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How Music Works by David Byrne

Talking Heads’ music has changed many people’s lives and their founding member David Byrne began to wonder, how is it that music does this?

How Music Works is the result of his research.

Due to his position within the industry, he’s been able to get up close and personal with an incredible array of musical devices, approaches, musicians and more and it’s an extraordinary book.

A Short History of David Byrne

David Byrne is a singer, songwriter, and musician who first came to prominence as the front man of the new wave band Talking Heads.

Byrne was born in Dumbarton, Scotland, in 1952 and moved with his family to the United States when he was two years old.

He grew up in New Jersey and was exposed to a wide range of music, from classical to soul. Byrne attended Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied visual art. After graduation, he moved to New York City and co-founded Talking Heads with fellow musician Chris Frantz.

In 1977, the band released its debut album, 77, and quickly became one of the most influential groups of the new wave era.

Byrne’s unconventional persona and distinctive vocal style helped to make Talking Heads one of the most popular bands of the 1980s. The group’s hits include Once in a Lifetime and Burning Down the House.

In recent years, Byrne has pursued a solo career and collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Brian Eno, St. Vincent, and Fatboy Slim. He has also been involved in numerous film and theater projects.

In 2018, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Talking Heads.

Why We Love How Music Works

At its core, this book is an exploration of the business of music but it’s also an exploration of bird and whale song, creativity and much more. 

How Music Works

Unlike many books, this doesn’t take a “straight line” approach to its central thesis but it’s happy to meander to wherever the author’s vision focuses next.

And most of all, it attempts to answer the big questions such as:

Do we need music at all?


What is music good for?

How Music Works made us think long and hard about something we normally take for granted and we would recommend it to anyone just for that.

It’s a bonus that it’s also well-written and highly entertaining. 

David Byrne’s book was a strong contender for our essential music books list but it didn’t make the final cut. You can see what did hit our list right here.

You can grab a copy of How Music Works online here.

And if you think How Music Works is appealing, you might also want to check out Environmental Sound Artists and Mavericks Of Sound, as they’re both awesome too.