Top 10 new music books in 2021

Need a book to see out the year? Look no further – we’ve gathered the best new books about music released in 2021.

Looking for a new book about music to read yourself or generously give away as a gift? We’ve found ten must-read music books, newly released in 2021.

There’s collections of practical advice to help you manage your music career, autobiographies of musical icons to inspire you to create, and fact-packed books for music scholars.

Whether you’re flying off to the beach to grab some winter sunshine or curled up inside out of the cold, here are ten of the best new music books to lose yourself in wherever you are in the world.


The Musical Human by Michael Spitzer

How has music evolved over the past 165 million years?

Spitzer’s book explores what we have in common musically with birds, insects and animals, from the first notes on paper to modern music on Spotify.

Slightly skewed towards classical music than popular music, this is nevertheless an engaging read for anyone interested in why humans are drawn to music.


Sound Advice by Rhian Jones and Lucy Heyman

An accessible guide to keeping yourself healthy as you set out on a career in music, both mentally and physically.

Offering practical advice about issues like money management, there’s facts about the structure of the industry and advice from the likes of Taylor Swift and Loyle Carner.

Backed by leading figures in the industry, Sound Advice is a fantastic treasure trove of information for all musicians and producers.


Billie Eilish by Billie Eilish

Fans of Billie Eilish, whether through her new album Happier Than Ever or long-time devotees, need this glimpse inside the singer’s life.

The book explores her touring experiences and childhood with exclusive photos.

It’s easy to forget how young Eilish is – already one of the biggest musical icons of the 21st century, about to turn 20.


Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen by David Boucher and Lucy Boucher

Celebrate Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday year by taking a deep dive into his link to Leonard Cohen.

How does the music of both artists link to poetry, and how did they manage to escape early portrayals of themselves as “the angry young protest singer, and the godfather of gloom?”

As you would expect from work of academia, it’s thoughtful and heavily researched – but at the same time accessible, and wry rather than dry.

Not a linear biography, Deaths and Entrances instead explores Dylan and Cohen’s personalities, the context of their influences, and delves into the relationship between poetry and song.


Two Beats Ahead by Panos A. Panay and R. Michael Hendrix

Why is silence so important in EDM? What’s the key to great music collaboration?

With the tagline What Great Musical Minds Teach Us About Creativity and Innovation, Panay and Hendrix’s inspiring book brings together case studies and interviews with the likes of Beyoncé and Hank Shocklee.

Explore how creativity and art can lead to entrepreneurial triumph.


Bessie Smith by Jackie Kay

Much-loved Scottish poet Kay mixes poetry, fiction, prose and biography to tell the astonishing story of blues singer Bessie Smith in this reissued book.

As a girl Kay idolised Smith, a queer Black woman who drank bathtub gin by the pint-load, once fought off a group of the Ku Klux Klan alone, and whose first recording for Columbia Records sold 780,000.

If fiction is more your cup of tea, seek out Kay’s novel Trumpet.


Tarzan Economics by Will Page

An engaging and easy-to-digest read exploring the economics of the modern music industry by Spotify’s ex-Chief Economist.

With case studies from Radiohead to Starbucks, this call to disruption is for anyone interested in the economics of streaming, or wondering how to make a success of their own business.


Beeswing by Richard Thompson

A humorous, delightful memoir from one of the UK’s most brilliant songwriters and guitarists.

The book tells the story of the dramas, relationships and his search for meaning through Sufism, focusing on the early parts of Thompson’s folk-rock career.


Long Players edited by Tom Gatti

Literature meets music again in this anthology of 50 writers discussing their favourite albums.

Writers from Marlon James to Ian Rankin offer a cross-genre selection ranging from Duke Ellington to Lizzo, across genres and decades.

Each chapter offers entertaining and poignant glimpses into the private lives of the authors, as well as an insight into how writers tend to zone in on the lyrics and structure of songs.

A timely read given Adele’s success in convincing Spotify to remove automatic shuffle mode on albums, meaning LPs can be heard immediately as the artist intended.


Rememberings by Sinéad O’Connor

No regrets or apologies in this riveting memoir.

Sinéad O’Connor’s casual, chatty style carries you along through stories from her turbulent childhood, tales from the music industry at the height of her success, and the disorderly past few decades.

Above all, O’Connor’s provocative and sparkling voice shines clearly throughout.


BONUS READS:

The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present by Paul McCartney

This double volume features all of Paul McCartney’s songs, from The Beatles and his solo works to Wings, in lyric form – and much more.

There’s handwritten lyrics, photographs and exclusive commentary.

Nicely timed with The Beatles: Get Back documentary release, The Lyrics is a must-have gift for anyone who’s had their love of the band reignited, although the beautiful feel of the design means any book lover would be proud to have it in their collection.


A History of Music for Children by Mary Richards and David Schweitzer

A fantastic wayy to introduce music to children of all ages.

This journey from the earliest years of musical history through to what might lie ahead in the future. Not just mapping out the past, but explaining what music means to humans and what makes us create it.

The slim book is made extra special by the bright, bold illustrations from Rose Blake. There’s even an accompanying playlist.


Feeling inspired? If you’re making great music and want the world to hear it, check out RouteNote’s digital music distribution. We release tracks by independent musicians and producers to Spotify, Apple Music and all the top streaming services. Head here to find out more.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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2 comments

    Thanks for the kind mention of the Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen book. Much appreciated. David Boucher

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