We sat down with Larry Miller, a 30-year veteran of the music industry and a clinical associate professor and director of the music business program at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, to hear how he got his start, discover how the music business program works, and learn about the explosion of opportunity in the music field available to NYU students today.
NYU: When did you first become interested in the music business?
Larry Miller: My mother worked at a radio station when I was in high school, and I sounded vocally the way I do now at 14, so I could either become a total social outcast or I could play Led Zeppelin records on the radio. And that’s exactly what I did, all through high school and college.
NYU: What was your early career like?
LM: I was always weirdly obsessed with music and numbers, charts, positions of records, and radio playlists, so after DJing at every rock station in Boston, I moved to New York City and got involved with Z100. Following that, I was director of affiliates at NBC Radio, ran a technology-based start-up for AT&T Labs, and cofounded a record label, Or Music. After that, I went back to consulting. And now I have my own consulting firm, Musonomics, which is also the name of my podcast.
NYU: How did you get into teaching?
LM: First, I was the music business entrepreneur-in-residence for Steinhardt’s capstone course Entrepreneurship for the Music Industry. Then I became an adjunct and was given my own course to teach, then another course, and, eventually, I became full-time faculty. A year later, I was appointed director of the music business program.
NYU: What do you tell prospective music business students?
LM: What I say to students and parents is this: the kids—not the parents—should ask themselves if they’re someone who can’t imagine taking a breath without being immersed in, engaged in, eating, sleeping, and breathing music production, music marketing, music discovery, music promotion, and music composition. Or are they someone who likes music, is curious about music, and likes to go to shows? If they’re in that first bucket, then there’s nothing that the kids or the parents should do other than get out of the way of that passion, because those are the kids we want and those are the ones who are going to be the future of the music industry. If they’re in the second bucket, that’s great too. Take our courses, but as nonmajors.
NYU: Do Music Business majors need to come into the program with some business know-how?
LM: Our program is like a three-legged stool: one leg is actual music, so they’re going to have to succeed in music theory, music history, ear-training, and keyboarding. The second leg is actual business. They have to take accounting, marketing, microeconomics, and macroeconomics. The third thing we look for is the ability to express themselves cogently in writing. We want to see how they express themselves because that’s going to be critical no matter what they do in life.
NYU: What’s the main takeaway from the program?
LM: That although the music business is still about discovering an artist and helping them make great music, how that happens has fundamentally changed. That’s what we’re training people for: to be able to work in that context of fundamental change and disruption and go out and invent something that doesn’t already exist.
NYU: What skills do employers look for in graduates of your program?
LM: The most sought-after skill set by any music company today—and I’m not only talking about Sony, Universal, and Warner Music Group but the booking agencies, the talent agencies, the concert promoters, and certainly the digital service providers like Spotify, Apple Music, Google, and Facebook—is the ability to pull insights out of an ocean of data about music discovery and music consumption. That is a rare skill, and that is something that we have figured out how to teach.
NYU: Do you recommend first-year students jump right into a music business course or take their electives first?
LM: There is plenty of room in there for students to take unrestricted electives, but as majors coming in, the one music business course they must take is a foundation course called Business Structure of the Music Industry. I teach the section we have for freshmen.
NYU: That’s got to whet their appetites.
LM: I hope so! I feel like parents are trusting us—all of us on the faculty—to deliver something to their students, and we want to make sure they get what they came for.
NYU: What are the most frequently asked questions from first-year students?
LM: Where do our graduates work and where can I intern? The answer for internships and jobs is the same: our graduates and interns work in every great company throughout the music industry ecosystem. That is, in recorded music (Sony, Universal, and Warner) and all of the good independents in New York City. They work in music publishing. They work in the live music business. They work in the talent agencies. They also work at Spotify, Apple Music, Google, and Pandora. Some of them go to work at instrument companies or music start-ups. Sometimes we have students who want to do an internship in LA, Miami, or Nashville, and they can do that.
NYU: So it’s safe to say that graduates of the program are qualified for a wide range of careers?
LM: Right. Even within a music company, they might be on the creative side in A&R (artists and repertoire), they might be in marketing, some may want to go into artist management. Some of them want to do their own start-up, and they certainly have the tools to do that by the time they’re ready to graduate.
NYU: What do you foresee for the future of the music industry? Do you see streaming morphing into something else?
LM: I wish I was that clever to see what’s coming after streaming, but streaming still has a long way to go. There are opportunities around streaming that are undiscovered territory. Certainly all the major streaming services and the major music companies will evolve to some extent, but the real innovation is going to be done by the start-ups, which I hope will be populated by people who attend our program.
Get an inside perspective on the business side of music with Professor Miller’s Musonomics podcast.