Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: How Music Works (David Byrne)


Title: How Music Works
Author: David Byrne
Genre: Non-Fiction/Culture/Biography/Music
First published: 2012
Edition: Paperback, published by CanonGate in 2013

Best known as a founding member and principal songwriter of the iconic band Talking Heads, David Byrne has received Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe awards and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the insightful How Music Works, Byrne offers his unique perspective on music – including how music is shaped by time, how recording technologies transform the listening experience, the evolution of the industry, and much more.


Wow, where to start with this book. This was such an expansive wave of information that I am not quite sure how to talk about it. Music for me is so important. It keeps me sane every day and listening to the right record at the right time can have a huge influence on my mental health.

David Byrne is best known for Talking Heads, but this book shows how much love he has for the simple subject of music. I say simple, but there is nothing simple about this book. Although he talks about some of his own experiences in the music business, from simply writing songs to selling music to the consumer, the book very much tries to look at music in general and how it came to be what it is today. What even is music?

Sometimes the book lacked a bit of focus and went off meandering, but I think I actually quite enjoyed that. It talked about music in ways I had not thought of before.However, it does also has some very focused chapters, like the one on contracts and ways of recording and distributing your music, which was very interesting (and honest!).

This is not a book you can read quickly. It takes a while for it to sink in, but I think it made me really think about what he was trying to say. It was interesting looking at my own relationship with music whilst reading this book. Music does not move everyone in the same way, which has always seemed fascinating to me. A song that makes me cry, may do nothing at all for someone else. And music that I don’t rate at all, could mean the world to someone else.

If you are interested in music, this will be a fascinating and enlightening read. If you are just ‘meh’ about music, this won’t be for you (but I also won’t understand you!).

6 out of 7 stars

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