I just finished reading How Music Works, the 2012 book by David Byrne. I’d like to thank Hobie Post up front for recommending this excellent read.
For those who saw the name of the author and immediately thought the question, yes, it is by THAT David Byrne, the one from Talking Heads and loads of other excellent projects.
This is an ambitious book. It talks about so many aspects of music, from the creative process, performing live, recording, to the business end, the various types of contractural arrangements, and how the business has changed radically with technology. This is all mixed in with autobiography. Byrne shares his own experiences generously throughout.
One of the key ideas Byrne argues is that he believes we “unconscously and instinctively make work to fit preexisting formats”. He starts the book out by laying out this argument and in doing so he caught my attention right away.
“In a sense, we work backward, either consciously or unconsciously, creating work that fits the venue available to us. That holds true for other arts as well: pictures are created that fit and look good on white walls in galleries just as music is written that sounds good either in a dance club or a symphony hall (but probably not in both). In a sense, the space, the platform, and the software “makes” the art, the music or whatever.”
How Music Works is written in a fairly conversational way. It is intelligent and thoughtful but at the same time it’s his own story and all the bits are mashed together. I think this kept the book from becoming too dry and as well it flavoured Byrne’s ideas with his experience. The book is peppered with illustrations, although I thought many of them were superfluous.
I think How Music Works could be improved with a little editing aimed at reducing the scope somewhat and shorting the whole business by a few chapters. Still, I found it to be informative and thought-provoking, and I recommend it highly for anyone who loves music. I’m giving Mr. Byrne the 27th Street Stamp of Approval for How Music Works. Read this one.