Jen Gunderman

musician | assistant professor of musicology

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“Understanding the Music Business: What is Music Worth?” launched in February of 2016, with thousands of learners taking part in its first session.


The course examines the music industry in the United States, with the unique perspective gained by Vanderbilt University’s location in Nashville, TN. Nashville is a major center of music in the United States, and the music created here has a global reach, particularly in the country, rock, pop, singer-songwriter, and Americana genres.  However, students will learn that the basic principles of recording, marketing, copyright, licensing, and live performance are the same, regardless of musical style or genre.

The music business is one of the most rapidly changing industries in the U.S. today. It is also an industry filled with contradiction, and media headlines and anecdotal stories often add to the confusion. Here are just a few statements paraphrased from recent news stories: 

* The music business has collapsed
* Demand for music is expanding at the greatest rate in history
* Historic recording studios are closing at an alarming rate
* More people are making recordings than ever before
* Musicians usually lose money touring
* Musicians usually make money touring
* Major artist pulls songs off streaming services because they don’t pay fairly
* Major artist makes a fortune from streaming services
* People won’t buy records anymore
* Vinyl record sales are soaring

This course attempts to make sense of these seemingly contradictory trends and data, outlines the basic structure and mechanisms of today’s music industry, and encourages students to think critically and entrepreneurially about the future of music.  

Leaders from various areas of the music business lend their perspectives through in-depth interviews, and footage from a recording session gives learners a behind-the-scenes look at how a song goes from the spark of an idea hummed into a cell phone to a finished recording.

Participants grapple with questions about art and commerce which are both timeless and crucially important today, and emerge from the course with tools allowing them to make more informed decisions as creators, promoters, and consumers of music.