If you’re prepared you’ve probably already bought all your Christmas gifts even if it isn’t yet December, if you aren’t and you have a music lover in your life then how about a nice music related book? I’ve got a few recommendations for you here, there are plenty more I’ve enjoyed over the years – lots of biographies of certain artists etc, but the list here caters for a general interest in music and the industry. They’re all books I’ve read and enjoyed – so that’s a plus!
(Quick Ad disclaimer – All links are affiliates, but you are of course free to go and buy them from where you want I guess, as long as you’re not stealing them and you’re giving money to the authors!)
How Music Got Free by Steven Witt
I’d assumed this book wouldn’t tell me much that was new given that I lived through the whole Napster experience but it most definitely did. It opened up new parts of the story I hadn’t thought about at the time or even considered.
It should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to have an opinion on the state of the industry and streaming because the alternative to Spotify isn’t everyone making millions from album sales, it’s piracy and illegal downloads and no one making much at all.
That said though it’s not a boring factual plod, it’s a great compelling tale, from various points of view, of a process that fundamentally changed how we consume and pay (or don’t) for music.
Selling The Pig – The Final days of EMI by Eamonn Forde
This is very much a book that I thought whilst interesting might be a bit of a slow ponderous read. It is after all a look at the boardroom deals and financial goings on behind the music institution that was EMI. It turned out this book was none of that though, it took what had the potential to be a dull subject matter into a riveting, driving, compelling narrative. An even more impressive feat when the end of the story is pretty well known.
Not an exhaustive history of the company it offers a great window into what went wrong, and what came close to going right, at EMI during those final years. It also leaves you undecided as to whether EMI was a victim of its own stuck in it’s way outdatedness or of the tone deaf forward thinking of venture capital. A question that has stuck with me, intriguingly unanswered, since finishing the book.
How Music Works by David Byrne
A look at the creative side of music from David Byrne. A book that is part biographical, it traces the wide reaching thoughts of the Talking Heads singer songwriter as he explored different ways and inspirations for making music throughout his career.
It offers up big ideas on what makes up music, where our inspirations and traditions come from and how they are, and can be, incorporated into more modern music making.
A great read for anyone with an interest in the process and creativity of making music.
The Song Machine by John Seabrook
Whilst it starts with Cheiron studios in the 80s and early 90s and the hit factories of the 70s this is very much a book about the modern pop music industry. With the emphasis very much on industry.
A truly eye opening look at what goes on behind the scenes and the processes and multitude of collaborators that go into creating a modern pop song. For some it will disenfranchise and harden a dislike or disdain for modern pop music. For others it’s an intriguing look behind the scenes.
Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop by Bob Stanley
Bob Stanley (of Saint Etienne fame) provides an all encompassing tour of modern recorded music over 50 years from 1950 to 2000 in a single volume.
It never dives too deep having so much ground to cover but it weaves together the strands of modern genres deftly from their many births and subsequent fade aways. It’s fantastic at illustrating the various different influences each genre has on the other and provides historical context for movements such as rock n roll, hip hop and punk.