Lanier was probably born in Greenwich and initially taught by his father, who played Sackbut. In 1613 he co-wrote with Giovanni Coperario for the wedding of the Earl of Somerset. He also wrote for Ben Jonson's Masque of Augurs and Lovers Made Men
1615 Lanier was included as a lute player in the Royal Chapel, where he also played the viola da gamba except the lute and sang. From 1625 he traveled several times to Italy to buy paintings for the king, and became known with the new Italian music of Claudio Monteverdi. They led him to bring the first time the elements of monody and recitative to England.
Lanier received in 1626 the new title " Master of the King's Music " and thus became the ancestor of the British court composer. During the Commonwealth of England, he lived in Holland, but returned in 1660 back into the English service.
Lanier there is a self-portrait that has the music faculty of the University of Oxford, and an oil painting by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, the 1625 on a trip to Italy in Genoa, where van Dyck was staying at the time, was ( in the possession of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna ).