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Hitting the Headlines: an introduction to the music industry

Hitting the headlines: an introduction to the music industry

The music industry tends to be a place where the winners win big and the rest scrape along as best they can. Raw musical talent is probably not enough to make it to the top. It’s pretty vital to have an entrepreneurial spirit too. But what is the state of the industry today, and what do new arrivals need to know?

It can be a confusing space to analyse. Here, for example, are some recent news headlines, paraphrased to show the contrast, from the course information page of the Coursera course Understanding the Music Business: What is Music Worth?


  • The music business has collapsed
  • Demand for music is expanding at the greatest rate in history
  • Historic recording studios are closing at an alarming rate
  • More people are making recordings than ever before
  • Musicians usually lose money touring
  • Musicians usually make money touring
  • Major artist pulls songs off streaming services because they don’t pay fairly
  • Major artist makes a fortune from streaming services
  • People won’t buy records anymore
  • Vinyl record sales are soaring

It seems that anecdotal stories often pass as signs that the music industry is heading one way or the other. Depending on what you read, you could believe that music is the best business to be in right now or that the end of times is near.

To cut through popular media shortsightedness and get familiar with the enduring truths of how the music industry works, it’s probably best to listen to industry insiders in a structured format that encourages critical thinking and enables informed decisions. Understanding the Music Business: What is Music Worth? does just that by employing Assistant Professor of Musicology Jen Gunderman to curate insights and advice from leaders of various areas of the music business into a course that gives learners an in-depth look behind the scenes of this mysterious industry.

The seven-week course first covers the actual creation of recorded music by exploring the basics of audio recording and recording environments before moving on to outline the differences between independent and major record labels and the current state of the recording industry.

Next it examines the complexities of Intellectual Property, Copyright & Publishing with an executive from a performing rights organisation, followed by Media, PR, Publicity, Marketing, Social Media, Radio and Streaming Services – ways to get music out to the masses.

The final two sections deal with Live Performance, New Models, Trends & Strategies before wrapping it all up with Thinking Critically About Music Industry News. This course is general enough to be helpful to performing artists, budding music producers and recording execs alike, and specific enough to give them all a better sense of their own place in the music industry.