10 September 2019

Music to Write By


by Barb Goffman

Some people need silence to write. I could go either way. Silence works. But sometimes, so does music. Certain songs just put me in a creative mood. Here are a few songs/albums that I sometimes work to:

Songs from Ally McBeal. Yes, the show aired about twenty years ago, but the music is still peppy and/or soulful. Either way, it gets my fingers flying. Thank you, Vonda Shepherd and all the other artists on the album.

My favorite songs on the album are "Searchin' My Soul," "Walk Away Renee," and "Maryland." But I can't listen to any of these songs individually if I want to use them for creative purposes. My brain knows the order they appear on the album, and if I don't hear them in that order, I get pulled out of what I'm doing.

Cracked Rear View by Hootie & the Blowfish. I played this album over and over in the mid-90s as I filled out my law school applications. It kept me in the zone. And it does the same today. I listen to it while writing and while editing.

Funny thing is I can't name a single song on this album off the top of my head. It works that well as background music--it blurs into my subconscious, keeping me from getting distracted.

The soundtrack from the movie Somewhere in Time is one of my go-to albums in the winter. You may think that's odd because the movie wasn't set in the winter, but there's something about this music that feeds my creativity on cold gray winter days.

One nice thing about this album is it's all instrumental, and the songs are somewhat similar to each other, so they blend from one to the next easily, and I don't even notice them really, yet they help keep me focused.


I also have individual songs that I play on repeat. "Under Pressure" by Queen is one of them. It won't work when I'm editing, but for writing, oh, baby, this song does it for me. I set it on repeat and type, type, type away.

So those are some of my go-to music choices. The key to all these songs is that they make me feel energetic but they're not distracting. What I notice is when the music ends.

How about you? Do you need silence to write? Can music help you? What works for you?

10 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

I like the Renée song, but when I think of Ally McBeal, I think of Barry White. Some girls get all jelly-like at the sound of his voice.

Sometimes only silence works, other times music, either baroque/chamber or fusion/progressive/ambient/head rock, say Tangerine Dream, Hyperborea, or Vangelis.

You're right that soundtracks can unexpectedly work such as Cloud Atlas or selected works by Danny Elfman. I can't recall details beyond Virginia Woolf about the plot of The Hours, but Philip Glass, besides being a classically-trained artist and composer, is noted for his soundtracks.

Paul D. Marks said...

I used to like writing to music, Barb. And sometimes I still do. Different kinds of music for different kinds of pieces. But if I want a sort of general background music I like baroque. That said, these days most of the time I write in silence. I don't know why that changed and maybe it will change back. But that's where I'm at today.

janice Law said...

Silence is golden as far as I am concerned.

Eve Fisher said...

I write mostly in silence. Sometimes I listen to medieval music, Gregorian chant, various Native American, Southeast Asian, etc. - the key is it has to be instrumental. I can't listen to anything with lyrics.

Robert Lopresti said...

I usually have an assortment of my favorites running but when I really need to concentrate I find that movie soundtracks work well. The various Star Treks and Batman albums, especially.

Robert Lopresti said...

I usually have an assortment of my favorites running but when I really need to concentrate I find that movie soundtracks work well. The various Star Treks and Batman albums, especially.

Tonette Joyce said...

I don't understand people who need absolute quiet when they work.I am great with good oldies playing, (60's mostly) some pop,(give me Italian male singers and I'm good), upbeat classical (Chopin, for instance), or even Irish music, (bring on the revolution!)
British Invasion is great, though, as a contradiction to the Irish.I can sing away with early Beatles and Stones and still listen to my characters dictate to me.

Steve Liskow said...


On first drafts, I used to play baroque, or at least instrumental because the words to vocals got in the way. I had a few favorites: Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn's concerti grossi, and a CD of Bernard Hermann's scores, mostly for Hitchcock. Sometimes I would play period music (jazz, rock, blues) to set a mood. Obviously, I still use many rock and blues allusions.

For editing, on the other hand, I avoid music. A few years ago, I discovered that I couldn't listen to the iPod my daughter gave me while on cardio machines at the health club. That's where I do a lot of my thinking about various projects, and it interfered with the voices in my head.

Now, I can produce a somewhat coherent first draft with anything or nothing in the background. It seems to go more quickly as I get older, too. I often write the first draft of a blog here in an hour or less. And when I'm playing with a short story, 2500 words in a couple of hours isn't unusual. But editing still needs nothing beyond the ambient noise outside my window.

I suspect that the editing is more LEFT-brain (sequential) than the creating, which is RIGHT brain, and more patterns than logic. But that's just a guess.


Barb Goffman said...

Thanks, everyone, for sharing your inspirations. Rob, I especially liked yours. :)

John Floyd said...

Hey Barb. Sorry I'm late to the party. I particularly love the Somewhere in Time soundtrack, and almost anything else by composer John Barry.

Interesting post!