Soundtracks: Writing and Music

Soundtracks: Writing and Music

Main Points
• Music can be a great help and a hindrance to writing.
• Music directly taps into emotions, helping get into the right mood and evoke those feelings in scene.
• Music can be distracting, waste time finding the ‘right’ song, and can mask weaker writing.
• To overcome these, try listening to well-known/non-lyrical music, using silence, and rereading sections without music.

Introduction
Music can be an amazing tool to help write. But it can also be amazingly distracting. When I first started listening to music to help me with my work, it was at school. It took me a while to learn how to listen to music without it getting in the way of completing my homework but once I learned how, music became an amazing tool not only to sharpen my focus but also to help me think in new ways.

Finding the ‘Write’ Mood Building soundtracks
Fiction is essentially an emotional journey taking the character from one place to the other while overcoming or at least facing different odds along the way. For me, sometimes it can be difficult to tap into the emotions I need in the story. Some days I just feel lazy, or I’m not particularly romantic, or action oriented. Music can immediately transport me into the emotion I need to write, or in the least, help me get started. One particular member of my writing group told me she builds individual playlists for each book or each section of a book. Then she just shuffles through the songs when she needs inspiration.

While I haven’t done the same thing, almost every book I’ve written has a soundtrack associated with it. Certain songs, or even whole soundtracks, fit into my general theme and instantly tap me into the emotions I need. For Nefarious, my book about vampires, I needed dark and luxurious music. Since romance features so heavily in the book, I needed plenty of romantic and forlorn songs as well. When the book got actiony, I put on appropriately epic music.

In Forgotten of Avalon, I needed some mysterious tunes, like those in film noir. However, the book’s tone becomes much more introspective and about healing partway through, so during those sections I tuned to two main songs that emoted those feelings.

Sometimes songs have inspired an entire book. I have a steampunk happy story I work on from time to time that was wholly inspired by two songs and the pictures associated with them on YouTube (listed below). From that, I built an entire world to capture the emotions evoked therein. It was such a longing romantic innocent feeling that I wanted to give it shape and color in something meaningful.

Pandora is a great way to find new music that I later associate with books. YouTube autoplay has also helped me to discover new songs.

The Dangers Within Getting distracted
Sometimes listening to music can be problematic, however. For one, music can be distracting. This was my first problem when listening to tunes while doing homework. I would get too engrossed in the song and stop paying attention to my work. What I’ve found helps is listening to songs I already know, songs I’ve listened to a million times, or songs that don’t have words. Some books I’ve written have one primary song that I listen to dozens or even hundreds of times while I write. It might seem boring, but if the song gets the job done, I don’t like to change it.

Another potential danger is getting distracted by finding the right song. I’ve wasted huge amounts of time trying to get in the right writing mood, including finding the right mood music. Even now while I was writing this blog post, I kept trying to find the appropriate song to express my desired feelings. Eventually, I realized what I was doing and so settled on silence. And silence can absolutely be your friend if you’re wasting time picking the right song.

A third problem (and this is a huge one) is music can lie to you, or rather it can mask your writing. There was an old meme called “Requiem for a Tower makes anything epic,” which put that amazing, absolutely epic music as the background for the most inane shows like Barney, Mr. Bean, buddy cop comedies, and everything in between. And you know what? They looked epic! Why? Because music has a power to convey emotion directly to the soul. And this can be problematic. Sometimes when I work with music, I think the writing is epic, or romantic, or heart-wrenching, but really, I’m just being affected by the music. It’s masking my writing without me even realizing it. And that’s a huge problem! My writing has to stand on its own feet without a supporting soundtrack. Maybe one day technology will allow that, but for now, I have to make sure my writing shines by itself. The best solution for this I’ve found is to go back and read what I’ve written without music, or even sometimes with an inappropriate soundtrack to see if I can still feel the emotion (e.g. silly music for a serious scene).

Conclusion Finding the right mix tapes
Despite inherit problems with listening to music while writing (or any other endeavor), the benefits far outweigh the risks. Each potential problem can be circumvented easily, whether by rereading without music, only listening to well-known tunes, or just giving into silence every once and a while. Music can bolster creativity, inspire us with new ideas or feelings, and help us tap into the emotions we need to evoke in our writing.

But what about you? Has music helped or hindered your writing, or has it done both? Do you find any particular kind of music inspirational? What’s helped you use music as a tool instead of a distraction?

Here are my own soundtracks to some of the books I’ve worked on, detailing the emotion I was trying to evoke. Feel free to share your own meaningful songs!

My books and soundtracks
Nefarious: vampire and angel book, dark, moody, and romantic music needed!
-most Evanescence, especially Haunted; My Immortal for love scenes
The Dark Knight film soundtrack
-Smashing Pumpkins – The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning
-Massive Attack – Angel
-Faithless – Killer’s Lullaby (for Jayla)
Interstellar film soundtrack (especially Detach for Jayla)
Inception film soundtrack
-Anberlin (especially Soft Skeletons; God, Drugs, & Sex; and Depraved for June)
-Civil Twilight – How’m I Supposed to Die
-Many, many others

Forgotten of Avalon: mysterious corporate espionage and heartbreaking self-reflective music for broken/healing scenes
Deus Ex: Human Revolution & Mankind Divided video game soundtracks (espionage/mystery)
Perfect Dark video game soundtrack (espionage/mystery)
-Kanye West – Runaway (broken/healing)
-Rihanna – Stay (broken/healing)

I, Lighmen: epic fantasy story with monsters and power armor
-Versus Music epic music compilations, especially volumes 1, 4, and 9

Happy steampunk story: music with a sense of wonderment and romance
-Fort Minor – Where’d You Go (Madza Remix), including the picture (which has now changed)
-Phoria – Red (Need a Name Remix), including the picture

Tyranny: epic fantasy story with strong female lead who must save the world with her unique gift
-Houses – Beginnings (listened to this one hundreds of times in 2016 for NaNoWriMo)

Ma’Shani: fantasy book about healing from trauma
-Apparat – Goodbye


4 thoughts on “Soundtracks: Writing and Music

  1. I write to sound of some sort. For me, the important thing is not the feel, but that it helps block out the noise around me and can be used as a trigger to get back into a specific headspace faster. (However, if it ends up strongly linked to a specific headspace, I have to be careful about using it.)
    Generally, the music needs to lack understandable vocals, or too much of my brain gets stuck parsing that. (That also includes languages I understand reasonably well.)
    An interesting side effect is that if I’m doing something else that requires minimal focus, I can listen to the same soundscape and simply sit in the creative space, playing with ideas.
    Happy NaNo!

    1. Thanks for the comment and thanks for sharing your experience too! It’s always interesting to hear how different people use music or view the same topic. Sounds like we have some similarities.

      Happy NaNo to you as well! I hope you win!

      1. I did 🙂 Almost 92k, still cranking toward 100k…
        FYI, my favorite music to write a battle to is the Conan the Barbarian OST (Basil Poledouris). Very inspiring.

        1. That’s awesome! Congratulations on your hard work. I’ll definitely check out the Conan OST. Thanks for the tip!

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