You’ve probably gotten the question at some point, maybe at an author talk, or through one of the many writer lifts that make the rounds on social media. Do you listen to music when you write? Some people don’t, and I guess they are welcome to their opinion. But for me, I have to have music on when I am writing. Music helps me to focus on my writing and sometimes the right music can get me in the mood or inspire a scene. Back in my day (child of the 80s here) when you wanted to listen to all of your favorite songs you mad a mix tape. Today, music streaming makes it so much easier to create a mix tape. So instead of pulling out my mix tapes (yes, I still have them) when I write these days, I pull up my Spotify playlist and just set it on random. This means that I get to hear everything in my list, from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones to classical symphonies. (I have a very eclectic taste in music.) I don’t curate any specific “writing” playlists, I just listen. Often I don’t even really hear the music, it’s there to filter out the distractions around me while I write.
So, what is on my playlist? I won’t list all my songs, there are several thousand there. But I can give you a feel of the types of music and artists that I have on my playlist. These are the artists and songs that have meaning to me, inspire me, and that I just really enjoy. I like some more than others, but I like them all (that’s why they are there). I’ve broken these out into my own categories because, 1.) I don’t really “know” music or the music industry, and 2.) it’s my list. (Click on the links to hear my favorites from some of the artists I mention.)
This is a term I just made up that covers soloists and groups that play instruments with limited vocals. My favorites in this category include Lindsey Stirling, Bond, Escala, and Josh Vietti. The lack of vocals make these great artists to listen to for inspiration, or for pounding through a lot of dialogue.
A good, classical category (in the sense that its been around forever), and for me this includes metal, pop, and album/stadium rock, soft rock, etc. (Yes, I’m sure purists and “music people” will be upset by my lack of distinction here, but I don’t care.) I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, so a lot of my selections in this group come from that era. The Police, Boston, Kansas, Billy Joel, Scorpions, Eurythmics, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Queen, Def Leppard, Huey Lews & The News, Sting, and many, many others. There are many great albums in this group, and also a lot of one-hit wonders.
This is a category that for me has just one artist in it: John Hiatt. I found him when he released his Perfectly Good Guitar album, and I have loved all of his songs since then.
This is another term I just made up and includes a couple of different groups. The top one is Blackmore’s Night, which I have loved since first hearing their Under a Violet Moon album. It also includes Avantasia, which a friend of mine talked about as being some inspiration to him. I also include Feuerschwanz, which I first heard live at a medieval fair in Germany. Xandria also falls into this group, but only because that’s how I associate them.
These are all of the music from the movies written by some of the most amazing composers out there. John Williams, Alan Silvestri, James Horner, Harold Faltermeyer, Michael Giacchino, Henry Mancini, Daniel Pemberton, and John Powell are just some of the composers that make up this group. If you know the names, then you know the movies (or movie franchises) that these people have been a part of: Star Wars, Avengers, Aliens, Beverly Hills Copy, The Incredibles, The Pink Panther, Man from UNCLE, and many others. These are great because they get me in the mood, and can be perfect when trying to write a specific scene – often an action scene.
As I mentioned, I grew up in the 1970s, and my parents loved to listen to folk music. For me, this is my comfort music as it brings on wonderful memories. It also includes the highest percentage of songs that I pretty much know by heart and can sing along to. This group includes John Denver, Jim Croce, Don McLean, and Harry Chapin.
These are the groups that can (and have) write music for soundtracks, but may not be featured in a major motion picture, though I’m sure you have heard their music (I know I have) on television and even commercials. This group includes Epica, Two Steps from Hell, Thomas Bergerson, and Nick Phoenix. As with soundtracks, this is pure inspirational music for me, getting me in the mood when I am writing action scenes.
I have limited classical music in my playlist, and it includes most of the “Big Names” in music history. Beethoven, Vivaldi, Holst, Orff, and many others. Mostly I have single, selected works in my list that I have always enjoyed and serve as both inspiration and comfort.
This category includes many modern composers who have pushed the bounds of music and combining classical instruments with electronic compositions. For me, it started with the original COSMOS television show (the one with Carl Sagan hosting) and the evocative music of Jean-Michel Jarre that was the soundtrack (from his Equinoxe album). After that I found other artists like Vangelis, Mannheim Steamroller, Audiomachine, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Michael Gettel, and Yanni. All of them play music that inspire.
So that’s my playlist, at least in its basic form. I don’t expect everybody to like the same music that I do, or to understand the vary eclectic mix of genres, artists, and songs that I enjoy. But maybe you can find something that you might enjoy to add to your own playlist.