Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “How Music Works” as Want to Read:
How Music Works
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

How Music Works

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  14,209 ratings  ·  912 reviews
How Music Works is David Byrne’s remarkable and buoyant celebration of a subject he has spent a lifetime thinking about. In it he explores how profoundly music is shaped by its time and place, and he explains how the advent of recording technology in the twentieth century forever changed our relationship to playing, performing, and listening to music.

Acting as historian an
Hardcover, 345 pages
Published September 12th 2012 by McSweeney's (first published 2012)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  14,209 ratings  ·  912 reviews

Sort order
May 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
“But at times words can be a dangerous addition to music — they can pin it down. Words imply that the music is about what the words say, literally, and nothing more...
― David Byrne, How Music Works


...If done poorly, they can destroy the pleasant ambiguity that constitutes much of the reason we love music. That ambiguity allows listeners to psychologically tailor a song to suit their needs, sensibilities, and situations, but words can limit that, too. There are plenty of beautiful tracks that I
Loring Wirbel
Dec 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I approached Byrne's latest with a little trepidation, due to a less than stellar NY Times review, and due to the number of people in the music industry (notably his own former bandmates in Talking Heads) who feel somewhat mistreated by Byrne. I was ready to read something that might be a bit arrogant, but was pleasantly surprised to read a folksy, fun, and exuberantly-written series of essays about how the 21st-century music industry operates, how the disappearance of the physical artifact (CD ...more
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
There is a lot of information about musical roots and how musicians worked to perfect their sound according to what worked best with their style. I was fascinated by the facts about the designs of opera houses, concert halls and clubs.
There are some entertaining tidbits in this book which covers not only the history but the decisions on Byrne's bands, music, and even clothing choices. It was an enjoyable read and I was provided this paperback copy by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest
Sep 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: english
I've loved the music of Talking Heads for a long time, so when I first heard about this book, I made sure to file it away so that I could read it. I finally did, and I'm really glad that David Byrne wrote this book.

This isn't really a memoir, nor is it a scientific treatise. Rather, Byrne simply goes through the music creation process (ideation, performance, recording, manufacturing, promotion, etc.) piece by piece and explains them to the best of his ability. Of course, as a musician, his own e
Jud Barry
Dec 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Byrne gives us his take on music in a style that is very pleasant, straightforward, and conversational. He comes across as someone whose wide-ranging, collaborative experience and creative intelligence combine with an everyday kind of modesty in a way that allows you to imagine you could run into him in a club somewhere (he tries to take in at least one live performance a week) and have a good conversation, provided the music lets you (one of his criteria for a good music scene).

The title is a l
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music, non-fiction
Una maravilla de libro. De verdad, me gusta mucho más que el anterior, diarios de Bicicleta, me parece que se llamaba. Este es David con todo, y eso que no puedo decir que he seguido su carrera, aunque siempre he admirado su capacidad para hacer tantas cosas distintas, arte, performance, talking heads! Me encanta, es una celebración de la música, es inspirador, desde tips musicales, hasta de la industria. Me deja muy inspirada para salirme de la caja, para inventar, intentar, y seguir haciendo m ...more
Nov 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have been a Talking Heads listener for 30 years. For some reason that escapes me now I began to read How Music Works. To my delight I found it compelling.

While much of the text is almost a autobiographical narrative of the creating of Byrne's musical corpus, the role of that narrative is quite different than one might expect. I take the book to be a discussion, a philosophical discussion in the best sense, of the creative process. I am reminded of Wittgenstein's metaphor of coming to understan
Tomas Ramanauskas
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
David Byrne, a legend, becomes your professor for duration of this book and delivers a fascinating deep dive into the world of music, its hows and whys. He scatters autobiographical experiences amid broadly scoped lecture on the sounds, the formats, the shapes, the evolution, even the numbers behind the recordings. It is a multi-faceted account of near child like astonishment on how this bloody thing really works.

Nov 29, 2012 rated it liked it
An uneven, often enjoyable, but ultimately disappointing read. My disappointment stems–as, I'm sure, will most readers' interest in the first place (mine included)–from my deep admiration and subsequent expectations of David Byrne. In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, Byrne writes that he didn't set out to write an aging rocker bio, nor a set of "think pieces," but a bit of both. The book is most interesting and successful in the biographical chapters: reading David Byrne's anecdotes a ...more
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Toe-tappers, finger-snappers, whistlers and hummers
Recommended to Alan by: Denis, via Peter. And of course the man himself.
David Byrne's How Music Works was a perfect book for me to take traveling—dense with information, observations and concrete advice, all organized in manageable sections and copioiusly illustrated. Byrne delivers most handsomely on his title's promise: these essays are nothing less than the collected ruminations of a multi-talented musician on his long-practiced and still vibrant craft.

Byrne is also (and not coincidentally, I'm sure) a lifelong neophile, whose mind has remained supple over the pa
Jun 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating. Even though I know nothing about music, not even to know the difference between a chord and a chorus, nor have I been able to either enjoy or appreciate Talking Heads or Byrne's other music, I thoroughly enjoyed most of this book. I do admit to feeling overwhelmed enough, or lost enough, to skim bits, but something on the next page would always draw me back in....

Most interesting stuff needs context and so is too long to share here, but I've got a few tidbits to offer:

"Some argue th
Ben Winch
Jul 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
This is great. Good. Okay. All of the above. It’s unique (so far as I know): its closest relative is probably Miles Davis’s autobiography, or Byrne-friend Brian Eno’s Year With Swollen Appendices. It’s autobiographical, in a strictly professional/artistic sense – that is, concerned with music over personal experience – and I applaud that. Early on, when I was still in the “dipping-into” phase (something I do with all rock music books) I wondered, against my better judgement, if it was some kind ...more
Sep 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Si fuera por el contenido este libro tendría sus cinco estrellas. La estrella que le falta es culpa del editor. Byrne lo dice al principio que él no es escritor y que no sabe como acomodar un libro. Pero pues para eso tienes un editor, la única falla que le veo al libro es orden. Brinca de capítulo en capítulo en temas muy diferentes. Y me parece que pudiera tener un mejor orden si el editor hubiera hecho su trabajo.

Dicho esto:

El libro está super bueno. Ya sea que sabes mucho de música o si es
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My review for Amazon's Best Books of the Month: It's no surprise that David Byrne knows his music. As the creative force behind Talking Heads and many solo and collaborative ventures, he's been writing, playing, and recording music for decades. What is surprising is how well his voice translates to the page. In this wide-ranging, occasionally autobiographical analysis of the evolution and inner workings of the music industry, Byrne explores his own deep curiosity about the "patterns in how music ...more
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Det er præcis det titlen siger: En minutiøs gennemgang af 'hvordan musik virker' og dermed mener han det hele: hvordan lyd påvirker os, hvor meget kontekst spiller ind, hvordan teknologiudviklingen former musikken, hvordan man skaber musik, samarbejder kreativt, performance, optagelser og ikke mindst businesssiden: hvordan tjener artisterne penge, hvad gør pladeselskaberne osv. (og vi får hans egne regnskaber for et par plader for at anskueliggøre forskellige forretningsmodeller). Der er også en ...more
Sep 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
As much as I am a fan of Talking Heads and David Byrne, when he wrote a book about bicycling a couple of years ago, I picked it up but I didn't get very far. Not a big fan of bicycles. But I am a big fan of music. So when David Byrne writes a book explaining music, I AM THERE.

This should be required reading for anyone who has even a sliver of desire for making music for a living. You don't need to be a fan of Byrne's music to appreciate the fruits of his experience, talent and insight. This is a
Jan 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ik heb getwijfeld over 5 sterren. Dit boek was een uiterst aangename verrassing. Het stond al jaren op mijn leeslijst, maar telkens als ik het vastnam in de boekhandel, had ik het gevoel dat het misschien toch niet veel meer dan een veredelde autobiografie zou zijn. Ik zat er compleet naast, met mijn gevoel. Wellicht omdat ik een beetje vergeten was wat voor een veelzijdig en intelligent mens, muzikant en kunstenaar David Byrne wel is. Frontman van Talking Heads (één van de favoriete groepen uit ...more
Jordan Debben
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I felt like I learned allot about music by reading this. I knew almost nothing when I started reading, and it's nice to read a book where you feel like you have learned something from every page. It's remarkably comprehensive too, with chapters on the theory, practice, history, creation, and business of music. It's all here, and presented in a way that even a music noob like me can understand and process. There are so many thought provoking nuggets in this book, I almost feel like I want to quot ...more
Jan 31, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This book fails to live up to its title, and indeed to the name of its author, who's musical career might lead you to expect that he has some interesting insight into the question of how music works.

What you get instead is a cursory and unfocused ramble through recent history of music technology and theory, loosely tied together with some personal anecdotes and sophomoric pseudo-philosophy courtesy of Byrne himself.

There are some interesting tidbits along the way, particularly some of the histo
Nov 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this. Devoured it. Byrne is incisive and articulate and offers new way of seeing (and hearing) music. I do a good deal of business writing and no longer often find myself on fire to get something written down, but from the start of this book I was itching to tie Byrne's ideas on music as "content" to my own work. As so many of my Goodreads connections are in L&D I especially recommend it to them, as I'm sure the parallels will be inescapable to them as well. Music lovers, too, should ...more
Jan 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This really was a joy to read. Touching on all aspects (and genres) of music, from how technology shapes our perceptions of what music should be, to what to expect from a recording contract, this book really does cover it all.

David Byrne (frontman from Talking Heads), is engaging, funny, insightful, immensely knowledgeable and more importantly, enthusiastic about a subject he has dedicated his life too.

The one thing that stopped this book rating higher for me is that it sometimes reads slightly
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music, nonfiction
This was good! David Byrne takes a comprehensive, largely pragmatic survey of all aspects of music. He spends a lot of time refuting musical/artistic myths. For example, he definitely doesn't think music is made by inspired geniuses. It comes from hard work and practice. And more boringly, is usually steered by format--of venue, medium, larger cultural contexts, record company obligations--as much as creative whim. He also talks about the recording process, how technology has changed it, and wha ...more
Michael Bohli
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, music, non-fiction
Musik ist immer etwas magisches, unerklärliches. Egal wie tief man sich mit Künstlerinnen und Künstlern, sowie deren Liedern auseinandersetzt, die Emotionen und Wirkungen bleiben mystisch. Mit "How Music Works" versucht der Gründer von Talking Heads, David Byrne, die Mechaniken zu ergründen und einige Punkte zur Geschichte und der aktuellen, musikalischen Weltlage zu erörtern. Aufgeteilt in lose zusammenhängenden Kapiteln wird schnell klar, dass Byrne auf keinen Fall einen wissenschaftlichen Ber ...more
Feb 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Overlooking the occasional grammatical or spelling error (aHEM, editing is always a good idea, y’know...) and the seemingly random, long-winded tangents that strained my patience, this did really open my eyes to different aspects of music, and change the way I look at (or rather, listen to) music.
Stevie Dunbar
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm writing about the book I read
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
I expected ex-Talking Heads front man and eclectic solo artist David Byrne would have some interesting things to say about music. But I was impressed by the scope and range of How Music Works. Byrne covers nearly every aspect of creating and enjoying music from the first steps of composing and to the nuances of performance to producing and promoting. Plus he puts it in sync with the world we live in never forgetting that music is a vital and ever-changing aspect of existence.

Byrne approaches mu
May 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: do-not-own
Absolutely fantastic read. Byrne has done a great service here. Whether or not you are a musician, care about David Byrne or the Talking Heads, this well researched and organized work (each chapter clearly focuses on different aspects) will enlighten you in some way or another as to understanding and appreciating music in all its forms: Why it is in the form as we know it based on its history and development; how it was influenced by architecture, and technology. How it is played live or recorde ...more
Mar 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Three stars because i liked it. Its more of a 3.5 , but rounding down because too many issues.

This book is a classic case of the whole being less than the sum of its parts. Part autobiography, part pop-sci book on music, part New Yorker-style expose on the nature of the arts. You get bits of all of it, but you cant help feeling that you are missing out on a lot. Maybe thats the point - a jumping off point? Except you don't really know what you are missing.

For a book that is about "how music wor
Martin Hernandez
La música de TALKING HEADS nunca me llamó mucho la atención, de hecho, no tengo uno solo de sus discos en mi colección, y tampoco sabía que David BYRNE es/era el genio creativo detrás de esa banda. Compré el libro porque me gusta la música, el título despertó mi curiosidad, y esperaba aprender algo acerca de la "tecnología" de la música. Al final, resulta un texto a medio camino entre el ensayo y la autobiografía, que puede resultar sumamente interesante para quien aprecia la música de TALKIN ...more
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone who wants to make music for money, or who loves history and music
Yowza! How I loved this book! For sure, I'm going to listen to this again, very slowly, trying to find more and more of the music referenced, because there's just too much here to do this quickly.

First of all, kudos to the narrator, Andrew Garman, for the natural flow. For most of it, I thought David Byrne himself was reading it, because the narration is astoundingly good. I was rapt.

But, oh, all those words he spoke, tying me to my CD player for well over the 13 hours, because some sections wer
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • How Soon Is Now? The Madmen & Mavericks Who Made Independent Music (1975-2005)
  • Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music
  • Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé
  • 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day
  • Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever
  • Out of the Vinyl Deeps: On Rock Music
  • Fear of Music
  • Reinventing Bach
  • Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD
  • Krautrocksampler
  • Brian Eno: His Music And The Vertical Color Of Sound
  • Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany
  • The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It
  • Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews
  • Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music
  • Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small
  • A Year With Swollen Appendices
  • Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements
A cofounder of the musical group Talking Heads, David Byrne has also released several solo albums in addition to collaborating with such noted artists as Twyla Tharp, Robert Wilson, and Brian Eno. His art includes photography and installation works and has been published in five books. He lives in New York and he recently added some new bike racks of his own design around town, thanks to the Depar ...more
“I like a good story and I also like staring at the sea-- do I have to choose between the two?” 70 likes
“It can often seem that those in power don't want us to enjoy making things for ourselves - they'd prefer to establish a cultural hierarchy that devalues our amateur efforts and encourages consumption rather than creation.” 18 likes
More quotes…