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Female DJ using mixer during live DJ set


Asian female singer in studio with mic


Music Director with headphones around her neck in the on-air studio at the radio station

Music Director

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Young Black male Drummer playing the drums


Young female Audio Engineer with soundboard in recording studio

Audio Engineer

Young female Pianist at piano


Young black male Music Producer in recording studio

Music Producer

Mastering engineer using mixing console in recording studio

Mastering Engineer

Record Producers working in a music studio

Record Producer

Female Guitarist in recording studio


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Lyricist listening to music and writing ideas in her notebook


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Opera Singer

Personal Manager in the recording studio with the band he manages

Personal Manager

Young female Bassist with her band


Music Teacher showing bass to young male music student

Music Teacher

Concertmaster playing his violin


Close up on a Composer's hands playing the piano


Director of A&R wearing headphones

Director of A&R

The music business is millions of people all around the world trying to do two things:

  1. Make awesome art and put it out into the world.
  2. Earn some money from that work.

It sounds simple enough, but really there are too many companies, roles, power players, and especially musicians to keep track of. Anyone can become quickly overwhelmed trying to learn all the names and job titles and what they all mean, but that hasn’t dissuaded countless music lovers from jumping in to make a living from the artform they can’t get enough of.

Things are changing every year in the music business, with streaming taking over from sales, Covid-19 completely upending the live industry and the internet making things much easier (in some ways, at least) for rising talents to create music, put it out into the world and finally get heard.

This article will deal with some frequently asked questions by those who may want to find a place in the music business, but who don’t yet know where, or how…or maybe even what the music industry really is.

Getting to Know the Music Business

Below are several questions that people of all ages often ask regarding the music business. Some of them might sound very simple, but when it comes to this industry, no answer is really cut-and-dry.

What businesses can you start in the music industry?

Hugh McIntyre

If you’re looking to work in the music industry, there are essentially three routes you can go. You can become a creative (a Songwriter, Producer or artist), go to work for a music company, or form your own. Of course, the latter option is not the easiest, but for those with an entrepreneurial mindset, it might be just what they’re looking for.

Here are some ideas for companies you can launch in the music industry:

Public Relations. Public relations firms, usually known as PR firms, are tasked with getting Bloggers and Journalists to write about or feature their clients in the magazines, newspapers, blogs and radio and TV shows they work for.

Artist Management. Many Managers who work with just one or two artists stick to themselves, while others create their own companies with several employees. These are the people who help shape the careers of the artists they work for, getting them deals, finding exciting opportunities, and generally keeping the stars on track.

Record Label. Record labels invest in musicians, giving them money to live on while they work on new songs and albums, and then the company releases that material in order to recoup the money that’s already been paid out, and hopefully to make a profit.

Booking Agency. Those who work at booking companies are in charge of doing everything from operating the daily talent at venues to securing gigs for all the Singers and bands they work with, depending on the role.

Promotion Company. Promotions professionals are like those at PR firms, though they don’t usually speak to the media in the same way. What exactly promotional companies do varies from firm to firm, but typically they are paid to get the newest releases from their clients played on the radio, included on streaming playlists, and perhaps even to deal with all the advertising online for a campaign.

How do you get into the music business?

Hugh McIntyre

Unlike some industries, there is no one path to get into the music industry. Some find that difficult, while for others, it’s a comfort because it means that anyone with enough drive and intelligence can eventually make a living doing what they love. While everyone’s journey will be different, here are a few tips that should be helpful to anyone considering working in the world of music.

1. Research. Before you decide you want to work in music, do some research to find out what that really means. Many people think they’d like to be involved in the exciting field, but they don’t actually know what they want to do. Spend time reading about the different jobs available in the music business, what people in the field do every day, as well as how they got started. Are these high-paying careers? Are they creative? Do any of them sound interesting to you? If so, you’re off to a solid start.

2. College. College can be a fantastic entry into the music industry, for those just finishing high school or even people who already have jobs, but who are looking to switch things up a bit later down the line. Again, do some research into which colleges and universities are the best for those who want to get into the business. There are plenty of awesome degree programs (more on that in a bit) for anyone, from aspiring Cello Players to future media moguls.

3. Follow The Industry. If you want to work in the music industry, you should follow it online. Start reading publications like Billboard, Digital Music News, and Music Business Worldwide, all of which report on the big names and top companies in the space. After a while, you’ll get a feel for who the major players are, how everything works as well as what’s going on.

4. Internships. If you know you’re interested in the music industry, you don’t have to wait until after college to start accruing valuable experience. In fact, you don’t even have to begin after earning your degree. Look into music industry internships in your area that will allow you to kick off your career. These will be entry-level positions, but they’re incredibly important, and you’ll get to see what these jobs actually entail.

5. Create Something New. At some point, it will be time for you to go out and get a job. You can wait until that point to begin looking for roles at music companies, or you can become an entrepreneur and launch your own firm of some kind! After doing your research, making some connections, and perhaps picking up an internship or two, you should have a good idea of what you’d like to do. Now go out and make it a reality on your own terms!

How does the music business work?

Hugh McIntyre

The music business is a massive web of hundreds of interconnected companies with countless employees, all working incredibly hard to push new artists, songs, and albums to the masses and the top of the charts. Explaining it in depth could take thousands of words, but here’s the short version, for those looking for a quick answer.

In the music industry, it all begins with the music (obviously). Artists go into recording studios and make art. Sometimes they create it entirely on their own, while in many other instances, they work with outside Producers and Songwriters to craft tunes that might become big hits. Once the vocals and instrumentals are recorded, Mixers and Engineers get to work perfecting the sound.

This is all paid for by record labels (for those artists who have been lucky enough to sign a recording contract), which then own the rights to those recordings. The company then takes the finished work and promotes it with Publicists and radio, hoping the public will become interested in what’s coming or just released. From there, the masses can buy or stream the tunes, helping the record label begin to make money off of it.

Usually, once the firm has recouped what it invested and then made some profit, the artists begin earning royalties as well. After a new album is out, the band or musician will likely tour to promote it and make some more money, hopefully also selling branded merchandise to super fans as well.

This is, of course, an incredibly simplistic view of the music industry, and it leaves a lot out. Hopefully, it paints an easy-to-understand picture of how things happen and in what general order for those who didn’t know any of this before reading!

Top 5 Music Business Degree Programs

You’ve done your research, you’re already reading industry publications and you might even have landed an internship or worked in the music business in some small way. Now what? Well, if you’re committed to finding a full-time role in the field, or possibly creating your own, signing on to a music business-focused degree program is a fantastic idea.

But which ones are the best? Thankfully there are plenty of options out there, but here are a handful that you should look into first.

What is a music business major?

Hugh McIntyre

A number of high-profile colleges known to many in the music world (such as those mentioned in this article, as well as quite a few others all around the planet) offer not just business degrees, but ones aimed specifically at the music industry, and their names say so.

For example, Berklee College of Music offers a Music Business/Management major, and students can decide on one of three different tracks—management, marketing, or entrepreneurial. The institution also has a Bachelor of Arts in Music Industry Leadership and Innovation available, making it one of a very small number of colleges with several different undergraduate music business degrees.

Full Sail University, another school that those in the music industry will be very familiar with, offers diplomas for both an Entertainment Business Bachelor’s and a Music Business Bachelor’s.

Of course, there are countless people who have found work in the music industry or enjoyed lifelong careers without earning a degree that includes the word “music” at all. If you’re interested in being employed on the business side of things, you can choose to secure a diploma at any school in marketing, management, or other related fields, and then tailor your experience toward the entertainment biz.

Is a music business degree worth it?

Hugh McIntyre

There is a lot to consider before signing up for any college degree program, but while a serious decision such as this should be given lots of thought, it’s safe to assume that higher education is almost always “worth it.”

Earning a degree will all but ensure you’re able to find work at some point, even if not immediately. These days, most of the top companies in the music industry are all but unwilling to hire anyone who doesn’t have a diploma. Applying to jobs at record labels, booking companies, streaming services, and more will always be difficult, but having a degree (and one that’s specific to music) should help you gain a competitive edge over others who do not.

Of course, a degree isn’t everything, and at some point, whether you land a job or not will become more about what you’ve done in your career than just at school, so don’t think once you have the diploma in hand it’s smooth sailing. Also, consider that if you get a degree in something more general, it certainly won’t preclude you from working in the music industry, and it may even be a safer option.

What should I major in if I want to work in the music industry?

Hugh McIntyre

If you want to be a musician of any kind, there are many different degree tracks you can look into, but they are very different from what you should study if you want to be on the business side of the industry.

If you are excited about a future working in the music industry behind-the-scenes, here are some ideas of what you might want to earn a degree in:

  • Music Business
  • Music Technology
  • Marketing
  • Management
  • Public Relations
  • Communications
  • Publishing
  • Entertainment Law

Belmont University, Mike Curb College of Entertainment (Nashville, TN)

There are quite a few educational programs that have jumped into helping young people learn about the music industry, but few have focused on the live sector like the Mike Curb College of Entertainment located within Belmont University.

Nashville has long been a hub for performers, so it also attracts those who want to book musicians, run music venues and even work at companies that stick to the concert industry, and thus this is one of the best spots to secure not just a degree, but some excellent experience.

Belmont University

Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA)

Known all around the world as perhaps the best music college in the world, Berklee’s reputation is unparalleled. Whether you want to become a musician, a Singer or someone who works on the other side of the industry, the Boston institution has something for you.

In fact, unlike almost every other university that offers degrees in musical fields, Berklee is focused exclusively on music!

Berklee College of Music

Baldwin Wallace University (Berea, OH)

The oft-overlooked Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, OH has recently been improving its profile in the music industry, and that trend is sure to continue. Less than a decade ago, the organization created the arts management and entrepreneurship major. The school already teaches young people about both business and music, so combining the two makes sense.

It’s a fantastic program and one that deserves even more attention than it’s been receiving lately.

Baldwin Wallace University

Full Sail University (Winter Park, FL)

Originally a recording studio, Full Sail University moved from Ohio to Florida in the ‘80s and began teaching people how to do everything from run a record label to mix and master recordings for public consumption.

Unlike many colleges that offer music degree programs, Full Sail University is concerned with almost nothing else. The private, for-profit institution has become well-known in the industry as it has turned out more young and scrappy future marketers, Bookers, PR professionals, and other industry pros than almost any other school.

Full Sail University

Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY)

According to Billboard, enrollment in Hofstra’s music business program has increased by more than 175% in just the past few years1. Clearly, there is not only interest in learning the inner workings of the industry, but in doing so at the New York locale.

Its proximity to New York City is certainly a bonus, and students can pop in and out of the campus if they want to secure internships, jobs, meetings or just go see some awesome live music nearby.

Hofstra University

For even more music business degree programs, check out our blogs on The 7 Best Music Business Degree Programs (2019) and how to choose the right music business degree program for you.
  1. 1Duffy, Thom. "Revealed: Billboard’s 2020 Top Music Business Schools". Billboard. published: 27 April 2020. retrieved on: 13 January 2022
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