Music Business: Limitless Careers for Music Lovers

Mike Lawson • Archives • November 6, 2009

Share This:

While many assume that collegiate and university music programs function almost exclusively to churn out professional musicians, the truth is that the vast majority of undergraduate institutions have an incredibly diverse range of opportunities for students interested in all facets of music. While players may receive top billing, music education, music production and engineering, composition, music therapy, and music business studies are just a few of the other offerings one can find at most music schools. In fact, at many prominent institutions, non-performance majors represent a majority of the student body. If one thinks about this for a moment, it makes sense: for every performer out there, there are scores of people behind the scenes who have worked diligently to make the performance happen.

One such often-overlooked area of study is music business. At Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., it might come as a surprise to learn that music business is the largest major in the college, with about 460 students, 16 faculty, and 35 courses, says Don Gorder, the chair and founder of the school’s Music Business and Management Department. “Our courses run the gamut from very traditional business courses you might find in any business school, like accounting and marketing, to courses that are very specific to the music industry, like Music Products and Commerce. We have a student-run record label and a very active internship program.”

Music business programs can lead to a host of different professions, from artist management to instrument manufacturing and sales. According to program director Rey Sanchez, the Frost School of Music’s Music Business and Entertainment Industries program at the University of Miami was the first collegiate music business program in the country. “MBEI alums are employed in virtually every area of the music and entertainment industries,” he notes. “In recent years we have seen a number of graduates employed in areas such as digital marketing and distribution with major and independent labels, music licensing, music publishing, music supervision, and into positions with performing rights societies. Some go on to law school and some even venture out on their own, pursuing entrepreneurial goals.”

Following is a sampling of colleges and universities that have music business degree programs. Please note that this is not a comprehensive listing.

Anderson University
Anderson, IN

Bradley University
Peoria, IL

Capital University
Columbus, OH

Chadron State College
Chadron, NE

Eastern Kentucky University
Richmond, KY

Elmhurst College
Elmhurst, IL

Ferris State University
Big Rapids, MI

Georgia State University
Atlanta, GA

Harrisburg Area Community College
Harrisburg, PA

Hofstra University
Hempstead, NY

Indiana State University
Evansville, IN

Loyola University New Orleans
New Orleans, LA

Mansfield University
Mansfield, PA

Northeastern University
Boston, MA

South Dakota State University
Brookins, SD

SUNY at Oneonta
Oneonta, NY

University of Colorado at Denver
Denver, CO

University of Evansville
Evansville, IN

University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL

University of Nebraska at Kearney
Kearney, NE

University of the Pacific
Stockton, CA

University of Oshkosh
Oshkosh, WI

Western Illinois University
Macomb, IL

William Patterson University
Wayne, NJ

Valparaiso University
Valparaiso, IN

Dr. James Payne of the University of Nebraska at Kierney runs a small music business program designed to provide students with the fundamental tools they need to succeed in the industry as non-players. “Our program gives students a strong basis in music with a general understanding of business practices so that they can choose many different paths to pursue in a career in the music industry,” says Payne. “This has included careers in publication, recording, music products, arts management, trade associations, pro audio design and installation, theatrical agencies, et cetera.”

A New Age of Business
While the idea of a music business program has been around for some time, in many ways, the business of music is very much an emerging frontier. The traditional model of a monolithic and all-powerful record label calling the shots and making or breaking bands is crumbling, thanks to a digital revolution that has provided independent bands with a multitude of ways in which to reach their fans through the likes of MySpace, Facebook, Youtube, blogs, and other resources. The well-documented travails of the recording industry against illegal downloading also raise many interesting questions for those interested in aspects of music distribution, band management, merchandising, and other related fields.

Different schools take different approaches to preparing their students for success in this new digital environment. “The dissemination, distribution, and consumption of music in the digital domain, how it is discovered and how markets are made for music, all of that has impacted the industry dramatically,” says Berklee’s Don Gorder. “We have, of course, brought that into our curriculum. We offer courses that focus on emerging business models, courses that focus on the use of technology, managing technology-driven businesses, a track of study on entrepreneurship because we’re seeing more an d more students starting their own businesses as opposed to moving into the corporate sector. Technology, digital, social media these kinds of things are very much a part of what we’re doing now.”

At the Frost School of Music, the music business program strikes a balance between the constant, fundamental elements of music business and the emerging technologies and business models. “Our faculty foresaw and prepared for these changes a number of years ago,” says Rey Sanchez. “Our curriculum emphasizes the non-changing constants of the music business: copyright ownership and administration, publishing, licensing, royalties and legalities. We believe the music business has always been about connecting music makers with music lovers and insuring that everyone along that conduit gets paid for their efforts. We believe that the recent changes in the industry will be quite positive for music creators and owners in the long run.”

He continues, “The Music Business and Entertainment Industries program at Miami was founded on the basic principal that music comes first and in the end, it’s all about the music. Consequently we have historically emphasized fundamentals such as copyright, publishing, rights administration, royalties, music licensing and legalities. We’ve always had a professionally active faculty, in touch with the myriad of changes that have occurred in the industry over the years. For example in 2003 we undertook a major revision of our curriculum, emphasizing emerging digital technologies and their impact on the music business.”

Ted Piechocinski, the program director for Indiana State University’s Music Business Program, doesn’t necessarily read the digital age as a cataclysmic event in the music industry so much as just another in a long history of dramatic shifts. “We’ve had great discussions over the years about digital downloading and the effect it has had on many aspects of the music industry,” he says. “While not approaching it, ever, as an ‘end of the world’ scenario, but, rather, as one where the music industry is taking a significant shift, which it has done with great regularity throughout its history, students quickly see that the music and entertainment industry is by no means stagnant and is most often at the center of societal and technological developments. There’s no doubt that things ‘aren’t what they used to be,’ but, in our view and as we approach it, it’s a matter of needing to shift with the times and adjust accordingly. Cycles of change are getting much quicker and we need to stay flexible and able to adapt to the situation rather than staying entrenched in the comfort of our ways. It sometimes takes students a while to take such a broad look at things, but they do eventually relate and are generally very adept at looking at situations in necessary and new ways.”

Still Musicians at Heart
While music business majors will invariably spend long hours poring over rather dry subjects like economics and accounting, it’s important to remember that music business majors are still studying at a music school, and most often will continue learning the fundamental aspects of music such as theory, composition, ear training, and performance.

Undergraduate students looking to study music business at the University of Miami must first be accepted into the Frost School of Music through a rigorous audition process. “They must also have an outstanding academic record and demonstrate strong communications skills,” says Rey Sanchez. “We believe that the discipline required to be a good musician will serve a student well in any future career. MBEI majors are in the same core music courses, private lessons, and ensembles as any other music student. Some of the top musicians at the Frost School are MBEI majors. We believe musicians have unique skill sets that can give them a competitive advantage in business. In the words of Goddard Lieberson, former president of Columbia Records, ‘Musicians make the best businessmen. I’d much rather be represented in a business deal by Stravinsky than any lawyer you could name.'”

Ted Piechocinski of Indiana State University echoes the idea that the discipline of studying music will serve students no matter what direction their careers take. “Our program requires our students to study as musicians, including applied studies, music history, and music theory. Personally, I think it helps for a music business student to know what it is to play and study the intricacies of music. Prior to acquiring my law degree and having a career in music publishing and music business affairs, I acquired degrees in music education and a master’s degree in saxophone performance. Before pursuing law studies, I taught high school instrumental music for four years. So, I take pride in still considering myself a trained musician and, as such, being able to understand music on a level different from many music executives I’ve met and dealt with over the years.”

Piechocinski continues, “As a publishing executive or music business affairs attorney, I didn’t have cause to call on my musical training every day, but, when the occasion called for it, it was extremely helpful and even, in a few cases, was enough to seal the deal with some artists who liked being able to deal with a trained musician at the executive level. So, while it is by no means necessary to be a musician to find success in the music industry, I believe that it does, indeed, help. One of the reasons I came to ISU’s program, in fact, was because we do insist that our students study as musicians who are also business people. Like so many aspects of the music industry though, there are many, many roads that can take us to our destination.”

Only So Much Room on the Stage
One of the most important ideas to keep in mind is that there is virtually no limit to the career options for people who are passionate about music. “I would love it if band directors had a sense of the vast number of careers one can have in music without having to rely on a career as a performer,” says Don Gorder. “You don’t have to leave music, if that is your love, just because you don’t become that star on stage. There are so many things that you can do in music, and the business aspect encompasses a lot of those other prospects. It’s a source of a great number of successful and rewarding careers.”

There is an abundance of examples of students who have found a great deal of success after realizing that a career as a performer wasn’t in their future. As Gorder explains, “We have had many success stories of students who started out here thinking they might end up being that star on the stage, but then realized that there are other opportunities in front of them. One of our early graduates founded the online promotion company SonicBids. This gentleman, who is from Cyprus, started out thinking he was going to be a rock star guitar player, and within a year or so he realized that that wasn’t going to happen. He came to see me and joined the music business program, and went on from there to have a very successful career at a booking agency here in Boston. Then he chucked all of that and started SonicBids. I think he has 14 of our graduates working in his office now.”

“Not all students have the inherent talent and or abilities (or wherewithal) to pursue a degree in performance,” notes ISU’s Piechocinksi. “Performance degrees remain difficult simply because there aren’t enough jobs and opportunities for students who complete performance degrees. This is a historical dilemma that need not be gone into in great detail, but the fact remains that there just aren’t enough jobs out there for all of the performance majors that schools produce. Music education is a wonderful career and still has plenty of opportunities for ambitious students, but teaching is certainly a calling unto itself. It should never be a ‘fallback’ kind of employment option. Traditionally, students who love music had two options to pursue: performance, where the chances to succeed are exceedingly slim, and teaching, where dedication and passion about teaching are absolutely necessary; it should not be attempted by those who do not have that degree of passion. Therefore, another option should exist and, with music business studies, it does.

“Music Business allows students to still study and perform great music at the highest levels of personal expertise they can manage, but, with it, they can use their music studies to guide them to a fantastic career where there are jobs, where there is terrific room for creativity and expression, and where they always have many career options open to them, through the variety of training and exposure that they have had. High school directors would be doing themselves and their students a great service by becoming more familiar with the option of music business and music industry studies as a viable option for their music students.”

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!