Review: How Music Works

How Music WorksHow Music Works by David Byrne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a book about how the mind interprets music or why we make music from an evolutionary point of view (although the topic is explored in the last chapter). It is probably more suitably titled How Music is Made – although I can see why they didn’t pick that title – people might expect a set of steps for making music on their own.

Instead, David Byrne has a thesis he looks at from multiple angles – music is influenced quite a bit more by external factors than we usually realize. Yes, the artist needs to bring his/her inspiration and talent, but there is a lot that colors the creative choices the artist would even think of making. A lot of this is obvious in hindsight, but most of it I had no idea about ahead of time. This includes things like the obvious cultural and the less obvious types of venues available, types of recording medium, and cost of record production (plus many more).

I found nearly all of the book to be a very interesting and illuminating read. The only parts I didn’t care as much for were the autobiographical bits. I know it provided his bonafides, but since I have no experience with his output, it mostly didn’t mean anything to me. As I mentioned during one of my updates, I really like that he is very honest about both sides of every issue. You can almost always tell what side he falls on, but he still provides cons to those positions and pros to the ones he disagrees with. I really appreciate the honesty because it helps show that the music world is much more complicated than black and white. I also really appreciated his full disclosure on how much money he made on one of his albums when comparing self-publishing to a more traditional deal.

I think anyone who is a music nerd (say you listen to All Songs Considered or read AV Club’s extended music features) should really read this book. It’s pretty eye-opening to see how things have changed and how things work from someone who seems to prize information over enforcing a certain point of view.

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