"Books are for nerds. I haven't read a book since high school. Why would I read a book when I could just watch tutorials on YouTube?”
— An unsuccessful audio engineer
Successful engineers in the music industry are lifelong learners. It doesn't matter if you have a degree in the recording arts and sciences, or even if you've cut 100 records — there's always room to learn something new.
For decades, aspiring engineers have relied on the apprenticeship system to hone their craft, but those opportunities are literally one in a million. There are only a handful of extraordinary engineers and a very limited number of assistant positions available.
Just because you don’t have the opportunity to be next to these engineers doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. Some of the most successful engineers of all time have committed their wisdom to print to help the rest of us learn the ropes. Check out our list of the best books for learning the arts of recording, mixing and beyond.
Modern Recording Techniques by David Miles Huber
This one is an old staple. Modern Recording Techniques has been used in classrooms since it was first released in 1974. Currently on its ninth Edition, Modern Recording Techniques covers everything from DAW basics to networked audio, including MIDI, signal processing, and much more.
Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio by Mike Senior
Mike Senior is an accomplished engineer from London, but you probably know him from his work with Sound on Sound, where he launched the "Studio SOS" and "Mix Rescue" columns. His infamous Cambridge Multitrack Library is essentially basic training for aspiring mix engineers. His book, Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio, provides a complete mixing course based around the techniques of more than 100 of the world's most famous producers.
The Art Of Mixing: A Visual Guide To Recording, Engineering And Production by David Gibson
Although this book is a bit dated, the concepts are still relevant today. It explores complex topics and explains them in a simple, visual manner. Some books discuss audio engineering from a scientific perspective, and others take a more artistic approach, but The Art of Mixing is the perfect blend of both styles. Gibson’s visual approach will make you think of mixing in a whole new way.
The Recording Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski
Currently on its fourth edition, The Recording Engineer’s Handbook covers all of the most popular microphones and provides an in-depth breakdown on how to record every instrument from accordions to xylophones. Bobby breaks down his tips for mic placement and his secrets for getting a great sounding drum kit.
The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook by Bobby Owsinski
Another classic from Bobby Owsinski, this book on engineering explores the art of mixing. The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook covers topics like the elements of a mix, his “magic frequencies” for EQing and the advanced techniques expected of today’s mixer.
ZEN And The Art of Mixing by Mixerman
In ZEN And The Art Of Mixing, Mixerman takes a philosophical approach to mixing, focusing less on the technical side and more on how to think about mixing. He discusses the different planes of space within a mix, how to visualize a song and his infamous “Steps to Better Mixing.”
"Mixing can not be taught, it can only be learned..."
Thinking Outside The Box
Being a good engineer takes more than technical know-how. These last few titles aren’t directly related to recording or mixing, but they offer valuable insights into other facets of the music business that will make you a more well-rounded engineer.
Behind The Glass: Top Record Producers Tell How They Craft The Hits by Howard Massey
Behind The Glass approaches the process of making records from the producer's standpoint, and while there aren’t any details on compressor settings, there’s a goldmine of useful info for aspiring engineers.
Howard Massey, a successful engineer in his own right, goes in-depth with producers and engineers like Al Schmitt, Brian Wilson, George Martin, Eddie Kramer, Jack Douglas, George Massenburg, Ed Cherney, Sylvia Massy to discuss the creative and technical sides of making a record.
All You Need To Know About the Music Business by Donald Passman
If you plan on making any money in the music business, you need to read “the industry bible,” All You Need To Know About The Music Business by Donald Passman. This book covers things that every engineer should know like how copyrights and music publishing work, how to collect royalties and what a “work for hire” agreement is.
Music Theory For Computer Musicians by Dr. Michael Hewitt
Music is the universal language, but if you don’t know music theory, you can’t read or write that language, which can really limit your ability to communicate. Music Theory For Computer Musicians covers music theory basics that every engineer should know, like rhythm, tempo and note lengths, intervals and the Nashville number systems.
The Sound Reinforcement Handbook by Gary Davis and Ralph Jones
The Sound Reinforcement Handbook reads more like the manual for a 1978 Volkswagen than a guide for engineering, but no other book covers the different concepts of live sound reinforcement with such detail.
From algorithms for calculating the db SPL of a system to advanced applications of Ohm’s Law, The Sound Reinforcement Handbook is one of those books that you’ll reach for over and over again throughout the years. This holds especially true if you plan on getting into the more technical side of engineering and need to know about acoustic treatment placement, PA system design or even how to read and write schematics for signal processors.
Unfortunately, most creatives simply don’t learn much by reading books — they're most likely to have a kinesthetic learning style, meaning they learn by doing. So in order to learn from The Greats, you have to put their teachings into practice. Keep these books handy, and remember to take time to apply what you read as you go.