5 Books to Help Inspire Your Music and Creative Process

This week, we take a look at some books that can help spark creativity, get you out of a rut, and help your creative process. Stephen King, Seth Godin, Steven Pressfield, W.A. Mathieu, and Michael Hewitt provide five books that are inspiring us at the moment.

Music Theory for Computer Musicians by Michael Hewitt

As a music producer with no real music training, I’ve spent the past few years trying to learn my way around the piano. I’ve bought a lot of music theory books that have fallen short of helpful because they are usually written for people who can read sheet music. The first thing I noticed about Music Theory for Computer Musicians was that Michael Hewitt uses the piano roll to explain music, which makes understanding a much easier process for those of us who don’t read sheet music. Music theory is a deep subject to learn, and this book is not short on depth. But for some of us, reading about music theory in the context of the computer is a more enjoyable and productive experience.

Do The Work by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield is the author of numerous books including The Legend of Bagger Vance and the non-fiction bestseller The War of Art, a fantastic guide to breaking through writer’s block. But my favorite piece of work from Pressfield is his 2011 manifesto for creative workflow – Do The Work. This book pulls no punches when delivering the advice that many creative people need to hear (get off your butt and make things happen!) The center of this book is really about resistance – the invisible, powerful force that nurtures procrastination, fear, and lack of belief in one’s self. Do The Work stands as a weapon against Resistance – a tool that will help you take action and get projects completed. Presefield’s strong ideas are balanced with a wit that will have you laughing at your own follies in creativity (instead of beating yourself up.)

Poke the Box by Seth Godin

Poke the Box is a very small book filled with big ideas. Seth Godin (an entrepreneur who started Squidoo and The Domino Project) picks up on Steven Pressfield’s “getting-things-done” mantra and continues to promote the idea of action over contemplation. Godin explains,”Poke the Box is about the spark that brings things to life. We need to be nudged away from conformity and toward ingenuity, toward answering unknown questions for ourselves. Even if we fail, as I have done many times in my life, we learn what not to do by experience and doing the new. This isn’t the same thing as taking a risk. In fact, the riskiest thing we can do right now is nothing. I’ve had an extraordinary run, creating a dozen nationwide bestsellers, starting Internet companies and giving speeches around the world. The key thing I bring to the projects I take on is not more talent than most (I don’t) or even more hours than most (hardly). My contribution is a willingness to poke, to start, to lean into the project and to get it out the door.”


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen King’s On Writing is part memoir and part tough-love pep talk for aspiring creatives. While the focus of this book is the art of writing, much of King’s ideas can be applied to any creative field. He addresses hard issues such as “being good vs being great” (his advice – you probably won’t become great but “a competent writer can become a good one.”) King tackles many issues of the struggling creative while offering intelligent insights on where to apply your efforts. In practice, the life of a writer is really not very far removed from the life of a music producer – alone in a small room making magic happen late in the night.

“Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub.  There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.  If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in.” - Stephen King

The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music by W.A. Mathieu

When learning to produce electronic music, my first instinct was to listen to as much of it as I could get my digital hands on – that was the easy part. Then it was a matter of emulating those artists that I was really into, but this led to a major roadblock: I didn’t sound like the artist I wanted to be. In other words, I didn’t sound like “myself”. The personal journey a composer / producer must take to find their own unique sound can come to a screeching halt if they constantly listen to other people’s music and drown out their inner musical voice. Published in 1991, W.A. Mathieu’s The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music pulled me out of the creative ditch I was in and encouraged me to listen more deeply, especially to myself. It’s a bit dated, but I’d recommend this enlightening book to those who want to (re)learn to listen outward as well as inward. – Pat Cupo