The best music industry books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the music industry and why they recommend each book.

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Olivia on the Record

By Ginny Z. Berson,

Book cover of Olivia on the Record

A wonderful overview of the early years of Olivia Records, this memoir from the social justice warrior of the original Olivia collective details how the first lesbian recording company was founded—and succeeded, despite all odds. Berson includes romantic insights on the artists’ passion for one another, as well as accounts of building a national audience. For two generations of women who came out with this music, the songs and albums remain critical anthems of female empowerment—and the only music that existed to affirm lesbians’ lives.

Who am I?

My expertise as a scholar of the women’s music movement spans 40 years--ever since I attended my first concert and music festival in 1981. A lecturer at UC-Berkeley, I’m the author of 19 books on women’s history, and published the first book on women’s music festivals, Eden Built By Eves, in 1999 (now out of print.) More recently I’ve organized exhibits on the women’s music movement for the Library of Congress, co-authored The Feminist Revolution (which made Oprah’s list), and I’m now the archivist and historian for Olivia Records.

I wrote...

The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture

By Bonnie Morris,

Book cover of The Disappearing L: Erasure of Lesbian Spaces and Culture

What is my book about?

The Disappearing L offers an overview of the rise and fall of lesbian cultural spaces. What was the soundtrack of the feminist revolution? How did artists, producers, and fans create a vast network of women’s concerts, recording companies, and festivals that offered meaningful performance spaces for women coming out as lesbians—and performers too radical for the mainstream?

The book examines how women’s bookstores, women’s studies programs, and other year-round institutions built spaces that included a music subculture—only to see independent venues vanish once LGBT rights and mainstreaming were attained. As women’s music spaces are disappearing, how will we remember them?

Fortune's Fool

By Fred Goodman,

Book cover of Fortune's Fool: Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Warner Music, and an Industry in Crisis

The story of how Warner Bros Records, perhaps the best, most profitable yet artist-friendly record label in the 1970s and 1980s became heavily damaged when it was bought out in the 1990s and put under corporate auspices and expectations. Goodman communicates the financial details in a clear and accessible way, as well as the music executives’ singular personalities. Also offers a close-up view of how the corporate execs, especially with their short-term focus on quarterly results, failed to deal with the challenges of Napster and downloads at the turn of the century. An insightful view of the changing components of the music business in our time.

Who am I?

As an author and educator, my work centers on the history, business, and art of the music industry and film industry. I don’t think my fellow historians use musical evidence enough as a primary document that reveals much about the society and time period one is writing aboutjust as much as the usual primary and secondary documents historians use.  I try to ensure my books are entertaining as well as rigorously researched. I’m also a songwriter, with many years in the music biz, and have done much work in radio, especially crafting music shows. I’m always discovering amazing stuff from various eras, and it’s not much fun if you don’t share it, which is part of why I’m on Twitter.

I wrote...

Duke Ellington's America

By Harvey G. Cohen,

Book cover of Duke Ellington's America

What is my book about?

The most thorough, nuanced portrait yet of this towering figure, Duke Ellington’s America highlights Ellington’s importance as a historical figure as well as arguably America’s greatest composer. Harvey G. Cohen paints a vivid picture of Ellington’s life and times, taking him from his youth in black Washington, D.C., to the heights of worldwide acclaim. Mining extensive archives, many never before available, plus new interviews with Ellington’s friends, family, band, and business associates, Cohen illuminates his constantly evolving approach to composition, performance, and the music business—as well as issues of race, equality, religion and the Cold War.

Ellington’s own voice animates the book throughout, giving Duke Ellington’s America an intimacy and immediacy unmatched by any previous account. One of the Washington Post’s best books of the year.

Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music

By Barry Mazor,

Book cover of Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music

You’ve probably never heard of him, but as much as any one person, Ralph Peer created American popular music. 

A student of early musical genres, Peer traveled the country with a couple of new-fangled gadgets called a microphone and a recording machine. He sought out and discovered music that had been considered low-brow, and he carved it into the grooves of records for the wider public to enjoy: country, blues, jazz, polka, folk music of all kinds. 

For two weeks in the summer of 1927, he engineered perhaps the most famous recording sessions of them all, the Bristol Sessions, the “big bang” of country music.

Who am I?

From my earliest days I was surrounded by music, from Friday night family band to our musical Christmas card on a bright red record to trumpet trios played with my dad and brother. I went to the University of Southern California on a trumpet scholarship, then took a detour from music and tried writing. I liked it. To this day, one of my favorite things is combining these two interests to create novels, stories, and plays about music. Since moving to Nashville, I’ve immersed myself in American popular music and have loved returning to my roots. 

I wrote...

Lord of the Mountain

By Ronald Kidd,

Book cover of Lord of the Mountain

What is my book about?

This is the story of a fictional character, thirteen-year-old Nate Owens, who witnesses one of the seminal events in American music, a series of 1927 recording sessions in Bristol, Tennessee, where the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and other mothers and fathers of country music were first discovered. 

Nate’s family has a secret, and it’s wrapped up in a song. But his preacher father hates music, and when he catches Nate in Bristol with the Carters, he comes down hard on him. So Nate sets out in search of himself and the song he thinks will heal his family. Set during the “big bang” of country music, Nate’s journey of self-discovery parallels that of a region finding its voice for the first time.

The Audible Past

By Jonathan Sterne,

Book cover of The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction

Sterne explores the cultural history of how and why Americans developed technologies that reproduced and transmitted sound. It is a surprising story that takes us through the Civil War and ideas about death, deaf children and their teachers, the discipline of medicine, and the practice of folklore. It turns out that cultural shifts encouraged the preservation of sound, and those machines we developed in turn changed the ways we listen.

Who am I?

I have been doing research in the Caribbean for twenty-five years. The region is diverse and magnificent. Caribbean people have sought creative solutions for racial inequality, climate and sustainability, media literacy and information, women’s and family issues. The transnational connections with the US are complex and wide-ranging, and knowing more about this region is an urgent matter. I work to understand how sound and media work because they structure our reality in important ways. Listening as a way of approaching relationships in work and play is key to our survival. So is understanding how media works, where we get our information from, and how to tell what’s relevant, significant, and true, and what is not. 

I wrote...

Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean

By Alejandra Bronfman,

Book cover of Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean

What is my book about?

The Caribbean has always been a site of explorations of modernity and technology, and this book makes that case through a history of broadcasting and media. With a peripatetic approach, the book scans the emergence of broadcasting as the central medium in the region with attention to Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica. While in Haiti the US military occupation brought radio as a disciplining and governing tool, in Cuba it was US commercial interests that supported the radio boom. In Jamaica, by contrast, local radio was limited by the colonial government until an explosive anti-colonial rebellion changed everything. The book tracks radio’s significance in politics, racial dynamics, and cultures of belonging. 

Making Records

By Phil Ramone,

Book cover of Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music

Phil Ramone has been involved in producing records for some of the biggest acts in music, including Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Paul Simon. Ostensibly, his book is about record production, but really it’s about people. Yes, Ramone worked with some big names over the course of his long career, but at the end of the day (as he emphasizes throughout the book), they’re all human beings, and while some degree of technical expertise is necessary when it comes to making music, what really matters is knowing how to talk to people. At the end of the day, making music is all about making human connections. 

Who am I?

Music is a major passion of mine. I’m highly involved in making and promoting independent music both locally and internationally via social media. The primary focus of all my endeavors is promoting a do-it-yourself ethos. Whenever I work with musicians, I’m always fascinated by how their creativity allows them to do a lot with a little. Hence, I suppose, the story of Frankie Lumlit. It’s a story about falling in love with music and finding a way to make it even when the world says no.

I wrote...

Frankie Lumlit's Janky Drumkit

By Marc Schuster,

Book cover of Frankie Lumlit's Janky Drumkit

What is my book about?

When his parents tell him that he can’t have a drumkit, Frankie Lumlit builds one out of odds and ends he finds in the family recycling bin. Frankie’s excitement, however, is dimmed when his friend Alfonse laughs at his creation. But then Frankie’s favorite band overhears his drumming and asks if they can borrow his drums. As a token of appreciation, they invite him to that night’s concert where Frankie Lumlit’s janky drumkit takes center stage. 

Be Cool

By Elmore Leonard,

Book cover of Be Cool

I’ll admit, the Russian villain in this thriller is a very bit part, but I can’t have a top 5 list of any thriller without including Elmore Leonard. I read one of Leonard’s first urban thrillers, Glitz, back in ‘80’s and was blown away with how gritty it was. I’d never heard dialogue coming out of character’s mouths like that before. He wrote dialogue like people actually spoke—not with perfect dialect, but street language. It’s the reason he was dubbed the Dickens of Detroit. If you’ve read Elmore Leonard and liked him, then pick this up and read it. It’s a quasi-sequel to Get Shorty with shylock Chili Palmer moving from the movie industry to the music business. 

If you’ve never read Leonard, then start with this one. My writing career would never have flourished like is has without reading Leonard, so this on is near to my heart. Enjoy.  

Who am I?

From a very early age, writing has always been my one true passion. Ever since I was in eighth grade and my teacher would pass out copies of my journal assignment for that week, I was hooked on the idea of writing. I could create my own world where no one could tell me how my characters should behave. Well, two Pushcart Prize nominations and many awards later, I’m grateful I pursued my dream to become a writer. I hope you’ve enjoyed the list I provided and please feel free to pick up one of my Nick Bracco thrillers about a Sicilian FBI agent who uses his Mafia-connected cousin to track terrorists. 

I wrote...

A Touch of Terror (A Nick Bracco Thriller Book 6)

By Gary Ponzo,

Book cover of A Touch of Terror (A Nick Bracco Thriller Book 6)

What is my book about?

A rogue Russian agent known as The Machine has infiltrated the U.S. border with a case of uranium powerful enough to destroy the entire west coast. FBI agent Nick Bracco recruits his Mafia-connected cousin Tommy to help track down the case and try to save the nation from the devastating attack. But this time Nick and his partner, Matt McColm, have met their match.

The Music Shop

By Rachel Joyce,

Book cover of The Music Shop

Though this book was a recent read for me, it’s been out there for a while. I’m surprised I missed it until now, which makes it all the sweeter. 

I love unexpected finds like The Music Shop. And just like the book, we follow Frank, the owner of a vinyl record shop in 1988 London, where customers roam the jam-packed rows in search of a gem among endless stacks of music. 

Frank has an ear for matching the perfect record to every person who walks through his door. Then he meets Ilse, who challenges him in a way that rocks his world. 

The soundtrack for this book is an awesome companion, something I always look for in a book. Check out Spotify for a listen while you follow Frank and Isle’s wonderfully complicated and yet deeply beautiful relationship. 

Who am I?

I grew up, a child of the eighties, in a Minneapolis household filled with music and dance. My mom took me to see the movie Purple Rain when I was thirteen and I was never the same. And though I no longer rat and spray the life out of my hair, I’ve always felt an affinity for the decade. The music of the time inspired so much of what we hear today. Notes and lyrics are just another forms of story. So, please enjoy my list. And if you find your foot tapping, pop in a cassette, a CD, or maybe even spin a record while you read. 

I wrote...

The Turning Pointe

By Vanessa L. Torres,

Book cover of The Turning Pointe

What is my book about?

When sixteen-year-old Rosa Dominguez pirouettes, she is poetry in pointe shoes. As the daughter of a tyrant ballet Master, Rosa seems destined to become the star principal dancer of her studio. But Rosa would do anything for one hour in the dance studio upstairs where Prince, the Purple One himself, is in the house.

After her father announces their upcoming auditions for a concert with Prince, Rosa is more determined than ever to succeed. Then Nikki—the cross-dressing, funky boy who works in the dance shop—leaps into her life. Rosa is at a crossroads, desperate to escape so she can show everyone what she can do when freed of her pointe shoes. Now is her chance to break away, grooving to that unmistakable Minneapolis sound reverberating through her body. 

How to Make It in the New Music Business

By Ari Herstand,

Book cover of How to Make It in the New Music Business: Practical Tips on Building a Loyal Following and Making a Living as a Musician

You've read it all before. The standard trope of a rockstar genius turned slow-motion trainwreck through drug-fueled self-indulgence has become all too common in music fiction. The truth is a successful career in the music business requires lots of hard work and smart decision-making. This is especially so in today's world of rapidly shifting technological and social dynamics. Herstand, in plain language, tells it like it is, offering both a sobering assessment of the many challenges you'll face, but also practical real-world advice on how to overcome them. Even if you have no intention of becoming a musician, it's an eye-opener into how the modern business works.

Who am I?

Since childhood, I've been in love with musicians, the world they live in, and the fruits of their labor. I spent years listening to my parent's record collection, which covered everything from pop, rock, and country, to jazz and classical. Today, music continues to stir my passion like nothing else. Though an industry career was never in the cards for me personally, I've frequently hovered around its periphery. My goal was to write a band story, one that strayed from common tropes to explore, through humor and heartbreak, the many joys and pitfalls of life in this mercurial and often nonsensical industry. The result was my trilogy, Idol Pursuits. Enjoy.

I wrote...

Swimming Through the Dawn

By R.P. Rioux,

Book cover of Swimming Through the Dawn

What is my book about?

Swimming Through the Dawn begins the Idol Pursuits trilogy, a captivating adventure of a dreamer who tempts the odds by starting her very own K-Pop girl group in America. What could possibly go wrong? 

The Meaning of Mariah Carey

By Mariah Carey,

Book cover of The Meaning of Mariah Carey

From the very beginning of her career in the 90s, Mariah Carey, who is of Black and Irish ancestry, has had to deal with questions about her racial background and still today people are shocked to learn that she has Black heritage. In her memoir, Mariah talks about what it was like growing up as a mixed child as well as her struggles as an adult in the music industry.

Who am I?

I am African American, so colorism is part of living on this planet as a Black person because it’s a byproduct of racism. I am also the mother of a “mixed” child. Her father is White. I am brown-skinned and my daughter is light-skinned and looks racially ambiguous. Since she was a newborn, people have made colorist and racist remarks toward us. The Half Series – When Black People Look White was written based on real-life experiences.

I wrote...

The Half Series: When Black People Look White

By Dangerous Lee, Katie Burrell (narrator), Jonathan R. Miller (narrator), Lisa Thornton (narrator), Jerian Dimattei (narrator), Leon Scott Baxter (narrator), Lisa Chase Patterson (narrator), Carolyn Battle-Cochrane (narrator), Kate and Jenni (narrator)

Book cover of The Half Series: When Black People Look White

What is my book about?

The Half Series - When Black People Look White focuses on the colorism that biracial, mixed, and multi-ethnic people deal with as well as how they see themselves. Features interviews, first-person accounts, fun facts, and discussions about the children of Michael Jackson.

Slow Puncture

By Peter Berry, Deb Bunt,

Book cover of Slow Puncture: Living Well With Dementia

A love of cycling brought Peter Berry and Deb Bunt together as friends. Deb had not encountered a person with dementia until she met Peter. His positive attitude about living well with dementia and his poetic and insightful musings on his condition inspired her to write his memoir, to preserve his story. This is a deeply moving book, full of beautiful, lyrical language.

Who am I?

I am a registered nurse, author, and dementia daughter. As a nurse and hospital case manager, I spent many years caring for people living with dementia and their families. This inspired me to write a novel, Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story. I soon encountered difficulties marketing my book. I reached out to two other dementia daughters I’d met online who had also written books on the subject from personal experience and together we founded the non-profit organization Our mission is to carefully vet resources – stories of personal caregiving – to help busy caregivers find the information and inspiration they need for their own journeys. To date, we are 300+ authors strong.

I wrote...

Blue Hydrangeas

By Marianne Sciucco,

Book cover of Blue Hydrangeas

What is my book about?

What if the person who knew you best and loved you most forgot your face, and couldn't remember your name? Memory care is everyone's solution for what to do about Sara but Jack can't bear to live without her. He’s committed to saving his marriage, his wife, and their life together from the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease. They retired years ago to the house of their dreams and operated it as a bed and breakfast named Blue Hydrangeas. Jack has made an impossible promise: They’ll stay together in their beautiful home no matter what the disease brings.

He takes them on an impulsive journey to confront their past and reclaim their future. In the end, he realizes that staying together at any cost is what truly matters.

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