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What is the Music Industry?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The music industry is the business of performing, recording, and selling music through a number of different methods. There are many different types of people involved in this industry, from musicians who create and play music to sound engineers who work to properly record music and producers who oversee the entire process. While this term typically refers to recording and selling music through physical or digital means, live performances of music are often a part of it as well. The industry in a particular country or area may be overseen by a number of different record labels and companies.

There are many different professions and individuals involved with properly running and organizing the music industry. Musicians are often on the front line, and the music that is written and created by musicians usually acts as the actual commodity sold by the industry. Sound engineers and recorders are usually involved with the process of recording music, and a producer will typically be involved with the production of an album. There are other professionals who act behind the scenes, such as studio executives who run the business side and road crews who work on live performances.

The products offered by the music industry have changed over the years, beginning in the 20th century with vinyl records, which transitioned into tape cassettes, and then into compact discs (CDs). Toward the end of the century, digital music recordings became more prevalent as a legitimate commodity, often played through portable media devices and computers. Live performances are also an important part of the industry, as this allows new fans to be established for performers and gives existing fans a chance to hear the music they enjoy in a live venue. Radio stations also typically play a major part, and they have traditionally been a platform for showcasing new songs and performers.

In any given country, the industry is typically overseen by a number of recording studios and record labels. These companies put forward the money necessary for music to be recorded and distributed through physical or digital means. Marketing expenses, costs for live performances and tours, and payment of royalties to songwriters and musicians are also typically handled by these studios. The music industry can also refer to the means by which music is distributed, such as stores that sell music media and online websites that sell digital recordings of music.

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Discussion Comments
By anon296370 — On Oct 11, 2012

The music industry is dumbed down, talentless, boring and not innovative. They are putting out mindless formula music year after year, looking for gimmicks and looks to sell music rather than real talent. They don't care about talent or art.

They are non-intellectuals. They are anti-intellectual. They know nothing about music. They also want to dominate the world and wish to suppress people who are really talented. They are just a bunch of dumb thugs.

By anon282383 — On Jul 29, 2012

I've always told people I'm interested in the music business as a career, but I'm from India so I'm not sure if there is an opportunity here and also I'm not sure which field I want to enter in the music business, probably because I'm not aware of the courses themselves. Hope I can get some help.

By oasis11 — On Jul 05, 2011

I think that a music industry career can also be difficult because there are so many talented people that many don’t ever get the type of opportunities that top names get.

Some that do go into the music industry and actually get a music industry contract may be disillusioned with the business aspects of this field and the lack of artistic control that they initially have. Some artists really want to develop their own music, but the music companies want to sell CD’s and usually focuses on a formula that is popular with the fans which does not allow the artist to give much input.

Also, music industry marketing is a huge part of selling CD’s and many artists may not want to follow the grueling promotional schedule that goes with promoting CD’s in the music industry.

By BrickBack — On Jul 04, 2011

I wonder how the music recording industry has changed as a result of music being downloaded instead of fans buying the entire CD. I know that many music fans prefer to download their favorite songs instead of having to buy the entire CD. This has to effect the music industry and I am sure they don’t make the money that they used to.

By lighth0se33 — On Jul 04, 2011

The music industry and the fashion industry cross over inevitably. Because of all of the exposure that musical artists receive, fashion designers vie to have them wear their creations on the red carpet at award shows.

Some fashion designers will give their clothes to an artist for free in exchange for the agreement that the artist will wear the piece at a highly publicized event. Any event where the media will be, either filming for broadcast or shooting for a magazine spread or website, is a target of fashion designers.

Fashion designers hope that having a popular, attractive person wear their creations and make them look good might gain them the admiration of critics and help them receive good reviews. The music industry is one of the most highly fashionable industries, and designers take advantage of that.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 03, 2011

I am a singer, and I have recorded in a professional studio before. I love the ease with which the studio engineer can punch out a mistake and let you sing right over it. He blends the new part in perfectly, and you could never tell that it was re-recorded.

I have an ear for music, but the studio guys hear things even I can't. When mixing the instruments and vocals together, they can hear slight discrepancies in volume between the two, and they spend many hours working out the sound.

I'm perfectly happy to just sing my part and let them do their job. They must have extra senses that most people don't have to be able to pick up on all that they catch and tweak.

By Oceana — On Jul 03, 2011

I started my career working in the music industry about a decade ago. Though I love music, I had to get out of the business. I wanted to have a life at home with my family and my dogs, and being fully involved in the music industry would have meant nearly constant travel and being around strangers most of the time.

I have admiration and respect for artists who manage to both have a family and a successful full-time music career. They must have a lot of energy and be really grounded. I understand why so many artists lose themselves to drugs and alcohol, because it is a lonely life, even though you are in front of a crowd a lot.

By cloudel — On Jul 02, 2011

Managers of bands or singers play an important role in the music industry. In exchange for taking care of the business end of things, they receive a percentage, usually around 15%, of the singer's earnings.

Managers are responsible for booking performances and scheduling appearances on television or radio shows. They talk to people behind the scenes and keep the ball rolling so that the singer can focus on what he or she knows best, the musical aspect of the industry.

Managers and singers often disagree on key issues. This can lead to legal battles. That is why singers and managers must sign a contract prior to working together.

By lonelygod — On Jul 01, 2011

I think that the traditional music industry has always been about making cash first and dealing with quality music second. There are so many examples today of terrible songs that have become huge hits entirely thanks to strong marketing. With the use of things like autotune, finding real artists who actually do their own thing has become an endeavor in itself.

Who thinks that we would be better off if the mainstream music industry did fold due to downloading?

I think this would be great as there is plenty of quality music being made, that is available for free or at fair prices. Supporting an artist you like can be as simple as going to concerts. You shouldn't have to spend money on packages of songs you don't like just to get the one you enjoy.

By letshearit — On Jun 30, 2011

I have a good friend who is an independent artist and really feels that the music industry is becoming more open to self-made artists that use their skill at social networking to promote themselves.

With the ability of artists to record music on home computers, edit it with free software, and distribute their music online, much of what the music industry does is becoming passe. While I think there will always be a large marketing machine powering mainstream artists, I think that the more power independent artists gain online, the more the traditional music industry will fade. I am hoping that this movement will increase the quality of music produced and make everyone more open to artists who do it all themselves.

By rjh — On Jun 30, 2011

@Sequoia - I agree that it’s great that musicians themselves are taking more control of the industry but I think there are also some inherent problems in the way the music industry is headed, the big one in my mind being just how can you make a living wage off of your own music nowadays? As music becomes primarily a digital commodity, with album sales going way down over the last ten or twenty years, the question becomes this: are people willing to pay for something they are fully aware that they can download for free?

I think there will always be music fans out there who are happy to support their favorite artists so they can keep making music, but at the same time, as the industry becomes more singles driven as opposed to albums driven, music in general is becoming more disposable and thus worth less. This puts pressure on bands to rely mainly on non-stop touring in order to make any money at all and leaves them little time to work on new material. I just hope that the idea of having a career in the music industry doesn't soon become a thing of the past.

By Sequoia — On Jun 30, 2011

I for one am fascinated as to what the future of the music industry could hold. I think it’s great to see that more and more musicians are taking the industry into their own hands and reaping the rewards for themselves – which they rightly deserve - as opposed to figureheads at corporate record labels just looking to make an investment. The way the music industry used to be run (and probably largely still is, although increasingly less so) was unlike any other industry in the world, based around the ridiculous notion that record labels would for example sign ten new artists and cross their fingers and hope to God that just one of those artists makes enough money to cover back the losses from the other nine.

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