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Book Review – How Music Works

how music worksHow Music Works — David Byrne

David Byrne’s latest book is a beautiful physical object. It’s published by McSweeney’s, which in a world pushing for digital media, consistently makes a compelling case for killing trees. The pages feel good in your fingers. The photos and layout and diagrams are expert. I can recommend it, if nothing else, as worthy way to spend ten minutes, just leafing through it. Reading it from cover to cover can can be wise as well. However, depending on your level of familiarity with the Talking Heads and your appreciation for the minutiae of the recording industry, How Music Works might be best left behind after those first ten minutes.

Byrne’s recollections of his career with the Talking Heads and beyond will appeal almost exclusively to fans of his music. His chapter regarding the history of recorded music is competent as an overview. However, if you’re interested in the topic (especially if you record music at home), you should read Perfecting Sound Forever, one of the books that Byrne frequently references. That book features an entire chapter devoted to compressors and brick wall limiters that have created louder and louder commercial music. If this sounds too in depth, Byrne’s explanations will suffice. Though it feels like a summary of a much better, longer work. The chapter about the music business explains advances, recording costs, touring costs, royalties, etc. Byrne uses real numbers from his recent projects to fill in the pie chart slices. Anyone who’s ever wondered how much money someone really makes from selling CDs or mp3s will find much to love.  Byrne argues that society should spend more money funding rock and roll. He wonders, and rightfully so, why corporations and philanthropists throw money at opera and classical music (which cannot support themselves by admission costs alone), and why they shirk local rock bands and clubs. He ridicules music appreciation courses. It’s not that he wants opera to disappear or that learning about past works is a waste of time, but why would he want to listen to something in his spare time if he doesn’t like it? Namely, if he doesn’t respond to music emotionally, why would taking a class change that? Finally, he  explains what ingredients are necessary to create “a music scene.” While the naming of these traits can be instructive, too many unseen variables go into such a process. Forcing a music scene to evolve is impossible, just as following a list of instructions cannot create a hit single. And if anyone out there in the music business knows how to sell records by not following the rules, it’s David Byrne.

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September 2, 2009 Listen Alaska Audio Book and Music Download Service

Listen Alaska Audio Book and Music Download Service

Homer Public Library announces its Listen Alaska Digital Catalog membership.  You can browse and download the following popular types of audio books and music anytime, day or night:

  • OverDrive WMA Audiobooks
  • OverDrive MP3 Audiobooks
  • OverDrive Music

What do you need to get started?

  • A valid library card and PIN number
  • Internet access
  • A computer or device that meets the system requirements for the type(s) of digital materials you wish to check out
  • Free software for the computer or device on which you wish to use the materials available at this site

Look for the Listen Alaska icon located on the Homer Public Library  website or go directly to http://listenalaska.lib.overdrive.com.

Give it a try, it’s all at your fingertips!