books about music

4 More Books About Music Every Artist Should Read

The landscape of the music world has evolved dramatically over the past two decades, with digital recording technology and file sharing leading the transformation. Changes in how listeners consume music have in turn influenced how artists create, earn a living, and develop a career.

Our previous articles about must-read books for musicians have focused on navigating the music industry and excelling at songwriting. In this article, we’re going to zero in on some titles that can help you to develop your artistry and create career success by understanding changes in society and technology.

1. How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy – Stephen Witt

how music got free

One of the defining developments in music at the end of the 20th century was the rise and proliferation of file sharing. Since then, the music industry has never been the same. A grassroots, underground and illegal culture of stealing music swept the U.S. and eventually the world. The celebratory vibe of free music for the masses and “sticking it to” giant music companies was offset by very little guilt for the artists who bore the brunt of the financial impact.

How Music Got Free succinctly asks and answers the question: “What happens when a whole generation all commit the same crime?” It is a page-turning account of how the spirit of music was simultaneously liberated and tainted by human greed. Who is worse: conniving music moguls and executives, or the top music pirates? Neither group is ideal for artists, but both remain a reality and inevitably influence the creative process for anyone who wishes to succeed as a musician in current conditions.

Music is now inextricably linked to the Internet, and this book traces how this occurred starting with the invention of the mp3 in Germany to the first music leaks online to how music executives have jockeyed for dominance in the digital space. You’ll meet unsavory and fascinating characters, geniuses, criminals and average people who were involved in changing the business and art form of music forever.

Author Stephen Witt is a journalist who brings the cinematic flair of a seasoned fiction writer to his prose. How Music Got Free was the 2015 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year, a New York Times Editors’ Choice, the 2016 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, and a finalist for the 2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It was also named “One of the Year’s Best Books” by The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Time magazine, The Financial Times, Forbes and Slate magazine.

2. How Music Works – David Byrne

how music works

David Byrne is best known as the illustrious co-founder and frontman of the innovative pop group Talking Heads. He’s also been in the music game for decades and experienced it from the ground up, which makes him the ideal writer of a book with this title. Get ready to be taken on an immersive journey through the early years of pop and new wave music from Byrne’s perspective, what influenced it, and how it has evolved.

Not surprisingly, the book is eclectic and multi-dimensional, discussing music from a range of angles including historical foundations, time, nature’s influence, geographic location, anthropological roots, cultural factors, recording technology and the more recent transformation of how music is shared and consumed. Oh, and there are a lot of great photos, too.

Byrne’s approach as an author is wide-ranging, touching on key historical moments, human psychology, sociology, and even how the shape of a music venue affects the entire experience, be it a gothic cathedral or an intimate nightclub. A discussion of the microphone shows the start of an era where singers no longer had to have bombastic voices or mannerisms to be heard, and those who crooned or even whispered could now have highly successful careers. Musical results are different in every medium, from vinyl to cassette tape to CDs and mp3s, and it is in an artist’s best interest to be aware of the pros and cons of current media and technology.

Byrne himself was influenced in a myriad of ways, and his world travels afforded him exposure to traditional Japanese and Balinese music as well as cultural stagecraft. He discusses the marriage of music with performance and even wardrobe, noting how just like the architecture and acoustics of a venue, the visual impact of the performers play a role in the comprehensive effect of a performance.

The role of modern music technology, recording and playback is discussed, with Byrne lamenting about “calculus-like wave sectioning” and other things that happen to digital music that, he feels, ultimately removes it from the original intent of the artist. Byrne clearly prefers the live performance to recorded media, and that works out well for him since touring and giving concerts remains one of the ways artists can still earn a living from their craft. That said, Byrne also discusses the creation and promotion of digital music and offers a few business models for independent artists to consider.

Byrne cautions against musical elitism and celebrates the earnest amateur. He even delves a bit into metaphysics, pointing out that ultimately everything is musical; atoms, planets and everything in between vibrates constantly. Different scales and styles of music have different neurological effects on humans. In How Music Works, Byrne shows how music has the capacity for inciting revolution and inspiring positive change. This is a power to be respected and used with reverence, responsibility, and care for humanity.

3. Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music – Angela Myles Beeching

beyond talent

Talent is a key to success, but it isn’t the only ingredient needed for a long and rewarding career. Beyond Talent: Creating a Successful Career in Music offers sound strategies for addressing the more pragmatic aspects of a music career while staying connected with what drew you into music in the first place.

The first edition of Beyond Talent is beloved by classical and jazz musicians around the world. Numerous universities and conservatories have even used it as a textbook for their courses. The expanded second edition brings a range of updates and expansions, including relevant and user-friendly advice, practical tools, tips, resources and inspiring examples to help build and advance a music career.

Areas like social networking, branding, finding commissions and online fundraising ideas are covered. The author also offers tips for staying motivated, being honest about one’s own strengths and shortcomings, and managing their money, time and stress levels. There’s advice from some of the best musical entrepreneurs, managers and concert presenters as well.

Author Angela Myles Beeching draws from her years of experience in music academia as well as her connection to her craft to create this impressive volume. The book is full of lessons and advice for musicians who are dedicated to making music their life’s work.

Angela Myles Beeching is the current director of the Center for Music Entrepreneurship at Manhattan School of Music and consultant to Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. She was also the former director of the New England Conservatory Career Services Center and has had numerous articles published in magazines such as Inside Arts, Classical Singer and Chamber Music and also presents regularly at music arts conferences.

Get ready for plenty of candor and seasoned, straight-forward advice presented in a warm and accessible way. This book is an excellent reference source for both artists and Arts Administrators in educational institutions.

4. How We Listen Now: Essays About Music and Technology – Various Authors (Compiled by Cortney Harding)

how we listen now

This book of essays organized by Cortney Harding contains a range of written works from noted music writers, thought leaders, and insightful musicians. The essays cover subjects such as how music production and consumption has changed over the years, how technology and music intersect, and how we will likely listen to music in the future.

From the rise of Napster and music file sharing at the end of the last century to the recent launch of Beats Music, Deezer and Amazon prime streaming options, much has happened in less than two decades. YouTube, Spotify, and Soundcloud remain dominant (for now) while Buzzfeed just may be the future of music consumption.

Writers point out that there can be no more “off nights” or forgetting lyrics during concerts, as it will be all over YouTube and social media the next day. Artists must now pay close attention to their image both onstage and off. Brands are honed through wardrobe, role-playing, set design, theater, and interactions with fans in the virtual world.

Author/compiler Cortney Harding works as a consultant within the music industry and has facilitated numerous connections and business relationships between major artists and major brands. With dwindling direct-to-fans avenues for making money, such partnerships just might define many music careers going forward. While some in the industry actually embrace this development, purists hold out hope that artistic integrity will win out over the temptation to compose and create with a corporate agenda in mind.

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