Alongside a diet of YouTube videos, Twitch streams and podcasts, sometimes nothing replaces reading a good old-fashioned book to help give you a solid foundation in your craft.
Why? – Well, the process of writing a book is much more involved than throwing together a quick YouTube video. Authors are generally recognised experts in their field and have years of experience and knowledge to share.
Content is thoroughly researched, with topics being covered in much more detail than they would be online. Think of it as a comprehensive deep-dive into production, without the author having to simplify or dumb down their content to worry about view-counts or page hits.
In this article I've listed my personal top 5 books on music production, and why they should find a place on every music producer’s bookshelf.
Better Beats Blog is a participant in the Amazon Services Associates Program. I may receive a small commission for purchases made through links in this article. I am however an independent blogger, and all reviews are based on my own opinions.
1) Dance Music Manual by Rick Snoman
Now in its fourth edition, the Dance Music Manual is referred to by many as the bible of dance music production. If there is one word to describe this book its “comprehensive”. Written by a seasoned professional with over 30 years in the music profession, it’s whopping 551 pages cover a broad range of topics from sound design basics, through to mixing, mastering, and arrangement techniques.
Although first released in 2004, they’ve done a great job in keep the later editions up-to-date and relevant. It remains therefore an absolute must buy for anyone who is serious about music production.
I should add that it’s certainly not a book to attempt to read cover-to-cover in one sitting but instead should be treated more as a valuable reference guide to dip in and out of. A useful website accompanies the book full of fantastic resources and audio files available to download.
2) The Secrets of Dance Music Production by David Felton
Much like the Dance Music Manual above, The Secrets of Dance Music Production aims to be a comprehensive guide to making cutting edge dance music. It’s not quite as weighty a tome, consisting of only 303 pages, however in many respects I found it much more accessible, with a larger font size and plenty of clear colour images and guides
For this reason, it was probably my most referred to book when I started out in music production. I particularly liked the bass and synth sound design walkthroughs and especially the beat grids, where you are given a clear visual representation of the drum patterns that make up the various subgenres of dance music.
Other topics covered include vocal processing, mixing & mastering, and a crash course in music theory. The book comes with over 600 audio and project files to accompany the tutorials.
3) Making Music – 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers by Dennis DeSantis
Even once you have mastered the basics of music production, coming up with original ideas and developing them into fully formed tracks can still be a daunting prospect that many people struggle with. Making music is hard right? Well, this book’s primary purpose is to solve this issue, by giving repeatable techniques to use in order to start, progress, and finish your own creations.
This was one of the very first books I bought on music production and remains one of my most read. I dip into it regularly when facing a creative block or facing any kind of workflow issue. I simply cannot recommend it enough – it’s like having your own on-demand personal mentor!
Note that at first glance, it may seem like this book is aimed towards Ableton users, however, don’t let that put you off. Producers working in any Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) can benefit from its underlying principles and techniques.
4) The Mixing Engineer's Handbook by Bobby Owsinski
As every music producer knows, a good mix is essential if you want your tracks to sound professional. A well-blended mix allows each element of your track room to breathe and make sense in relation to each other.
Its therefore an essential skill to study and understand in order to make you a better producer. Now in its fourth edition, this book is one part of a series of three music production books by Bobby Owsinski that cover Recording, Mixing and Mastering.
Within the book, the alchemy of professional mixing is demystified, and the process broken down into easily digestible chunks, with each section supplemented with best practice advice from some of the world’s top mixing engineers. This book would suit anyone, whether they are a complete novice, or a more advanced producer who simply wants to improve their mixes.
5) How Music Works by David Byrne
This last book on the list may seem a slightly left-field suggestion to some but bear with me. It’s a book that’s very hard to describe…Topics covered range from the prehistoric origins of music to the practical limitations of MIDI.
Its half philosophical insights (or ramblings depending on your viewpoint), and half an interesting autobiographical review of his life as a singer and musician (remember Talking Heads?).
In its entirety it’s a hugely enjoyable read, however those of you looking for practical advice on making music may come away disappointed.
Hopefully you’ve found the recommendations above useful, however there is one book that I think you should read that I’ve missed out from this list, but which will probably help you out the most.
And that is… your humble DAW manual!
It’s easy to overlook this when just starting out in music production and opt instead for more easily digestible YouTube videos when you get stuck. It may even feel boring or overwhelming, however there is a wealth of information in your manual that once understood will save you countless hours of frustration, and really speed up your workflow.
For example, it took me months to summon up the courage to open my Ableton manual and really learn the shortcut keys. It was a dull experience if I’m being honest, but in the longer term it has saved me so much time, and really speeded up my workflow.
So, there you have it, my 5 top music production books, and an obvious (yet often overlooked) bonus suggestion.
Have a great day, and happy producing!