How Does The Music Industry Work?

Are you a musician or composer interested in forging a career in the music industry?  If so, it is crucial that you understand how the music industry works.

The music industry is a complex collaboration between many different types of companies and individuals.  The participants in the industry have vastly different roles, ranging from promoting live shows, through to copyrighting new music and marketing musical artists.

This article will share some information about the roles that each participant in the music industry has.


Songwriters and composers

The music industry couldn’t exist without songwriters and composers.  They are the talented individuals who create the musical compositions that we get to enjoy.  In most cases, the music that they create is original, however they may also use samples or themes from other songs to create new compositions.

When a songwriter or composer creates a new and original composition, they own the copyright to that song.  It cannot be recorded or performed live unless they explicitly give permission.

Singers, musicians, conductors and bandleaders

Once a musical composition has been created, it will usually be played by musical performers.  This may include singers, musicians, conductors and bandleaders.  However, some modern music may be performed electronically using a computer or sound synthesisers.  In many cases, the songwriter or composer will also play their own musical composition.

Music producers, recording studios, engineers

If a musical performance is going to be sold to the general public as a CD or downloadable track, it must be recorded.  This requires the involvement of:

  • Music producers
    A music producer helps a musical artist manage the sound recording process. They can play many different roles in the studio.  Some common tasks performed by the producer include choosing a recording studio, shaping the overall style and sound of the recording, sourcing session musicians, changing song arrangements, coaching performers during the recording session, and even co-write songs with the artist.
  • Recording studios
    The recording studio is where a performance is recorded.
  • Sound Engineers
    The sound engineer will ensure that the music is captured in the best way possible, using a variety of microphones, pre-amps, digital audio processing tools, and other equipment.

Some artists will wait until they are signed to a record label before creating professional recordings of their music.  Before then, they may create semi-professional demo tapes which showcase the quality of their compositions.

Thanks to recent improvements in music technology, many songwriters and composers will record their music themselves using home studios.  This may or may not involve the use of session musicians, music producers, and recording engineers.

Music publishers

A music publisher’s job is to ensure that songwriters and composers receive payment whenever their compositions are used commercially.  The songwriter or composer will enter into an agreement with a music publisher, called a publishing contract.

This contract requires the songwriter or composer to temporarily assign the copyright of their music to a publishing company.  The publishing company will then license the composition, monitor how it is being used, and collect royalties on behalf of the songwriter or composer.  They may also promote compositions to other musical artists, filmmakers, and television producers.

A song doesn’t need to be recorded to be sold to a music publisher.  In some cases, the song will be in sheet music form and only played in live performances.

Record labels

A 3d rendering of a record on a colourful background

If a composition has been recorded and will be sold to the general public, a record label will usually become involved.  Record labels coordinate the manufacture, production, distribution, marketing, and promotion of sound recordings.  They will also play a role in enforcing the copyright of the artist’s music.  Record labels are constantly looking for musical performers, songwriters and composers to sign.  Most record label deals will be for a certain number of records or time period.  They will take a proportion of the profit of each digital recording or album sold.

Distribution companies

Most record labels don’t create or distribute physical copies of CDs and albums themselves.  They often get a distribution company to do it on their behalf.  Independent artists who do not have a record deal will sometimes work directly with a distribution company to make their music available to stores.  They will take a proportion of the profit of each physical copy sold.

Music public relations

Traditionally, record labels would handle the promotion of the recording artists on their roster internally.  This would involve the creation of marketing campaigns and promotional materials.  Nowadays, music PR is often outsourced to specialised companies.  Independent artists can also hire their own PR company to help them build a profile in the music industry.

Musical agent (booking agent)

A musical agent will help the artist find jobs.  This can include live performances, collaborations with other artists, and songwriting gigs.  A musical artist typically chooses which booking agent they wish to work with, but sometimes a record label will handle this aspect for the artist.

Talent Manager

The talent manager guides the careers of performing artists.  They help the artist deal with the day-to-day business of being in the recording industry and gives them useful advice.  The talent manager will help the artist book gigs, find a record label, sign up to a distribution platform and much more.  They will also act as a liaison between the record label and the artist, negotiating for the best possible outcomes on the artist’s behalf.

Streaming platforms

The advent of the Internet has dramatically changed how music is distributed.  There are now various platforms that can stream digital music to listeners including Spotify, iTunes, and Pandora.  One of the greatest benefits of these digital platforms is that musicians can use them to distribute music even if they do not have a record label.  The artist can obtain a larger share of the revenue pie and publish as much music as they want to.

How do these entities relate to a musical artist?

The strongest relationships that a musical artist has are with their talent manager, booking agent, and publisher.  They will help the artist with many important tasks including managing the direction of their career, booking live performances, and protecting the copyright of original compositions.

The relationship that an artist has with a record label might be a close one or fairly distant, depending on the nature of the recording contract.  It is becoming increasingly common for modern recording artists to not even use a recording label.  They simply fund their recordings themselves and publish their music to various music streaming platforms.

Artists that are signed with a recording label may not even communicate with the distributor of their music.  However, independent artists may be in regular contact with them as they will be determining how many copes of their music have been sold.  The same goes for music public relations companies and digital distribution platforms — independent artists may have more regular direct contact, while signed artists have the record label handle it on their behalf.

Richard Hammond

I am the founder of 9Mousai and am deeply interested in creativity and what inspires it. My main passions are writing, film and music but I have huge respect for all the arts. I'm also an animal lover and have a little cat called Winston and enjoy the occasional whiskey or two...

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