Music on the brain

I go through phases of working with music on in the background. I’m currently in a music-all-the-time phase, rotating through Holy Ghost!, Foster the People, The Sounds, and some Hall & Oates (their greatest hits was on sale!). I find that depending on my mood, having music on can keep me extremely focused, blocking out the background noise and honing my attention. (The only issue is that I obviously turn the music off for calls, and I find myself forgetting to press play when the call is over!) Other times, I find it terribly distracting, and I will work for weeks without any music at all.

I know that authors all work in different ways, and I’m curious to know if you all write with music going. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what do you listen to? And are you headphone or speakers people? (And anyone I should be listening to?)

31 Responses to Music on the brain

  1. I can’t write or read with music on; my mind gets to attracted to the music. Being a musician does that to a person. I do love having music when I am cleaning the house or doing dishes, though.

  2. Mimi Cross says:

    Hi Michael,

    Yes! You should be listening to me ☺

    Actually I didn’t stop by to promote my music, but I would like to point you, and any other music lovers, to my blog http://www.sirenstories.com.

    Sirenstories is a project I created to help singer songwriters get their music heard, and to find inspiration for my writing.

    Although the focus is on singer songwriters (Sirens + stories) the project is also open to composers of instrumental tracks, as long as the piece submitted is program music, intended to evoke images or convey the impression of events.
    My goal is to post 1 new song—plus information about the writer—every day, for 1 year. I’m on day nine.

    So if you want to hear new music, it’s easy. Go to the blog and hit the play button. You can scroll back for the days you missed.

    I listen to music while I write and I create a playlist for each manuscript I’m working on. The playlists I make in itunes can grow as long as 40 songs!

    I find that making a playlist for each manuscript allows me to ‘drop in’ to my writing even more easily than I naturally do. It’s kind of like meditating in the same spot every day. Many experts suggest that when you meditate, you should go to the same physical location every day and take your seat. For some people it’s as simple as rolling out their yoga mat. Going to the same physical space each time you meditate helps you ‘drop in’ to your ‘meditation zone’ sooner. The music helps me get to the place I need to be.

    Sometimes the lyrics, mood, or melody of a song feed my actual words, I swear my characters are listening, too! I allow the music to affect what I’m writing, what my characters are saying. It’s a lot of fun.

    Obviously I pick songs I love, but they have to be new to me (no baggage) and they have to ‘match’ my genre, although sometimes a song that provides an aural juxtaposition to what I’m writing causes something interesting and unexpected to pop up. The entire process is very personal and fun and the songs, as I listen to them over and over, open up to me, just like my story does.

    Music really helps my first few drafts flow. Then, it’s tough, but I have to turn the music off to revise and edit.

    Here are some of the artists on the playlist I listened to constantly while I wrote my YA paranormal manuscript: The XX, Jai Uttal, David B. Greenberg, Carter Burwell, New Order, PJ Harvey, Marcelo Zarvos, David Cook, and especially Pete Yorn.

    Thanks for the great question and I’m sorry I missed you at BEA!

    Very best,


    • Michael says:

      Thanks for all the suggestions, Mimi! And what diverse taste you have. I tend to get on a kick and run with it, then inevitably slip back to David Bowie as a palate cleanser, then move on to something else.

  3. Amy says:

    The new Bon Iver album is streaming here: http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2011/06/bon_iver_stream.html
    It’s helping me get through an unbearable nonfiction MS.

  4. Mimi Cross says:

    PS My response was NOT supposed to start with a frowny face! *Smiles* *SMILES*

  5. I write about musicians and the people who orbit them. Music is as essential to me as writing and breathing. Thus, I do pretty much everything with music on. Seriously. Let your mind wander. Yep, I’ve got music on. The one time I turn it off is when I’m camping or hiking (definitely when I am on my bicycles, for safety sake) — that’s when nature’s music kicks in.

    My tastes are a bit heavier than yours, so I’ll refrain from recommendations.

  6. Jenn Jones says:

    I listen before I write, while I’m still gathering thoughts, plotting before I type. And FYI – as far as I’m concerned, the best and only soundtrack to YA dystopians is Arcade Fire the Suburbs. On vinyl.

    • Michael says:

      I do love The Suburbs, but I listen to it on the computer. I have a turntable somewhere around here, but no Arcade Fire to play on it!

  7. Tami Veldura says:

    Oh man, what don’t I listen to? My personal music library is over 50 thousand songs and counting with very few duplicates (I’m sure there are some swimming in there, though). If you lay every song end to end you wouldn’t repeat for 2 years.

    Suffice to say I always have music on and it’s not very hard to find a piece that fits my mood. Many times I’ll play music that matches the mood I’m in either to maintain said mood or because I feel like singing/dancing around, other times I’ll pick songs that are more upbeat than I’m feeling to pull myself up mood-wise.

    As for writing, I get very easily distracted by lyrics in songs that are not techno. So when I’m writing I’m either listening to techno (which has a very steady thump that keeps me in the zone) or songs without lyrics which can range from Enya to classical to Final Fantasy piano to Gregorian chant to bagpipes and hammer dulcimer.

    I love music!

  8. Tammy says:

    Music gets the ideas flowing and I’ll write tons of notes. But when I’m really going to set down and write I need it to be quiet. As far as what I listen to, well I’m all over the map. I’m obsessed with Awolnation right now but I can’t write to them. Letters from the sky by Civil Twilight, and In my arms by Plumb really makes my muse happy.

  9. Lisa Marie says:

    I’m with Tammy. I enjoy listening to music whenever I take a break to check email or play around on Twitter, but I have to write in complete silence. Even the sound of passing traffic or the wind rustling through the trees is distracting. I also use music whenever I’m trying to get in the mood to write a certain scene, right before I write it. I’ve been listening to a lot of Stone Temple Pilots, Velvet Revolver, A Perfect Circle, Tool and prog rock lately.

  10. Tonya Kuper says:

    Hi Michael!

    I HAVE to have music playing while I write. Sometimes it is just noise to block everything else out, but usually it helps influence my writing, whether it’s through the lyrics, tone, or emotion.

    When I’m in the car, excercising, or whatever, I’ll listen to anything and everything, but when I write I’m a little pickier. I listen to music that helps bring out the words or the mood that I need to convey.

    For instance, my first novel, a YA paranormal/thriller romance, (that I queried you on & you asked for the full last summer) was dark and eery, so I listened to bands like: Muse, Ok Go, Silversun Pickups, Linkin Park, Flyleaf, Kings of Leon, Snow Patrol, Foo Fighters, Broken Bells, Black Keys. (I highly recommend the last two bands.)

    Now, while finishing my current ms, Haute Mess, a YA romantic comedy, I am listening to tunes that are a little more upbeat, offbeat, or quirky. I’m also loving Free the People, along with Freelance Whales, The Airborne Toxic Event, Jonsi, OneRebublic, Sleigh Bells, Two Door Cinema Club, Yeasayer, General Fiasco, Guster, The Dodos, Tired Pony. (I, too, like Awolnation & Arcade Fire.) If you haven’t already, give some of these bands a listen!

    Oh, and I’m a earbuds girl unless I plug my iPod into the car.

    Tonya from Omaha

  11. LupLun says:

    I agree that it’s difficult to write with music on. However, I will sometimes get inspired by music, which winds up associated with a scene and gets played in my head later when I sit down to write it. Two major examples from my current MS are “Going Under” and “Dig”. The latter is an extremely underrated love song.

  12. Suzanne L. B. says:

    I tend to listen to instrumental or music with non-English lyrics when writing so I’m not pulled too far from my own thoughts. Thievery Corporation and Jesse Cook are favorites (and great for cocktail hour, too, since I tend to block out all sound after about 100 words).

  13. KT says:

    I definitely listen to music when I write. I love creating the perfect playlists for my WiPs. For my current one, I’m listening to The Fray’s Reason EP–very old but very awesome. They’re my favorite band. Other than that, I’ve been listening to a lot of The Black Keys, Steve Moakler, Band of Horses, James Morrison, Portugal the Man, The Morning Benders, Andrew Ripp, and The Temper Trap. Yeah, I like music. A lot. Now checking out other people’s recommendations…

  14. Tonya Kuper says:

    I meant AN earbuds girl…Jeez! (You can’t tell I used to be a Reading teaching. Duh.) Love hearing what other writers listen to. Looking up some of these bands…thanks guys!

  15. Bryan Bliss says:

    I always listen to music while I am writing. Many times, it’s to cancel out noise in coffee shops, etc. However, I’m not sure that I would write as well without music. And “write as well” is definitely a relative statement… Self deprication, FTW.

    That said, somebody made me a LCD Soundsystem mix, and I really am enjoying it. Also Superchunk. Always Superchunk. Uh… Damien Jurado is good, sometimes depressing, acoustic stuff.

  16. Lynne Matson says:

    I love, love, love music. I’ve got XM radio in my car, and AltNation & 1st wave are a great source to discover new bands or just hang out with old ones. And I always listen to music when I write.

    My tastes echo Tonya’s and Tammy’s. I’m an alt rock girl. It depends on the MS, but some of my favorite bands/artists are The XX, Jack Johnson, Silversun Pick-ups, Muse, Meese, Broken Bells, Phoenix, Metric, The Kooks, The Klaxons, Snow Patrol, and The Future of Forestry. New finds: Pendulum, Yuck, and Civil Twilight (the last one reminds me of early U2). And you can’t go wrong with Arcade Fire, One Republic, or U2. Sometimes an older muse calls and I crank up The Smiths, The Cure or some classic Depeche Mode.

    Fun post. Thanks Michael!

  17. Gilbert J.Avila says:

    I never write to music. It’s a distraction, unless it’s Italian Opera, which I don’t understand. Most of the time I use a white-sound generator for my moods. Wind, rain, random ocean waves. Makes the place atmospheric.

  18. Stephen says:

    Symphonic soundtracks from movies. Anything by John Williams, James Horner, Hanz Zimmer. That music just pulls it out of me.

  19. Wayne says:

    I’m a weirdo, because I love to work with the television on. I suppose it goes back to my childhood, always doing my homework in front of the TV. When I’m working my day gig as a commercial director/editor, I like to listen to commentary tracks on films such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When I want it only as background noise, I’ll turn on NASA TV, which I find oddly calming. And a little Doctor Who or Top Gear always makes me feel more sophisticated. (It’s the British accents.)

    When writing my first novel, I alternated between watching marathons of Arrested Development on Netflix and listening to soundtrack channels on satellite. I also found DIS Radio online to be particularly helpful, as my novel deals heavily with Disney fandom. It is a small world, after all.

  20. Samantha says:

    I also go through phases with music and usually songs in particular. An old or new song will catch my attention and I will replay it endlessly, finding more reasons to love it each time.

    In general though, I find music can distract me from my writing as I seem to create images in my head of the world set to music. When I put my earphones in, the people in my immediate vicinity would be amazed at the choreographed dance moves and routines I am imagining for them.

    This has a positive aspect though as music, and at times, art, have also inspired my writing. Lyrics and melody sometimes create a scenario in my head that I find necessary to put to paper. In fact, most of my ideas for writing come from scenarios I have imagined while listening to music.

    The musical artists that have inspired my writing are varied in genre but include Marcus Foster, Kate Miller Heidke, Vast, Sam Bradley, Adele, Newton Faulkner, Bobby Long, Bond, Sia, My Chemical Romance, Bond and so many more I would (if I haven’t already) bore you with the list.

    Sam :)

  21. I do most of my writing at Starbucks, so I either have to listen to their music mixed with caffeine enhanced conversations or put in the plugs. Guess what I go with? Yup. I always write with music, but no lyrics are allowed. Soundtracks are great as long as I don’t recognize them. I tried listening to the Harry Potter soundtrack once, and I almost slipped some magic into my realistic MG. :)

  22. Michael says:

    Thanks everyone for all your great comments and suggestions! I really do have a lot of new music to find out about.

  23. Tracy says:

    I typically need silence when I write otherwise I find it hard to slip into “the zone” but when I’m thinking about the next scene in my book (usually when I’m driving) I listen to music to inspire the scene. It depends on what I’m going for but my favorite right now is anything by the Killers (They have quite a range but my favs are the Day & Age and Sam’s Town albums) and Florence and the Machine. This is new for me, I’m usually all about soundtracks.

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