10 books every musician should read

10 Books Every Musician Should Read to Stimulate a Creative Mind

10 Books Every Musician Should Read to Stimulate a Creative Mind

There are many ways a musician can sharpen their skills and get inspired, and reading books can stimulate a creative mind, and lead to creative breakthroughs.

Here are some amazing books (in no particular order), that a musician must/should read in their lifetime.

1. A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons

Book by Ben Folds

10 books every musician should read

Ben Folds is a celebrated international singer-songwriter, beloved for songs such as “Brick,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” and “The Luckiest,” and is the former frontman of the alternative rock band Ben Folds Five. But Folds will be the first to tell you he’s an unconventional icon, more normcore than hardcore. Now, in his first book, Folds looks back at his life so far in a charming and wise chronicle of his artistic coming of age, infused with the wry observations of a natural storyteller.

In the title chapter, “A Dream About Lightning Bugs,” Folds recalls his earliest childhood dream—and realizes how much it influenced his understanding of what it means to be an artist. “Measure Twice, Cut Once” he learns to resist the urge to skip steps during the creative process. “Hall Pass” he recounts his 1970s North Carolina working-class childhood, and in “Cheap Lessons” he returns to the painful life lessons he learned the hard way—but that luckily didn’t kill him.

His inimitable voice, both relatable and thought-provoking, Folds digs deep into the life experiences that shaped him, imparting hard-earned wisdom about both art and life. Collectively, these stories embody the message Folds has been singing about for years: Smile like you’ve got nothing to prove, because it hurts to grow up, and life flies by in seconds.

Available on Amazon or Google Books

2. Year of the Monkey

Book by Patti Smith

10 books every musician should read

From the National Book Award-winning author of Just Kids and M Train, a profound, beautifully realized memoir in which dreams and reality are vividly woven into a tapestry of one transformative year.

Following a run of New Year’s concerts at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore, Patti Smith finds herself tramping the coast of Santa Cruz, about to embark on a year of solitary wandering. Unfettered by logic or time, she draws us into her private wonderland with no design, yet heeding signs–including a talking sign that looms above her, prodding and sparring like the Cheshire Cat. In February, a surreal lunar year begins, bringing with it unexpected turns, heightened mischief, and inescapable sorrow. In a stranger’s words, “Anything is possible: after all, it’s the Year of the Monkey.” For Smith–inveterately curious, always exploring, tracking thoughts, writing–the year evolves as one of reckoning with the changes in life’s gyre: with loss, aging, and a dramatic shift in the political landscape of America.

Smith melds the western landscape with her own dreamscape. Taking us from California to the Arizona desert; to a Kentucky farm as the amanuensis of a friend in crisis; to the hospital room of a valued mentor; and by turns to remembered and imagined places, this haunting memoir blends fact and fiction with poetic mastery. The unexpected happens; grief and disillusionment set in. But as Smith heads toward a new decade in her own life, she offers this balm to the reader: her wisdom, wit, gimlet eye, and above all, a rugged hope for a better world.

Riveting, elegant, often humorous, illustrated by Smith’s signature Polaroids, Year of the Monkey is a moving and original work, a touchstone for our turbulent times.

Available on Amazon or Google Book

3. Elton John: This One’s for You

Book by Carolyn Thomas

10 books every musician should read

His 1970 breakthrough single ‘Your Song’ began his domination of the pop charts and established his credentials to fill the post-Beatles landscape with his unique take on piano-based ballads, pop and rock. Not since 50s stars Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis had a man and his piano made such an impact on modern music.

Few would have imagined that Elton’s early success and real emotional connection with fans would be sustained over the next 50 years to see him become a singer-songwriter extraordinaire and one of the most successful musical theatre composers in history. Flamboyant and prone to excess, Elton has overcome problems with drink, drugs, food and his sexuality along the way to become a notable fundraiser and charity campaigner, most famously through the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Now married with two sons, Elton’s priorities have changed and he has announced his retirement from performing after 2021. So it’s the perfect time to celebrate his amazing achievements.

Available on Amazon or Google Books

4. Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song that Changed American Music Forever

Book by Geoff Edgers

10 books every musician should read

Washington Post national arts reporter Geoff Edgers takes a deep dive into the story behind “Walk This Way,” Aerosmith and Run-DMC’s legendary, groundbreaking mashup that forever changed music.

The early 1980s were an exciting time for music. Hair metal bands were selling out stadiums, while clubs and house parties in New York City had spawned a new genre of music. At the time, though, hip hop’s reach was limited, an art form largely ignored by mainstream radio deejays and the rock-obsessed MTV network.

But in 1986, the music world was irrevocably changed when Run-DMC covered Aerosmith’s hit “Walk This Way” in the first rock-hip hop collaboration. Others had tried melding styles. This was different, as a pair of iconic arena rockers and the young kings of hip hop shared a studio and started a revolution. The result: Something totally new and instantly popular. Most importantly, “Walk This Way” would be the first rap song to be played on mainstream rock radio.

In Walk This Way, Geoff Edgers sets the scene for this unlikely union of rockers and MCs, a mashup that both revived Aerosmith and catapulted hip hop into the mainstream. He tracks the paths of the main artists—Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Joseph “Run” Simmons, and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels—along with other major players on the scene across their lives and careers, illustrating the long road to the revolutionary marriage of rock and hip hop. Deeply researched and written in cinematic style, this music history is a must-read for fans of hip hop, rock, and everything in between.

Available on Amazon or Google Books

5. The Beautiful Ones

Book by Prince

10 books every musician should read

From Prince himself comes the brilliant coming-of-age-and-into-superstardom story of one of the greatest artists of all time—featuring never-before-seen photos, original scrapbooks and lyric sheets, and the exquisite memoir he began writing before his tragic death.

Prince was a musical genius, one of the most talented, beloved, accomplished, popular, and acclaimed musicians in pop history. But he wasn’t only a musician—he was also a startlingly original visionary with an imagination deep enough to whip up whole worlds, from the sexy, gritty funk paradise of his early records to the mythical landscape of Purple Rain to the psychedelia of Paisley Park. But his greatest creative act was turning Prince Rogers Nelson, born in Minnesota, into Prince, the greatest pop star of his era.

The Beautiful Ones is the story of how Prince became Prince—a first-person account of a kid absorbing the world around him and then creating a persona, an artistic vision, and a life, before the hits and fame that would come to define him. The book is told in four parts. The first is composed of the memoir he was writing before his tragic death, pages that brings us into Prince’s childhood world through his own lyrical prose.

The second part takes us into Prince’s early years as a musician, before his first album released, through a scrapbook of Prince’s writing and photos. The third section shows us Prince’s evolution through candid images that take us up to the cusp of his greatest achievement, which we see in the book’s fourth section: his original handwritten treatment for Purple Rain—the final stage in Prince’s self-creation, as he retells the autobiography we’ve seen in the first three parts as a heroic journey.

The book is framed by editor Dan Piepenbring’s riveting and moving introduction about his short but profound collaboration with Prince in his final days—a time when Prince was thinking deeply about how to reveal more of himself and his ideas to the world, while retaining the mystery and mystique he’d so carefully cultivated—and annotations that provide context to each of the book’s images.

This work is not just a tribute to Prince, but an original and energizing literary work, full of Prince’s ideas and vision, his voice and image, his undying gift to the world.

Available on Amazon or Google Book

6. Hurricanes: A Memoir

Book by Neil Martinez-Belkin and Rick Ross

10 books every musician should read

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER – The highly anticipated memoir from hip-hop icon Rick Ross chronicles his coming of age amid Miami’s crack epidemic, his star-studded controversies and his unstoppable rise to fame.

Rick Ross is an indomitable presence in the music industry, but few people know his full story. Now, for the first time, Ross offers a vivid, dramatic and unexpectedly candid account of his early childhood, his tumultuous adolescence and his dramatic ascendancy in the world of hip-hop.

Born William Leonard Roberts II, Ross grew up “across the bridge,” in a Miami at odds with the glitzy beaches, nightclubs and yachts of South Beach. In the aftermath of the 1980 race riots and the Mariel boatlift, Ross came of age at the height of the city’s crack epidemic, when home invasions and execution-style killings were commonplace. Still, in the midst of the chaos and danger that surrounded him, Ross flourished, first as a standout high school football player and then as a dope boy in Carol City’s notorious Matchbox housing projects. All the while he honed his musical talent, overcoming setback after setback until a song called “Hustlin’” changed his life forever.

From the making of “Hustlin’” to his first major label deal with Def Jam, to the controversy surrounding his past as a correctional officer and the numerous health scares, arrests and feuds he had to transcend along the way, Hurricanes is a revealing portrait of one of the biggest stars in the rap game, and an intimate look at the birth of an artist.

Available on Amazon or Google Books

7. Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest

Book by Hanif Abdurraqib

10 books every musician should read

How does one pay homage to A Tribe Called Quest? The seminal rap group brought jazz into the genre, resurrecting timeless rhythms to create masterpieces such as The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. Seventeen years after their last album, they resurrected themselves with an intense, socially conscious record, We Got It from Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service, which arrived when fans needed it most, in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib digs into the group’s history and draws from his own experience to reflect on how its distinctive sound resonated among fans like himself. The result is as ambitious and genre-bending as the rap group itself.

Abdurraqib traces the Tribe’s creative career, from their early days as part of the Afrocentric rap collective known as the Native Tongues, through their first three classic albums, to their eventual breakup and long hiatus. Their work is placed in the context of the broader rap landscape of the 1990s. One upended by sampling laws that forced a reinvention in production methods, the East Coast–West Coast rivalry that threatened to destroy the genre, and some record labels’ shift from focusing on groups to individual MCs.

Throughout the narrative Abdurraqib connects the music and cultural history to their street-level impact. Whether he’s remembering The Source magazine cover announcing the Tribe’s 1998 breakup or writing personal letters to the group after bandmate Phife Dawg’s death, Abdurraqib seeks the deeper truths of A Tribe Called Quest; truths that—like the low end, the bass—are not simply heard in the head, but felt in the chest.

Available on Amazon or Google Book

8. Bowie: An Illustrated Life

Book by Fran Ruiz and Maria Hesse

10 books every musician should read

David Bowie was a master of artifice and reinvention. In that same spirit, illustrator María Hesse and writer Fran Ruiz have created a vivid retelling of the life of David Robert Jones, from his working-class childhood to glam rock success to superstardom, concluding with the final recording sessions after his cancer diagnosis.

Narrated from the rock star’s point of view, Bowie colorfully renders both the personal and the professional turning points in a life marked by evolution and innovation. We see Bowie facing the sorrow of his brother’s mental illness, kicking a cocaine habit while other musicians succumbed to deadly overdoses, contending with a tumultuous love life, and radiating joy as a father. Along the way, he describes how he shattered the boundaries of song and society with a counterculture cast that included Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, and Freddie Mercury—as well as his own creations, Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke.

Evocatively illustrated from start to finish, Bowie is a stellar tribute to an inimitable star.

Available on Amazon or Google Book

9. Depeche Mode: Faith and Devotion

Book by Ian Gittins

Emerging from the unlikely locale of Basildon at the dawn of the Eighties. The unassuming Depeche Mode became pioneers of British electro-pop. Surviving the abrupt early departure of band founder and chief songwriter Vince Clarke. They quickly gathered a fervent cult following before powering into the mainstream. Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andrew Fletcher and Alan Wilder took their dark, venal songs of sex, religion, obsession and death to the world’s arenas and stadiums. Over four decades, Depeche Mode have seduced millions from Moscow to Montevideo. Yet it has never been an easy ride.

Along the way there have been crippling bouts of self-doubt, depression, intra-band fighting, alcohol abuse. The catastrophic heroin addiction that almost killed the charismatic yet vulnerable Gahan. From the band’s earliest stirrings in Essex to the eve of their 40th anniversary, Depeche Mode: Faith and Devotion is a tale of triumph from adversity: the extraordinary history of a unique global synth-rock phenomenon.

Available on Amazon or Google Book

10. Then It Fell Apart

Book by Moby

books

What do you do when you realise you have everything you think you’ve ever wanted but still feel completely empty? What do you do when it all starts to fall apart? The second volume of Moby’s extraordinary life story is a journey into the dark heart of fame. The demons that lurk just beneath the bling and bluster of the celebrity lifestyle.

In summer 1999, Moby released the album that defined the millennium, PLAY. Like generation-defining albums before it, PLAY was ubiquitous, and catapulted Moby to superstardom. Suddenly he was hanging out with David Bowie and Lou Reed, Christina Ricci and Madonna, taking esctasy for breakfast (most days), drinking litres of vodka (every day), and sleeping with super models (infrequently). It was a diet that couldn’t last. And then it fell apart.

The second volume of Moby’s memoir is a classic about the banality of fame. It is shocking, riotously entertaining, extreme, and unforgiving. It is unedifying, but you can never tear your eyes away from the page.

Available on Amazon or Google Books

Conclusion

There are many other amazing books on the topic of music and the music industry at large.

There is so much more for you to explore, but the above 10 books will teach you about creativity. The competitive aspect of the industry, how to establish yourself in modern times and inspire you the most.

What books have you read on the music industry? Are there any that really inspired you?
Let us know!

Above all, if you are looking to more creativity and more about the music industry or how to move forward as an artist, you should check out our book The Essentials for Musicians. It is a complete guide of the various stages of an artist. Teaching you how to progress effectively in the new music industry.

It is a shot to help people who are also comfortable with the basics of music production but who still find the other stages to be a difficult process.

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