The 2018 Holiday Season is now upon us. If your winter plans include learning about the music business, please let me introduce you to, in no particular order, the Pop of Colour reading list of the best music business books I’ve read recently.
Whether you are planning on buying a book or two with the extra money you make playing at corporate New Year’s parties, or forwarding this email to your relatives who are determined to give a thoughtful Christmas / Hanukah / Kwanza / Winter Solstice present to the musician in the family, this list is for you.
All You Need To Know About The Music Business by Donald S. Passman
A Thoughtful Choice If: You or the musician in your life is in search of a large, all-encompassing guide that covers everything on the business end.
High Notes: This book is referred to as “The Music Industry Bible” for good reason. The 500+ page tome is written by a well respected music attorney, and doesn’t hold back from explaining every last tricky clause you might find in a record deal, drawing out complex royalty calculations, and so much more.
Acquired Flavours: The brick-sized book is written by a lawyer, and in some chapters, reads like it (would not recommend bringing on beach holiday). However, it’s the most valuable reference guide on this list.
How To Make It In The New Music Business by Ari Herstand
A Thoughtful Choice If: You or the musician in your life is in search of a large, all-encompassing guide told from an artist’s perspective.
High Notes: The author speaks with authority and from experience, but also with the gentle compassion of someone who understands the struggle it took to make it to a full-time, touring musician. A bigger emphasis is placed on practical tips and to-do’s, making this a better choice for early-emerging artists than the Passman book above.
Acquired Flavours: A handful of chapters in this book are extremely US-focused – such as the guide to moving to major music cities, and the inner workings of touring the American college circuit. It’s no big deal, but here’s hoping the second edition of the book adds some more international information for a global audience.
A Thoughtful Choice If: You or the musician in your life is planning a crowdfunding campaign this coming year.
High Notes: This book explains every step of a social media campaign, and guides you through how to accomplish them. Standouts include the day-by-day to-do list for every day of the campaign, as well as the comparisons of different crowdfunding platforms.
Acquired Flavours: As with most books discussing digital strategy in detail, some of the information is out of date and you will need to make the best adjustments inline with your goals.
Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How To Tell Your Story In A Noisy, Social World by Gary Vaynerchuk
A Thoughtful Choice If: You or the musician in your life needs a good, solid foundation on using social media professionally.
High Notes: The visuals are the highlight. Basically, the book uses screenshots of real life social media posts by large companies, and walks you through what they did rights (and wrong), and sometimes even Photoshops their own version to better illustrate the potential. The narration is colloquial and friendly – if you like my writing style, you’ll like this book’s.
Acquired Flavours: The examples given in the book are all taken from the social feeds of large, multi-national corporations. You’ll need to use your imagination just a little to envision how some of these ideas could apply to you.
The Music Business Is Corrupt… Or Maybe You Just Can’t Sing? by Prof. Tonya Butler
A Thoughtful Choice If: You or the musician in your life is determined to do “new year, new me” makeover, beginning with self-improvement.
High Notes: The author is down-to-earth, and quick-witted. The workbook section and soul-searching questions you are directed to ask yourself cut the excuses. Highly recommended for the determined sort who make their bed in the morning, or aspire to.
Acquired Flavours: If you have an uncertain sense of self, or aren’t yet at a place in your life where you can admit your own shortcomings, this book won’t be as helpful to you as it should be.
Break The Business: Declaring Your Independence And Achieving True Success In The Music Music Industry by Ryan Kairalla
A Thoughtful Choice If: You or the musician in your life wants to know how the modern music ecosystem works, in order to find the right place for them and conquer.
High Notes: Ryan Kairalla may be a music lawyer, but his book is entertaining to read! His narration is funny, and he has a gift for telling stories that get his point across in painfully honest ways.
Acquired Flavours: The author is 100% anti-record label. He’ll explain why throughout the book in an eloquent, intelligent manner, but it’s best if you are aware of that bias before diving in, whether it bothers you or not.
A Thoughtful Choice If: You or the musician in your life is loaded with technical skills, and now is set on making lasting impressions – may it be with fans, business people or other artists.
High Notes: I consider this book solid gold. While not having anything to do with music or business, every tip in this book can be applied in some way, shape, or form in your career – may it be in networking events, press interviews, while shaking hands with an industry big-shot.
Acquired Flavours: The book was written in the early 2000’s, and as a result doesn’t cover social media. However, us youngsters will blow pass our peers after learning tips for phone calls (sorry, no texting).
Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method by Tom Jackson
A Thoughtful Choice If: You or the musician in your life plays live.
High Notes: The diagrams are my personal highlights. From illustrating how/where to stand on stage in order to practice in the mirror, to how to craft the perfect set list, to onstage banter and so much more, practicing and applying these strategies with transform your live show for the better.
Acquired Flavours: It most helpful for bands and acoustic singer-songwriters. Hip-hop artists might not get as much from it, but they are still featured in a few examples.
Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual For A Sexist Workplace by Jessica Bennett
A Thoughtful Choice If: You or the musician in your life is a woman+ working in a sexist environment, and needs a plan.
High Notes: For practical tips on how to deal with workplace inequality, while still coming off as classy and professional, look no further than this book.
Acquired Flavours: Many situations are written around the traditional office setting, so some imagination may be required to adapt the tips to your studio/tour bus/venue, etc.
The Rule Breaker’s Guide To Social Media by Damian Keyes
A Thoughtful Choice If: You or the musician in your life is looking to level up their social media game and stand out, while still being their authentic, artist self.
High Notes: This book is different than a lot of resources on social media, in that it focuses a lot of the philosophies of expressing your artist self, than the latest platform algorithms. The author is also extremely charismatic and energetic.
Acquired Flavours: Damian Keyes is from Brighton, UK, and his writing style incorporates regional dialect that many folks across the pond will be unfamiliar with (though it’s not distracting enough to be an issue regarding the content). Consider it like reading the British edition of the Harry Potter books in elementary school, part of the charm.