2010 Best Reads from The Savvy Musician

Knowledge is power.  In my experience, the savviest musicians prioritize reading and lifelong learning alongside performing, composing, teaching, and other musical activities.  Reading the right books challenges how you think, expands your horizons, and helps you imagine new possibilities for your art.Below are 10 of the most influential books I read in 2010.  You’ll notice that only one is geared specifically towards musicians; others focus on marketing, education, leadership, and business models. But all were read from the perspective of an artist; all can influence how we operate; all made a significant impact on the way I approach my own career as a savvy musician.  I hope you’ll find some of these helpful and relevant to your development.

1)    Buzzmarketing: Get People to Talk About Your Stuff, by Mark Hughes. The most successful musicians are not necessarily the most outstanding ones.  Instead, they’re the people who can get others talking and generate a buzz.  This book provides an arsenal of powerful ideas relevant to musicians hoping to increase their celebrity.

2)    Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing, by Chris Anderson. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  Well, it’s true, according to this book.  In it, he proves how many of the strongest businesses today generate tons of profits from free stuff. As a musician, it helped me imagine multiple ways that giving away recorded music and other services can help propel a career and generate income.

3)    Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, by Alexander Osterwalder.  This book is a piece of art in itself.  If you don’t have a lot of business background, much of the material may seem vague and “business-y.”  But it is consistently built around a business model canvas which is brilliant in it’s simplicity and depth.  Whether you are a freelancer, private music teacher, recording studio owner, chamber musician, or arts administrator, this canvas will prove an indispensable tool for having your determine your business (career) model.

4)    Rework, by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried.  This book, which can be read in a matter of hours, features a series of short (1-3 page) chapters challenging conventional wisdom and offering prescriptions for success. A lot of great tips here are applicable for musicians of all stripes and artistic aspirations.

5)    The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible: Becoming a Virtuoso Educator, by Eric Booth.  In the past decade, a career field of growing influence and potential is teaching artistry (teaching and integrating art forms into arts and non-arts curricula through residencies).  Though this book is a little academic and dense in tone, it lives up to it’s title.  Absolutely inspirational and instructional, it should be required reading for every performer and arts educator, whether or not teaching artistry is in your career profile.  It will change your life and perspective.  One of the best music books I’ve read in years.

6)    Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Out Colleges and Universities, by Mark C. Taylor.  This year, I read quite a few books about higher education, and recommend you do the same if you’re a current/aspiring college professor, student, or anyone else interested in the future of academia.  In  all readings, consider how the views expressed relate to music and the arts. In the past few years, stacks of books from both the left and right have been published, calling for major reform and making dire predictions about the future of America’s second largest industry if significant change is not realized.  Among other things, Crisis on Campus calls for more interdisciplinary collaboration, greater integration of technology, the end of tenure, mandatory retirement, a reconsideration of “research,” and other radical suggestions.  While you may not agree with everything written here, it offers a fascinating perspective.

7)    DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, by Anya Kamenetz.  Another book higher ed book.  The first half examines how academia arrived at its current state, while part two explores new educational options and the ways they will impact current institutions in the near future.

8)    The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need—and What We Can Do About It, by Tony Wagner.  This important work focuses on secondary education.  It argues that even the “best” high schools in American (translation: those with the highest test scores) are failing our youth by not providing them with “Seven Survival Skills” they’ll need to thrive in life.  Listing issues such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, initiative, entrepreneurship, curiosity, and imagination, it struck me that music and the arts are ideal forums for cultivating these underdeveloped areas, at least if teachers are willing to restructure their curricula.

9)    Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, by Tony Hsieh.  This book exceeded expectations. Written by the founder of Zappos (an online shoe company with whom I have never dealt), the most inspiring aspect was learning about the culture developed within this company.  Not only is their top priority WOWing customers, but they create an environment where creativity, honesty, team spirit, innovation, risk taking, and fun are celebrated.  We often hear of orchestral musicians who are miserable in their position, despite the fact they’re playing some of the greatest music ever written alongside world class colleagues.  Applying Hsieh’s principles could transform this kind of organization.  These guidelines are also valuable for chamber groups and other types of arts organizations.

10) Leading Change, by John P. Kotter.  The best book on leadership I read this year, Leading Change outlines an 8-step process for leaders to make transformational change.  These lessons are valuable for leaders within orchestras, music departments/schools, chamber groups, and any other arts organization that hopes to redefine itself for maximum success and impact on our quickly changing world.

Please let me know the great reads you’ve discovered on your own.  Happy reading, and happy new year!!!

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