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As an independent artist, trying to break into the music business can be a daunting and confusing journey. While mastering your instrument of choice, songwriting, booking gigs and buying studio time is enough of a full-time job as is, navigating the business side of the industry requires an entirely different set of skills, lots of patience, and a learning curve that can seem intimidatingly steep.
Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help you find your way through this complicated, crowded and competitive field. A number of e-learning sites are now offering online music business courses. These music business programs are taught by instructors that have been successful themselves, or have seen how it works from the inside. They’ve all developed their own strategies to share, leaving a blueprint for your band — or yourself — to break through and get seen (and more importantly, heard).
But there’s way more to it than just getting your tracks out there. Once your music finds its audience, that’s just the beginning. You’ll need to know things like building a loyal fanbase, utilizing social media for promoting, starting and maintaining a crowdfunding campaign, and what being an entrepreneur entails.
The best online music programs will also include classes on how to monetize your music, generate advertising and royalty revenue from streaming services. Prefer to work behind the boards or in the boardroom? We’ve found popular music business courses with tips for touring and teaching, as well as managing a band and becoming a music journalist.
Some of the courses are more comprehensive and informative than others, so finding the right one may require a little research first. But the topics offered cast a wide net, and are an excellent resource for any up-and-coming artist.
The music business is ever-changing and morphing, depending on the times and technology, and what may have worked ten or even five years ago may not be the best course of action to take right now. These online music business courses offer up-to-date guidance from those who know it best, and allow you to learn from those who lived it — right from your laptop, phone or tablet.
1. Coursera: Music Business Specialization
This in-depth collection of four courses, taught by professors from The Berklee College of Music, dives deep into everything you need to know about the music industry, starting with a basic overview of its history and how the record label structure was built. From there, you’ll learn crucial information about your rights as a creator, how to negotiate contracts and even how to start a crowdfunding campaign to kickstart your career.
What we like: unlike some generic online programs, where you’re left to your own devices, Coursera students receive individual attention, including graded quizzes and feedback from the instructors. By the time you finish, you’ll have a solid plan in place for your career.
The course is open to both artists and managers, and no background or previous knowledge is necessary here – just enroll and get online. The recommended length is about five months, if you devote two hours per week.
The best way to get access to Coursera’s music business programs online is through Coursera Plus, the platform’s subscription service allows you to get unlimited access to more than 3,000 courses for a flat fee of $399 per year (or about $1 a day). That’s cheaper than paying for classes at a typical in-person university, and you can take the courses on your own schedule, at your own pace.
2. Udemy: Monetize Your Music – How to Make Money With Music
For anything and everything all about the music industry, Udemy has got you covered. The educational website features tons of courses for both all-encompassing overviews, and more focused hyper-specific niche ones (like how to become a cruise ship-musician). We like this particularly helpful class about monetizing your music.
The course focuses on stock music libraries, and how your tracks can generate income on their own once uploaded and tagged properly. If you’re a musician who can create (as well as register and copyright) professional sounding tracks, you’re a perfect candidate to present to publishers, who are constantly searching sites for songs to use in various media.
The money generated can vary widely, but the more tracks you have available, along with the knowledge from this course, the greater chance you have of getting your music discovered and sold.
3. LinkedIn Learning: Music Law and Copywriting a Song
LinkedIn may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of the music industry, but LinkedIn Learning offers numerous courses to educate and inform you about everything involving your musical career. Beyond the basics such as songwriting and social media management, there are opportunities for learning about music licensing, podcasting and the business behind it, photography, graphic and UX design, and audio production. They all vary in length, from an hour-long lecture, to a series of classes up to and above 30 hours.
The best courses are taught by veterans of their respective fields, such as ghostwriters for major artists, some with over 35 years of experience to offer. This course focuses on copyright law, an absolute necessity for any new artist to know. Registering a copyright to a song is vitally important, and protects your track, as well as yourself, from a host of monetization and legal battles that could come up without having one in place.
Led by Richard Stim, an attorney specializing in IP law, the course easily guides any artist through the sometimes murky process and language of securing a copyright for your composition.
You’ll also review cases where copyrights became a confusing court battle, how the artists eventually won out, and how to handle any errors and challenges that arise after your song is out there.
4. Coursera – The Cycle: Management of Successful Arts and Cultural Organizations
“Think outside the business” with this informative course from Coursera, ideal not only for artists, but those who want to manage entire arts and cultural organizations.
Offered by the University of Maryland, and taught by the founder and president of the Institute of Arts and Management at UM, this series provides the knowledge necessary to build a network from the ground up, connecting with donors, board members, trustees and volunteers to make arts events happen. The instructors present their own methods and management theory, known as “The Cycle,” to create and maintain an organization that can bring art, theater, music and more to the masses.
You can safely learn at your own pace, as all the course materials are offered as soon as you sign up.
5. LinkedIn Learning: Digital Release and Promotion Strategies for Musicians
So you’ve written a song or an entire album that you’re proud of and can’t wait to unleash it on the world. But uploading it to the major streaming services isn’t enough, and once it’s on there, it can instantly get lost in the vast ocean of other competing artists.
That’s where this helpful course comes in. Though the competition is greater than ever, so are the options for getting your music heard. Producer and author Evan Sutton will walk you through the steps of self-releasing a song, how to maintain momentum with blogs and press releases, even what to do before it drops to best prepare for precision promotional strategies.
Once a solid foundation is set, the sky’s the limit. You’ll learn how to keep the buzz around your band going using email marketing platforms and offering exclusive streams and downloads to your most loyal fans.