Friday, November 6, 2009

Writing to Music

Music is a vital part of my life. Although I've never been in a band or played an instrument (besides doodling on the harmonica), I've always been surrounded by musicians. And I get every penny's worth of my Rhapsody subscription by consistently checking out new releases. I even participate in the penultimate annual music dork celebration called Burning Man (not the festival in the Southwest). Each year I get together with about 6 friends (a few of them musicians) and we burn each other CDs of our favorite albums of the year. There is even a presentation portion in which participants make their case for including an album on their best of list.

I do most of my work to music, including writing. The writers I've spoken to about this are divided on the issue. Some find it distracting while others find it inspirational. For those like me whose jobs entail sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day, the right music can make your writing time feel more like unwind time and less like a second job. There are a couple of things I've learned about writing to music to avoid distraction and maximize productivity.

  1. Try instrumental or ambient music. Lyrics can be distracting to those trying to compose words into sentences. If you don't like classical or jazz, try an indie band with the right atmospheric feel, like, say Sigur Ros, God Speed You Black Emperor, Tracker, Mogwai, and so on.
  2. Try music you know well. If you want to listen to music with lyrics, try playing songs you know so well you barely notice the words. My choice here is Neil Young.
  3. Find music that matches the tone of the piece. If you're writing a fight scene, try some heavy metal or punk. Or you can play down-tempo songs for more somber moments in your piece.
  4. Create a giant writing playlist. Switching from album to album and perusing your collection for the next group of songs for your writing session is an easy way to get distracted. Have a go-to playlist you can play quickly to get yourself started. Put it on random if you want to mix it up.
  5. Explore new artists. In your down time, use Pandora, Slacker, Last.FM, Rhapsody, or another music-discovery service to find new, inspiring bands and artists.
So for what it's worth, here are my top 10 albums for writers.

  1. Sparklehorse - "It's a Wonderful Life"
  2. Neil Young - "Decade"
  3. Portugal, The Man - "It's Complicated Being a Wizard"
  4. John Coltrane - "A Love Supreme"
  5. Pink Floyd - "Animals"
  6. Midlake - "The Trials of Van Occupanther"
  7. Bon Iver - "For Emma, Forever"
  8. Iron & Wine - "The Shepherd's Dog"
  9. Alaska in Winter - "Dance Party in the Balkans"
  10. Pretty much anything by Angelo Badalmenti, Bernard Herrmann, or Thomas Newman

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