Music Business vs. Arts Admin vs. Career Development vs. Music Entrepreneurship

There is a bit of confusion about four fields of study that incorporate music and business aspects: 1) Music Business (aka Music Industry), 2) Arts Administration, 3) Music Career Development, 4) Music Entrepreneurship.  Though all attempt to advance the cause of music-related ventures in economically viable ways, they appeal to different constituents and present distinctive priorities. 

This article illuminates the fundamental goals of each field as they currently stand. In future posts, I will suggest curricular and pedagogical solutions, particularly in career development and music entrepreneurship.


Music Business/Industry

  • Music business/industry programs began appearing in the mid-1970s. 
  • Many schools currently offer majors, minors, and courses in this area. 
  • These programs are typically housed within music schools, meaning that majors are required to play an instrument and study core music topics (theory, history, etc.).
  • Programs prepare students for jobs in the for-profit music world, particularly the recording industry. 
  • Musically, the focus is primarily on popular styles.
  • Topics typically addressed: music distribution, promotion, licensing, copyright law, royalties, contracts, business models, technology, and music publishing. 
  • Sample texts: This Business of Music, by William Krasilovsky, Sidney Shemel, and John Gross; All You Need to Know About the Music Business, by Donald Passman.
  • This field is currently doing some soul searching, as the recording industry is in a state of chaos, collapse, and restructuring.  What a “music business” class or degree will mean in 5-10 years is uncertain at this point.

Arts Administration

  • Arts administration programs also emerged in the 1970s. 
  • Several schools offer majors and minors in this area.
  • These programs are typically housed outside the music school, and have an interdisciplinary approach.
  • Programs prepare students to work as administration in the nonprofit sector, for organizations such as orchestras and museums. 
  • Musically, the focus is primarily on classical, jazz, and other “art musics.”
  • Topics typically addressed: mission, organizational structures, operations, boards, leadership, legal issues, fundraising, budgeting, marketing, public relations, outreach, and advocacy.
  • Sample texts: Performing Arts Management by Stein and Bathurst; Arts Marketing Insights, by Joanne Bernstein.
  • Arts administration is also a quickly changing field, as competition for funding and attracting audiences gets more intense.  Many arts administrators are beginning to approach their businesses more like for-profit enterprises.

Career Development

  • The first career development courses were taught in the 1980s.  Since 2000, the number of such offerings has grown substantially.
  • No schools offer a major or minor in this area.  Several programs have career centers housed in their music or arts school.
  • Programs prepare students to get music jobs and to work as freelancers.
  • Efforts are geared largely towards performers, composers, and perhaps technology majors.
  • This field emerged with the startling realization that many music students were completely unprepared to succeed within the realities of the professional world, despite their outstanding musical abilities.
  • Topics typically addressed: auditioning, interviewing, resumes, cover letters, websites, taxes, networking, recording, management, getting gigs, working with the media, job possibilities.
  • Sample texts: The Savvy Musician, by David Cutler; Beyond Talent, by Angela Myles Beeching.
  • While early career development efforts helped musicians develop some necessary skills, they did not go far enough to address philosophical and real world considerations facing musicians joining an oversaturated workforce.  The focus was primarily on “job” preparation, as opposed to self-employment—how most performers earn their living.  In response, the field of music entrepreneurship emerged.  Many career development programs now embrace entrepreneurial concepts as well. 

Music Entrepreneurship

  • Music entrepreneurship is a phenomenon of the early 21st century. 
  • A relatively small amount of schools offer minors or courses in this area, though that number is growing rapidly. Career development classes often incorporate some entrepreneurial elements.
  • Some programs utilize pre-existing entrepreneurship courses taught through the business school, while others hire music specialists. Some successful models team up music and business faculty.
  • Programs prepare students to work as self-employed artists, small business owners, and arts advocates.
  • Efforts are geared largely towards performers and composers, though technology, education, and business majors are increasingly finding value in these courses.
  • While several definitions of music entrepreneurship exist, three aspects are central: 1) self-employment skills, 2) small business creation, and 3) the development of an entrepreneurial mindset.
  • Topics typically addressed: opportunity creation, risk, creativity and innovation, idea generation, social change, product development, market research, marketing, business plans, technology.
  • Sample text: The Savvy Musician, by David Cutler. (There are few good books currently available, though that will likely change in the upcoming years).
  • While tremendous interest in this topic exists in academia, there’s a lot of confusion about what it means exactly and how it can best be integrated into the curriculum: a minor, required classes for all musicians, electives, extra-curricular clubs, entrepreneurial culture, etc. 
  • Expect to see huge developments in this field over the next decade.  While only a handful of schools offer music entrepreneurship in 2010, I predict it will be a staple at just about every music institution within 10 years.  Without it, they simply won’t be able to attract students.

Obviously, there is overlap between these four areas.  Valuable lessons can be gleaned from each program regardless of professional direction.  As music schools grapple with the issue of how to best prepare our students, these tracks will undoubtedly evolve and, perhaps, fuse.  But for the time being, there remain four distinct fields.

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