Not every writer wants to or can listen to music while they write. I know there are some days where any form of sound, music or otherwise, will distract me or throw off the natural rhythm of my typing. However, there are times where I really do need music to help me set the scene in my head. For those times, I have a ready list of go-to tunes that help me reach my emotional center. Here are my seven favorite songs to listen to while I write.
SECOND MOVEMENT, VIOLIN CONCERTO, PHILLIP GLASS
This is an amazing piece of music. Truly, I don’t think there is anything that quiet stirs my soul like this does. When I’m writing a scene where tension building is key, I turn to this. It’s fast, it’s passionate, and it doesn’t run away when the tension ends. It lingers, letting you settle a bit and sort out a resolution.
LUX AETERNA, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (SOUNDTRACK FROM THE MOTION PICTURE), CLINT MANSELL
While I have not seen Requiem for A Dream, I do own the soundtrack, which is fantastic. I will say this, though: use with caution. Lux Aeterna is a dark, slightly disturbed composition. The pounding base beat and subtle dissonance of the strings gives me the heebie jeebies every time. If I’m writing a scene with a horrifying revelation or deep character pain, I’ll turn to Mr. Mansell. All other times I actively avoid this piece as it can turn a good mood into deep melancholy. Maybe I’m just weird, though.
ADAGIO FOR STRINGS, OP. 11, SAMUEL BARBER
Slow, melancholic, and deeply intimate, Adagio for Strings is, in my opinion, Samuel Barber’s greatest triumph. As with Phillip Glass’s Second Movement, Adagio builds tension, but in a far subtler way. For me, it’s a great way to prepare myself for an emotional character (AKA angst) scene. Although I tend to dislike writing romance (a topic that deserves it’s own blog post), Adagio is a very good romantic scene setter.
PROMONTORY, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SCORE), RANDY EDELMAN AND TREVOR JONES
For you movie soundtrack fans, this one’s probably not a surprise. The Last of the Mohicans score was nominated for both a Golden Globe and BAFTA, and rightfully so. It’s plain gorgeous, and its main theme, Promontory, is breathtaking and energetic. Promontory melds folk-inspired strings with strong brass and an epic, swelling romantic melody. For me, this score is pure fantasy. It provides a world setting while letting me fill in the details.
REACHING, CHRONICLES, AUDIOMACHINE
Audiomachine’s Reaching is pure triumph. It’s the song you play when the big bad is dead/defeated and your main characters are realizing the day is saved and the world will see another sunrise. The electronic sounds are subtle and nuanced and the strings meld nicely with the background chorus to produce a lovely melody.
BATTLE OF THE KINGS, CHRONICLES, AUDIOMACHINE
Sometimes you just need a song to inspire you to write fantasy or science fiction. Here you go. You’re welcome. This is a bit more synthetic than I usually go for, but it works really well with the natural instruments. Also, this song features choir vocals, which I also usually stay away from. For some reason I find vocal parts distracting in music. But they work nicely here.
CANTUS EN MEMORIUM ET BENJAMIN BRITTEN, ARVO PART
If you’re required to write your scene with a broken heart, this will help. I saw a ballet set to this piece and I nearly cried. The dancers were okay, but hearing it live was almost too much. It’s hauntingly beautiful and sticks with you hours after you listen to it.
Do you listen to music while you write? If so, do you have any favorite songs or artists? I’m always looking for something new to listen to.