If there’s one thing I wish I had more of when I started my music career, it’s direction.
I wandered, followed the pack until I realized it wasn’t working for me.
And one of the main ways I’ve found direction as a musician is through books.
So here are seven of the best books for musicians to read. If you want to feel encouraged and learn practical ways to grow your music career, check out these…
Austin Kleon’s Creativity Trilogy
Austin Kleon is a cartoonist and bestselling author. He makes a living from creating art, and in his trilogy of books on creativity he shares what he has learned.
Fly like an artist
The subtitle of this book is “10 Things Nobody Told You About Creativity”, and as someone who has read this book many times, that promise is kept.
The very idea of ”stealing like an artist” is not to copy or plagiarize. It’s to let your favorite artists inspire your music. We humans are recycling centers, whether we realize it or not.
An example of stealing like an artist is a notebook I call my Recycling Center Notebook (my version of Kleon’s Swipe File). Every time I read, hear or watch something interesting, I jot it down in my RC Notebook. It could be a direct quote from a book or a thought I had inspired by something I just heard.
Then, when I write songs, I will revisit this notebook for inspiration and ideas.
Fly like an artist has lots more tips on creativity, inspiration, and balancing your art and your life. If you only read one book on this list, read this one.
Show your work!
After you learn to fly like an artist, this book will show you how to share like an artist.
Show your work! includes 10 encouraging ideas on how to take your art to the world, overcome fear of people’s opinions, and use practical promotion techniques.
It will show you how to engage with your audience in a way that grows your career without making you feel like a sketchy salesperson.
keep on going
Consistency is the most important aspect to focus on as a freelance musician. And keep on going is all about not giving up on your journey as someone who creates.
Kleon talks about adopting a healthy mindset, forgetting the noun and doing the verb, and the benefits of going for a walk.
He also offers less obvious tips, like building a Bliss Station, giving gifts for others, and allowing art to enhance your life.
Paul Zollo Songwriting Books
Paul Zollo is a singer-songwriter, author and journalist. And he’s interviewed some of the best songwriters in modern music, like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and one of Frank Sinatra’s top songwriters.
Songwriters on Songwriting
Songwriters on Songwriting includes 52 interviews with some of the greatest songwriters of our time and our parents’ time. And every interview is just the transcript, so you can read every word these legends said about songwriting.
Tom Petty talks about working with Bob Dylan. Dylan says we don’t need new songs. Madonna talks about working with Prince. Pete Seeger remembers his tour with Woody Guthrie. Paul Simon shares some of his songwriting process.
And tons of more fascinating things.
This thick book is full of interesting stories and songwriting wisdom. So if you want to write more catchy songs, this book is for you.
More Songwriters on Songwriting
You thought Zollo was finished after just one book? No.
More Songwriters on Songwriting is exactly what you think it is ‒ transcripts of interviews with even more legendary songwriters.
In this sequel, you can hear directly from Peter, Paul and Mary, James Taylor, Randy Newman, John Prine, and even Disney songwriter Richard Sherman.
It also includes interviews with young songwriters, like Matisyahu and Sia.
If you like Songwriters on Songwritingyou need to get this book away.
How to Succeed in the New Music Business by Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a musician and the founder of the music business advice blog Ari’s Take (he has also contributed to Digital Music News). He’s played hundreds of shows, aired his music on TV, and helped tons of indies grow their music careers.
And his book How to Succeed in the New Music Business, is pretty much like the bible of the music business. If you are trying to build your music career, you must read this book.
He first talks about the evolution of the music industry as a whole, then he explains how to record, release, promote and perform your music.
You’ll also learn exactly how you can make money from your music, such as touring, sync licensing, and music royalties.
I regularly refer to this book to refresh my memory on how to do something or how things work. Get a copy for yourself.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
“Atomic” refers to “an extremely small amount of a thing” and “the source of immense power”. A “habit” is a “routine or practice performed on a regular basis”.
So Atomic Habits teaches you how to take small but powerful steps towards your goals on a regular basis.
And in today’s music industry, most freelance artists who work full time will be in it for a while. Most artists don’t get big, career-changing breaks.
So you need to develop habits that will move you towards the music career you want.
This is the best book to learn how to do this in a way that isn’t overwhelming.
And these are the 7 best books for musicians to read. Even if you can’t read these books right now, I strongly recommend that you at least add them to your reading list, like at present. (I use Goodreads for that).