The books being read by people around the music business (updated 5/10/19)
You’ll probably find something of interest. Some books are about music. Some are about technology. Some have nothing to do with either music or technology.
Time to put your Amazon gift cards to good use.
I reached out to people around the music business and asked them for titles of books they’re reading, or have been reading, and what they’d like to recommend to people. I’m doing what I can to update regularly and refresh the book titles. Since the original article, I’ve returned to many contributors to ask for a new batch of recommended titles. This cycle will continue for the foreseeable future.
The responses are a diverse list of titles about technology, music biographies, entertainment, popular science, and various works of both fiction and non-fiction. You should be able to find something you’d like.
Thank you to the respondents.
It seems that most people have a desire to read more but lack the time. (Has anybody made a resolution to read more in 2018?) Hopefully this list spurs you to spend more time being informed and entertained by the written word. If you’re looking a place to start, consider a handful of titles with multiple appearances on readers’ lists:
Streaming, Sharing, Stealing. Big Data & the Future of Entertainment by Michael D. Smith & Rahul Telang. A book about data written by two college professors with consulting experience that inform the insights. Highly recommended for people interested in the way data will shape digital entertainment in the coming years.
The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble To Get Inside Our Heads by Tim Wu. Written by the professor who coined the phrase “net neutrality.” A history of advertising from its beginnings through today’s attention economy.
How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt. A well-reported, fascinating look at the digital revolution in music. This deservedly received glowing reviews.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. No, not the Born to Run book about running, although that comes with my recommendation. Rolling Stone called Springsteen’s book an “utterly unique, endlessly exhilarating, last-chance-power-drive of a memoir.”
Move Fast Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermine Democracy by Jonathan Taplin. The Director Emeritus at the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC, Taplin argues these large technology companies “have stymied innovation on a broad scale.”
Jem Aswad. Senior music editor, Variety
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. Long but very entertaining and insightful even for non-superfans.
Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll by Fred Goodman. A clear-eyed look at a much-maligned music-biz genius.
The Song Machine by John Seabrook. A deep and illuminating dive into the biology and psychology of hit songs.
David Bowie: Any Day Now, the London Years 1947–74 by Kevin Cann. An encyclopedically thorough timeline/bio
Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl. Many people have tried to imitate Mark Lewisohn’s masterful 1988 book The Beatles Recording Sessions, but few have approached its musical analysis, fly-on-a-wall anecdotes and illumination of the creative process behind many ubiquitous or obscure songs. With this book, Duane Tudahl has arguably outdone Lewisohn: not that this book is necessarily better, but Prince basically worked 20 hours a day and recorded everything, so the vast amount of material inside the vault would take a lifetime to plow through. Thus, this fascinating, thorough and deeply illuminating is nearly 500 pages long and covers just two years — but what years they were! Through interviews with musicians, engineers and just about everyone involved except the man himself and some impressively deep research (the key: Warner Bros. Records work orders), we see how Purple Rain and the many albums that surrounded it — by The Time, Apollonia 6, Sheila E and others — not to mention a brain-crushing number of unreleased songs, Tudahl has assembled an incredible book. Hopefully he’s nearly done with a volume covering 1985–86!
Ryan Chisholm. Artist management, A&R at Nettwerk Music Group
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. I have to admit, I’m not a die-hard Bruce Springsteen fan. I read this book based on the suggestion of Rob Light. I say read incorrectly since I consumed via Audible [Editor’s note: hey, that counts] but in my opinion, there’s no better way to read this book because Bruce himself is the narrator. I can’t tell you how often I flipped from Audible to Spotify to listen to specific songs mentioned in the book. It was a unique and incredible experience. I recommend this book heavily on Audible.
When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man by Jerry Weintraub. Narration by Weintraub provides an unparalleled experience to hear the author read you his own stories. It’s as if you hear his diary from his lips. As a relatively young executive in this business I feel like it’s my responsibility to read up on the titans of our business and Jerry Weintraub is probably one of the greatest.
Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s CAA by James Miller. Depending on who you talk to you will probably get different opinions about this book. I’ve listened to it twice on Audible and find it incredibly motivating. I don’t strive to emulate Michael Ovitz, but I do have a tremendous amount of respect for what he and the others built (CAA). This book doesn’t cover a lot of music specific history, but it’s still a great read for anyone looking to have a deeper knowledge of the entertainment industry as a whole.
They Call me Supermensch: A Backstage Pass to the Amazing Worlds of Film, Food & Rock ’n’ Roll by Shep Gordon. By now almost all of us have either seen the documentary on Netflix, read the book, or heard Shep speak about a lot of these stories on specific podcasts. Shep is incredibly inspiring and one of the best marketers on the planet. Be careful sharing this book or documentary with artist though… they will undoubtedly want to try and create some crazy marketing/publicity stunt!
Ted Cohen. Managing partner, TAG Strategic
The 100 Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. This book totally embraces my irrational desire not to slow down! I know that I have much more to accomplish. It addresses work/life balance without suggesting I sit on a cliff in Malibu and chant three hours a day.
Russ Crupnick. Managing Partner, MusicWatch
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone.
Stuart Dredge. Freelance writer, contributing editor at Music Ally.
I’ve been thinking a lot about wellbeing this year, and part of that has been trying to get out of the work/tech bubble — particularly in the evenings — by losing myself in fiction. My reading list has lots of modern sci-fi and fantasy novels.
The first three books kept me out of my inbox and sparked all kinds of neglected synapses. The fourth, River of Gods, was the same, but some of its sparks — what AI entertainment has become in the future India as well as a neural spin on personalized playlists — did lead back to some of the topics I’m thinking about at work.
Martin Frascogna. Frascogna Entertainment Law
I just re-read two books. I keep them both on rotation, but they’re somewhat dated.
Brian Frank. Owner of BFrank Management Inc (FIDLAR, Ra Ra Riot, The Frights)
Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, From the Seventies to the Twenty-first Century by Simon Reynolds At 704 pages, Reynolds’ attempt at capturing the entirety of glam rock is a worthy effort. I thoroughly enjoyed the detailed analysis and narratives of the well-known names and not-as-well-known names that spearheaded and participated in this musical phenomenon. My only disappointment came when trying to find some of the recordings on streaming services in the U.S. and coming up empty. Reynolds’ storytelling motivated an appreciation of some previously overlooked gems. Immediately upon completing Shock And Awe I read David Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, so I completed the alpha and omega of the 70s.
Gretchen Fox. CEO and founder, MTO agency & MTO EDU
Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferris. One of the best books I’ve read in the last year for all sorts of professionals. It’s motivational, it’s insightful, and it offers a lot of great tactical advice.
Jay Gilbert. Co-founder, Label Logic
How To Make It in the New Music Business: Practical Tips on Building a Loyal Following and Making a Living as a Musician by Ari Herstand. As a touring artist / songwriter, Ari writes from personal experience and research. This book is a must-have for anyone looking to make a living in this ever-evolving music business. Ari covers many different aspects of the business from recording, playing live to sustaining a meaningful career.
Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music by Maria Eriksson, Rasmus Fleischer, Anna Johansson, Pelle Snickars, Patrick Vonderau. What makes this such an interesting read is the fact that it’s not really written from a music business perspective. Instead, the book is primarily a deep dive by researchers that use some creative means to get to how the sausage is made. Also, the authors explore the streaming giant’s rise and the tremendous impact it’s had on the music business and beyond.
Nick Gordon. Chief Client Office, Symphonic Distribution. Founder, The Beat NYC
Deep Work by Cal Newport. Deep Work explores the science that underlies productive thinking and accelerated learning (the type required to switch careers or learn a new field) and makes a strong case for removing ourselves from our modern distraction-rich lifestyle in favor of long periods of focused application. It seems obvious, but once read, one realizes how our ADD culture scientifically opposes accomplishing deep work.
Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. Focusing on start-ups, Traction helps entrepreneurs identify marketing channels and narrow down the ones that are most likely to be successful for their business model, thus conserving energy and removing the temptation to compete in all channels — which, for 99% of start-ups, is impossible from a resources perspective.
Craig Havighurst. Journalist and news producer. Author of Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City
Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars by David Hepworth by David Hepworth. Uncommon People is a high concept tour through rock and roll — 40 essays, set in 40 consecutive years from 1955 and 1995, that offer a threshold moment in the life of a different rock star, though a few get multiple chapters. So, there’s an overall thesis and thematic arc and a wonderful walk through the way rock was viewed, marketed and ultimately commodified. There are vignettes and anecdotes, too, from the peculiar to the sordid. The writing is daring and delicious and often very English (he’s from England you see) including an almost unforgivable turn of phrase about early 70s Linda Ronstadt being “at the apogee of her pulchritude.” Lots to love and learn from here.
Cherie Hu. Journalist
Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace by Janet H. Murray
This book is a must-read for anyone working at the nexus of media, entertainment and tech. On a theoretical level, it provides a really powerful framework for understanding how emerging technologies like virtual reality and voice interfaces will transform narrative storytelling techniques. And on a more concrete level, the book is filled with sound advice on how software developers and content creators can collaborate more effectively to make the most out of this disruption moving forward. While the book was published over 20 years ago, it still feels so fresh and futuristic, and even the most modern technologies of 2018 have yet to deliver meaningfully on some of Murray’s proposals.
This is one of my favorite books on business and startup culture — and not just because every chapter opens with a lyric from an iconic rap song. It’s the only business book I’ve read to date that is brutally honest about how running a successful company at any stage and scale is just plain freakin’ hard. In music, tech and most other industries, we hear tons of advice about how to make the most of success, but rarely any advice about what to do in the face of consistent failure, or when confronting some of life’s toughest personal and professional decisions. It can feel like a visceral, emotional rollercoaster reading through Ben’s myriad experiences in the startup world, which are the perfect combination of sobering and inspirational.
Ariel Hyatt. Founder, Cyber PR
Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being by Shawn Achor. I just devoured this book and it’s really good for anyone who manages people. It also talks about success and how being taught to succeed in school does not prepare us to succeed in our work lives.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport. It’s a few years old but it is so good. I had chills reading many parts and they interview a lot of artists as well as [CD Baby founder] Derek Sivers, who wrote a killer summary of the book.
David Israelite. President and CEO, National Music Publishers Association
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker
Tales From Q School: Inside Golf’s Fifth Major by John Feinstein
Will Kimbrough. Singer-songwriter, producer
Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry by Clark Terry. Clark is a wonderful read for any fan of music and anyone hungry for a little-overlooked slice of history. Clark Terry was one of the greatest trumpet and flugelhorn players of all time. He was the trumpet player’s trumpet player. Miles et al adored his technique, feel and tone. Terry worked with everyone: Basie, Ellington, Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, you name them, he played with them.
The most interesting thing about the book was something I never knew: Clark Terry was the first African American musician hired by NBC Television in New York. I was surprised. Even though the greatest jazz music had already been being played and recorded by African American musicians since before 1920, it still took until 1960 for NBC Television—in New York, mind you—to hire Clark Terry. Amazing. You think you know about race in America, but there is so much to learn.
Another great thing about this book is its tone: pure Clark Terry, a mix of playful, sincere, intelligent, and at times bordering on raunchy. The great jazzman’s voice comes through on every page. He loved Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Billie Holiday, and so many of his talented and legendary peers. Terry’s disdain for racism comes through, as well, though not in a bitter and angry tone; Terry scoffs merely at the ridiculous and pointless nature of racism. He would know since he grew up Jim Crow era.
Jeff Liebenson. Liebenson Law and president of the International Association of Entertainment Lawyers
In all candor, I would recommend our IAEL books. We release an annual book at each Midem on the most compelling issues facing our quickly changing music industry, featuring contributions from our members and other leading legal and industry figures.
Tech: Disruption and Evolution in the Entertainment Industries. This addresses how next-generation tech is driving new ways of consuming, creating and interacting with entertainment content and supporting innovation behind the scenes. It tackles how intellectual property, data protection, and other laws regulate and facilitate those technologies, providing a global view on how tech disruption and evolution are impacting the industry.
The Monetization of the Global Music Business. The 2016 volume focuses on how music monetization is rapidly changing as new models emerge, others consolidate and some traditional revenue streams simply dry up. It concentrates on where we are now and where the future may lead us, from streaming to block-chaining and copyright reversion to collective licensing, addressing the commercial, technical and legal solutions emerging in that new landscape.
The Streaming Revolution in the Entertainment Industry from 2015 devoted to the emergence of streaming as the principal means of exploiting and monetizing music and its emerging licensing and royalty issues. It addresses the strategic direction and the overall economics of streaming, the tough new issues is raises, and the challenges in obtaining the necessary rights.
Roger Lynch. CEO, Pandora
Total Competition: Lessons in Strategy from Formula One by Ross Brawn and Adam Parr. The lessons in this book apply across industries. Brawn outlines what it takes to win, and more importantly, what you can learn from your failures.
The Universe in Your Hand: A Journey Through Space, Time, and Beyond by Christophe Galfard. I love a geeky physics book. My undergraduate degree is in physics, so this one is right up my alley.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. This is next up on my book stack. Springsteen has influenced generations of musicians, including me. I’ve heard great things, and can’t wait to dig in.
Craig Marks. Editorial director, Townsquare Media. Co-author of I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution
Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay, & A Few of My Other Favorite Things by Loudon Wainwright III. A mordant memoir from folk-rock super-WASP. He’s as terrible a husband and father as he is wonderful a songwriter, and he writes engagingly about all of it.
Righteous: An IQ Novel by Joe Ide. New urban LA noir, featuring a brilliant but emotionally damaged private investigator named IQ. Fans of George Pelecanos and Michael Connelly will swoon.
Betsy McHugh. Co-founder and CEO, Hurdl
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Two years into a startup, managing, fixing, building, blocking, tackling, surviving, twisting, turning, falling on my knees, and getting back up again — I found myself leaning on engineer logic and missing the forest for the trees. It was my role to see the horizon and I was stuck in the rules. I needed to get my head into a space where I could be free to think as big as possible. So instead of taking LSD, I figured I’d read about a guy who did. I read the book differently than I would have when it came out. What I found were little nuggets of permission to explore without a ceiling.
Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix by Mark Bittman. I had spent decades working day and night as an artist manager come tech entrepreneur, and didn’t realize the power of taking time to think. This book is not only stunningly creative, it showed me there’s a huge connection between cooking and being an entrepreneur — the joy of making something out of nothing. And no, each meal isn’t delicious, nor is every day of being a tech founder. But Bittman made me appreciate the ingredients, the process, and the learnings in between.
Larry Miller. Clinical music associate professor and director, music business program, New York University
Good Booty by Ann Powers. I can’t imagine how anyone but Ann Powers could write so clearly and powerfully on how the themes of sex and race have dominated popular music for two centuries. Epic storytelling.
Will Page. Director of economics, Spotify
The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong by Chris Anderson and David Sally. Learning about how economics is applied to the field of sports can be really rewarding if you want to improve your economic skills in music and media. Learning why zero is greater than one in soccer, (as conceding no goals is worth more than scoring at least one), helps you abstract what is a tactic and what constitutes a strategy. Similarly, for some soccer managers, such as Pep Guardiola, possession is everything. For others like José Mourinho, possession is nothing — he wants to beat you on the break. Read this now and the forthcoming Manchester derby will be a whole different ballgame.
Glenn Peoples. The guy who put together this list.
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard Thaler. Why don’t people behave as the rational people of standard economy theory? We’re just humans. Predictably un-rational people. Thaler helped bring psychology into economics. His recounting of his efforts is a fun, fascinating read.
How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities by John Cassidy. I’m late to this book—it was released 10 years ago—but it has aged well. Cassidy provides a historical backdrop to the factors behind the Great Recession of the 2000s and calls into question the notion Wall Street doesn’t need regulation to save it from itself. How Markets Fail is a thoroughly enjoyable and educational book. I can appreciate why it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction.
Jeff Price. CEO and founder, Audium
Blindness by Jose Saramago. It left me with a feeling that years later I cannot shake. Insightful, deep and intimate to what I hoped would be a purpose that I cannot yet identify. It makes me think.
The Cider House Rules by John Irving. Irving does not waste a word. My favorite contemporary fiction novel. The characters are so well developed with an intricate and relevant story line that brings you to heart-warming/breaking conclusion. It makes me feel.
The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Bryan Greene. Trying to make sense out of existence through science.
Benji Rogers. CEO & co-founder dotBlockChain Media; founder, PledgeMusic
What To Do When Machines Do Everything by Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig & Ben Pring. To my mind this is required reading for individuals and companies looking to navigate the fourth industrial revolution and one of the most significant I have read in a long time. It’s both optimistic and realistic and has moved the needle for me pretty far in terms of how I think about the music and media industry moving forward.
Ian Rogers, Chief Digital Officer at LVMH [ex-Apple Music, ex-Topspin]
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee [Editor’s note: winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction]
Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe
Cary Sherman. former Chairman and CEO, RIAA
World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech by Franklin Foer
Streaming, Sharing, Stealing. Big Data & the Future of Entertainment by Michael D. Smith & Rahul Telang
How Music Got Free: A Story of Obsession and Invention by Stephen Witt
Drew Thurlow. SVP A&R, Sony Masterworks
The Hit Men by Fredric Dannen.
I never had never read this music industry staple until my new co-workers at Sony suggested it. The book was entertaining, but I’m don’t know how much of its stories apply to today’s business—and I think that’s a good thing. [Editor’s note: this is a classic. If you haven’t read it, find a copy on eBay or Amazon Marketplace.]
Move Fast Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermine Democracy by Jonathan Taplin.
Jonathan Taplin’s thesis is that the big Silicon Valley companies, while creating opportunities and efficiencies for consumers, ultimately stifle creators and are dangerous for democracy. He likens them to the robber baron companies of the industrial ages and calls for Congress to help break up their monopolies. It was an interesting and insightful perspective and ultimately somewhat terrifying.
Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly
Endurance is a memoir from astronaut Scott Kelly who spent a year in space. I love astronaut autobiographies for two reasons. First, astronauts are so inspirational because of the odds and obstacles they have to overcome just to become astronauts. Second, from the glamorous and flashy to the mundane, I love all things about space travel and living in space.
Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson. I am obsessed with this book. For those who could care less about sports, Phil Jackson was The Bulls’ head coach in the Michael Jordan era and went on to have more success as head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’neal, etc). Jackson has an incredible penchant for spiritual practices that he applied to his teams and coaching. Can you imaging reigning in the egos of multimilionare athletes to come together as one unit? Or getting Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippin, etc. to meditate with the team in a room donned with Native American artifacts? There is so much to learn from the book with regard to selfless teamwork, leadership, and life.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. This is my favorite book. I have always felt a connection to Steve. Even in his dark times he just didn’t understand when others didn’t understand why the work had to be perfect. An icon of our time and beyond.
What Happened by Hillary Clinton. I found this book to be surprisingly spiritual, even if that wasn’t the intent. It’s a firsthand account of an individual human that went through the insane experience of the 2016 election. At the same time it’s heartbreaking to read a book so well written by a candidate who is clearly thoughtful, intellectual, experienced, and educated, yet whom many in our country decided not to vote for.
Life: An Enigma, a Precious Jewel by Daisaku Ikeda. This is a dissection on Buddhism by a Japanese scientists published in the early ’80’s. The technological predictions Ikeda makes are dead on, and this book is a huge reminder of the collective consciousness and physical interdependency of all in the universe.
Under Water by Casey Barrett. This book is super addicting in a good way! It’s a mystery that kept me up way too late one night as I HAD to find out what happened. A fun read, that describes the New York City that I know and love, along with suspense and world class writing. I highly recommend!