Read Time 6 Minutes
While actress Jean Seberg once quipped about the movie industry, “It’s called show business not show art!”, this advice is applicable to guitarists as well. For those of you in bands or aspiring to make a career on your own, developing your music business chops are just as important (and some would say even more so) than your musical chops.
With that in mind, here are a few books I think every guitarist should at least peruse (if not out right read or even – * gasp *- own!)
All You Need to Know About the Music Business: Seventh Edition– Donald S. Passman
If you take a music business course at a college, the chances are 9 out of 10 that this will be the book that’s assigned to you. This is because it’s an incredible resource that covers a lot of territory. (Unfortunately, a lot of that material is related to record deals. Since most musicians release things independently now, this may or may not be an issue for you.) Passman does a really great job of breaking complex legalese into musician speak. If this book teaches you to never sign a contract without having a music attorney going over it first, it may pay for itself hundreds of times over.
Honorary mention – This Business of Music – also an industry standard (and covers a lot of similar territory to All you need to Know…)
The Self-Promoting Musician-Strategies For Independent Music Success (2nd Edition) – Peter Spellman
Peter is a great, no-nonsense writer who knows how to cut to the chase. In addition to having a solid analysis of the present (and future) of the industry, this book really makes the case for the need of musicians to work independently. It then goes on to the nuts and bolts of developing one’s career, developing a music business plan, gigging and promotion. If you want to see what really goes into developing a career in the industry, this is a vital resource.
How to Make it in the New Music Business – Robert Wolff
While some of the recording advice may be a little too noob-oriented for working musicians, the rest of this book is dead-on. If you’re thinking about starting a band, one thing you’re going to learn is that once real money and assets are involved the business of the band often becomes a much bigger deal. The time to address band business is when you’re starting the band rather than dealing with it legally later. In the section called, “Your business in the New Music Business” where Robert shows how he became a corporation (and why he chose incorporating as opposed to other forms of business) in step-by-step detail. Whether you want to work solo or play with a group, this book can help get you get on your way.
Beyond Talent: Creating A Successful Career In Music – Angela Myles Beeching
As the former director of Career Services at New England Conservatory, Angela has years of experience in helping classical students prepare themselves for working in the real world. While much of the advice is administered with that experiential filter, all of it is applicable to working musicians. In addition to addressing topics like entrepreneurial mindsets (and skill sets), networking and promotion that other books cover, Beyond Talent is unique in that it also addresses more nebulous topics like connecting with audiences (and how to develop residencies), performance issues (like stage presence and performance anxiety), grants and fund raising. It’s a series of gaping omissions in most music business texts that Beeching covers superbly. If you’re at the early stages of developing a solo career, this book may help answer a lot of questions that you didn’t know you had (but desperately needed answers to).
Honorary Mention – My So-Called Freelance Life – Michelle Goodman.
If you’ve ever taught lessons in a music store, you may have been surprised to find that you were paid as an independent contractor. Congratulations!! You’re a freelancer! Michelle does a great job of talking about the steps needed to establish and maintain yourself as a freelance professional (and it’s better written than any “idiot’s guide….” that I’ve come across). If you’re thinking about being a freelance guitarist, composer, re-mixer or any other type of musical endeavor – make sure to grab yourself a copy.
How to be your own booking agent – Jeri Goldstein
If you’ve never been on the road before (or booked a tour before) this is the book for you. It’s filled with great tips about all things touring including, promotional material, cold calling, contracts, negotiation, conferences, international booking, tour management and funding.
Honorary mention – Tour Smart And Break the Band – Martin Atkins
As the former drummer for PiL (and a number of other bands) Martin’s book is a deep and fascinating look at touring – but is more geared to bands that are already established at some level. If you find that some of the material in Goldstein’s book is too basic for you, then is the book you want to get your hands on. At almost 600 pages, it’ll be a good read on the tour van (and may have to double as a pillow! Welcome to touring!)
I hate the man who runs this bar – The survival guide for real musicians – Eugene Chadbourne.
One of Eugene’s instruments is the rake, which is literally a rake with a pick up attached to it and then run through an amplifier. With chapter titles like, “How I sold 300 records in 25 years” and “Chicken public vs. the Avant-Garde” you know that you’re not going to be sitting down with a mainstream musician. The fact that Chadbourne has made a living as an independent artist since the 1970’s makes this an essential book for working musicians everywhere. Chadbourne offers a number of observations that may really get to the core beliefs of many readers (as in the “True Happiness: The Flawed System That Destroys Weaker Minds” chapter) in an unsettling way, but I can’t think of a book with a more important message and perspective for guitarists than this one.
Networking In The Music Business – Dan Kimpel
(Note this has been released as an updated edition, Networking Strategies In the New Music Business)
If you ever want to watch a musician squirm, talk about networking. Most musicians view it as an unnecessary evil in the entertainment industry (and by the way some over-eager musicians approach it – that’s not too far off the mark). But the reality is that everything in the business world is based on connections. Guitarists who don’t network spend years playing guitar in their underwear at home while working musicians network and gig. I like this book because it emphasizes the need for legitimate networking and talks lightly about a topic that a number of musicians have to be eased into. (Be comforted, even working professionals will tell you that it’s often one of the things that they find themselves having to work on).
Ruthless Self Promotion in The Music Industry – Jeffrey Fisher
So you have a killing recording of your killing demo with unrivaled guitar playing.
People can only buy what they know about, and that’s where promotion comes in. This book has a series of actionable plans for getting the word out there. But even more importantly, this book helps instill the idea that musicians need to self promote. It’s a well-written guide that has a lot of food for thought.
Brand Like A Rock Star – Steve Jones
This is a really interesting book. Jones (not the Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols btw) has written a marketing book for people using examples from various rock bands to promote his core ideas. But flipping the equation around, this book becomes an accessible introduction to marketing principles and branding for musicians using examples that they can relate to. It’s a light read (I finished it on a flight from NY to LA in about 2 hours), but it may open your eyes to marketing your music.
This only scratches the surface as there are probably tens of thousands of music business books out there and really, almost any of them are going to have a piece of useful advice in them. The real challenge isn’t generally finding information but instead, is actually acting on it. Hopefully some of these books inspire you to take action and take your career to the next level.