Ben Oliver

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How Music Works

A well written piece covering the origins of music right through to the ins and outs of the modern industry.
24 September 2015

Talking heads front-man David Byrne lays out everything he knows about music. He covers most fronts; history, acoustics, business and psychology all get discussed in some depth.

Despite claiming early on not to be an autobiographical piece, Byrne mostly relates what he’s talking about to his own experiences with music. This is a logical move and grounds everything he discusses in reality. It’s a thoroughly researched piece of work backed up by (legitimately interesting) anecdotal evidence.

He also separates chapters in such a way that they can stand alone. His detailing of the ins and outs of various styles of recording, and his breakdown of all the recording deals an artist might be offered could almost be printed out and used as a guide.

This contrasts with more speculative pieces as he looks into why people like music at all, and why they are drawn to certain notes, chords and harmonies. Again, it’s well researched but it’s equally interesting to have his own opinion on the matter, and he gives us what we want.

This is not a riveting read, Byrne’s writing can get a little dry and irritatingly he seems to repeat himself on a few points. However, his idea of combining research with notes from his own career is inspired and makes How Music Works well worth a look.