Rock On: Music Biz Summer Reading

Meet Dan Kennedy, Danny Goldberg, and Susan Voelz

Rock On: Music Biz Summer Reading

Music bios and autobios can be tons of fun, but literature about music mostly focuses on musicians, not on the industry behind them. Managers and roadies float through the narrative, but you have to dig to find books expressly about the music business. Today, I present to you my top three favorite reads about the music business (so far).

It would be hard for me to love a book more than I love Dan Kennedy’s Rock On: An Office Power Ballad (2008). This is “the biz” at its realest. Instead of adventures of the rich and (in)famous or the artistically poor, it’s an account of Kennedy’s time as middle management at Atlantic Records.

It’s written with a heavy dose of humor. In fact, sometimes I wonder if he embarks on certain experiences knowing they'd make a great book chapter later. Whether he consciously plots his real-life arc, the story's fantastic, and his insights are brutally honest. There's more than a few anecdotes about current artists, as well as list sections such as “uncool merch ideas” and “inappropriate greetings and salutations for middle-aged white record executives to exchange.”

One of the business pros Kennedy so cleverly mocks could well have been Danny Goldberg, yet his book is easily my second favorite. Bumping Into Geniuses: My Life Inside the Rock & Roll Business (2009) is an important piece of history, especially for grunge. If there’s a job in the music industry, Goldberg's likely had it, including being the president of major record labels.

And yet, his writing's humble and detailed, with the focus always staying on the experiences he had rather than personal gratification. Toward the end, the emphasis on Nirvana becomes a little alienating to those without interest in the band, but people who appreciate rock tales regardless of the artists involved will enjoy a sneak peek into a wild life that most of us can only dream of.

The last book I want to highlight is a slightly different style. The Musician’s Guide to the Road (2007) is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than write things specific to her life, author, fiddle phenom, and former local Susan Voelz writes extensively about every single situation that could come up in touring and how to address it.

If you’re even thinking about touring, it’s a must-read. Voelz discusses things you won’t even realize are factors in touring, whether you're making tiny van treks or spending months on a bus. A female perspective is also valuable, so she spends time on gender issues as well. Even experienced musicians could learn from this road bible.

Of course, most folks would probably rather listen to an album than read about it. What's valuable about these books aren't simply slices of music history. Their insight to the future is hard to beat.

After all, history repeats itself. Know those who came before you in order to avoid their pitfalls as well as to get a leg up. Remember, you are the future.

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