Becoming a Music Business Manager - Guide to Education & Professional Associations

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Imagine Keith Richards devising an international marketing campaign for a new record. Think of Britney Spears A/B testing her album covers for maximum impact in each continent. Picture Ozzy Osbourne going through a series of licensing contracts, line by line. It sounds ridiculous because it doesn’t happen. That’s where music managers come in.

Music managers are a silent but critical member of practically every major band. While the artists focus their energy on creating the best music they can, a music manager works behind the scenes to navigate everything it takes to get that music to the fans. A separation of business and art is healthy for all stakeholders, but the two invariably overlap. It’s music managers who know when to prioritize passion—and when to focus on reality.

The global music market grew by nearly 10 percent in 2018, leading to over $19 billion in total revenues. Streaming services, in turn, grew 34 percent, accounting for nearly half of all revenue. Services like Spotify are eclipsing the 100 million premium user barrier. This is big business, and to navigate it requires a huge amount of business savvy, but also a compassionate ear for the quirks and eccentricities of the industry itself.

Business has never sounded this good. In what other career can research mean listening to brand new artists? Or when can professional development involve tagging along on a global tour? Of course, it’s not all guitar shredding and head banging: music managers often need to be the most educated person in the room and the stakes are high.

If you’re interested in a career that mixes compassion with practicality, check out our step-by-step guide to becoming a music manager.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Music Manager

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, aspiring music managers will need to earn a bachelor’s degree. While a number of amenable major options exist (marketing, business, economics), it’s also possible to pursue a degree focused solely on music business. Admissions requirements vary from school to school, but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT and/or ACT scores; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement.

Berklee College of Music’s online extension school, Berklee Online, offers an online bachelor’s degree in music business. With instruction provided from award-winning faculty and industry professionals, this is perhaps the most targeted and comprehensive undergraduate program for those planning a career as a music manager.

The curriculum includes classes such as music marketing; concert touring; legal aspects of the music industry; music licensing; copyright law; music venue management; and rock history. The program consists of 120 credits and costs approximately $59,880 in total.

NYU also has a bachelor of music (BM) in music business program available at its Manhattan campus. Leveraging the city’s location as the capital of the music business, the program involves over 300 hours of internships at major record labels and artist management firms.

Courses include topics such as music history; business structure in the music industry; music publishing; the international music business marketplace; and managing creative content development. The Manhattan-based program consists of between 128 and 131 credits, costing approximately $25,342 per semester.

Step Two: Gain Early Work Experience and Build a Network (Timeline Varies)

The music business is an insulated industry and to be a successful music manager requires a healthy professional network. But forget any ideas of droning conventions and stiff meet-and-greets. The music business is still loud and fun and getting involved in it means indulging your inner fan.

Building a network in the music business can come in many forms: interning at record labels, volunteering at college radio stations, or working at record stores (yes, they still exist). At this early stage in their career, music managers are also building a taste profile, learning what works and what doesn’t and why. The early experience and network built at the beginning of one’s career can end up being formative later on, and sometimes critical to professional success.

Step Three: Earn a Master’s Degree (Optional, One to Three Years)

While it’s not a steadfast requirement to find work, many music managers go on to earn a master’s degree that furthers their business and industry understanding. Two main pathways for graduate education in this field exist: a master’s of business administration with a music business concentration, or a straightforward master’s in music business. The former focuses on widely applicable business fundamentals, while the latter is solely aimed at music business applications.

Admissions requirements will vary from school to school, but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); GMAT and/or GRE scores; work experience; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement.

Southern New Hampshire University has partnered with Berklee College of Music to host an online MBA in music business. Designed from the music industry professional’s perspective, the curriculum takes a best-of-both worlds approach by teaching classic MBA fundamentals and then immediately applying them in a music business context. In addition to nine foundational business courses, students take four music-business-oriented classes: music business leadership and ethics; music business structure and strategies; music marketing strategies; and music business finance.

SNHU is one of the most flexible, and most affordable, MBA options on the market. Their MBA in music business program consists of 36 credits and costs approximately $627 per credit.

For those who want to focus entirely on music business courses, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development has a master of arts (MA) in music business program at its Manhattan campus. Courses include topics such as: the law and the music industry; data analysis in the music industry; music publishing (background and practice); promotions and publicity in the music industry; and strategic marketing in the music industry.

Students may also pursue an accelerated global program, where students may supplement their studies with residencies abroad in London or Rio de Janeiro. The baseline program consists of 42 to 45 credits and costs approximately $1,795 per credit.

For other examples of educational programs, check out the guide to online MBAs in music business management.

Step Four: Join a Professional Association (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Music management is not a solo act. That’s why many music managers decide to join a professional association. Associations like North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents (NAPAMA) offer peer coaching and mentoring between members. The Music Business Association offers webinars and research on industry trends. Annual dues vary based on the association and in some cases, based on the number of musicians an applicant manages, but they are often worth the job opportunities, networking events, and education resources received in return.

Helpful Resources for Music Business Managers

Music management is about business and music, but it’s also about relationships and people. If you would like to listen in on the conversations going on between music managers and other industry professionals, check out some of the resources below.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog
Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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