The World’s Best Books On Creating, Recording and Publishing Music

If you’re reading this issue of Scientist, we can assume a few things about you.

1) You have fantastic taste.
2) You’re smarter than the average soprano.
3) You love music.
4) You love reading almost as much.

The official TMimaS music library is an expansive one. This month, we present a few of our favorite books on recording, mixing, and making music that take a look at the process from both sides of the glass.

Mixing Guides:

Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio
by Mike Senior

Mike Senior’s Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio is the newest book on our list. It’s also one of the most comprehensive and best-written guides to mixing that I’ve come across. From speaker choice to signal processing, Senior writes with hard-earned wisdom.

His book is a breath of fresh air as the majority of books about mixing are, quite honestly, pretty terrible. But Senior manages to avoid the major pitfalls that plague this genre: he maintains a relatable and human voice throughout the book and offers advice that comes from real-world experience.

He’s mixed real records that there’s a chance you may have actually heard of, and he’s spent years writing and showing his work in Sound on Sound‘s “Mix Rescue” column. For the most part, Senior has his priorities straight, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Mixing Secrets for beginning and intermediate mixers alike.

Producer/Engineer Interviews

The Tape Op Book Vol I & The Tape Op Book Vol II
Edited by Larry Crane

No other publication does real-world studio stories like Tape Op does.

The first two Tape Op books collect some of some the best articles from the first 20 issues of the magazine. Each volume features stories on music-makers from all of walks of life, from world-class studio engineers to humble home recordists, and everyone in between.

While these books are heavy on the interviews, they almost deserve a category of their own. Editor Larry Crane and his contributors ask some technical questions, but on the whole they’re more interested in the lives, thoughts, and motivations of some of the most compelling figures in studio history.

Unlike many of the glossier magazines that died out over the past decade, Tape Op has always remained relevant by keeping off the expected path. It focuses on crucially important independent music as well as some of the best major-label releases, and editor Larry Crane is notorious for refusing to let the magazine repeat itself.

Contrary to what the name might suggest, it’s not just about analog recording either. The everyday professionals and gifted hobbyists profiled here work on all sorts of systems and in environments ranging from Manhattan meccas of sound to roving studios built out of hatchback cars.

Mix Masters
by Maureen Droney

This one is a real sleeper, but it might be one of the better-organized books of producer interviews I’ve read. Maureen Droney asks inspired questions, the book is heavy on real-world tips, and the voices and advice inside span genre and style.

Runners Up:

The “Handbook” Series
by Bobby Owsinski.

Each of Owsinski’s books in this series offers heaps of good producer interviews interlaced with solid chapters covering the basic techniques and technology of each field.

The Recording Engineer’s Handbook, The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, and The Mastering Engineer’s Handbook.

Also worthwhile for aspiring engineers: The Golden Moment. And for non-engineers/general audiences: Behind The Glass volumes I & II

Practicing

To say that constant practice is essential for musicians is a gross understatement. It’s so obvious in fact, that sometimes it’s too easy to forget.

Outliers
by Malcolm Gladwell

With Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000 hour rule.” This is the idea that mastery of any domain (including performing and recording) comes from hours upon hours of regular practice. In this expertly written analysis of the ingredients that go into success in any field, Gladwell presents the counter-intuitive notion that talent is overrated.

I didn’t always, but today I would definitely agree. You know who wouldn’t? A ton of very talented people who’ve lived up to few of their aspirations. If that doesn’t tell you something about who to listen to, I don’t know what will.

What really leads to achievement is a combination of effort and luck, says Gladwell. While this book can’t bring you either, it does offer a powerful and well-supported reminder to keep making daily effort, and gives valuable insight into maximizing your “return-on-luck” when you finally do run into some. (And you will.)

Thanks to Gladwell’s background at the New Yorker, it’s an enthralling read that sidesteps all the cliches of the traditional “self-help” genre and maintains the tone of a journalistic analysis throughout.

Effortless Mastery
by Kenny Werner

So, you know you’re supposed to practice. The question becomes “how?”.

Effortless Mastery is an extremely useful guide for anyone who struggles with making practice a daily habit. Central to Werner’s philosophy is the idea that our unacknowledged anxieties surrounding failure are at the root of our resistance to practice. And while he can veer a little close to the New Age for some musicians’ tastes, I can promise you that you won’t find a book on practicing that doesn’t.

Werner himself spent years as a naturally talented kid who wasted hours watching television and left much of his talent unapplied. He offers hints on breaking past your blocks, and advocates playing mind games with yourself to encourage the sustained work.

For instance, Werner knows that if you’re having trouble cementing the habit, a promise to yourself that you’ll practice 5 hours a can be daunting and lead to long stretches of no practice at all. Instead, he advocates telling yourself you’ll only practice for 5 minutes. Most players find that once you get started, the hard work is over and sessions always go longer than expected.

The book is filled with countless mental hacks like these, and they really do work. If you ever find yourself stuck and aggravated, Effortless Mastery speaks with a welcome and reaffirming voice.

Studio Construction

Home Recording Studio: Build It Like The Pros
by Rod Gervais

The title of this book is a bit of a misnomer as it could also make a good construction primer for anyone confronted with building a full-fledged commercial room. Noise reduction, construction techniques and materials, sound absorption, and diffusion are all covered here and in language anyone can understand. A great resource.

Runner Up:

Building a Recording Studio
by Jeff Cooper

This book is just as good, maybe even better than Rod Gervais’ in some ways. The one strike against it is that it’s out of print and has been known to fetch more than $200 on Amazon. I’m glad I still have my copy. If you’re able to find one at a good price, it has great information and charts for commercial studio design.

Music Business, Contracts and Promotion

Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying The Culture Business, And How The Culture Business Can Fight Back
by Robert Levine

The idea that “information wants to be free” became so dominant in the 2000s that it would be silly for us to recommend yet another book that approaches music business and promotion from that perspective. You already know those arguments.

Robert Levine brings a fresh take to the subject and restores some much-needed balance to the conversation. Despite the book’s provocative title, his is a moderate and well-reasoned counter-argument that’s long overdue.

A central argument in the book information can’t “want to be free,” as it is merely information and can’t want anything at all. It’s the web companies that want information to be free Levine says, because it adds black ink to their bottom line and makes their shareholders very happy and very rich.

Levine reminds us that the YouTubes and Huffington Posts and Facebooks aren’t pure, information-age angels that liberate art. To him they are in fact the new middlemen, making millions on “content”, often without respecting the basic rights of artists. Companies like these are the labels, the publishers, and the distributors of today all rolled into one, and Levine feels we shouldn’t give them a free pass with regards to artists’ rights, just as we refuse to give a free pass to their more traditional counterparts.

According to him, a healthy and profitable media industry allows for greater investment and development of high-quality albums, books, films, and TV shows. Without a healthy media-creation industry, Levine argues, there would be no Beatles, no Mad Men, no Citizen Cane – just viral videos like “The Keyboard Cat” and “Charlie Bit My Finger.”

But even if you’re not a fan of major media conglomerates, there are plenty of lessons in Free Ride for artists, niche production companies, and independent labels. Levine believes that your best strategy is to limit the amount of free work you make available, and set firm, sustainable prices, even in the face of overwhelming advice to the contrary. In a recent interview with TechCrunch, he said:

“I think media companies need to take back pricing power… One of the false narratives was that ‘things are too expensive, people won’t pay this, people won’t pay that,’ but there’s not a lot of evidence to support that. As an example, when iTunes went to varied pricing, the most expensive track [became] $1.29. They sold fewer tracks, but they made more money. That was great for media companies. When the New York Times started charging for content, they made more money [too]. I think believing that you have no power to charge for [your work] leads you to make very poor decisions.”

Levine reminds us that the loudest voices arguing we can’t put the cork back in the bottle of free content are the massive new tech companies that profit from the status-quo on the web. But the harsh reality is that until we live in a Star Trek-style futurtopia where food, rent and medical care are free, not all music can be free either.

The Tipping Point
by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell makes another appearance on our list, this time with the book that launched him into wide renown. In The Tipping Point Gladwell investigates everything from the New York Times bestseller list to teen fads to explain about how ideas spread and become phenomenons. Although it’s not written specifically about the music industry or marketing for independent artists, the book makes for a good primer on both, and its lessons stick.

Central to Gladwell’s thesis is the idea that art requires a team of complementary personalities working together to find its audience. Lone geniuses don’t get very far in a vacuum, he maintains. And on close examination, arguments to the contrary seem to stack up as wishful and naïve.

Gladwell is a delightfully manipulative writer as always, zooming in and out on familiar and unusual narratives and making enlightening, sometimes counter-intuitive connections between them. The Tipping Point is written for a general audience and is a pleasure for being a well-constructed piece of writing as much as for offering practical advice.

Runners Up:

You Are Not A Gadget
by Jaron Lanier

This is a work that may stand the test of time even better than Levine’s Free Ride. For years, Jaron Lanier was a Web 2.0 maven and one of the leading gurus of “free.” But as he saw the evidence roll in – lost jobs, devalued creativity, and a slowing of real progress outside of web technology sector – he had a change of heart.

You Are Not A Gadget tackles the same issues as Free Ride but from a different angle, this time with a more philosophical edge and less overt bias. It gives fewer practical and immediate recommendations than Free Ride, but is a thoroughly enriching read.

All You Need To Know About The Music Business
by Donald Passman

Donald Passman’s comprehensive tome on traditional music contract law has lost some relevance in recent years, mostly because the number of old-school recording contracts going around has decreased. However, the actual information inside of it is still top-notch and as valid as ever if you need a better understanding of traditional music contracts and copyright law.

This book can’t replace professional legal representation if you actually enter into contract negotiations, but it’s a real eye-opener for anyone who wants to be better prepared and get the full story of what really goes in to traditional recording agreements.

Mastering

Mastering Audio
by Bob Katz

The flagship book in audio mastering remains Mastering Audio by Bob Katz.

Katz is an authoritative and opinionated writer who believes in meaningful standards informed by good taste. He’s a fine engineer too. If you want to gain a firm understanding of everything mastering, from dynamic compression to file types, this is one of the best guides available.

Well, that’s a good start for anyone. Of course we had to leave off dozens of books that made it to our shelves, and some of the ones we skipped are quite good. Look for an upcoming issue featuring some of our favorite music biographies and memoirs – And if you’d like to recommend one yourself, don’t hesitate to email us.

This entry was posted in All Stories, Featured Stories, February 2012, Industry Trends, Music: Making it, Listening to it., Techniques. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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