Careers for music business majors are changing and expanding rapidly. If you’re interested in a music-related career that may or may not include performance, read on!
What does a music business major study?
Music business majors may study any number of areas including: how music is created, monetized, and consumed; music publishing; licensing; copyright law; and royalties.
Music business programs may also include opportunities to focus on:
• scouting talent
• artist management and brand development
• record label operations
• pitching music
• music supervision
• media relations
• digital strategies
• marketing and distribution strategies
Some music business programs will require basic courses such as music theory, music history, keyboard training, ear training, and music production. According to Benom Plumb, who teaches in the Department of Music & Entertainment Industry Studies at University of Colorado Denver, “These topics are important because they prepare the student for entry-level positions in their chosen music business field.”
What does it take to be accepted into a college music business program?
A strong passion for music is a key ingredient for getting accepted into a music business program – and for succeeding in a career in this field.
“Being able to hear, read and talk about music with musicians in their language is a big help,” says Keith Hatschek, program director for Music Management and Music Industry Studies at University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music. He spent many years as a recording engineer, producer, project manager, and as VP of sales and marketing at a large recording studio in the Bay Area.
How much musical background is necessary?
The level of musical proficiency needed to be accepted into a music business program will depend on the requirements at the school(s) you want to apply to. And that often depends on where the program is housed.
If music business is a major offered through a music school or department, an audition may be required, although the bar for being accepted will likely be lower than for a performance major. Some music schools offer the option of taking audition vs. non-audition tracks.
If music business is offered through a university business school, it’s unlikely that an audition or specific level of proficiency will be required.
How to choose a music business program
Some schools use program names such as “music business” or “music industry” or “music management” interchangeably. Others make distinctions among these.
So our best rule of thumb? Don’t choose a program by its name. It’s more useful to look at:
• Program focus
• Required classes
• Faculty – and their involvement in areas you’re interested in. The connections they can help you make will be indispensable to your future career.
• Hands-on and career-related opportunities including internships; panels and presentations with active music business professionals; access to professional organization events and conferences. This is a field that demands learning outside of the classroom.
• Where and when alumni of schools you’re interested in have found jobs after graduating.
What job options are available once you graduate?
Benom Plumb, who worked as VP for Licensing at Bluewater Music in Nashville, has seen his music business graduates go on to work in music publishing, music supervision, and artist management. They’re also working in concert promotion, merchandise management, and online streaming. They’ve been hired by record labels and in broadcasting. Some work in music journalism and as DJs.
“The music business is as diverse as business in general,” says Serona Elton, chair of the Music Media and Industry Department and director of Music Business & Entertainment Industries at University of Miami Frost School of Music. “There is a huge range of positions in legal, accounting, software development, marketing, supply chain, HR, etc. Someone could pursue any of these areas and try to find an opportunity to work for a music-related company in that area.”
Kevin Findlay, a 2018 Music Business graduate of Millikin University School of Music, found his passion in merchandising. “It gives me a chance to help other DIY musicians succeed by creating new revenue streams, while still exercising creativity and individuality,” he says. “I’m in the process of starting my own merch business. I’d mostly like to focus my efforts on small-scale DIY musicians, as I want to help provide them with more of a solid platform to have their messages heard!”
What kind of training and experience should you look for in a college music business program to be more attractive to employers?
• Real-world experience – essential for applying what you learn in the classroom. Student-run music businesses and record labels are great for this.
• Internships – “The real place to find a job in this industry is through who you know and through internships,” says Benom Plumb at CU Denver. “Because to find a job, you need to have first built a network of trusted contacts and relationships (including a little relevant work experience).”
“The reality is that approximately 90% of music business positions are filled internally and through personal referrals,” he continues. “The hiring committee already has their top candidates lined up through referrals from trusted industry friends or their very own interns. This is why it’s essential for students to expand their network of contacts and apply for any music industry-related internships they can.”
• Networking skills and opportunities – with lots of practice in becoming comfortable interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional contacts. No matter what area(s) of music you work in, this will always be useful.
“It’s been said that in the music business, ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’” says composer and author Steve Danyew, who teaches in the Arts Leadership Program at The Eastman School of Music. “That’s partially true. I still believe that the #1 most important part of career success is the quality of your work…Then, I think networking is one of the most important aspects of music careers.
“You need to communicate well with people,” continues Danyew. “This doesn’t mean that only outgoing people succeed in the music business – there are plenty of introverts in this field! But you have to respond to people promptly, be easy to work with, and make an effort to meet people and grow your network. Many opportunities in music come through your network of contacts. That begins in college.”
• Opportunities to learn and keep up with the latest desktop and mobile tools.
• Experience with social media and website development.
• Effective written and verbal communication skills.
What qualities do successful graduates of these programs have in common?
Music industry professionals interviewed for this article agree that the ability to creatively problem solve is increasingly useful and valued in the world of music business.
“Most music business activities include a rigid timeline, whether that be a show, a release, interviews, or publicity, with cascading, multi-level and interwoven project timelines and increasingly smaller budgets,” says Martin Atkins, producer, drummer and Music Industries Coordinator at Millikin University. “The application of these skills to make the impossible happen is the central, most valuable part of a music business professional…adaptation to change and triumph in the face of adversity is music business DNA.”
Juggling several priorities at the same time is essential. Excellent time management is a must.
According to Keith Hatschek, “The industry changes every 90-120 days. So you have to commit to lifelong learning. Reading, conferences, and having conversations with peers in your field all make up part of what is needed to stay current. There are great organizations (such as California Lawyers for the Arts) that present affordable workshops on changing topics for artists and managers. Stay curious.”
“Employers want to know that students are learning about how the music business works today versus how it worked a decade ago,” says Serona Elton. “Students should look for courses and extra-curricular opportunities that connect with the industry of today.”
And where, geographically, are the jobs?
It’s no surprise that a few cities continue to be considered the major hubs for music business: New York City, Los Angeles, and Nashville in the U.S.; and London and Hamburg, Germany in Europe. But things are changing. “Silicon Valley is now acting as a fourth U.S. ‘center’ due to music’s increasing ubiquity via streaming platforms,” says Hatschek.
“If you think of music business as also including the live side of the business, there are opportunities in almost every city, ranging from large performing arts centers to small club venues,” says Elton. “And if you also consider the musical instruments and equipment side of the business as falling under the broader music business heading, there are manufacturers and retailers all over the country.”
Where to look for jobs has a lot to do with the kind of work you want to do. “In most major metro areas, there are certainly more opportunities in the sectors of concert promotion, booking and production,” says Plumb. Hatschek concurs: “For early stage career growth, nearly every city or region of about 100,000 population will have a music and arts scene to get you started.”
“Sometimes the best place to innovate is away from the costly overheads and the time-crunched, stressed audience of the coast,” says Plumb. But he’s quick to remind, “It’s a myth to believe you’ll get hired for a job in a music business hub like L.A. while living and applying from another location like Colorado. The hiring company is going to consider candidates who are local and can start within days.”
Resources to Know About
Tips from Recent Music Business Alumni
Find internships at companies you’d like to work at and, if possible, cities you’d like to build a life in. The knowledge gained and relationships formed during an internship often are the difference between being jobless or having a plethora of career options after graduation. The music industry is a close-knit community and you will build a reputation in that community whether you intend to or not. Make sure it’s a good reputation.
– Dustin Banks, (Lipscomb University, 2016, MBA; Belmont University, 2009, Commercial Guitar Performance), Manager, Royalty Administration at Royalty Exchange in Nashville, TN
I recommend actually doing what you want to do in the music business, while in school. For example, if you want to be an artist manager, manage a friend’s band or local artist while you’re in college and take them as far as you can! This is how some managers strike it huge at an early age. Even if you don’t end up with an artist that pops, the experience and contacts that you’ll get from it will set you miles ahead from your peers!
– Maura Duval, (CU Denver, 2013, Music & Entertainment Industry Studies), ASCAP Director of Membership, Pop/Rock in Los Angeles, CA
This is a very competitive industry and starting out it may be difficult to find opportunities to share your music, share your talent, share your work, or to learn something new. That is why I encourage you to say “yes.” With every opportunity you say “yes” to, you have the chance to meet new people and to show them why you’re in this industry. You never know, it might lead to a bigger and better opportunity, but you can’t know if you say “no”.
– Megan Peterson, (Millikin University, 2017, Music Business & Commercial Music), mastering engineer and studio manager at Georgetown Masters Audio LLC in Nashville, TN
Photo: Robert King Photography for CU Denver College of Arts & Media
Article: Barbra Weidlein is a co-founder and director of MajoringInMusic.com