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How Music Works | [David Byrne]

How Music Works

Best known as a founding member and principal songwriter of the iconic band Talking Heads, David Byrne has received Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe awards and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the insightful How Music Works, Byrne offers his unique perspective on music - including how music is shaped by time, how recording technologies transform the listening experience, the evolution of the industry, and much more.
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Publisher's Summary

Best known as a founding member and principal songwriter of the iconic band Talking Heads, David Byrne has received Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe awards and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the insightful How Music Works, Byrne offers his unique perspective on music - including how music is shaped by time, how recording technologies transform the listening experience, the evolution of the industry, and much more.

©2012 David Byrne (P)2012 Recorded Books

What the Critics Say

"Anyone at all interested in music will learn a lot from this book." (Kirkus Reviews)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.3 (197 )
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4.1 (174 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Daniel Los Angeles, CA, United States 12-16-12
    Daniel Los Angeles, CA, United States 12-16-12 Member Since 2012
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    ""David Byrne is a Human" by a Talking Heads fan"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Byrne writes like a Malcom Gladwell in the music world. To me, that was interesting enough to keep me hooked because I didn't realize David Byrne was so smart and normal. I would recommend this book if you are trying to "figure out" music. Not that he claims to understand music completely. He tries to keep a balanced view and show the realm of possibilities of "how music works." Sometimes he goes on long tangents, talking about his projects after Talking Heads (which was sometimes interesting).

    It was a great book to have in the car on the way to and from work.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of How Music Works?

    His section on music writing collaboration. For me, as someone in a band, I really took away some great communication techniques.


    What do you think the narrator could have done better?

    The narrator was OK. I felt he seemed to miss Byrne's connotation sometimes. He also doesn't know how to pronounce "timbre." I feel like Byrne definitely didn't listen to this audiobook and OK everything.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Nothing too extreme. There were parts that were very exciting, like when he related to exactly what my band is going through right now.


    Any additional comments?

    I would say that if you are still enchanted with The Talking Heads sound, don't read this book. I haven't listened to them since reading it, but I suspect some of the magic may be gone when I do. This is ok for me, because one day I hope to reach levels that David Byrne reached. Or if you are a music fan, and want to see behind the scenes, it will be a fun read. You may want to skip through some parts, but overall it's worth it.

    It's very unfortunate that the only other review on here was from some conservative person. Yes, Byrne goes on a few little rants in favor of liberalism, but i wouldn't say that's his main objective.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    thomas charlotte, NC, United States 07-30-13
    thomas charlotte, NC, United States 07-30-13 Member Since 2012

    I focus mainly on History, Endurance Sports and Science/Speculative Fiction books.

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    "Very Good"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes. I am a music fan first and although I really enjoy Talking Heads and David Byrne I would not consider myself a huge fan. With that said this is a very good book for anyone who likes music and want to understand it more. It comes off as thoughtful and well researched, with a point of view. I recommend it highly with those caveats and parameters.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Well David Byrne is essentially the character here ....his viewpoint is fascinating. I like the fact that he is explaining why his artistic taste and choices are what they are. Whether you agree or not, it's interesting.


    Have you listened to any of Andrew Garman’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No but I thought he did a good job, well done Andrew.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Having been to CBGB's I thought it was funny how he clinically described that down trodden club. His focus on acoustics and performance context was something I never thought of when in that space.


    Any additional comments?

    There have been a few other good music books I have read recently "The Life and Times of Brian Eno" and "Love Goes to Building on Fire"; both were very good. I would put this book on that par. If you are fan of musicology, the process of how art is made, anecdotes about a localized music scene and insight into how music gets made this is a great book. This is not a revealing, personality driven book about the rock n roll lifestyle. It descries music as art. I really enjoyed it, and I am glad I read/listened to it.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 05-28-15
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 05-28-15

    But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^

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    "Audiobook is Better"

    I enjoyed this exploration of music with David Byrne as the talking head, gently guiding the listener through how music (and the music business) work(s).

    Like several nonfiction books I've read/listened to lately, my big complaint is I wish he just gave us more, dug a bit deeper, and perhaps hired a better editor. I like that the book was infused with Byrnes' own populist, funky, musical biases. It seemed autistically casual. Like talking to a really open person who isn't trying to hide or pull the shades on his own past. He didn't shy away from his own mistakes and his own life. He used Talking Heads and his own albums as examples of the different ways music can be done and sold. His interests allow this book to move from punk to African music to soundtracks, etc.

    One of my favorite themes of Byrne's reminded me of the last book I read (The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction). David Byrne seemed passionate about not just music alone, but music's place in our social networks. How music is both a communication with others and reflective of our community. In his more zen moments he even rambles on about the music of the Universe, etc. Byrne's biases were occasionally annoying. He did seem to carry a pretty large dark spot right on-top of classic music's basic repertoire. His politics, or musical reactions to politics, also seems a bit naïve. But all is forgiven, in the end. This is a guy who is not afraid to put himself WAY out there, describe the scene as he sees it, and figure out a way to make the people around him want to dance. And THAT I guess says a lot and hides a multitude of minor sins as we dance into the darkness.

    13 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kazuhiko TUXEDO PARK, NY, United States 06-16-13
    Kazuhiko TUXEDO PARK, NY, United States 06-16-13
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    "This ain't no disco!"

    Before listening to "How Music Works", based on what I knew about his music (his Talking Heads days anyway; my favorite album was "Remain in Light"), I thought to myself: does he mean "How Modern Pop Music Works"? But after listening to it, I now think that the title is appropriate, at least up to the current period.

    This book covers a wide range of topics, including: how the historical, social, and technological environment shaped the type of music; what he was feeling/thinking while going through the experience of making music with Talking Heads in the lower east side of New York City in the 70s and 80s; how different cultures and people influenced his music; the financial aspect of making music in the current music production environment, and more. I can tell that he is extremely well read, but his interpretation of cultural/social aspects of music is unique, I think. He is also a very good writer. I really enjoyed this book.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew Collingswood, NJ, United States 12-07-13
    Andrew Collingswood, NJ, United States 12-07-13 Member Since 2003
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    "Not a survey of music history. Just Big Ego Byrne."
    Would you try another book from David Byrne and/or Andrew Garman?

    Absolutely not. As a book on music per se, it is terrible. Byrne has absolutely has no clue of the origins of classical music in liturgy, the development of harmony, etc, although he is pompous as heck about knowing it all. He reduces classical music, ballet and opera to status tokens for robber capitalists while 'hip hop' artists who blast their music out the car windows are said to be generous "sharing" their worthy music. Africans can be spiritual, yet Bach who wrote the most spiritual music ever, and inscribed each piece with "only for the glory of God", can't be, and is presented as essentially a buffoon. For Byrne, classical music is synonymous with the symphony, which is a minor part of it all. Solo artists, people who play classical music for pleasure, minimum wage listeners to NPR, etc, aren't considered. In short, Byrne sets himself up as the beginning and end of all that's worthy in music. The narcissism and lack of scholarship in "How Music Works" is appalling. This had me running back to Taruskin for a real music history, and both John Butt and John Eliot Gardiner for another look at Bach. Why did David Byrne wear a big suit in Talking Heads? To match his BIG HEAD.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    A serious book on music.


    What three words best describe Andrew Garman’s voice?

    Clear, articulate, accurate.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    It was a good description of Mr Byrne's personal history with the recording business.


    Any additional comments?

    Not recommended. The book should be retitled so people actually looking for a general book on music won't be misled.

    9 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brett Cape Girardeau, MO, United States 09-09-13
    Brett Cape Girardeau, MO, United States 09-09-13
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    "Great material"
    What did you love best about How Music Works?

    Content is very strong, especially the second half.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Stretched me in how I thought about the subject matter.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    Connecting mirror neurons to the personal experience of music


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No, too long for that.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ariel Matawan, NJ, United States 12-11-12
    ariel Matawan, NJ, United States 12-11-12
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    "SOUND ADVICE"
    Would you consider the audio edition of How Music Works to be better than the print version?

    HMW is full of plain spoken advice on the how's and why's of making and selling music.
    It's perfect for anybody interested in the art on any level.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of How Music Works?

    AlDavid Byrne touches upon enough of his experiences as lead singer of Talking Heads to keep the material personal and not so academic.


    Which character – as performed by Andrew Garman – was your favorite?

    Garmans narration flows easily. At times, I felt as if this was Byrne speaking to the reader.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    For the aspiring musicioan therre are many nuggets of inspiring information.


    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andreas Moyseos 08-17-15 Member Since 2014
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    "Easily one of the best books in my collection"
    Any additional comments?

    David Byrne writes maturely, thoughtfully, with respect but also with clarity in his opinions.

    This book covers many aspects of the music world, from the question of why we enjoy music, to the effect that PC music software has had on the pop music culture.

    For a music lover like me, it's a treasure.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    fanfanmero 04-28-15
    fanfanmero 04-28-15 Member Since 2014
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    "Nice book and good performance"

    No problem of the performance, and the book is useful, lots of details. Very good experience for reading and listening.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shannon E Wheeler 04-01-15 Member Since 2015
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    "Great stuff"

    Great book. Great reading. I would have love it if short examples of the music mentioned were included but I understand copyright issues could be problematic.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • Anthony
    Sydney, Australia
    7/5/14
    Overall
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    "Listen enthralled - music to your ears!"

    Wonderfully stimulating musical experience! A fascinating listen at multiple levels - David Byrne himself, music and its place in our lives, and the transformation of music in contemporary times.

    Byrne is simultaneously academic and accessible - quoting research while sharing stories from his own life experience, challenges, joys and relationships. An underlying theme is about creativity and how it is facilitated and stimulated. He offers examples of innovation and engagement. He shares insights from his wide-ranging collaborations, demonstrating how they have added value, sometimes unpredictably, to his own art. He describes his sources of inspiration, his values, and his interface with the music industry.

    He offers perspectives on the place played by music in our lives and the lives of others: music as therapy, as expression, as mediator of community and repository of collective memory. Byrne examines the mathematics of music, its evolutionary role, and the common threads across styles of music, languages and cultures. He rails against snobbish conceptions of 'good music' and the associated dismissal of swathes of creativity.

    A third dimension to this book is about how music has changed over time. He examines issues from the role of performance venues to the changing technology of recording, reproduction and dissemination of music. He discusses the role of the studio and post-studio creativity in recording and transforming sound. Particularly interesting is his exploration of how musical creativity and production is supported and exploited and how increasingly accessible technologies are challenging established business models. His typology of the relationship between artist and record company would be of interest to any musician seeking to derive some income from his or her art. He touches on music as a force for control as well as a force for revolution and challenge. (Reminds me of Pink Floyd, The Wall - ever seen the animated version of the album? Exceptional!)

    Byrne offers a compelling insight into music as both a reflection and creative enabler of humanity, emotion, and experience. He is committed to equity in engaging with music in all its diversity. He challenges the conventional view of an hierarchy of musical genres with opera and classical music at the pinnacle. He argues against a view that while all music is of value, some is more valuable than others (excuse me for putting words in his mouth; but it reminded me of Orwell's Animal Farm - see my review). He argues that different people will appreciate different forms and genres, deriving meaning from them at different times and in different settings.

    Issues are explored through anecdotes and stories, personal insights, references to science and art and their interface. Byrne is humble and witty, reflective but never pontificating.

    A wonderful and stimulating listen - all that was missing was the musical accompaniment - something Byrne should work on for those of us who enjoy his music as much as his interesting insights and stories!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    Hazel Grove
    7/9/15
    Overall
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    "Good book, but the narration grates a little!"

    It's a great book, but the narration grates after a while! Sorry, but that's just how I feel.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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