11 June 2021

Writing Soundtrack

 I wrote a few weeks back about being on a jazz kick. It's what I listen to while I work in the morning, when I drive Uber, and sometimes when I write. In fact, on Sunday mornings, I have the Morning Jazz playlist on while everyone else is asleep. Yes, I'm that guy, the one who gets up early even on Sundays.

But what is good music for writing?

In all honesty, it depends on the writer. This came up on the Liminal Fiction scifi group about a week ago. What do we listen to when we write? The answers were all over the place. Some want absolutely no sound whatsoever. Others want ambient or classical, something unobtrusive. Jazz fits that bill when I also want something quiet and in the background. (And then my curated jazz playlist includes Herbie Hancock's "RockIt" and a couple of selections from Frank Zappa's Jazz from Hell. Not exactly quiet jazz.)

This being a primarily science fiction and fantasy group, it did not surprise me that many of those responding liked soundtracks. Not playlists of classic and obscure tunes like Cruella. More like Marvel, Star Trek, or Apollo 13. This is definitely mood music, a concept I truly understand. I wrote Second Hand Goods and Bad Religion with a lot of Metallica and Alice in Chains as Nick was a very angry man in those stories.

But when I wrote Northcoast Shakedown all those years ago, I channeled a lot of blues and blues rock. Some of this came from an author friend giving me two Rory Gallagher CD's. It was also a time when most of us in the crime community, even some cozy writers, fell head over heels for the music of Tom Waits. So, Northcoast and a lot of the short stories I wrote in the 2000 had an earthy feel to them, like someone was in the background playing wailing blues solos or wooden acoustic. 

These days, I write first thing in the morning. I have about two hours before I have to help my wife start her day and make my way downstairs to the office. I work at home. During breaks I give myself to write, I play jazz in the morning and vinyl in the afternoon. The vinyl ranges from Sinatra to the Beatles to AC/DC. 

For me, music is brain juice. I write well enough in silence, but a lot of that has to do with the two hours I spend at the beginning of the day. I also read then. But when full time in the office was a thing, I would go to Starbucks on my lunch break. It had music, coffee, and best of all, no coworkers. (Sorry, coworkers, I love ya, but I really need to put our shared day job aside and reboot.)

So what do you listen to when you write? Do you listen to anything? Anyone listening to the sounds of cicadas as they get words in? (Spoiler alert: I'm not. My ears hurt.)


  1. Interesting blog post. I "listen" to music when I write. I don't really listen to it, but use it as a mood enhancer, and to shut out reality and delve into the realm of my story. Sometimes music has the opposite effect. In that case, silence works best for me.

    What kind of music, you ask? Mostly heavy metal, including the more extreme variants. Sometimes one particular album works best for one story. I keep playing that album over and over again.

  2. Since you asked, I listen to 60’s and 70’s rock. British Invasion. Motown. Some 50’s rock as well and folk rock.

  3. Fun post, Jim. I used to work in theater, so I have a huge selection of music on hand, with a little of everything from roughly 1920 to the present. I played bass in college (late 60's) and still play guitar, so I like blues and classic rock. I also have a CD of Hermann's music for various Hitchcock films.

    I generally write without accompaniment, BUT i know so much music that I can often call up what I want from memory and "hear it" to enhance a mood while I'm writing. Right now, I'm working on several stories that involve particular songs for some anthologies, and I can hear the music clearly.

    I wouldn't be surprised if other people can do the same thing. I don't think I'm THAT weird...

  4. I write a lot in silence; when I do listen to music, it's either instrumental (Jazz, African, Asian, Native American, Southeast Asian, or ambient) or choral (Medieval for choice, though I've recently fallen in love Arvo Part). Rock and Roll is for when I'm driving.

  5. Great post. Very definitely brain juice. I listen to music 2 ways when in writing mode. First, if I've associated a song or song style with a piece, I'll listen to that as part of getting psyched for a session. Then I need either utter silence or soft instrumental, like a movie score stuff. Sounds like I have company with that!

  6. Much of the time pure silence, but often classical (especially chamber music), ambient, fusion, new age… music with a lot of chords. It depends.


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