Skip to main content

Music Business 101: Schools Where You Can Learn About the Industry

A growing number of colleges, universities and other educational institutions are giving students the opportunity to learn about the music business with hands-on experience and classes taught by…

A growing number of colleges, universities and other educational institutions are giving students the opportunity to learn about the music business with hands-on experience and classes taught by teachers from the industry. And those schools are increasingly responding to the changes shaping both education and the music business. For a report on Music Business Education in our Sept 27 issue, Billboard surveyed a sample of these schools, arranged here in alphabetical order.


Berklee College of Music (Boston)

Panos Panay, founder and CEO of Sonicbids, has returned to his alma mater as the founding managing director of the newly-launched Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE).  The program aims to prepare students for careers as entrepreneurs in the new entertainment business. It also fosters the creation of new products, services and businesses in the creative industries by advancing “disruptive” ideas. Among the program’s offerings, the Berklee ICE Tempo Accelerator serves as both a jam room for new business products and ideas and a research lab. 

“Current music business students must focus on acquiring the knowledge to build their own DIY businesses and opportunities rather than seeking employment with one of few remaining major labels,” says Don Gorder, chair of Berklee’s music business/music management department.  “And the possibilities are endless. “

Berklee also has been a pioneer in online education and this fall will offer the first online bachelors of professional studies degree in the music business offered by a non-profit institution.

The College of Saint Rose (Albany, NY)

Students seeking the bachelor of science in the music industry at Saint Rose are guided in the creation of a CD of original music as a graduation requirement. The album can be written, performed, produced, engineered, edited, mixed and mastered in the college’s Saints and Sinners Recording Studio.  All students also complete an internship with a music company and take courses in music business, songwriting/composition, and record engineering and production. Student performing groups include commercial music ensembles that develop and record original material, as well as jazz ensembles, orchestras and choirs. 

“The main factors shaping the music business today are the development and ownership of new creative work, collaborative writing, and entrepreneurship,” says associate professor Sean McClowry. “Students who successfully make the transition to the professional music and entertainment industry [leave the college with] a foundation in musicianship and the creative process, and an ear for a commercial sound.”

Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business at Belmont University (Nashville, TN)

Established with the support of former performer, songwriter and record company executive Mike Curb, the one-time president of MGM Records, Curb College takes full advantage of its location in Music City, says music business lecturer David Schrieber.

“A lot of the faculty, including myself, do our best to incorporate experiential learning, getting students to replicate what happens out in the work field, while still in a safe [academic] environment. Internships are highly available due to the school’s location in central Nashville.”

Schrieber also acknowledges how the changing demands of the music business workplace are changing the school’s approach, while other things remain constant.

“There aren’t as many jobs out there, so we encourage students to be entrepreneurs,” he says. “It’s not just about starting their own business—they may have multiple different jobs in the industry.”

At the same time, he adds, “we get surveys back from employers and the No. 1 thing they are looking for is critical thinking and problem solving.  Even though everything changes, those things are a constant.”

The Harris Institute (Toronto)

Through its arts management program, the Harris Institute offers a fast-track 12-month diploma program that features 60 courses focusing on the new music industry, from evolving technologies and business models to entrepreneurial opportunities.

 The program is offered in three semesters, each four-months in length, starting in March, July and November, and include multiple team projects.

“Music business education today needs to have a stronger emphasis on entrepreneurial skills training—business plans, raising funds, marketing, etc.,” agrees institute founder and president John Harris. “Most graduates will start new companies instead of working for large companies as in the past.  Music business programs need to be taught by people who are currently active in the field due to the rapidly changing nature of the music industry. Music business programs also need to cover all aspects of the industry,” he says. “The era of specialization is over.

Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)

The department of recording industry, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, is one of the largest programs of its kind. With top-tier faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, renown internship programs, a student-run record label and an average enrollment of 1,200 to 1,700 students, the department is “unmatched among recording industry schools worldwide,” says department chair Beverly Keel.

The department prepares students for the changing industry landscape by offering courses in digital media, new business models, soundtrack design, songwriting and branding, along with more traditional programs in publicity, concert promotion, artist management and A&R.

“We are constantly examining our curriculum to make sure that we provide students with the necessary foundation while preparing them for the changing music and technology industries,” says Keel. “Our curriculum is being shaped by the industry’s rise of the entrepreneur. In the past, most students wanted to work for major labels or publishers, whereas now many students want to start their own businesses.”

New Jersey City University (Jersey City, NJ)

The music business program provides students with a cooperative education experience, arranging for internships at major record labels, talent agencies, cultural arts venues, publishers, artist management firms and other areas of student interest.

Students benefit from the school’s proximity to New York City, as it draws faculty with backgrounds in diverse fields including artist management, at major record labels, in entertainment law, talent booking, organized labor, concert touring, copyright and contract administration.

“The pace of change in today’s industry requires a curriculum with [flexibility] to respond to new business models,” says Andrew Schwartz, “yet grounded in best practices and a thorough knowledge of the history and development of the music business. “

New York University, The Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music (New York City)

As a department within NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, one of the nation’s leading arts institutions, the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music boasts a distinguished faculty — all of whom are active members of the music industry – and also access to many of the music industry’s leading entrepreneurs, artists, and producers.

Special programming and events supplement course work, via lectures, interviews, academic papers, performances, and demonstrations by faculty and invited guests.

The program prepares students “to assume leadership roles in the art and business of creating and selling recorded music,” says institute chair Jeff Rabhan.  The program’s courses take a holistic approach structured around the study of entrepreneurship, “which we think is the key ingredient to success in this industry.”

Syracuse University, Bandier Program for Music and the Entertainment Industries (Syracuse, NY)

Established four years ago with the support of Sony/ATV Music Publishing chairman/CEO Martin Bandier, the program is limited to about 25 student per year, who benefit from the a “community of experts,” an extensive network of music business alumni and friends. The program “brings the industry to Syracuse” through a lecture series and special events, says program director David Rezak. From the program’s first three graduating classes, 90 percent of the students are working in the music industry, he reports.

“Our curriculum is being shaped by the industry’s rise of the entrepreneur,” says Rezak. “In the past, most students wanted to work for major labels or publishers, whereas now many students want to start their own businesses. Corporate mergers mean more independent contractors, so students need to be armed with both business basics and entrepreneurial skills.”

William Paterson University (Wayne, NJ)

Twenty miles from New York, the school recruits top music industry executives as faculty and guest lecturers. Offerings include an MBA in music management and an innovative integration of the music department’s pop music and sound engineering programs with the university’s pre-law program.  

The program’s goal, says professor Stephen Marcone, is to prepare students “to be successful in an entertainment industry that is constantly in flux.”

The University of Colorado Denver (Denver, CO)

The university features a music and entertainment industry studies department that includes courses in concert promotion, music publishing and music business in the digital age, as well as a student-run label, CAM Records. The school offers one of the few singer-songwriter programs in the country.  Students collaborate across all programs, creating a real-world experience of the music industry while in school, and building a supportive community of musicians, managers, and engineers.

CU Denver communication program director Cynthia Barringer notes some of the concerns within the music business education community including: the absence of music education in K to 12th grade schools, the need to increase musical literacy, the cost of music technology, and the importance of offering more courses in aspects of the music business including business, law, finance and economics.

The University of Miami (Miami, FL)

The university’s Frost School of Music allows students to run ’Cane Records, Cat 5 Music Publishing, the campus radio station WVUM, the school’s concert booking organization Hurricane Productions and more. There’s also the Creative American Music Program in partnership with Bruce Hornsby, where select students learn from top songwriters.

“Our faculty members have extensive professional experience and maintain relationships at very senior levels in the music business,” says Serona Elton, chair of the music media and industry department, and director of the music business and entertainment industries program. 

“To prepare the next generation of professionals, programs must educate students on the music business of the old, the current, and the future,” she says.  “The old — because students need to understand the reasons for how and why things have been done a certain way in the past, because some of the challenges that have led to current ways of doing things are not going away any time soon. The current — because students need to be well versed and skilled in how things are done today to bring immediate value to their employers.  The future — because we are preparing students for their careers, not just their first jobs, and they need to be prepared as the business evolves.”

This article first appeared in the Sept. 30th issue of Billboard.