If there’s one thing I wish had more of when I first started my music career, it’s direction.
I wandered, following the pack until I realized it wasn’t working for me.
And one of the main ways I’ve found direction as a musician is from books.
So below are seven of the best books for musicians to read. If you want to feel encouraged and learn practical ways to grow your music career, check these out…
Austin Kleon’s Trilogy on Creativity
Austin Kleon is a writer who draws and a best-selling author. He makes a living from creating art, and in his trilogy of books on creativity, he shares what he’s learned.
Steal Like An Artist
The subtitle of this book is “10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative,” and as someone who has read this book several times, that promise delivers.
The whole idea of “stealing like an artist” is not to copy or plagiarize. It’s to let your favorite artists inspire your music. Us humans are recycling centers, whether we realize it or not.
An example of stealing like an artist is a notebook I call my Recycling Center Notebook (my version of Kleon’s Swipe File). Any time I read, hear, or watch something interesting, I’ll jot it down in my RC Notebook. It could be a direct quote from a book or a thought I had inspired by something I just heard.
Then, when I’m songwriting, I’ll revisit this notebook for inspiration and ideas.
Steal Like An Artist has a lot more tips on creativity, inspiration, and balancing your art with your life. If you only read one book from this list, read this one.
Show Your Work!
After you learn how to steal like an artist, this book will show you how to share like an artist.
Show Your Work! includes 10 encouraging ideas on how to get your art into the world, overcome the fear of people’s opinions, and use practical promotion techniques.
It will show you how to engage with your audience in a way that grows your career yet doesn’t make you feel like a sketchy salesperson.
Consistency is the most important aspect to focus on as an indie musician. And Keep Going is all about how to not give up in your journey as someone who creates.
Kleon talks about adopting a healthy mindset, forgetting the noun and doing the verb, and the benefits of going for a walk.
He also offers less obvious tips, like building a Bliss Station, making gifts for others, and allowing art to make your life better.
Songwriting Books by Paul Zollo
Paul Zollo is a singer-songwriter, author, and journalist. And he’s interviewed some of the best songwriters in modern music, like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and one of Frank Sinatra’s main songwriters.
Songwriters On Songwriting
Songwriters On Songwriting includes 52 interviews with some of the greatest songwriters of our time and our parents’ time. And each interview is just the transcript, so you get to read every word these legends said about songwriting.
Tom Petty talks about working with Bob Dylan. Dylan says we don’t need any new songs. Madonna chats about working with Prince. Pete Seeger reminisces about touring with Woody Guthrie. Paul Simon shares some of his songwriting process.
And tons more fascinating stuff.
This thick book is packed full of interesting stories and songwriting wisdom. So if you want to write more compelling songs, this book is for you.
More Songwriters On Songwriting
You thought Zollo was done after just one book? Nope.
More Songwriters On Songwriting is exactly what you think it is ‒ interview transcripts with even more legendary songwriters.
In this sequel, you can hear directly from Peter, Paul and Mary, James Taylor, Randy Newman, John Prine, and even Disney songwriter Richard Sherman.
It also includes interviews with younger songwriters, like Matisyahu and Sia.
If you enjoy Songwriters On Songwriting, you’ve got to get this sequel book.
How To Make It In The New Music Business by Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a musician and the founder of the music business advice blog Ari’s Take (he also used to contribute to Digital Music News). He’s played several hundred shows, gotten his music on TV, and has helped tons of indies grow their music careers.
And his book, How To Make It In The New Music Business, is pretty much like the music business bible. If you’re trying to build your music career, you have to read this book.
First he talks about the changing music industry at large, then he lays out how to record, release, promote, and perform your music.
I regularly reference this book to refresh my memory on how to do something or how things work. Get a copy for yourself.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
“Atomic” refers to “an extremely small amount of a thing” and “the source of immense power.” A “habit” is a “routine or practice performed regularly.”
So Atomic Habits teaches you how to take small yet powerful steps toward your goals on a regular basis.
And in today’s music industry, most indie artists who go full-time will be working at it for a while. Most artists don’t get big, career-changing breaks.
So you need to develop habits that move you toward the music career you want.
This is the best book for learning how to do that in a way that’s not overwhelming.
And those are the 7 best books for musicians to read. Even if you can’t read these books now, I highly recommend you at least add them to your reading list, like right now. (I use Goodreads for that).