want?

If you’re an aspiring performer, Lyricist, or Songwriter, consider a General Music, Music Performance — or if you lean more towards the pop/modern music side of things — Contemporary Music degree. These programs feature coursework in music theory, composition, and performance, with an eye to giving students a well-rounded musical education to prepare them to be the next generation of musical artists.

Interested in recording or producing music? Attending a production school will help you learn the ropes of studio life and possibly even connect you to internship or job shadowing opportunities. Whereas many of the other types of careers in this list require (or at least can benefit from) a four-year degree, the variety of programs at production schools will differ. Some are only a matter of weeks, others a couple of years, and yet still others are for a full four years. What each of the programs offers varies widely, so the smart thing to do is to look through our list of production schools and find the program which best meets your needs.

Want to work in publishing, a record label or the live music industry? There’s a bit more leeway for you folks. You can basically major in anything that prepares you for the workforce, whether you’re learning writing skills in an English program, business leadership in a (yes) Business program, or whatever else floats your boat and can give you valuable skills. However, a Music Business program should be at the top of your list, of course. Programs like these help students learn through relevant industry coursework in (depending on the school) topics such as publishing, entertainment law, marketing, and so on. These programs also prioritize helping students find work after college through their focus on multiple internships and connection-making.

While you’re in school it’s a smart idea to load up on extracurriculars or student jobs that can help you get industry experience before you even graduate. Many schools have college radio stations and campus venues staffed largely by students. By signing on to volunteer or work at one of these organizations, you’ll learn about the business, how the organization works, make connections with people in the industry, and meet friends with similar interests who will someday become your music business colleagues.

It’s also a good idea to join any relevant professional associates with collegiate chapters. Some examples of this would include the Audio Engineering Society, Grammy U, and the Music and Entertainment Industry Student Association. These groups are great for networking and continuing your education outside the classroom. They can also look pretty nice on a resume, especially if the person interviewing you is also a member (or was in college).

Campus jobs, volunteer opportunities, and student associations not only give you valuable industry experience, when you’re applying for internships, they show you’re serious about building a career in the business. If you’ve chosen a college with a strong Music Business degree program, the faculty and staff should have solid connections to internship programs with influential companies.

But don’t wait for the perfect internship to fall into your lap! Talk to the internship program coordinator at your school and do your own research, too. Lots of companies from all segments of the music industry — from boutique recording studios to major record labels — post their internship openings online. Certain companies will even post openings on their websites. So if there’s a certain place where you dream of interning (and possibly even finding a job after school), start planning right away. Find out when they post their internships, what they offer, and what they’re looking for in an Intern. Then get out there and make yourself into their ideal candidate through enrolling in the right classes, joining professional organizations and wetting your feet in the biz through campus jobs or volunteer opportunities.

In closing

There’s no one perfect formula to guarantee you a successful career in the music industry. For those just getting started in the business, know it’s probably not going to be easy your first few years after graduation. It can take time to land your music industry dream job, but you can spend this time wisely by trying out all different kinds of positions in the business and learning how the different fields interconnect. Bank up industry knowledge while you’re still in school by carefully choosing your classes and putting yourself in the running for available work opportunities. If you follow our advice, you’ll be on the right track once it’s time to start sending out resumes and you’ll have met a lot of people in the business who can help you establish a career and flourish in your chosen field long after you receive your diploma.

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