The Savvy Musician: Book Review

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And it’s not just the Passman book that has become outdated.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.

A Book for the Modern Musician

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  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

5 Music Gadgets I Can’t Live Without

Metronome & Tuner in one

I let my girlfriend borrow this for a few weeks thinking I wouldn’t miss it and I was totally wrong. Turns out we both can’t live without it. I didn’t realize how much I was using it to check tempos here and there (and to let horn players borrow for tuning…ahem…). This is a priceless little gadget for musicians.

I bought mine…er…my girlfriend’s at the Sam Ash in NYC a few years back. I see Amazon has it for $25. I think it’s well worth the dime.

Bose Headphones

I was actually given these as a gift, if you can believe that. Great gift, right? I thought so too. I really like these headphones – they have great sound quality, the block out an impressive amount of sound without the expense of noise-canceling technology, they are lightweight and comfortable. They fit really well around my ears and stay comfortable for long periods of time.

They are expensive, like most Bose products, but they’ve also lasted a long time for me. I’ve been using my pair for 4 years now and I’m very happy with them. The foam on the ear cushions is finally starting to flake off a bit, but the sound quality has stayed the same and I expect them to stay nice for quite awhile longer. If I lost them I’d definitely replace them right away.

USB MIDI Connector

This 2×2 USB MIDI interface from M-Audio is perfect for my rig. Most keyboard controllers for sale these days have USB connection built in – which means you can skip the old MIDI interfaces and just buy a USB hub (which could save you around $200+). If you have an older board that only has MIDI connectors and no USB (like my Yamaha P-120), buy this 2×2 connector and you be all set. How simple is that? Another priceless gadget.

I also take this gadget on the road with me, even if I don’t have my keyboard in tow. In the places I work I’m never far from a keyboard, and I’m always working on something in Logic or Finale. If I have this cord in my suitcase I can always pull it out and make that abandoned keyboard in the backroom my make-shift recording studio for the day.

MOTU Ultralite

Without exception, I think the MOTU Ultralite is the best audio interface in it’s price range. I’ve owned one for 3 years now and I have no complaints. I have a friend borrowing it right now to record an entire album. I have no doubt that this gadget is up to the task.

The preamps are crisp and warm, the dials and buttons are rugged and satisfying, and the chassis is trustworthy. The firewire port means that it can be bus powered through your computer (leave that big adaptor at home), but it can also be used as a stand-alone mixer if you need it in a pinch (so bring that big adapter). I’ve lugged this little electronic all over the country between tours and relocations, and it’s never complained. Pair this with a good mic and you’re done. This is a great product.

1/8″ Headphone Adapter

My cellphone is a Palm Centro. There are a lot of fancy bluetooth and non-bluetooth headphones that you can use with a phone like mine, but they can be expensive, or they have a special jack – and either way they can only be used with the phone.

Why not just use your regular headphones? All you have to do is buy this 1/4″ to 1/8″ adaptor and you can. It’s only $1.43 at Amazon, and I found mine at Radio Shack for around the same amount. Just make sure that you get a “stereo” adaptor, or you’ll only get sound out of one ear (I made that mistake once).

Once you have the adaptor, you can plug your phone into anything that you can plug your iPod into – your car, iPod speakers (not the docks, the kind with the 1/4″ jacks), other stereo systems. This is really convenient if you have some new music that you are trying to learn and you want to always have it with you. Maybe you’re learning a new standard, or playing with a new band and learning their charts – or maybe you just recorded a new album and you always want to have the new music with you to show others.

You can do all of this with an iPod, of course, but sometimes you want to leave your iPod at home. Say you go for a run – maybe you want to bring your cell phone for safety and your iPod for music – just bring your phone with this adaptor and put a playlist on the phone.

I know what I’m describing here is an iPhone, or countless other kinds of phones, but this is the cheap way that I do it. It works great for me and costs less than $2.