What is Your Writing Soundtrack?

When I was in college I used to be able to listen to all kinds of music while I studied, read, and wrote. Dance, alternative, vocals, instrumentals, whatever. I would sing along loudly and off-key while I composed a term paper into the raw hours of morning.

Now I cannot listen to any words other than those in my own head while I write. I can’t even hear noise or talking or laughing or coughing or anyone else existing! That’s why I pipe a constant stream of instrumental music into my headphones as I write. I try to match the music with the mood of what I am writing, but sometimes it just comes down to listening to what I am not yet sick of hearing. I’ve been collecting as much instrumental music as I can but I often run out of appropriate stuff.

The novel I’m currently writing involves the discovery of a fantasy world beyond the walls of an old house which at first seems fun, innocent, and full of wonder, but turns dark and sinister as the characters venture further into it. My most recent musical discovery that fits the mood of this story is Tomorrow’s Harvest, the newest album from Boards of Canada. (View a clip from the album below)

Possibly the most perfect soundtrack to my novel, however, is the 1970 album Lord of the Rings by Bo Hansson. It is a prog rock concept album inspired by Tolkien’s novels. My novel isn’t exactly high fantasy in the Tolkien tradition, but the music evokes the dark fantasy atmosphere I am trying to capture. It triggers something in the depths of my brain that allows me to pull out a detailed colorful picture of this world, and I find myself listening to it on repeat (admittedly, it would be the perfect album to listen to while getting high).

The website Largehearted Boy has an interesting recurring feature called “Book Notes” in which authors will discuss the musical playlists they listened to while writing their novels. Two of my favorites are Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and Arcadia by Lauren Groff.

When I get desperate for new stuff, I turn to Spotify (one can debate the merits or drawbacks of that particular service in a different space). Jason Boog of Galleycat has compiled a “Best Writing Music of 2013 So Far” Spotify list that has actually introduced me to some wonderful new sounds.

So what is the soundtrack to your writing?