What is the Music Industry? - Definition & Facts

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson provides a brief definition and overview of the music industry. The industry is a collection of people, and their various roles are further described.

Is it a Business or an Industry?

For many of us, music is a nearly constant part of everyday life; it is playing in the background while driving, shopping, or watching television. But how much do we really know about the music that surrounds us, how it's created, how it moves from an idea to a product, or the different people that make it possible?

Street musicians in Dublin, Ireland
Street performers in Dublin

The music industry is a general term for all the parties involved in the creation, performance, recording, promotion, and managing the profitable business of music. The distinction of calling this network of business partnerships ''the music industry'' as opposed to ''the music business,'' is more based on the stigma associated with the latter term than any technical difference. At one time, when the label of ''the music business'' was frequently used, artists often experienced exploitation from those who made exorbitant profits from their work. Today, numerous organizations exist to protect the rights of musicians, composers, and performers.

Who Are the People in the Industry?

Four categories divide the numerous professional careers under the music industry umbrella. However, delineation is not always clearly defined, as some roles can span two or more categories depending on the particular role they perform at that moment.

Creative Professionals (Songwriters and Composers)

Creative professionals are the heart of the music industry. Songwriters envision a piece of music, its feeling, its words, and its meaning. Often, the writer of a song's lyrics and the composer of the musical accompaniment are one in the same, though not always.

Take the writing team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. For decades, the two created hit songs by combining Bernie's skill of lyrics and Elton's skill of composition. Some performing artists exclusively give life to the compositions of professional songwriters and never record a track of their own. Other times, performing artists may write their own songs or collaborate to give life to something infused with their creative skills.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Elton John and Bernie Taupin

Performance Professionals

Performance professionals include everyone who make a recording or live performance possible. This includes the main star when there is one, all the supporting musicians and vocalists, and the many staffers managing the non-performing details.

Starring Performers

When most of us think of the music industry, we think of the starting performers who sing or play instruments to create the music that moves us. For solo artists, like Celine Dion, the star is a single person. For bands or other groups, like The Rolling Stones, the starring performers are the key, permanent members of the band.

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix

Support Performers

Supporting performers are vocalists and musicians who provide additional musical support for the starring performers. They provide the musical accompaniment to solo artists and sing backup vocals but are not billed as the main attraction. Often, especially during touring performances, these musicians may perform only a number of shows while other musicians take their place at others.

Support Staff

The support staff in this category includes every person that sets up equipment or handles details necessary to create a successful recording session or live performance. They might design or install concert lighting for elaborate shows, care for and test instruments, haul around heavy equipment, or mix recordings to produce a complete track.

Business Professionals

Business professionals include everyone who handles the money and deals. While accountants and attorneys are involved in this part of the industry, they are not usually included, as their profession extends to working with many other industries as well. The key business professionals include publishers, producers, and managers.


Producers bring all the elements of crafting a musical recording or live performance together. They scout new artists or contract existing stars, select the songs from a publisher's catalog that best fits the artist's abilities, select and manage the supporting musicians and technical staff, create contracts and project budgets to present to the record companies, and are personally responsible for project completion and delivery.

Producer Arif Mardin celebrates with Bette Midler
Arif Mardin and Bette Midler

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