I often get asked what are some of the best books for an aspiring musician or music business entrepreneur to read? The question is posed to me on a weekly basis. I guess most people assume that with my music business experience and Bachelor of Science degree in this industry, that I would have a massive library at home of books on “how to make it in the music industry” and a list of useful reference books that I read to help me along the way. Well, nothing beats straight out experience in the industry. Years upon years of hard work, taking risks, and learning by experience cannot be replaced by reading a few books. Doing research by reading books and educating yourself CAN help tremendously. I am a big believer in gaining as much knowledge and education in the field of your choice. That is why I went to school and majored in music business. I actually had turned down a really lucrative job I was offered during my first internship while at school, so that I could continue my formal education and get a degree. Just like the late 80’s and early 90’s rapper Kool Moe Dee said, “Knowledge is King.” Just remember knowledge without works it essentially useless.
I actually do have a massive library of all types of books. Yes, majority of the books are music realted, but I do have a tremendous amount of historical books, classic novels, and a ton of “Ancient Aliens” and lost civilization type books (i.e. pyramids, Crystal Skulls, Holy Grail, Atlantis, etc.). I thought I would compile my list of what I feel are the Top 5 most useful and informative books for an aspiring musicians and music business entrepreneur with the goal of making a career in the music industry. This list is in NO particular order.
During my Junior year at USC, I took an elective course called “The Business & Economics of The Recording Studio,” taught by the co-founder and former owner of the legendary Record Plant Recording Studio. Honestly, at the time I had no interest in the business of a recording studio at the time, just thought it would be super cool to learn from such a legendary guy who ran a historic recording studio (The Record Plant was where artist like Jimi Hendrix recorded his last album, to Guns ‘n Roses cut their landmark debut). The class was not only extremely fun and engaging, but VERY informative. I walked in just thinking the music business was all about making great records. To leaving know that it is a business. We must find the right balance between art and commerce to truly be successful. Our “textbook” was Chris’s book on how he built, ran, solid for an enormous profit one of the most famous (or some might assume infamous) recording studios ever. Whether you want to learn about a recording studio or not, this book is useful in learning how to make a profit in the music industry.
Publishing, not the most popular or sexiest topic in the music industry, can also be the most confusing. Very few people actually know much about publishing. It seems like if you are not a music publisher, you do not actually know the details of music publishing. Honestly, many professionals in the business, when they discuss music publishing, seem to have many holes in their knowledge of it. And with the advent of online streaming sites, digital distribution, sampling, hip-hop music, licensing and placement, internet radio, and an overall shift in the economics of the music business, it is essential to not only understand the fundamentals of publishing, but also the changes that continuously occur. Publishing in a nutshell, is the business of acquiring, protecting, administering and exploiting the rights in musical compositions. If you write songs, this is essential for you to know. If you sing other peoples songs, it is a must as well. This book has gained quite a bit of popularity over the last few years. It truly is the standard in music publishing literature. The Brabec brothers, as they are collectively referred to, have years of experience in the music business. Particularly in publishing. Jeffery Brabec worked for ASCAP for 37 years, and was the Executive Vice President and Worldwide Director of Membership for over 30 years. Todd Brabec is Vice President of Business Affairs for the Chrysalis Music Group, which represents the catalogs of OutKast, Sheryl Crow, Gnarls Barkley, David Bowie, Billy Idol, and many more artists songs. Sounds like if you are going to read one book about publishing, this probably should be the one.
This book was first referred to me by Lenny Waronker many years ago, at the start of my career in the music industry. Lenny, was the President of Warner Bros. Records during their heyday, and was hand-picked by Steven Spielberg and David Geffen to run their new music imprint, “Dreamworks” during the mid 1990’s (sadly Dreamworks Records was bought out by Interscope-A&M-Geffen just a few years back, and absorbed into their company). This should be the first book you read regarding the music biz. It will serve as a fantastic introduction to all things music biz. It is the most read book by musicians and music business professionals. It covers all topics and areas of the music business. If you have not read it yet, consider yourself one step behind everyone else. I have been fortunate enough to get to know Donald Passman, and even have received some legal advice and music career direction from him on a few instances. Talk about getting something from the “horse’s mouth.” The Los Angeles Times refers to this book as “the industry bible.” It really is!
I like to describe this book as the Passman book “All You Need to Know About The Music Business” on steroids. If you can get a copy of this book with the CD-Rom enclosed, consider yourself lucky. It includes sample contracts, forms from the United States Copyright Office, and forms from the three performing rights societies, among a slew of other useful information. “This Business of Music” goes into detail on all aspects of the music business. It will not take the place of a specialized book on publishing like “Music, Money, and Success,” but it will serve as an outstanding insight into all the important and useful areas of the business. One of the aspects of this book I like the most, is how many of the most confusing aspects of the music business, such as the legal side, is presented in a very reader friendly format. If you get lost in legalese or contracts still baffle you, this will not only help you understand much of it, but when you do hire an attorney, after reading this book it will not seem like they are speaking in a foreign language anymore. Probably one of the best all-around reference books on the music business as a whole. Yes this book is complex and thorough. But if the Passman book does not go into enough detail for you, “This Business of Music” is the next best thing.
This book is written specifically for recording artists, songwriters, and musicians who are currently working in the music business. I found this book to be extremely useful because it helped me fully understand my rights as a musians, producer, songwriter, and artist manager. I have to admit, despite having a degree in music business, I still get mystified by music law. Why do they make it so cinfusing?? Music law is one of the most confusing and complicating laws in any industry. The language can tend to be indecipherable. This book can change that for you. It will provide information, with clause-by-clause commentaries on contracts, mechanical rights, and many more eseential areas of interest for ANYONE with a desire to make a career in the music business. As the text on the back of the book advertise, reading and understand the text “requires no background in law or business and is written in plain English, not legalese.”. The scope of this book follows the typical development and life of a musician’s career. From getting started, Music as a Business, Protecting Your Compositions, Music Publishing, Performing and Marketing, Managers and Agents, and Recording.
And for good measure I thought I would throw out a recommendation for a very USEFUL Recording artist bio. There are so many books written about or by famous musicians. It would be nearly impossible to pick JUST one. But, if I had to recommend one, or at least one to start off with, it would be ”The Heroin Diaries” by Nikki Sixx (bassist and chief songwriter for the rock group Motley Crue). Why? Well, reading this book would scare the heck out of you from ever using Heroin. Getting stuck on Heroin will not only destroy every aspect of your life, but will kill your career…and most likely kill you in the process. This book is one of the most unique music bios I have read. Published in 2007, while Sixx was searching though some old boxes, he stumbled upon a journal he kept from Christmas 2006 – 2007 at the height of his heroin addiction. This was also during the time of his infamous overdose from heroin when he was publicly pronounced dead. The book is a day-by-day journal into the dark abyss of heroin addiction, with paranoid delusions that would to sayd of isolation and Sixx locking himself into his closet. Not even coming out to eat or use the restroom. Sixx chronicles some absolutely jaw dropping moments and experiences that makes you wonder how the human body and soul can endure so much. Here is an idea how insane this book gets. Sixx truly thinks his house was surrounded by Stormtroopers (from Star Wars), who were their to come and kill him…I can’t even try to describe what follows next. After each journal entry, there are passages by various people who were in his life at the time commenting on his daily journal entires. So, you get the actual drug soaked journal entries, plus Sixx’scomments on what he recalls, as well fellow band members, girlfriends, drug counselors, etc who lived these days with him
Here is a video of a song I have been listening to quite frequently lately and trying to figure out on guitar. No, the song does not have ANYTHING to do with my book list above, but it’s a great song that I wanted to share with you all…since it has been stuck in my head the last couple of weeks. I am trying to learn it on the guitar, so wish me luck. If you try to learn it, then good luck to you! If you knock it, let me know. Or better yet, make a recording of you playing it and sent it over to me. I’d love to hear it!