This week's roundtable for writers: Writing Soundtracks
Do you have a certain kind of music that helps you focus and write? What kind?
Aaron Smith: I rarely listen to music while writing. When I do, it's usually instrumental (classical or jazz). There have been some exceptions.
Michael A. Gonzales: I listen to a lot of music when I'm writing fiction. Creepy movie soundtracks, trip-hop (Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead) and dark hip-hop (Rza, DJ Premier).
Bill Craig: It depends. Sometimes I listen to movie soundtracks and sometimes jazz, depending on what I am working on. For action stuff, soundtracks. When writing a mystery, it is almost without fail Jazz or maybe salsa if writing my tropical mysteries.
Nancy Hansen: Back in the late 90s/early 2000s, when I was first writing the stories that have now become the core of my Pro Se imprint Hansen's Way, I discovered Celtic and alternative/world music. A friend had me over for lunch and chat one day, and she had a local university radio station on, which played a lot of Celtic, Folk, New Age, and Native American flute stuff. It was all very mood-inspiring without feeling intrusive. I got to thinking, this is perfect for writing! The university station eventually changed formats, so I started collecting music geared toward my writing, and over the years have made myself some custom playlists. It was not an inexpensive venture, because this was before MP3s were big, so I was buying CDs and begging for music store gift cards on birthdays and holidays. I have added a few soundtracks, notably from the Tolkien movies, and Firefly/Serenity. I also grabbed some of those 'relaxation' albums with music that has nature sounds in the background.
I stumbled across Live 365 about 6-7 years ago, where you can fins just about anything in the way of music. A free membership means you have to listen to the same two commercials every 15 minutes or so, and sometimes you get bumped off when a station is full, but there's still a lot of good stuff out there. Having the names of artists and titles of specific albums and songs helped me be more discriminating in what I purchase. Most times I go to Amazon and buy just the cuts I want.
Youtube has a lot of channels featuring instrumental compilations of music geared toward a specific audience. Some are collections from movies or video games, but there are a few that are artist-composed. A current favorite is Adrian Von Ziegler, a Swiss composer who is really talented. I even found some pirate-inspired music for when I'm working on those battle scenes in the Jezebel Johnston novels. Many of the Youtube channels are at least an hour or two long, but I've got several bookmarked that last 6-10 hours for those all day sessions.
Perry Constantine: I used to just put my iTunes library on shuffle but lately I've started using 8tracks.com to find playlists that suit what I'm writing.
Van Allan Plexico: It has to be instrumental. No lyrics whatsoever. That would be insanely distracting.
Symphonies and soundtracks work better for me. Even instrumental pop and rock is too distracting.
I tend to go with the Babylon 5 music by Christopher Franke, the Lord of the Rings soundtracks by Howard Shore, the "Musical Evenings with the Captain" collections of music played in the Aubrey/Maturin novels, and Beethoven and Mozart symphonies. Sometimes I'll put Pandora on "Soundtracks" and let it go, though it tends to play Batman and Pirates music too often for my tastes.
Pete Miller:Yes, I write to music often. I have lots of movie score cds and will play appropriate music for suspense or action scenes. Sometimes I will play big band or swing to get my mind into the period.
For me, lyrics are often too distracting...
Lee Houston Jr.: Most of the time I put on music to just kick back and relax to while I write, but I have yet to find just one station that plays everything I ever listen to. There use to be plenty of "all variety" (for lack of a better term) stations on the air, with their playlists bouncing back and forth between country, oldies, current hits, etc. when I was growing up. Today they all have to be specialized formats to compete for listeners and advertising revenue.
Ellie Raine: I listen to a multitude of music while writing. For me, it’s extremely important, since I can’t write a word without it.
Do you change your playlist based on the stories and/or genres you are writing at the time? How so?
Van Allen Plexico: I probably tend to put on music from SF shows such as Babylon 5 more often when I'm writing space opera, which would make sense in a "creating the mood" way.
I probably do it mostly to block out outside noise, or simply because I think I'm supposed to. If I were writing in a totally quiet environment, I'd be perfectly content to have dead silence while I worked. It's not like I would really notice it. Hours can pass while I'm writing and I don't even realize it's been more than a few minutes.
Lee Houston Jr.: Depends upon need. Sometimes I pick songs from a specific era if I'm writing a period piece. Other times I do put on "mood music" to set the stage.
Nancy Hansen: I do change up music to suit whatever I'm working on. When I put together my own playlists I went for a balance of quieter type ballads and fast paced stuff with a lot of bass, drums, and instrumental action for fight and chase scenes. I have playlists for love scenes, and some that are dark and foreboding to get the creepy moods going. I only listen to a few songs with lyrics I understand because I find myself wanting to sing along, and I can't do that and write well. So most of my writing music is either purely instrumental, or in some language (like Gaelic) that I can't understand. Whatever I listen to, it has to enhance the mood of the piece I'm working on, because otherwise it just becomes another distraction. I have enough of those around here as it is!
Rebekah McAuliffe: It depends on what kind of story I'm writing. I structure my playlists the same as movie soundtracks: pieces and songs that would go on the soundtrack if the book were ever adapted to film. Sometimes, the music can even inspire me and help me come up with different plot points.
Ellie Raine: I have one specific playlist I use when writing Epic Fantasy which consists of: “Firelink Shrine” and “Gwyn, Lord of Cinder” from Dark Souls 2, “Secunda” from Skyrim, the Assassin’s Creed II theme “Ezio’s Family”, “Mirror, Mirror” from RWBY, and “Mirror” by Ellie Goulding (Pure coincidence, I assure you!). I play those songs on a loop for that specific series.
For the children’s fantasy I’m working on, I go to Pandora and play Celtic/Irish pub song stations. It’s mostly very upbeat and playful, so it really brings out the fun in the adventurous characters.
As for the paranormal noir story, I typically listened to Bohren and Der House of Gore. It was mysterious, horrific, and jazzy, and it fit perfectly with the mood I wanted to portray.
Aaron Smith: My first novel (which I'd like to forget about; good story but bad writing) was directly inspired by a dream I had which was in turn inspired by a song that was popular at the time, so I listened to that song incessantly while writing that book. Also, when working on a spy story, I'll often have James Bond themes, or occasionally the Mission:Impossible theme playing in the background. And, on the rare occasions when I'm having trouble getting going on one of my Sherlock Holmes stories, I'll give a quick listen to the music from the Jeremy Brett TV adaptations to jump start the right mood.
Perry Constantine: I didn't before but I do now. I try to find playlists on 8tracks that include score music from movies in the genre I'm working on. So for example, I'm currently writing Vanguard Season 3 and I've got playlists that include the scores from superhero movies.
For those of you who don't, why not? Do you find music distracting? Or just not needed? Or what?
Erwin K. Roberts: Frank Gruber, in The Pulp Jungle, tells of an author writing a story for a tomorrow deadline right in the middle of a rousing author's party. Wish I could do that. I can't.
Music, like it - or hate the particular piece, is the last thing I want near me when I write. I am far too easily distracted by audio and video sources. The first couple of years I did cable TV I had to request all monitors in my line of sight be turned off. Otherwise I'd watch the monitor, instead of the camera. Eventually I got over that, thankfully.
I write with no music, and no drinks or snacks at hand. All those can wait for breaks.
H. David Blalock: As I began writing about 50 years ago, today's music is a massive distraction. I find my ideal writing environment to be quiet and even better, during a light rain. White noise is my writing music.