Music Management Skills: Build Your Professional Development Library

Sure, I might be a little biased, having written my own music management book, and everything. But, some days I feel like a handful of books should be required reading for anyone wanting to get into this business.

Furthermore, I’ve been getting e-mail from a few readers who tell me that some scammy music managers specifically tell their clients not to read up on the music business. Sometimes, well-meaning managers just want their clients to focus on creating great songs and building audience connections. Sadly, most of my experience indicates that a manager telling their client to keep their nose out of the trades and away from the library, it’s because they want to exert an unhealthy amount of control over their lives.

After all, if you don’t read Passman or Dannen, you wouldn’t recognize the signs that your manager or your accountant is cooking your books or cashing in more than they’ve earned.

In my perfect world, you’d have to pass a comprehensive quiz on each of the five books before you could call yourself a music management professional:

* All You Need to Know About the Music Business, by Donald Passman. Sure, it’s already on the required reading lists at most respected music management degree programs. You should read it anyway, because it’s the no-nonsense guide to the jargon and the politics of making it in music. Although most readers understand the realities of today’s industry — getting a big label deal isn’t the goal, it’s just one strategy — Passman still guides us through the elements of the business that haven’t changed, and probably won’t change, for decades.
* Guerilla Music Marketing Handbook, by Bob Baker. When I first started writing the magazine articles that would evolve into Grow Your Band’s Audience, Bob was one of the few lone voices in the wilderness that reminded me of my own sanity. Whereas my own books tend to be broader exercises into defining your goals and your audience, Bob’s Handbook drills down into very specific things you can do right now to make more money making music.
* Hit Men, by Fredric Dannen. This book should terrify you, and make you think twice about what you’re about to do to your mental health by launching a career in the record industry. The scary thing is that I occasionally run into folks who have read this book and treat it as a how-to guide. The music industry has moderated itself significantly since the era of backstabbing and self-abuse chronicled in Hit Men, especially under the spotlight of the Internet. However, reading Hit Men will help you understand why some of the people you’ll interact with act the way they do.
* The Future of Music, by David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard. I remember watching this book get laughed at by old-school music industry professionals when it first came out. This shamelessly optimistic guidebook to the way independent musicians could take back control of the music business called out record labels for their inadequacy in the digital age, while focusing smart musicians on distribution methods that connected them to audiences directly. Glancing at it again five years later, it almost reads as a step-by-step guide to what did happen.
* FutureHit.DNA, by Jay Frank. I’ve spent a huge chunk of the last twenty years watching people look at Jay Frank like he’s got three heads, shortly before the universe proves him right. In his debut book, Jay dissects the hit songs of the past 100 years to understand how songwriting and production have been molded by technology and by audience demand. The way we measure success in the music industry determines the kinds of songs that become popular, and there are ways you can stack the deck in your favor. Frustrated songwriters will probably not like to hear what Jay has to say, but it’s hard to escape the evidence. The challenge is to determine whether it’s a creative compromise to shape your song into a format that’s guaranteed to win on the charts.
* How to Be Your Own Booking Agent, by Jeri Goldstein. I’ve had the privilege of sharing a speaking engagement with Jeri, and her totally grounded presence imbues this book with no-nonsense guidance about what you can and can’t do when trying to book gigs for your act. While I firmly believe that music management and music booking are two things that you should never, ever do for the same client, beginning acts are always going to need their managers to lend their clout to talent buyers. This guidebook shows you what you need to know to land the right gigs without getting ripped off.

And while I wouldn’t presume to stack my own books on the same list, I can tell you that I specifically wrote Music Management for the Rest of Us to fill in the gaps I felt were left by Passman’s big picture. It’s one thing to know what a 360 deal is, and it’s another thing to know why it may or may not be illegal to run a booking agency from your spare bedroom in your particular town.