Expertise has its own special allure. Years ago, a good friend bestowed on me the gift of The French Laundry Cookbook. Now, I will probably never undertake most of its involved, precise and fascinating recipes — the time to do so just isn’t there — but I’m mesmerized by the insight into how Thomas Keller’s genius turns ingredients into high art (Adam Gopnik’s recent demurrals about cookbooks aside). I could say the same thing about the fascinating detail a writer like William Langeweische gives into the work of keeping a plane aloft: I’d never try to reproduce it, but the sliver of illumination into the pilot’s work is one of the most delightful reading experiences.
So, even if you’re NOT an aspiring hip-hop artist with a notebook full of rhymes, a folksinger struggling to graduate beyond the open mic, or a garage band guitarist dreaming of an arena-sized apotheosis, you might find yourself becoming obsessed with Donald Passman’s All You Need to Know About the Music Business, just out in a revised seventh edition. I certainly am. How does music copyright really work? What exactly does a record producer do, and how does he or she get paid? How much do you stand to make if your song gets played over the end credits of Transformers 3: Attack of the iPhones? What about the trailer? I didn’t know that I wanted to know the answers to these questions — but Passman’s book is such a pleasurably informative browse that I do, I do, I do.
Needless to say, if you’re a musician interested in making a living at it…there are reading incentives that should be pretty obvious.