It’s hard being a DIY musician – part-time or full-time. You know this.
Doing most (or everything) on your own is tiring. Depending on your resources, you might have to be your own manager, PR person, accountant, and roadie. And on top of that, you can’t forget to be the artist.
Many indie musicians (myself included) experience a learning curve when it comes to doing some of those things, whether it’s the business side of music, promotion, or just creating and sharing more music.
So, to help you solve some of those common problems, here are three books that have encouraged many a musician.
This thick book by singer-songwriter Ari Herstand may become your musician's bible.
It’s packed full of tips, philosophical thinking about being a musician, and instructions for how to handle the business side of music.
The subtitle is “Practical Tips on Building a Loyal Following and Making a Living as a Musician” – and that’s exactly what’s inside the book. There are tips on promoting your music, engaging with your fans, and help on getting into a business-person mindset when you need to. All with the goal of making a living from music.
It starts off by talking about why musicians should do what they do, then transitions into how that looks in this new world of the music industry.
Herstand – drawing from his own experiences writing, recording, releasing, and touring – takes the reader through every step related to the business side of music. He even put together a general timeline you can follow for releasing an album – what to do when, how to get the word out, and how to tell your story.
The way you’ll probably want to approach this heavy book is by jumping to the sections that apply to you, not by reading it cover to cover. I mean, you can, but there’s a table of contents in this book for a reason.
Herstand’s writing reads like he used a voice-to-text software. In other words, it’s easy to read. But he also doesn’t waste your time with fluff writing, and you can tell he knows what he’s talking about.
Austin Kleon calls himself a writer who draws. “I make art with words and books with pictures,” he says.
And that’s what makes his book, Steal Like an Artist, such an easy read – it’s full of pictures, sketches, and short words.
In this book, he tells the reader/creative person to steal ideas from other artists. Recycle things you find in other artists’ work, combine it with your own, and make something completely new.
Overall, this book motivates the creator to create, the artist to do art, the musician to make music.
Just to give you an idea of what’s inside the book, here’s the title of each chapter:
- Steal Like an Artist
- Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are
- Write the Book You Want to Read
- Use Your Hands
- Side Projects and Hobbies Are Important
- The Secret: Do Good Work and Share It With People
- Geography is No Longer Our Master
- Be Nice. (The World is a Small Town)
- Be Boring. (It’s the Only Way to Get Work Done)
- Creativity is Subtraction
Can you tell Kleon has seriously influenced me?
His book Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered is the perfect follow-up to Steal Like An Artist.
“If Steal was a book about stealing influence from others, Show is about influencing others by letting them steal from you,” Kleon says on his website.
In this book, he basically lays out 10 ways to rethink your creative work. He talks about how it’s a process that never ends, how you’re always striving to get better. He dives into how to build an audience (spoiler: it’s done by sharing your work and your process) and he encourages the reader to keep going despite the successes and failures in the creative world.
This book is for anyone who creates, but I think it can really help DIY musicians know how to engage with their fans and stay creative.
Here’s the table of contents so you have a better idea of what to expect:
- You Don’t Have to Be a Genius
- Think Process, Not Product
- Share Something Small Every Day
- Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities
- Tell Good Stories
- Teach What You Know
- Don’t Turn Into Human Spam
- Learn to Take a Punch
- Sell Out
- Stick Around
These three books have honestly changed my life as a DIY musician. And maybe they’ll end up changing yours.
Further reading (pun intended!):
- 5 Industry-Approved Books Every Musician Should Read
- These 5 Books About Music Will Probably Change Your Life
- 5 Books Every Indie Hip-Hop Artist Should Read
- 5 Inspirational Books Every Musician Should Read
Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter and producer based in Austin, TX., and the founder of Musician With A Day Job, a blog that helps part-time musicians succeed.