Music is one of the oldest and most fundamental forms of human culture, but for something so universal it can be surprisingly hard to define. The first definition of music in the Merriam Webster Dictionary is "the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity."
If you think that sounds like an incredibly wordy and theoretical way to define music, you're right. But this roundabout definition is necessary. Music is perhaps the most abstract of the arts. After all, what's the difference between songs of humans and the songs of birds, or the cacophonous sounds of a busy city?
Indeed, while we might think of qualities like rhythm, melody, and harmony as intrinsic to music, they are not always as straightforward to define as they seem in classical and popular music. Certain forms of non-Western and traditional music may use elements such as melody or rhythm in ways that are unfamiliar to our ears, to the point of seeming completely absent. And in recent decades, musique concrète (or “concrete music,” which uses sounds drawn from field recordings), avant garde, ambient, and other types of experimental music have similarly pushed -- or, in some cases, erased -- the boundaries of what is considered music and what is simply sound.
Perhaps the secondary definition from Merriam-Webster is the simplest and broadest: music is "an agreeable sound." Learning how and why humans find certain sounds "agreeable" in different cultures and different historical periods can reveal profound truths about who we are, in unique ways that transcend the written word.
You don't have to be a virtuoso concert pianist to work in the music industry. Having a deep familiarity with the world of music, and a knowledge of what sounds are "agreeable" for a given audience, can be a springboard to a number of rewarding careers.
If you have serious opinions about your favorite (or least favorite) albums, you might want to consider becoming a music critic, or a music journalist to tell the stories "behind the music." If the live music experience is your passion, you can become a booking agent who connects artists with the right performance opportunities, or an event planner who works with venues to put on memorable shows.
On the other hand, if you're more technically-minded, there are a number of jobs that allow you to work directly with recorded sound. Sound engineers, for example, manage the technical aspects of a recording studio, and are responsible for ensuring that musicians sound "right" on an album. Mixing and mastering engineers take those recordings and transform them into finished albums ready for pressing onto vinyl, CDs, or directly to digital platforms like Spotify.
Online courses are an increasingly popular way to develop your expertise in music. The flexible schedule and affordability of online courses offer particular advantages to working musicians looking to build their skills while also practicing their craft. As the world's leading online education platform, Coursera offers music courses from leading institutions such as Berklee College of Music, the University of Edinburgh, and Yale University, so you can learn online without sacrificing quality.
Coursera also offers an incredible breadth of courses to fit your needs, regardless of what specific part of the industry you want to work in.
If you're interested in the latest digital tools for music-making, you can take courses in music production and music technology to get the skills you need to work in a modern studio. If you want to build skills for analyzing and writing about music, you can study music theory and the history of music. If you want to support the careers of great artists as a booking agent, promoter, or the owner of a record label, you can take courses in the music business to get the acumen you need to be successful.