Recommended Books

Some of these books have already been mentioned elsewhere on the blog, but chatting about them with Nineties Boy today reminded me we ought to bring them together in one place for handy reference. Most songwriters, most of the time, do pretty much everything except write songs. Here are six assorted books to help inspire us to do more of it, and remind us why we do it in the first place.

The Frustrated Songwriter's Handbook and the Penguin Rhyming Dictionary

The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook: A Radical Guide to Cutting Loose, Overcoming Blocks and Writing the Best Songs of Your Life
By Karl Coryat and Nicholas Dobson
Stop pulling out your hair and crumpling up paper The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook blasts away your mental roadblocks so you can tap into your deepest creative resources. Whether you’re a total novice or a seasoned pro, whether you’re a pencil-and-paper songwriter or a gearhead with way too much recording equipment, whether you just want to go further as a songwriter or throw out everything and start over, The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook will revolutionize the way you write music. It outlines a radical new system Immersion Music Method designed to help you smash through creative block, become recklessly prolific, and make quantum leaps in your musical and compositional skills.

The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary
by Rosalind Fergusson
According to one school of thought, relying on a rhyming dictionary can limit your creativity – Bob Dylan would never have found his famous “language/sandwich” rhyme (later plagiarised by Men At Work) in one of these books. But there are times when a rhyming dictionary can be a godsend, and not all of them are equally good. This is the most comprehensive and easy to use such book I’ve come across so far…

Writing Down The Bones and The Artist's Way

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
By Natalie Goldberg
Natalie Goldberg’s landmark book brought together Zen meditation and writing in a way nobody had ever thought of doing before. Writing practice, she claims, is no different from any other forms of Zen practice. This is meditation with the bonus of tangible work to show at the end of it. Zen meditation may not be your bag, but whether your goal is writing song lyrics, music, prose or poetry this handbook contains sensible and down to earth tips and practices that will help you towards your goal.

The Artist’s Way
: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity
By Julia Cameron
British readers may find Julia Cameron’s ‘spiritual path’ approach to creativity too flowery and New Age for comfort. But actually the book is well worth persevering with: there are so many nuggets of genuine wisdom and practical creative advice that it’s worth skimming through with a highlighter and finding them. The sensible stuff is very sensible indeed – though for a healthly balance also see This Offbeat Life’s sceptical counterview on Recovering from… The Artist’s Way.

A Year With Swollen Appendices and How Music Works

A Year With Swollen Appendices
By Brian Eno
“I’ve never succeeded in keeping a diary past the 6th of January before,” wrote Eno “but at the end of 1994 I made a resolution to keep one for 1995. It wasn’t until mid-October that I started to think that, with its mishmash of ideas, observations, admirations, speculations and grumbles, I might be able to make it a book. Of course, a lot of these entries were written after a day’s work, and workdays can be good or bad. The good ones produce a glow of congratulation, the bad ones a frenzy of recrimination.” The diary covers recording projects with James, David Bowie, members of U2 and further work on a soundtrack he had made for Derek Jarman’s last film. It’s full of one-line observations and pearls of musicmaking wisdom, and offers a fascinating insight into the creative processes of one of music’s most interesting thinkers of the past forty years.

How Music Works
By David Byrne
Bang up to date with today’s changed conditions for both the music industry and for independent musicmakers working outside it. One or two chapters may contain more detailed information on David Byrne’s own musical career than some will want to read, but his observations on how music has evolved since primitive times to the present day are original and rivetting. His dissection of the six possible career models now open to recording artists from fully DIY through to mainstream major label is essential fare for all music artists everywhere.
You. Must. Read. This. Book.

Tom Robinson March 2012Tom Robinson


  1. You’ll have to add Adam Walton’s “On Making Music” to this. It’s like a blueprint for this day and age. Absolute legend of a man too.

  2. I’d like to second the The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook, great for breaking through self censorship. Tom has run days that use some of the ideas the book and I’d highly recommend going. I’d certainly go again.

    Another book I have found very useful is “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles & Ted Orland. Many of the fears we have as musicians turn out to be common in other arts.

    Nick in “sunny” Southampton

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