Musicians and the music industry

singer under spotlights on stage with arms raised in a dramatic gesture, photographed from below

© Podgorsek

In order to understand musicianship and what musicians do, it is important to consider the relationships they develop with music organisations and the music industry. This section looks at these relationships and the ways in which musicians make a living through a variety of different types of activity.

The term music industry refers to the multitude of institutions and businesses which are involved in the production, distribution, marketing, promotion and sale of music. Often the term is conflated with the recording industry (ie record labels and their associated businesses) but there is much more to the business of music. Along with making and selling recordings, the music industry also provides performances for audiences and sells or licenses music to other related industries such as film, TV and advertising. Martin Cloonan, a music sociologist, has made the point that it is perhaps better to refer to 'music industries' rather than a supposedly singular 'music industry'. These music industries can be broadly categorised under recording, publishing and live performance. Within these classifications specialised companies - like the record company Sony-BMG, the live performance company Live Nation or the music publisher Universal - either make records, promote tours and festivals or organise or collect money for the use of recordings in related media.

Musicians interact with the music industries in a variety of ways and are subject to a variety of arrangements with differing types of music companies. This may be as a signed musician who enters an agreement with a recording company to deliver a certain amount of recordings over a given timeframe. Sometimes this can lead to a long, high profile career within the recording industry. More often, however, recording contracts are fairly short-lived and musicians do not go on to become media or industry 'stars', but this does not mean that they cannot earn a living from music.

Musicians may interact with the music industry as an instrumentalist or vocalist hired for a recording project on an hourly basis (such as the making of a record, film soundtrack or advertisement). Musicians may also be hired as live performers by a number of different types of employer for the duration of a given tour, theatre run, holiday season etc. Indeed, most regularly working musicians are freelancers with portfolio careers which encompass a variety of activities. Other musicians go on from signing record deals to work in other music related roles, becoming songwriters, arrangers, managers and record company personnel and so on.

Follow the links below to find out more.