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
"Anyone at all interested in music will learn a lot from this book." (Kirkus Reviews)
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.
His section on music writing collaboration. For me, as someone in a band, I really took away some great communication techniques.
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.
Nothing too extreme. There were parts that were very exciting, like when he related to exactly what my band is going through right now.
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.
I focus mainly on History, Endurance Sports and Science/Speculative Fiction books.
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.
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.
No but I thought he did a good job, well done Andrew.
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.
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.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
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.
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.
"How Music Works" is probably not quite the right title for this book. "How Music Happens" is a better suggestion as to the content of this fascinating and highly accessible book by David Byrne, best known as the lead singer from Talking Heads.
The book tries (and succeeds) in communicating how music throughout history has evolved according to both the context is it is written in and how technology advances. You don't have to be a musician or need to understand music theory to appreciate the book as it is written with the layman in mind and the many anecdotes included in the book are both fascinating and occasionally humorous.
The book explores classical music, world music, jazz, rock and electronic music and how all forms of music absorb influences from other genres, how they are composed according to the uses of available recording and musical instrument technology, and how the anticipated audience also influences the final product.
It also explains how various instruments were either used or adapted to suit the venues they were being played in and to rise in volume above the music they were playing alongside.
Learn why the first rock and roll singles were almost exclusively three minutes long, why Louis Armstrong had to be placed at the back of the room when recording or how tape may never have come to the forefront as a recording technology had Bing Crosby not wanted to play more golf!
For the David Byrne fans out there, there are also some brief insights into his evolving songwriting process, from young teenager, through his Talking Heads Years and on to his solo work, although these are certainly only a minor focus of the book. The book is also written in Byrne's sometimes cute / earnest , matter of fact style and I found his writing to be witty and entertaining.
Highly recommended to all music lovers.
Narration is reserved but good.
Mr. Byrne has spent a lifetime living and breathing music, so it's not surprising that he had some ways of looking at it which hadn't occurred to me. An encouraging, thorough book which will give you a different perspective on music even if you already know a lot about it. I'd recommend it for every performer especially as it can inspire you to improve the show you put on.
I most enjoyed Byrne's insights into the craft of songwriting and recording. I also found his theory on how music is created to best suit the venue or medium at hand fascinating.
His chapter on "How to create/start a scene" chapter is lots of fun, as it simultaneously discusses the specific history of the 1970s CBGB "scene" and also describes the different factors that went into making that whole chapter the seminal part of music history it (retrospectively) became.
David Byrne, of course! Listening to Garman narrate, I eventually forgot that I wasn't listening to Byrne. (No mean feat, given that Byrne's voice is of course quite famous, and is nothing like Garman's.)
The book is written as a series of discrete, essay-like chapters. I enjoyed listening to it in bits and pieces over a week or two.
Although there are sections here and there about Byrne's years working with the Talking Heads (and with Brian Eno), there's so much more to the book than this. You don't need to know his specific body of work at all in order to enjoy this... although it definitely makes the book more enjoyable if you do.
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.
AlDavid Byrne touches upon enough of his experiences as lead singer of Talking Heads to keep the material personal and not so academic.
Garmans narration flows easily. At times, I felt as if this was Byrne speaking to the reader.
For the aspiring musicioan therre are many nuggets of inspiring information.
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.
A serious book on music.
Clear, articulate, accurate.
It was a good description of Mr Byrne's personal history with the recording business.
Not recommended. The book should be retitled so people actually looking for a general book on music won't be misled.
"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!
"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.
It could be a different book I suppose. But it isn't.
'How Music Works' really is thrown together. This is somewhat acknowledged in Byrne's introduction as he points out that his publisher helped impose 'structure' on the book. This is too generous an assessment by far. What you are offered here is really a series of essays, each essay poorly structured in itself and lacking any argumentative force, which adds up at best to a nebulous account of David Byrne's career in music and the workings of the music industry as he has experienced it. There are also two chapters offering a potted history of recording technology which could have been served up by anyone with access to Wikipedia. There is almost no analysis of any music outside of David Byrne's own back catalogue and no technical 'musical analysis' at all - don't be deceived by the title there. The one component of the book that you could call educational is the chapter that Byrne spends telling you how much money he has made from records in recent years and how he made it. The main character in this book, undoubtedly, is David Byrne's ego. It is planet-sized. It is, however, couched frequently in the language of almost disinterested humility. So the real educational properties of this book are in the area of the humblebrag. For example, CBGB gets mythologized by a lot of people but to ordinary folks like me (David Byrne of Talking Heads and David Byrne/Brian Eno) it was just a sub-ordinary dump in which hardly anything special ever happened, and I should know because I (David Byrne, master of performance concepts from all world cultures, including Sudan where some of my most treasured cassette tapes have come from) was there right from the start before anyone else realized it was cool. Byrne revels in telling you of his 'ideas' - for clothes, dance, stagecraft, or collaboration - almost every one of which 'worked perfectly' not because anyone was particularly delighted with them but because they represented exact realizations of Byrne's feverish, semi-autistic, artist's vision. Byrne shares with you rich memories of his exceptionalism - as a boy he heard Purple Haze for the first time on a transistor radio and ran to his father to inform him about its implicit connection with the work of Stockhausen. This is, in summary, a rankly self-congratulatory work; a bloated piece of self-mythologizing by David Byrne. Which would be fine if it wasn't so boring. Please don't give 13 hours of listening time over to this - why not just listen to some Talking Heads records instead?
I would hardly blame the narrator, although I sense Andrew Garman was not on form.
David Byrne. Well ok, there would be almost nobody left. Let's cut the 'cassette tapes from Sudan' that Mr. Byrne was scouring for musical inspiration while the philistines were listening to Western music on vinyl.
How Ego Works.
"A must for any music lover"
This has proven a very interesting, and different, title. David Byrne starts the book with a very brief replay of his own career just to set the ground rules before he segues off to explore aspects of music many of us may never have considered.
As well as a most informative section on how the modern music industry works, and the challenges it faces in a digital era where the majority of 16-24yr-olds (always the biggest customer base) can't understand why they are required to pay for music, Byrne also asks why society considers classical music as 'Good' (often used in films to denote a gathering of educated, successful people) and pop music as subversive and therefore 'Bad'.
He also looks at the powerful and long-lasting effect music has on people, and why most of us can't remember what we had for breakfast today, but can sing the chorus to 'Moonage Daydream' without any problem. (You're singing it now, aren't you?)
A must-have title for anybody with an interest in music, old and new, and definitely worth a repeated listen.
"Fascinating Book Poorly Narrated"
Fascinating book, covering just about every angle on music from types of music label deals to patterns in the universe. Unfortunately, the narrator sounds like a robot and, for me at least, completely spoils it.
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