• How Music Works

  • By: David Byrne
  • Narrated by: Andrew Garman
  • Length: 13 hrs and 11 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 25-10-12
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Recorded Books
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.3 (87 ratings)


Best known as a founding member and principal songwriter of the iconic band Talking Heads, David Byrne has received Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe awards and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the insightful How Music Works, Byrne offers his unique perspective on music - including how music is shaped by time, how recording technologies transform the listening experience, the evolution of the industry, and much more.
©2012 David Byrne (P)2012 Recorded Books
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Critic reviews

"Anyone at all interested in music will learn a lot from this book." ( Kirkus Reviews)
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Regular price: £29.59

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Anthony on 05-07-14

Listen enthralled - music to your ears!

Wonderfully stimulating musical experience! A fascinating listen at multiple levels - David Byrne himself, music and its place in our lives, and the transformation of music in contemporary times.

Byrne is simultaneously academic and accessible - quoting research while sharing stories from his own life experience, challenges, joys and relationships. An underlying theme is about creativity and how it is facilitated and stimulated. He offers examples of innovation and engagement. He shares insights from his wide-ranging collaborations, demonstrating how they have added value, sometimes unpredictably, to his own art. He describes his sources of inspiration, his values, and his interface with the music industry.

He offers perspectives on the place played by music in our lives and the lives of others: music as therapy, as expression, as mediator of community and repository of collective memory. Byrne examines the mathematics of music, its evolutionary role, and the common threads across styles of music, languages and cultures. He rails against snobbish conceptions of 'good music' and the associated dismissal of swathes of creativity.

A third dimension to this book is about how music has changed over time. He examines issues from the role of performance venues to the changing technology of recording, reproduction and dissemination of music. He discusses the role of the studio and post-studio creativity in recording and transforming sound. Particularly interesting is his exploration of how musical creativity and production is supported and exploited and how increasingly accessible technologies are challenging established business models. His typology of the relationship between artist and record company would be of interest to any musician seeking to derive some income from his or her art. He touches on music as a force for control as well as a force for revolution and challenge. (Reminds me of Pink Floyd, The Wall - ever seen the animated version of the album? Exceptional!)

Byrne offers a compelling insight into music as both a reflection and creative enabler of humanity, emotion, and experience. He is committed to equity in engaging with music in all its diversity. He challenges the conventional view of an hierarchy of musical genres with opera and classical music at the pinnacle. He argues against a view that while all music is of value, some is more valuable than others (excuse me for putting words in his mouth; but it reminded me of Orwell's Animal Farm - see my review). He argues that different people will appreciate different forms and genres, deriving meaning from them at different times and in different settings.

Issues are explored through anecdotes and stories, personal insights, references to science and art and their interface. Byrne is humble and witty, reflective but never pontificating.

A wonderful and stimulating listen - all that was missing was the musical accompaniment - something Byrne should work on for those of us who enjoy his music as much as his interesting insights and stories!

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Colin on 14-09-16

A must for any music lover

This has proven a very interesting, and different, title. David Byrne starts the book with a very brief replay of his own career just to set the ground rules before he segues off to explore aspects of music many of us may never have considered.

As well as a most informative section on how the modern music industry works, and the challenges it faces in a digital era where the majority of 16-24yr-olds (always the biggest customer base) can't understand why they are required to pay for music, Byrne also asks why society considers classical music as 'Good' (often used in films to denote a gathering of educated, successful people) and pop music as subversive and therefore 'Bad'.

He also looks at the powerful and long-lasting effect music has on people, and why most of us can't remember what we had for breakfast today, but can sing the chorus to 'Moonage Daydream' without any problem. (You're singing it now, aren't you?)

A must-have title for anybody with an interest in music, old and new, and definitely worth a repeated listen.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Audio Gra Gra on 04-05-16

Art Eats Itself

"How Music Works" is probably not quite the right title for this book. "How Music Happens" is a better suggestion as to the content of this fascinating and highly accessible book by David Byrne, best known as the lead singer from Talking Heads.
The book tries (and succeeds) in communicating how music throughout history has evolved according to both the context is it is written in and how technology advances. You don't have to be a musician or need to understand music theory to appreciate the book as it is written with the layman in mind and the many anecdotes included in the book are both fascinating and occasionally humorous.
The book explores classical music, world music, jazz, rock and electronic music and how all forms of music absorb influences from other genres, how they are composed according to the uses of available recording and musical instrument technology, and how the anticipated audience also influences the final product.
It also explains how various instruments were either used or adapted to suit the venues they were being played in and to rise in volume above the music they were playing alongside.
Learn why the first rock and roll singles were almost exclusively three minutes long, why Louis Armstrong had to be placed at the back of the room when recording or how tape may never have come to the forefront as a recording technology had Bing Crosby not wanted to play more golf!
For the David Byrne fans out there, there are also some brief insights into his evolving songwriting process, from young teenager, through his Talking Heads Years and on to his solo work, although these are certainly only a minor focus of the book. The book is also written in Byrne's sometimes cute / earnest , matter of fact style and I found his writing to be witty and entertaining.
Highly recommended to all music lovers.
Narration is reserved but good.

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52 of 54 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Daniel on 16-12-12

"David Byrne is a Human" by a Talking Heads fan

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Byrne writes like a Malcom Gladwell in the music world. To me, that was interesting enough to keep me hooked because I didn't realize David Byrne was so smart and normal. I would recommend this book if you are trying to "figure out" music. Not that he claims to understand music completely. He tries to keep a balanced view and show the realm of possibilities of "how music works." Sometimes he goes on long tangents, talking about his projects after Talking Heads (which was sometimes interesting).

It was a great book to have in the car on the way to and from work.

What was one of the most memorable moments of How Music Works?

His section on music writing collaboration. For me, as someone in a band, I really took away some great communication techniques.

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

The narrator was OK. I felt he seemed to miss Byrne's connotation sometimes. He also doesn't know how to pronounce "timbre." I feel like Byrne definitely didn't listen to this audiobook and OK everything.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Nothing too extreme. There were parts that were very exciting, like when he related to exactly what my band is going through right now.

Any additional comments?

I would say that if you are still enchanted with The Talking Heads sound, don't read this book. I haven't listened to them since reading it, but I suspect some of the magic may be gone when I do. This is ok for me, because one day I hope to reach levels that David Byrne reached. Or if you are a music fan, and want to see behind the scenes, it will be a fun read. You may want to skip through some parts, but overall it's worth it.

It's very unfortunate that the only other review on here was from some conservative person. Yes, Byrne goes on a few little rants in favor of liberalism, but i wouldn't say that's his main objective.

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56 of 59 people found this review helpful

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