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on 8 October 2016
If you're into music, you need to read this book, super useful information.
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on 16 May 2017
very good.
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on 2 August 2017
Brilliant insight to both musicality and the music industry
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on 8 August 2017
it was fine
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on 21 April 2017
David Byrne's excellent book is odd, just like David Byrne. The self confessed autistic musician sees the world in sounds and rhythms, where words matter less. On page 161 of this book, Byrne reveals his high regard for music that elicits emotions - through the sounds and the beat - and his he has always struggled with meaning. It all makes perfect sense.

Though this is no autobiography, there are plenty of tales in the book. But the real feasts for the reader derive from Byrne's view reality. For him, meaning comes last. Places shape music - the church, the club, the arena - all shape the material, rather than the other way around - brilliant insight. He also revels in how the technology of music shapes the music too - how time available shapes songs. How recording techniques change everything. How working with others transforms ideas. How the music industry's ever changing nature impacts the end product. He is a rather special guy, this David Byrne, in ways I never appreciated.

He writes plainly and clearly and is always intelligent. He knows his soulmates - Bowie, Eno, dance troupes, Japanese artists, etc. He thinks in pictures, and experiences music sensationally rather than through his brain's thoughts. He is disarmingly honest without being a teller of tales 9like Robbie Robertson. He is not that interested in himself, though he clearly knows who he is.

This is very unusual book, a great read - and like its author, cold to the touch.
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on 24 October 2013
Quite a remarkable achievement which is a very satisfying mixture of reflections on the nature of music and why it is the way it is; and reflections on David Byrne's own life in music.

So the first chapter, which sets out Byrne's view that the context of music, ie the context in which it would be performed, determines a great deal about what will be created (so you would not find music rich in African drumming being suited to the acoustics of a cathedral say) is followed by a chapter on the various tours that David Byrne has organised with Talking Heads and as a solo artist and the concepts he's followed on different occasions. Then a couple of chapters on recording music (discussing how technology also influences what music is created (so did 45s and 78s make it seem natural for songs to last 3-4 minutes?) is followed by a discussion of David Byrne's work in the studio.

There follow equally fascinating chapters on the nature of musical collaboration (whether as between band members on as Byrne might mostly work these days swapping material over the internet), on what can create a musical 'scene' (as at CBGBs in Byrne's youth) and on the ways in which it's possible to make money out of being a rock musician. (Byrne is very open about the sales and finances of his two most recent albums.)

The last two chapters are rather less persuasive and conclusive - in 'amateurs' Byrne is very strong in combatting the idea that music should be uplifting and that this is a reason for subsidy of particular kinds of music, the strongest argument he has for any form of subsidy seems to derive from experiments in Venezuela (El Sistema for classical music) and Brazil - where the music isn't always great, but perhaps the social impact of investment has been. And as to whether (as discussed in the final chapter) music is really eg 'the harmony of the spheres', or something a great deal more humanly created, it's not clear that Byrne has finally a fully argued position.

The book might benefit from a little more knowledge of the history of classical music - it's very eclectic in its tastes, but this is not Byrne's chosen area of knowledge and it it were, he might find further succour for his view that the musician is not, as such, an 'inspired creator' but more of a workman influence by his materials. Also, it would be interesting to have Byrne's views on what leads to stylistic 'break points' in the history of music (as with, say, the birth of punk).

However, overall, I was both really impressed by this book and found it consistently gripping from the first page to the last. I would very strongly recommend it to others.
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VINE VOICEon 4 December 2012
What exactly is this book trying to be? In places it seems to be an autobiography of David Byrne's recording career both with Talking Heads and as a solo artist, but then it is an analysis of the record industry in general plus an essay on different types of concert venue and the structure of classical music. It is almost always interesting but not being a musician I did struggle with some of the technical bits on musical constructs, and found some sections a little heavy going, but the parts about Talking Heads made me want to watch "Stop Making Sense" again. Did it tell me how music worked? Not really, but it was for the most part an enjoyable read.

Incidentally, a few irritations for Kindle readers: The book is fairly heavily illustrated, but the illustrations (in the text rather than a separate section) often appear a fair way on from their mentions rather than after the paragraph concerned, and there are numerous typos where words run together.
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on 6 May 2017
Very readable. Full of revelation and interesting facts from a thoroughly entertaining writer and top musician. This is music for musicians and non musicians alike. A truly excellent book and not just for reference
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on 17 July 2015
David Byrne’s How Music Works couldn’t be more different to the last music-related book I read, which was Morrissey’s Autobiography…actually, that’s wrong, if that last sentence was true Byrne’s book would have to be an iceberg or a classification system for light aircraft or a herbal treatment for verrucas, whereas it is, like Mozzer’s, largely an account of the late 20th century music business written by the former singer of an original, literate, musically accomplished and critically adored band. But you get my point. Morrissey’s effort (or at least the second half of it) is a hilarious and highly subjective broadside against the massed incompetent and grasping industry forces that he perceives to have been responsible for sabotaging his career and indeed life over the last quarter century. Byrne’s on the other hand is perky, user-friendly and downright educational, consisting as it does of a series of self-contained chapters that each address one aspect of how music is made, appreciated and marketed. You can imagine these units starting life as a lecture series, to be delivered alongside audio-visual material organised via Powerpoint – there are even helpful, referenced, illustrations of the type typical of this sort of presentation included in the book.

Despite its preppy, slightly earnest approach though How Music Works turns out to be an excellent read, putting forward some genuinely revealing and valuable insights into what makes musical performances and recordings really live and hacking efficiently through some of the mysteries and contradictions of record company practices. Byrne is fascinated by the way that collections of noises and voices can combine to make compelling tunes, grooves and atmospheres and uses his own experiences and those of many artists he admires to illustrate the sometimes random and unpredictable nature of creativity. He starts with the history of music and over the course of the book takes in anthropology, architecture, astronomy, computer science and even some politics, all of which is admirably well-researched and explained in clear, and often unexpectedly funny and self-deprecatory, prose. A central theme is that our appreciation of music both recorded and live is highly dependent on context and nebulous variables such as one’s mood – a piece that has a room full of people happily dancing for ages in a nightclub may well sound bizarre and repetitive if one heard it played in a cathedral or at a dinner party. One therefore shouldn’t set too much stall in establishing critical hierarchies or canons of acceptable work in any genre as it’s just as possible that you’ll come across a life-changingly wonderful song in a disco or at a local jam session in a bar as in an opera house. In the spirit of encouraging serendipitous collisions of musical ideas the author also provides some advice on how to set up and foster a thriving music scene, based on what he observed back when Talking Heads were a regular band at CBGBs in New York (a good tip: provide customers with pool tables to give them something else to do when the groups are playing other than just being a captive audience for a bunch of malnourished freaks).

Byrne’s candour about his working practices and many collaborations extends to a willingness to discuss the economics of being a musician, using himself as an example. In one chapter he provides detailed breakdowns of the costs involved in making two of his albums, one funded by a record company in the traditional manner and one a self-released project with Brian Eno which the two of them paid for themselves: although the two sold a comparable number of copies he made much more on the second, which demonstrates why a lot of record labels are getting hot and bothered these days about the ease with which the internet has allowed artists to bypass them. Byrne has decidedly mixed feelings about innovations like Spotify which provide ultimate convenience to consumers but don’t necessarily pay the people who actually made the music anything more than pin money but on this issue, as on all others that he covers, he keeps an open mind and argues his case fairly and convincingly (it would be hard to imagine Morrissey, say, taking such a balanced approach if he had suspicions he was being ripped off). How Music Works is ambitious, detailed and wide-ranging and it’s a must-read if you want to know about the nuts and bolts of how and why you get to hear the songs and pieces you love and the various creative and financial challenges of the artists who make them.
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on 8 November 2012
Highly enjoyable, well-informed and fluently written account of how music works on us and through us. Byrne considers the history, reception, and making of music from his perspective as a practicing musician. Whether you like his music or not (and I do), this book will increase your knowledge and awareness of what music does and how it achieves its effects. Byrne is thoughtful and scholarly in his approach without being obscure or needlessly lofty. I listen better now and enjoy music, any kind of music, more thoroughly.
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