It was over 10 years ago now, but I still remember the first time I picked up a copy of Donald Passman’s book, “All You Ever Need to Know About the Music Business”. I remember thinking at the time that the Passman book felt like a step-by-step blueprint for the career path a lot of us were headed down.
With all due respect to Mr. Passman and that seminal book, the changes in the musician industry since the late 1990s have made that book largely irrelevant. The contraction of the major label industry in the past ten years has meant that recording contracts, and the nasty tactics that Donald Passman was so good at warning us about, isn’t as large a threat to our profession.
And it’s not just the Passman book that has become outdated. The past decade has, if not completely negated, at least disrupted nearly a century of accepted musician business practices. The Internet, CD Baby and cheap home recording gear have ruined whole libraries of music business books. And publishers have not been keeping up with the changes – how could they? We’re not at the end of a major change in the industry – we’re right in the middle of it.
Except now that’s changed. I finally feel like I’ve read a book that accurately provides a blueprint for the successful career of a modern, working musician.
The Savvy Musician is written by David Cutler. You can find it at Amazon, or at the SavvyMusician.com. This is the book of the decade for the musician industry. It should be required reading at music schools and every pro should have a well-thumbed copy on their shelf.
There are several striking things about this book. First, the comprehensive depth of material in this book is remarkable. From marketing, to performing, to networking, to composing – this book covers a huge amount of material.
Second, there are 165 short vignettes of stories and interviews from successful, non-famous, working musicians in the book. The vignettes add a lot of credibility to the material without any gimmickry. The fact that they come from successful, non-famous musicians is what makes them genuine. It’s easy enough to make a living as a famous musician – I’m sure Paris Hilton has sold more albums than me – it’s stories from regular musicians that are really interesting.
Third, Mr. Cutler has thankfully not fallen into the trap of glorifying the almighty Internet – and I say that as an avid blogger, Twitterer, Facebooker and all around new media addict. In this book the Internet is treated as any other tool in the musician skillset, but it is rightfully nestled aside other, just as important tools – like face-to-face networking and printed press kits.
Again, I know that is a strange thing to say on a blog, but even I know the limitations of this, my favorite media. While the Internet has probably been the one invention that has most changed our industry in the last 20 years, we still have some ways to go before the Internet can solve all of the challenges that it has created. Until then, the Internet is a tool, and as this book shows, a savvy musician would be best served using it as such.
That said – as our industry progresses into the 21st century, and as things continue to change for our profession, sequels to The Savvy Musician will likely need to expand their coverage of internet-related techniques. Take that for what it’s worth – a pre-emptive criticism of unwritten updates in an unknown future. For now, the coverage of the Internet in The Savvy Musician covers those things that are known advantages – having you own website, joining networking websites, etc. We’ll have to see what Internet-related advantages prove themselves in the future.
One of the things I really liked in this book were the endless lists of possible gigs, contacts, venues and possibilities for a music career. There are a lot of opportunities mentioned in this book that I either hadn’t thought of, or hadn’t considered in a long time. It’s those lists that have really stuck with me since I finished reading this book, and it’s left me with a head full of possibilities for the future.
Can you imagine a better outcome from reading a book? To walk around for weeks afterward, still considering all of the new possibilities it inspired in you?
I also appreciate the focus of the book – again, not on the famous – but also, not on the urban pro. This book is not about New York or LA or any other major music center (a fault that we here at MW may well be guilty of). This book focuses on, and gives examples of, musicians working anywhere. One of the underlying themes of this book is that we can make a career for ourselves nearly anywhere. There are always possibilities, but it’s for the savvy musician to go out and get them.
The Savvy Musician is published by Helius Press. Visit the Savvy Musician Blog at SavvyMusician.com/blog.