Book club: music industry books to read, Pt. 1

Knowledge is power, or so they say. And what better place to gain knowledge from than from books? Archaic, old, dusty books, but often the knowledge within is just as relevant as it was when it was written. Of course it’s always important to contextualize the information within a book within the time it was written. Books written pre-streaming will have a very different attitude to the physical and recording industry.

Especially for starting / beginning musicians and music industry professionals it’s important to gain as much knowledge as you can. You will often be lacking in network so the only way to make up for that is with knowledge. To help you along I’ve listed some of my favorite music industry books.

I’ve attached a little review and a link to the book in question on Amazon. I’m sure if you sniff around the worldwide web you should be able to find cheap second-hand editions or perhaps cheaper new books.

Top books to read on the music industry (in no particular order)

All You Need to Know About The Music Business – Donald S. Passman


Ah yes. Back in college every music industry student was assigned this book. I know for a fact many people did not read it, but despite the ‘dryness’ of the material it’s a well-written book with so so so much information. I can definitely recommend starting with this book to get an idea of the lay of the land. Mr. Passman keeps updating the book as well, so every couple of years a new edition will come out. I still use my mine after 8 years and it’s filled with post-it notes and annotations.

How To Make It In The New Music Business – Ari Herstand


A very similar book to the one written by Donald S. Passman, Ari Herstand, known from Ari’s Take (check it out, it’s an amazing website) has written a basic introduction to the music industry. The difference is that this is written by a digital native and it’s aimed more towards musicians. I’m about halfway through but I can definitely recommend it.

Hit Men – Fredric Dannen


Hit Men is basically Music Business History 101. A must read for anyone serious about the music industry. Dannen gives a good overview of the origins and the power structures. As the saying goes, ‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.‘ – George Santayana

Factory – Mick Middles


A very entertaining read about the infamous ‘Factory’ record label. If you thought your own business affairs were messy, wait until you check out this book. Joy Division, New Order, Tony Wilson, The Hacienda, they all get some well-deserved pagetime. A very inspiring book that gives a nice candid look into the rock’n’roll side of the business.

Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music – Mark Baumgarten


This book was almost singlehandedly responsible for the foundation of my first record label with my best friend. It’s a chronicling of K Records, a cult record label from the north-west United States. Notable fans include Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Beck and a whole lot more. A very inspiring read about DIY culture, record labels and the music scene in the United States in the ’80s and ’90s. It gives some operational context but mostly it inspires and entertains.

Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin, and Beyond — The Story of Rock’s Greatest Manager – Mark Blake


It was inevitable that one of rock’s most notorious managers would have a book written about him, and lo and behold, Mark Blake has done an excellent job. He describes the rise of Peter Grant’s career from wrestling, promoting, tour managing to finally managing the world’s biggest band. Including all the shenanigans on the way. It’s a little look into what succes can do to you, also as a manager, and what the operations of Led Zeppelin looked like.

Appetite for Self-Destruction – Steve Knopper


Where Hit Men deals more with power structures, corporations and power shifts Appetite for Self Destruction deals very much more with the recorded industry. Steve explains the rise of the recorded music industry, the downfall and the reasons behind it all. And, as the title implies, Steve shows us why it was the industry’s own fault. He also highlights Steve Jobs’ and Apple’s role in the resuscitation of the music industry after the pirating collapse of the early ’00s.

Spotify – Jonas Leijonhufvud & Sven Carlsson


Time-wise this book kind of picks up where Steve Knopper left us as an audience. iTunes is doing business like there’s no tomorrow and Daniel Ek is found in Stockholm with an idea, and there it starts. They describe the early days of Spotify, how the company got started and who was involved.

To be continued…

As time passes on we’ll read some more books, so this is certainly not the last book club ‘meeting.’

Honorable mentions

So the following books are definitely worth a read but aren’t exactly what you would call, academical. Both are fiction, perhaps a little based on facts. Will you learn a lot from these books? Maybe a bit, but you will at least have a good read and probably a laugh as well.

Reading List

And finally, this is my to-read list. I can’t yet say if these books are any good or not, but they have their spots on my to read list and I will get to them inevitably.

  • The Operator: David Geffen
  • Waging Heavy Peace – Neil Young
  • Sing Backwards and Weep (Mark Lanegan) – Ian Rankin


So it’s time to pour a nice glass of red wine, crawl under a blanket on the couch and to dive into one of these hefty tombs. Some are quite entertaining and fun reads, while others at times may seem a tad, ‘dry’, either way you’re garantueed to learn a lot along the way.

Do you have questions, suggestions or comments? Did I miss any books? Tell me in a comment below or reach out at

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