“Human beings have been recording their knowledge in book form for more than 5,000 years. That means that whatever you’re working on right now, whatever problem you’re struggling with, is probably addressed in some book somewhere by someone a lot smarter than you. Save yourself the trouble of learning from trial and error–find that point. Benefit from that perspective.” —Ryan Holiday
I love reading. I’m not a reading machine like Warren Buffet, but I read often.
Reading has transformed my life, the way I think, the way I run my business and also the way I produce music.
And that’s part of the reason I wanted to start this list. I also wanted to start it because:
- I get a lot of emails from people who struggle with problems that are addressed in books.
- I strongly believe books are a richer form of education than watching YouTube videos (that’s not to say YouTube videos are bad, but they don’t require active consumption like a book does. There’s less effort involved).
- I just really love sharing books with people.
Now, there are other posts like this on the web, and there will of course be some overlap between this one and others, but this is less a list of “must-read” books, but rather, a list you can scroll through and find what interests you.
There are books that aren’t music-specific at all, and others that apply only to electronic music production. With some of the more general books, you may have to extrapolate ideas and apply them to production, which is fun to do anyway.
Note: this list will be updated regularly. It’s not in its final form. If you have a book recommendation, please leave it in the comments below. If I think it’s good, I’ll add it.
This list is split up into the following categories:
- Creativity, Mindset and Learning
- General Production (and Theory)
- Mixing and Mastering
- Business, Marketing and Industry
Creativity, Mindset and Learning
I want this category to be at the top because it’s the most fundamental. If you don’t have the right mindset or creative habits, technical knowledge and ability is useless, because you can’t use it properly.
I will shamelessly mention my own book, The Producer’s Guide to Workflow & Creativity. It covers a range of topics including: How to overcome creative block, how to practice properly, how to be original, and much more.
Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield is one of those books that makes you feel something. It’s inspiring, but in an almost cynical way. The whole premise of the book is that you have to follow your calling, and that it’s hard to do so, but you have no other choice.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. In this book, Pressfield personifies the negative force that we all feel when we sit down to create something. It’s the force that tells us we can’t do it, that it’s not worth it. It distracts us. It tells us we have no ideas. It’s what he calls the Resistance.
Mastery by Robert Green is essentially a collection of case studies on “masters” (people who’ve become experts in their field) throughout history. Such masters include Charles Darwin, Mozart, and some modern examples like Paul Graham and Freddie Roach.
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Before I read this, I had always believed that creativity was about inspiration. If you sat down to make music and didn’t feel it—tough luck. Try again another day. This book, however, taught me that it’s about consistent effort over time, and that inspiration is overrated.
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. A short read (roughly an hour), Steal Like an Artist is one of those books where you’re tempted to highlight every single line.
Deep Work by Cal Newport. The book is based on the following hypothesis: “The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.” Note: Deep Work was the foundation for this blog post I wrote a while back. My friend Budi Voogt and I are also partaking in what we’ve coined The Deep Work Challenge.
Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. Is talent innate? Do you need a teacher? This book covers the latest findings within the science of expertise. It’s fascinating.
General Production (and Theory)
These books either cover multiple concepts and can’t be placed in a single category, or are biographical.
Dance Music Manual by Rick Snoman. If you’re a new producer, you need to read this book, even if only to understand the terminology and get a better grasp of how everything works. It’s been a while since I read it, so I can’t give an accurate description of what it teaches, but I do remember it being transformative for me.
Rick Rubin in the Studio by Jake Brown. Rubin is this super chilled out dude, who’s behind A LOT of your favorite music. His list of accomplishments deserve a post to themselves. This is a book about him.
Music Theory/Harmony for Computer Musicians
A lot of theory books are hard to read. They’re either to convoluted, or simply too hard to follow along with.
Michael Hewitt’s books are different. They’re written for the person who uses a computer to make music. Instead of seeing a musical staff on every page, you’ll see a piano roll.
What I love about his books is that there are practical exercises. You’re strongly encouraged to do them before moving on. This is how you learn theory. Not by reading, by practicing.
Mixing and Mastering
There’s a lot of misinformation on the internet regarding mixing. It’s a good idea to buy a book and learn the fundamentals from a pro.
Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio by Mike Senior. This book is great for beginners and experts alike. It’s easy to follow along with, and while it won’t make your mixes better overnight (no book will), it will give you a better understanding of why you should use a certain technique and how to do so.
The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski. It’s the most popular book on mixing ever written, and covers a range of topics from mixing styles, arrangement, the “six elements of a mix” and, of course, a lot more.
Zen and the Art of Mixing by Mixerman. “This is not your usual textbook-style, technique and theory book. Whereas most mixing books focus on the analytical, left-side of the brain, Zen and the Art of Mixing focuses on the big picture.” – D. Kim (an Amazon review)
Mastering Audio: The Art and Science by Bob Katz. According to my friend (and brilliant mastering engineer) Nicholas Di Lorenzo, this book is THE book on mastering. I haven’t read it, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself.
Business, Marketing and Industry
As a producer in the 21st century, you can’t ignore the business side of things if you want to eventually build a career doing what you love. Here are books that will help.
All You Need to Know About The Music Business by Don Passman. If you’ve ever wondered how royalties, publishing deals, or performing rights societies work, then this is the book for you. It may not be an essential read for a producer (if you run a label, it’s a different story), but I’m sure it’s illuminating.
The New Rockstar Philosophy by Matt Voyno and Roshan Hoover. If you love the idea of being independent, managing everything yourself, and building a sustainable business model, then this is a great book. It’s more relevant than ever in our world today where it’s not necessary (and is sometimes even detrimental) to sign with a major label.
Purple Cow by Seth Godin. You’re driving down a country road and you see a cow in a field. What do you do? Nothing. You’re driving down a country road and you see a purple cow in a field. What do you do? You stop. You’re amazed. You pull out your phone and take a video. You upload it to Facebook. You tell EVERYONE what you’ve just seen. That’s what Seth Godin’s book is based on. What if you could create purple cow music? Music that made people react? That made people feel the urgent need to share?
The Soundcloud Bible by Budi Voogt. The Soundcloud Bible is NOT just about Soundcloud. It provides a framework for building your brand, getting plays, it helps you understand copyright and where your rights lie, and it also covers outbound marketing: How to get your music on to blogs, YouTube channels, and more.
Other books that I think are great, but don’t fall under any particular category.
This is Your Brain on Music — The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel Levitin. This book is fascinating. It may not help you make better music, but it will give you a deeper appreciation for it. It distills the latest findings in the neuroscience of music into a form readable by mere mortals.
Musimathics by Gareth Loy. I own this book. I tried reading it… I really did. But I’m just not smart enough. Perhaps if I brushed up on mathematics for a few months I’d be able to understand some of it, but at the moment, it’s not for me. But, unlike me, if you do get this stuff, then I’m sure it’s a great book.
Did I miss anything?
I’m sure I’ve left out some great books.
Please let me know in the comments or send me an email!