• Musicologist

You can do more than teach with an education in musicology. The academic study of the art of music is an immensely useful pursuit that can lead to a career in music publishing, music supervision, and numerous other positions in the entertainment field.


Musicologists are often consultants who work on a freelance basis. These individuals are hired to provide assistance to record labels, music publishers, film and television production companies, and media advertising agencies, among others. Typically, the musicologist’s tasks are research, analysis, and opinion. On behalf of clients, the musicologist may participate as an expert forensic witness in copyright-infringement or sound-alike lawsuits. Other services may include consulting on matters of original music clearance, sample analysis, copyright valuation, licensing research, and verification of originality.

Permanent or full-time employment is available with companies that create audio identification software (like Shazam), and with organizations that may need a musicologist’s expertise in mapping and cataloging songs according to specific qualities (for instance, Pandora or Gracenote). Under these circumstances, the musicologist analyzes a song to identify specific characteristics like tempo, melody, and tone, and records those findings to aid programmers in writing code that selects songs for software users based on similarities of style and genre. Additional employment opportunities include consulting with directors and music supervisors on historical and stylistic accuracy of music for films and television shows or with sound design studios that specialize in the production of original music for movies, TV, commercials, and other media.

Skills & Education

A bachelor’s degree in music, ethnomusicology, musicianship, composition, or music history is expected, and should be accompanied by a master’s degree in musicology or a closely related program with a concentration in the study of music. Familiarity with multiple genres is required, and a musicologist should be as familiar with a song’s genesis as he or she is with the technical notation of the tune. Training as a musician in at least one instrument is valuable, but not required. You should be able to sight-read sheet music and instantly spot the subtle distinction between an Afro-Cuban clave and a Bo Diddley beat. Equally important is a thorough understanding of the evolution and continuing innovation of musical instruments and electronic devices used in the production and performance of recorded and live sound. Courses in copyright law, licensing, and music business are encouraged.

What to Expect

A career as a musicologist is a lifetime devoted to the study and understanding of music, applied to serve the varied needs of multiple clients. Before you cultivate a successful career as an expert for hire, you will have to gain relevant professional experience in the music and entertainment industries. Any job in a music-related company is useful, so there really is no wrong place to start. Work at a record label, music publisher, or performing rights organization is invaluable. Most important is that you clearly define for yourself where you want your career to take you. If you are interested in business and law, seek out employment in the areas of copyright, licensing, and administration. If working with songwriters and artists is more your thing, hang around the A&R department, recording studios, and scoring stages. Those interested in pursuing a career as a musicologist must be willing to engineer their own opportunities with a bit of creativity and gumption.


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