2013 brought no shortage of excellent books about music-related topics, and as FMC’s communications associate, I try to pick up as many as I can. While there’s more on my reading pile I haven’t managed to find time for yet (Morrissey’s autobiography, John Nathan Anderson’s Radio’s Digital Dillemma: Broadcasting in the Twentieth Century, and Ed Piskor’s Hip-Hop Family Tree among them), these titles are among my favorites. Seek them out at your local independent bookseller!
Supernatural Strategies For Making a Rock’n’Roll Group - Ian Svenonius
While “how to make it in the music biz” books are a dime-a-dozen these days, there’s no one better qualified to advise would-be-rock-stars than Ian Svenonius, the stylish and erudite frontman of legendary rock groups Nation of Ulysses and The Makeup, currently of Chain & The Gang. The book opens with a series of “transcripts” of séances with dead rockers from Jimi Hendrix to Jim Morrison, and continues with advice on topics from choosing a band name, picking a record label, to recording and touring. The tone may be tongue-in-cheek, the historical claims occasionally dubious, but ultimately Svenonius asks important questions about the assumptions that animate music-making presently and historically; the result is both hilariously entertaining and genuinely helpful.
Mo Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove – Ahmir Questlove Thompson, Ben Greenman
The virtuoso drummer, producer and bandleader for The Roots tells his story of growing up in 1970s Philadelphia and his ascent to commercial and critical success. As an autobiography, it’s more self-effacing than dishy; the farthest thing from a celebrity tell-all (though there are some hilarious stories within, for example: Prince on rollerskates!) Most fundamentally, the book is a love letter to music and a tour through Questlove’s personal musical history. You may want to read with your computer nearby and be ready to drop some serious cash at your digital download store of choice, as Questlove expertly turns you on to some amazing deep cuts.
The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future / The Wave - Arlene Goldbard
Arlene Goldbard is a provocative thinker from the nonprofit arts sector, and in two new books released this year, she puts forward a powerful vision of how things might be. The Culture of Possibility is a wide-ranging series of essays centered around the notion that placing the arts at the center of our civic life could be the cure for many social problems. Goldbard’s vision is very ambitious, but her prose is disarming, never hippy-dippy; and her optimism is infectious. In a companion work of speculative fiction, The Wave, Goldbard expands further on this vision and suggests a path by which we might get there. These books are of particular interest for anyone making the case for public support of the arts, and of artists themselves.
Blockbusters - Anita Elberse
By now we’re all familiar with the concept of “The Long Tail”, the quasi-utopian notion that the internet would fundamentally change the way that entertainment products were consumed, allowing for more consumption of more diverse products, and hopefully a flourishing of a middle-class of creative workers. By now, we hopefully also know that this prediction hasn’t been entirely accurate. Elberse gives a numbers-driven account of why big companies (including major record labels) increasingly focus their resources on a smaller number of properties. Her conclusions present challenges for folks like us who want to see a more decentralized media ecosystem that allows for a flourishing of diverse kinds of culture; I’d suggest more attention to the political and regulatory climates that have structured the marketplace rather than assuming markets are the best metric for consumer desires; still, these are ideas that must be reckoned with.
Bedsit Disco Queen: How I grew up and Tried to Be a Pop Star - Tracey Thorn
As singer/writer in the UK pop duo Everything But The Girl, Tracey Thorn has been widely acclaimed for her ability to communicate deep emotions with intimate and understated gestures vocally and lyrically. It’s not surprising that these skills translate remarkably well to the literary world. Her first memoir gives a candid and witty look at a very unique career, from her indie days in Marine Girls, to a surprise international hit after years in the major label trenches, to her decision to turn down a tour opening for U2 to pursue raising a family. It’s a real treat.