4 Best Music Books All Time

The 4 Best Books Ever Written About the Music Industry

At the heart of the music industry is a constant tension between art and commerce.

In a multi-billion dollar industry based upon an art form, things get messy. For every story of an artist earning millions from their musical talents, there’s the story of an artist who lost millions through bad financial decisions. The music business is complicated, and it’s viciously competitive. This means that making a living in this business without properly understanding how the business works is incredibly risky. Whether you’re a songwriter, an artist, a manager, or a businessperson, you must be well-informed to have a serious shot at long-term success in the music business.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find credible, reliable information about the music business. So we set out to find the best books ever written about the music industry. The books we’ve chosen are from expert practitioners of the business; they’re filled with practical, useful insights; and they’ve stood the test of time to become music industry classics.

The 4 Best Books

1. All You Need to Know About the Music Business: Eighth Edition – Donald Passman

This is the bible of the music industry. It’s the standard first assignment at top music industry programs like USC’s Thornton School of Music, and it’s probably the most famous instruction manual on the music industry ever written. Even if you never read another book about the music industry ever again, read this one.

The author, Donald Passman, has been a top music attorney for more than 30 years since graduating from Harvard Law. He also taught an advanced music industry course at USC’s law school for many years, and famously negotiated R.E.M.’s $80 million Warner Brothers deal, among other accomplishments. In other words, he knows his stuff.

The topics covered by the book include:

  1. What managers, agents, and attorneys actually do in the music business, and how to build your team
  2. How record deals work, and the major points you need to pay attention to
  3. The business of songwriting and publishing
  4. A detailed overview of copyrights
  5. How the business of concerts, touring, and merchandising works

While the book gives you essential knowledge of how the business works, it doesn’t move much further than a solid overview. This is both an advantage (it’s actually enjoyable to read) and a disadvantage. But the biggest flaw of Passman’s book is that it fails to go into any real detail on music streaming, which is becoming an extremely important area of the music business.

For foundational knowledge on the music business, this is a must-buy.


2. Music Money and Success 7th Edition: The Insider’s Guide to Making Money in the Music Business – Jeffrey Brabec

Where All You Need to Know About the Music Business ends, this book begins. Music, Money, and Success is possibly the most detailed book about the flow of money through the music industry ever written. Using real examples and conversations, the Brabec twins move meticulously through every money-generating area of the music business. It’s certainly not an easy read, but what it lacks in readability, it makes up for with exceptional depth.

This level of detail is made possible by the extensive experience of the authors. Todd Brabec was the executive VP of ASCAP for more than 30 years, overseeing writer and publisher payments for the performance rights organization — adding up to more than $1 billion annually. Jeff Brabec is the VP of Business Affairs for Chrysalis, which represents the catalogs of OutKast, Sheryl Crow, and David Bowie, among others.

Donald Passman’s book provides the blueprint for the music industry. But if you’re a businessperson, publisher, manager, or otherwise really need to understand the financial side of the music business, this is your best resource.


3. Artist Management for the Music Business – Paul Allen

Paul Allen’s book is the definitive guide to artist management. It’s especially useful for those who want to become artist managers, but it’s also a solid resource for artists managing their own careers. If your career involves working with managers, you can also benefit from truly understanding what artist managers do, what their motivations are, and how to work with them effectively.

The artist manager has become the center of the artist’s career more than ever as the influence of large labels has diminished. Artist managers need an intimate understanding of the music business and are tasked with supporting the artists under management, but they also need to understand how to motivate their own careers also. These are the problems Paul Allen’s book addresses, and he backs up his statements with an analysis of more than a dozen case studies, lessons, and contract examples.

Paul Allen teaches artist management, marketing, digital media, and music business at MTSU, and has been the producer or executive producer on stage productions for acts like Blake Shelton, the Dixie Chicks, Toby Keith, and Garth Brooks.


4. Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business – Fredric Dannen

Unlike our other selections, Hit Men was not written by a music industry insider. Even so, the book has become the unofficial history of the pop music business.

In the early 90’s, a journalist named Fredric Dannen extensively researched the behind-the-scenes activity of the major labels in the 70’s and 80’s. He recorded the excess, the greed, the ruthless business practices, the struggle for money and power, and the bitter rivalries between America’s biggest record labels at the height of the music industry.

It’s an especially well-documented look into the pop music business and its intimate relationships with Top 40 radio. How do songs get on the radio? How far will record labels go to get a hit? Even though Hit Men was written more than 20 years ago, the story is still highly relevant to how the music industry works today.

Even though Dannen cast the music industry in a decidedly unfavorable light, his book was an unquestionable home run. It became a national bestseller, and he was even honored by the music industry itself with the Ralph J. Gleason award.

To understand the pop music industry’s inner workings, this is your book.

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