Learning the Music Business

I have written a positioning report on skills, Higher Education and the music business for UK Music, the industry’s ‘trade body of trade bodies’. It was published online yesterday and can now be accessed at the link below.

The report has been presented to all the members at Executive level at UK Music internally, as well as to their Skills Board. It feeds into the creation of their Music Academic Partnership (MAP), which seeks to join industry with academia in a number of new initiatives covering skills, teaching, research and educational policy. It is also being circulated amongst academics working in this and related areas. The MAP is intended as a springboard to build the conversation between the sectors in the coming months and years, which I’m looking forward to engaging with.

Learning the Music Business: Evaluating the ‘vocational turn’ in music industry education

Toby Bennett, King’s College, London

Download the full report and executive summary from UK Music’s website, here.



20(…ish) Things to Read from (roughly) The Last Year

So I think that studying the music industry is very important and very now. I’m sometimes asked what I can recommend to back this claim up, so below are 20 recent books and other bits of writing that were all more or less published in the last year or so. I’ve organised them around three main topics:

–          the politics and economics of new technologies and business models
–          economic markets and creative work
–          narrating the industry – representation, image-management, rhetoric

Within these topics I’ve not distinguished between books for the academic sector, for public readership, websites, policy reports and so on – this is deliberate. I think each should be taken on its own terms and read (critically) against the others, so that more productive dialogues between traditionally distinct industries and markets might start to emerge. Some books may not be rigorously referenced but they can nonetheless present new perspectives and unheard voices; academic writing is not tailored for the needs of industry or everyday reading (and often runs the risk of being dry) but this distance can produce insights that reach a little further and deeper as a result.

At the bottom are some forthcoming books to keep an eye out for. It’s a necessarily idiosyncratic list, and I don’t endorse everything on it, but it’s a useful collection I hope.

On the political economy of digital music:
–          Chris Anderton, Andrew Dubber, Martin James, Understanding the Music Industries
An undergraduate/initiate’s entry to grappling with the complexities of the modern industry’s greater focus on content-management alongside retail consumption

–          Tim Anderson, Popular Music in a Digital Economy: Problems and Practices for an Emerging Service Industry
The music industry as a state of perpetual ‘becoming’ as it moves from (ownership-based) product retail to (access-based) service industry

–          Jim Rogers, The Death and Life of the Music Industry in the Digital Age
Challenges the dominance of the ‘rise and fall’ narrative of the music industry, suggesting that existing power structures have been consolidated rather than dismantled.

–          Jeremy Silver, Digital Medieval: The first twenty years of music on the web… and the next twenty
A digital music consultant’s argument for more fluidity between music and cross-media platforms

–          Jonas Andersson Schwarz, Online File Sharing: Innovations in Media Consumption
Important examination of the attitudes and justifications of Scandinavian file-sharers

–          Don Passman, All You Need To Know About the Music Business (8th ed.)
I always recommend this book when people ask me about introductory texts; it is now twenty years old but the fact that it has had so many updates is telling – this new edition came out last year

–          London School of Economics – MPP, Copyright & Creation (Media Policy brief)
A masterclass in how academics can take important debates that could usefully flesh out a dialogue that’s already being had in the public sphere – and then killing that opportunity with hollow argument and needless antagonism

–          International Journal of Music Business Research
Launched in 2012 with interesting people on board, two further issues appeared last year – it’s an interesting experiment in potentially crossing commercial and academic interests.

–          David Beer, Popular Culture and New Media: The Politics of Circulation
Cheating, as this isn’t strictly about music, but it’s as relevant as it can get without being so

On music markets and creative work:
–          Lee Marshall (ed.), The International Recording Industries
A closer look at emerging music markets…

–          IFPI – Engine of a Digital World
…and the industry body’s official perspective on the same

–          Nick Wilson, The Art of Re-enchantment: Making Early Music in the Modern Age
Historical case study of the emergence of a now well-established market – the early music movement in classical performance – from the perspective of its entrepreneur-artists

–          Matt Stahl, Unfree Masters: Recording Artists and the Politics of Work
Recording artists as workers or as property owners? Placing the argument within a broader social context of contemporary US labour markets

–          Mark Banks, Ros Gill, Steph Taylor (eds.), Theorizing Cultural Work: Labour, continuity and change in the cultural and creative industries
Cheating again. Not a proper music book, but lots of important chapters in this regarding creative industries in relation to their history, their literature, intellectual property, and so on

On criticism and narrating the industry:
–          Devon Powers, The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism
Important questions being asked about the industry’s relationship to its media commentary (should be read alongside Powers’ other articles on criticism, ‘hype’, and ‘company freaks’)

–          Kristin Lieb, Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of  Female Popular Music Stars
I’ve not read this one but it’s a timeless theme in a significant historical moment. Old school cultural studies meets the star system – I hope it’s not as clunky as it clearly has the possibility of being

–          Tim Wall, ‘The X Factor’ [in Pete Bennett and Julian McDougall (eds.), Barthes’ Mythologies Today: Readings of Contemporary Culture]
A chapter – but significant that SyCo’s iconic brand is considered one of today’s most telling mythical signifiers (also an acknowledgement of how important I think Barthes is to these discussions…!)

–          Morrissey, Autobiography
The one man myth-machine narrates himself,

–          Bob Stanley, Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop
And further commentary on the meaning of popular music from the perspective of an artist and connoisseur.

–          Dave Hesmondhalgh, Why Music Matters
The social significance of music’s emotional ties, from a key voice in creative industries scholarship. Resemblance to the BPI’s awareness campaign is coincidental, so I am told, but not inconsequentially so, I don’t think.

–          Toby Bennett, The Libidinal Economy of Music Videos
Had to get a plug for myself in here somewhere too, of course…

Forthcoming in 2014:
–          Mark Mulligan, Meltdown: The Music Industry in a Digital Age
Respected music industry consultant’s perspective on what digital means and where it’s going

–          Mark Rye, Over Under Sideways Down
More myths, stories and purported realities from the people behind the Rock History interview blog

–          Martin Cloonan, Shane Homan, Jennifer Cattermole – Popular Music Industries and the State
A global policy perspective on music’s social value based on three national case studies

–          Simon Napier-Bell – Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay
The manager-author delivers another volume of his industry experiences – this time mapped against his own history of the industry

–          Sumanth Gopinath and Jason Stanyek (eds.) – The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies: Volume 1 & Volume 2
Everyone knows that music is mobile now – the academic voices here are key in working out what this means in terms that are not strictly technical or economic, and how music might be experienced in a different way as a result.

–          Timothy D Taylor – New Capitalism, Music and Social Theory
After studies of sync licensing and advertising, this could be an interesting entry into developing a field of music industry studies.


I’m convinced that Music Industry Studies is an emerging and important field of scholarship. Admittedly, these are strange epithets to describe something that already exists and in which I’m heavily invested. But bear with me.

1) An emerging discipline

It’s ‘emerging’, despite the fact that there are many courses on offer in colleges and universities that serve as introductions to the music industry, some of which are even titled something like ‘Music Industry Studies‘, ‘Music Management‘, or ‘Commercial Music‘. But there are competing ideas of how these courses should be taught and the emphases they imply: broad or specific?; contemporary or historical?; local or global?; artist-focused or business-led?; theoretical or vocational?; critical or sympathetic?… I often hear criticisms from the inside to the effect that understanding how the music industry works is something that can’t really be taught (it is experiential, to use the educational jargon). Nonetheless, graduates of these courses often, in my experience,  find their way into some capacity of music work (often via internships) – only to find that the understanding they bring with them is necessarily contingent on the personal preferences and experiences of their module leaders.

Similarly, I see it as emerging right now because, even though there have been plenty of books written about different aspects of the music business over the years – academic ones, journalistic ones, novels, biographies, trashy hagiographies – it seems that we’re increasingly moving beyond the most visible and specific aspects of this world (e.g. famous executives, artists, and music) and towards thinking in terms of broader social and political trajectories. Consequently, there are convergent conversations to be had between all these different genres, as well as with others in similar fields (film, musicology, anthropology, marketing…), and a consensus of approach has yet to settle.

2) An important discipline

It’s ‘important’ for the same reasons – because it is a contested site, with multiple voices claiming ownership of it. In a world where universities spend increasing resources on knowledge exchange initiatives and academics are told they need to have ‘impact’; where a university education is no longer an elite pursuit, such that graduates and post-graduates fill entry-level work positions that do not strictly require a degree; in the same world where Google and Facebook run inductive research programmes that aren’t purely about responding to market trends; where the ideal of employment is less about a job for life than consultancy opportunities and the portfolio career (while its reality is short-term, temporary, and precarious)… In this world, establishing some sort of groundwork for productive conversations to take place between those who think and those who do – and, more importantly, understanding that those two groups are the same, so that such conversations will and should take place inside individuals as much as between them – seems to be quite a key step forward.

Ultimately, of course, it’s important because we’re talking specifically about music. And just as music can help to sell a brand, so too might it enable conversations to range across an enormous array of topics – technology, policy, industrial organisation, work, creativity, emotion, social relationships, representation, criticism, the role of academia, and so on – while still remaining coherent, accessible, and urgent. It helps us think about how what happens ‘out there’ relates quite closely to what happens ‘in here’.

So, while there are and always have been countless people from all walks of life interested in talking about the music industry, I’d suggest that only now is it really starting to be thought of as a discipline – albeit one based on interdisciplinary principles. Thinking about how this is coming to be (in terms of education, technology, political will, commercial impetus, and so on), and about the kind of conversations that might start to emerge, are the two main reasons that this blog exists.