I think a lot of writers have habits and techniques that they settle into that help them to write. The one indispensable habit that I have when writing is that I always listen to music.
For me, it’s about using music to set the mood and theme. I can’t make the reader hear what I’m listening to when I write, but if I find the music that matches and enhances the theme and mood of what I’m writing, my hope is that this gets infused into the writing. Music works for me as a sort of feedback loop. Listening to music not only helps me avoid other distractions, but it affects me. My own thoughts and feelings run along the lines of the theme and mood of the music, and that therefore is channeled into my writing.
So I thought it would be fun to talk about some of my writing and the music that has accompanied it.
When writing my first novel, “Song of the Ziggurat,” I listened almost daily to Radiohead’s album “Hail to the Thief.” It has alternating themes of anger, angst, fear, and confusion, which are the emotions I was struggling to capture in my protagonist. Other music associated with that book included The Decemberists, The Flaming Lips, and Tuatara.
One of my favorite stories is one that I’m currently working on again, a story called “Reignition.” The theme to this story is the soundtrack to the 2001 anime film “Metropolis.” The songs alternate between a youthful, jazzy swing populated by brassy trumpets, and a low, lurking themes suggestive of seedy underbellies. It was the perfect soundtrack to capture the story’s strange mix of steampunk and fantasy, the setting’s dark secrets, and the protagonist’s youthful exuberance and determination.
My story “White Bone Spirit,” which got me into this year’s Viable Paradise, was also written listening to the “Metropolis” soundtrack as well as the soundtrack to “The Dark Crystal.” The haunting atmospherics of “The Dark Crystal” paint another entire world for me. Mixing it up with the jazziness of “Metropolis” helped me keep the story grounded in 1920’s Shanghai while still lending an element of the fantastic to the story.
My novel-in-progress (currently on hold) is a work titled “The Skylords of Agathon.” This is a science fantasy epic set on another world, and I’ve got lots of good music to inspire that one. “The Dark Crystal” soundtrack comes up again, along with Toto’s soundtrack to the David Lynch film “Dune” and the video game soundtrack to “Mass Effect 2.”
Other favorite writing soundtracks include Broken Bells, the Baroque Jazz Trio, Beats Antique, The Hunger Games “Songs from District 12” soundtrack, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, anything by Ratatat, King Crimson’s Lark’s Tongue in Aspic, and many others.
A special shout-out here goes to Yes’s 1974 album Relayer. As a teenager, I would listen to this album over and over again, imagining the world that this music must have come from. It was an inspiration that continues to blow me away every single time I listen to it, twenty-plus years later.
I’d love to hear any recommendations that you have. I’m always looking for new and interesting music for writing soundtracks. As you’ll note from the list above, i tend to favor things that are instrumental or “moody”, whatever that means. But I’m willing to listen to just about anything once.
If you’re a writer, what are you listening to? Hell, even if you’re not a writer, what are you listening to that’s really amazing and inspiring?