Books… who needs these archaic mold-prone tree carcasses in the digital information age?
With so much information freely available online, the humble book (especially the printed kind) seems to have taken a back seat compared to other forms of education. It might seem especially counter-intuitive to learn about an auditory experience such as music from a static and silent format.
Why Bother with Books?
Books have a couple of intrinsic qualities that are unique to this form of media which go a long way in helping learners grasp a new topic more thoroughly:
- Quality control – going through the process of writing, editing and publishing a book is considerably more challenging than uploading a video or a blog post. The way books are conceptualized also helps them stand the test of time by basing learning on thorough foundations.
- Comprehensiveness – while you may try to pick and choose from different online sources to form a framework of your own, a book usually covers a given topic thoroughly, telling you everything you need to know about the subject and providing a tested framework that you can implement from day one.
- Slow learning – this is not a quality much appreciated in our fast-paced culture. However, I find the process of read-ponder-repeat that books demand due to their format much more effective at helping information stick to my mind.
This doesn’t mean that reading books is universally the best way of learning for everyone. Give it a go and if it doesn’t work for you, don’t force it. Find a medium that better suits your method – maybe a free online music course? If, on the other hand, you prefer learning from books, you won’t be disappointed by the wealth of information available in the music production sphere.
I’ve categorized the books I read by their main topic, although the distinctions are not always so clear cut.
1. Composition and Production
The first topic to tackle is music theory and the subjective experience of music. Even though some of these books are specifically marketed to producers of electronic music, a lot of the information can be applied across different genres.
1.1 How Music Works – David Byrne
An interesting take on the way we experience music from an eclectic and somewhat eccentric viewpoint, backed up by experience that spans decades. I particularly enjoyed Byrne’s non-snobby attitude, perhaps best summarized in the following quote:
“I can be moved to tears by a truly awful recording or a bad copy of a good recording. Would I be moved even more if the quality were higher? I doubt it. So why bother?”
1.2 Music Theory for Computer Musicians – Michael Hewitt
Highly recommended for beginners looking to start making music in a Digital Audio Workstation, with a lot of information that translates outside of this sphere.
I read it first when I knew practically nothing about music theory or music production, other than what I could learn messing about in FL Studio. This was before YouTube, so it helped me produce tracks that finally had some substance. I re-read it again many years later and was able to pick out a couple of more things I have neglected or forgotten over time.
1.3 Dance Music Manual: Tools, Toys and Techniques – Rick Snoman
Excellent guide for Electronic Dance Musicians (EDM) that are just starting out. You’ll learn everything you need to know on producing cookie cutter EDM tracks, which sets the foundation for branching out into original stuff later down the road and going into more experimental waters (learn the rules so you know when to break them).
The only thing I disliked about the book is the editing, particularly in the second half. Plenty of grammar mistakes and misplaced references as the chapters seem to have been bounced around across editions.
Not all chapters will be relevant to everyone, so skim through what’s most important and whatever you do make sure to pick up the latest edition, it makes a huge difference in this fast paced industry.
1.4 Making Music. 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers – Dennis DeSantis
There’s at least a few great insights for any level of producer here, and a wealth of information for beginners.
The first part is mostly about setup and getting organized, which are crucial steps for unleashing creativity. The second and third parts are more practical in terms of composing and are going to help considerably in going from beginner to intermediate level of electronic music composition.
Whenever you feel stuck in your production process, either at the beginning or end of track, look through this book and it’s bound to help you push ahead 9 out of 10 times.
1.5 Music Habits: The Mental Game of Electronic Music Production – Jason Timothy
Straightforward and practical guide for setting yourself up and following through with finishing songs.
Similar in intent as the DeSantis book, but with a bit more personal and psychological information thrown in.
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Here we get to the technical portion of music making. I’m astounded by how much my mixes have improved over time, and at the same time I’m fully aware that I’ve still got a long way to go before I stop learning about mixing.
Note that almost all of the previously listed books have discussed mixing at least to some degree, while the books in this section make it their specialty.
2.1 The Art of Mixing – David Gibson
While most other books that discuss mixing go in depth about using the tools, this one is focused on setting down the foundational perspectives behind producing great mixes, now and in the future. If you’re just getting into music mixing, I highly recommend you start with this book.
The graphics in the book go a long way in helping visualize the exact position of different sounds in the field. Something that I haven’t seen used much in other places.
2.2 Mixing Audio – Roey Izhaki
This is by far the most thorough book you can read on mixing music. I’ve read all the other books on the topic that are more popular, but they don’t reach the depth of Roey Izhaki’s approach.
It’s written in a way that will help it last way beyond its publishing date. All the key concepts are explained in detail on a technical level, with a lot of practical examples of application and interesting anecdotes interspersed throughout the book to tie it all together. The book comes with audio files to hear examples of what is being discussed, but I didn’t make use of them simply because it was not practical for me. I do feel like I missed out a bit, so maybe I’ll do it when i re-read some time in the future.
The only issue I have is with the dry writing style that put me to sleep on numerous occasions. It reads more like a university textbook than a book about art, so there’s that.
2.3 Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio – Mike Senior
An excellent all-encompassing starting point for getting into mixing a wide variety of musical genres. As you would expect it’s full of technical bits, which are presented in a way that should be easy to comprehend. The book is interspersed with humor which helps to mellow out the otherwise heady engineering lingo.
The main focus in terms of music styles of this book is commercial pop music and rock music. So vocals, guitars and drums get a lot of coverage. If you’re doing something closer to experimental electronic music without vocals, there’s a bit to skim through, but overall the book is still worthwhile for mixing any style of music.
2.4 The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook – Bobby Owsinski
Perhaps if this was the first book I read on mixing I would’ve had my little mind blown, but I actually expected more from it. Bobby definitely provides deep insights into mixing after picking the brains of some of the most successful engineers, but if you’re looking for a solid framework on which to build you mixing skills, there are other books to read. This one is definitely more about the heart and the feeling than the cerebral aspects of approaching a mix. And it’s great that it provides that perspective! In particular, the way the author described Groove is not something I have encountered elsewhere and it’s going to be something I implement in my own music.
2.5 Mixing With Your Mind – Michael Stavrou
It’s a decent book that goes deep into mixing and recording processes of its time. A time when most of it was done on analog tape, making some of those insights largely irrelevant today. Still, there’s quite a bit of stuff I haven’t picked up in other books, most notably the author’s concepts of gravity, mixing backwards and blind EQ. But there are other neat tips stashed among the pages, so the book at least deserves a skim through. Oh yeah, and it’s filled with SECRETS and BE A GREAT MIXER LIKE ME hype, which I found mostly cute. Not everyone might see it that way though.
Not a topic I know much about, as I’m looking to have someone else do the mastering of my music whenever possible. However, I wanted to get at least the basics right in order to make sure I’m passing down quality stems to whoever does the mastering.
3.1 Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science – Bob Katz
Unfortunately I got a hold of the 2007 edition, which is largely outdated with its deep look into releasing to CD, the troubles of early DSP and such. Still, the non-technological portions of the book are pure gold. Katz is a true master of audio, and it’s a testament that his K-system measurement for loudness is now widely adopted. I might pick up and read a newer edition in the future.
Finally we get to almost every musician’s least favorite topic: putting yourself and your art up for sale and scrutiny.
The fact that we can now easily connect with our listeners directly is both a blessing and a curse. If you put in the time and effort, you can build a following without paying any middlemen, but if you don’t you’ll be practically invisible. The big downside is that marketing is a skill that takes time to master and implement, time that could have otherwise been spent making music.
One solution is to outsource pieces of your marketing effort, which is not really an option for musicians just starting out. It’s a complex subject with no easy answers. Hopefully the following books will at least help point you in the right direction.
4.1 Music 4.1: A Survival Guide for Making Music in the Internet Age – Bobby Owsinski
Pretty good overview of the intricacies of making music today, written in a way that gives it at least a couple of more years before it’s outdated – fairly good longevity considering the fast pace of change we’re currently experiencing. Special attention is paid is to releasing music, putting it into peoples ears and making some money from your music career.
It’s a quick and easy read, and you’ll likely save yourself a lot of time by just reading this book instead of browsing endless forums and groups populated by dubious semi-anonymous “experts”.
4.2 How Music Got Free – Stephen Richard Witt
This books reads like a movie script, with parallel story lines rolling towards an inevitable climax. It’s a good approach to use on subject matter that might otherwise be pretty boring. It relates a lot to my own life, as I’ve been a part of music piracy practically since day one, so I definitely found it interesting.
It will give you a good perspective on how fast things can change, how quickly they have changed in the past and how they are likely to evolve in the future. Nothing is static in music.
I’ll keep adding more books to this post as I read them, since I’ve got a couple of more books on my music shelf waiting to be absorbed. Notably, I’ve got the whole Handbook series of books by Bobby Owsinski lined up that seem to have a lot of overlap… which I don’t particularly mind. After all, learning is done through repetition.
Speak up in the comments if you have any other books on music production to recommend!
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2 thoughts on “Read the Best Books on Music Production”
Really love the list. I’m probably going to read 90% of them. Thank you.
Excellent! If you come across any other interesting books, feel free to let me know so I can give them a read and add them to the list 🙂