Robert Owens's Reviews > How Music Works

How Music Works by David Byrne
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it was amazing
bookshelves: music, nonfiction, questscouts, kindle

I would have never read this had it not been for Quest Scouts. This is the read for the Notes quest. I decided to tackle this. Being frugal, I checked this out of the public library. But when I went to read it, I knew I wasn't going to succeed with the size of the font. No, it was not minimal in size; it's just that I am now of the age that I cannot tolerate full books on printed paper any longer. I spent the money and purchased the ebook. My eyes are grateful for that.

This is not a topic I would normally read. I am not a musician. I cannot read music. I am not a big fan of the Talking Heads (I have nothing against them, just didn't em brace them). What the hell am I doing reading a book about how music works? Well, it's 300 points. That was the motivation. The payoff is that David Byrne wrote a highly engaging book that this layman related too.

Each chapter examined a different facet of music. He began by examining how the structure in which we experience music affects the music that is played. Not exactly a new idea to me, but he helped me understand this far better.

The discussion of the business model of music was highly interesting. Byrne posits there are six models currently at play: basically a spectrum of an artist outsourcing all components of the process (and thus earning the least amount per unit sold) to an artist handling each component of the process (thus earning the entire sale price). Byrne fairly, I think, highlights the pros and cons of each facet. While he definitely knocks record companies, he also hails their services for some bands. That fairness was evident throughout the book. He was not as bashing as many other artists have been.

I thoroughly enjoyed the breakdown of digital rights. He helped me understand how selling digital downloads are not a boon for the regular artist as he still only receives the same percentage as a CD sold. Byrne speaks well of the need for marketing and the record company's ability in that regard.

Byrne also presented current sales numbers to an extent, explaining to this layperson who grew up with arena rock stars why the current business model is humbling to known musicians.

All this parallels what little I know. I actually went to school with a guy who has won a couple Emmy awards for his music. He speaks a lot about the business models, copyrights, and alternative monetary sources.

A lot of what was presented I likened to the Grateful Dead. The Dead didn't sell records well. They "gave away" their music for free by letting their fans record and trade their live shows. The Dead made plenty of money by selling out their shows, merchandise, etc., all avenues Byrne advocates for artists to pursue in this environment.

He also answered for me the question about why concert tickets are so high these days. It used to be that bands toured as promotion of their albums. It was a lost leader. It was money the band had to repay the record company. But with record sales in the toilet (only 12 albums sold a million units in 2010. Wow!), record companies are no longer fronting money for tours. So, bands are left to build their tours differently. That explains why the Rolling Stones and U2 have American Express foot their tours.

While Byrne highlights a lot of the problems in the music business, he is optimistic and hopeful. He said on several occasions that this is the best time to record music.

The big takeaway for me, however, in this well-presented volume was how Byrne expertly presented how society changed from a populous that used to make music to one who listens to music. That really struck me. Much like I have pondered in other media, we are quite passive in our consumption of music. We used to make music as families as entertainment. That entire discussion has motivated me to look into picking up something. I have toyed with the idea of harmonica and/or the bass. As a middle-aged man, all I can claim is that I have listened to a lot of good music. I can't read music nor play any. Let's rectify that.

It's been a while that I have been excited while reading a book; this one, as out of my normal reading range as it is, was such a book!

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Reading Progress

November 3, 2018 – Started Reading
November 4, 2018 – Shelved
November 4, 2018 – Shelved as: music
November 4, 2018 – Shelved as: nonfiction
November 4, 2018 – Shelved as: questscouts
November 4, 2018 – Shelved as: kindle
November 4, 2018 – Finished Reading

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