Kickstarting the Muse with Music (Part 2)

Today’s post is part two of our two-part special on music and the writing Muse. Check out yesterday’s guest post by Kiersten Hallie Krum for part one. ~ Jennelle



Musical Note courtesy of Karen Cox via flickr Creative Commons.

“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast…” ~ William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697

My day job is demanding and I find it’s hard to disengage the brain and switch all my gears to play with my imaginary friends. Then there’s the reality of no longer being a kid and having all those adult responsibilities. Cooking, cleaning, dishes, finances. They all take time and brain power. When I finally find time to sit down and write, I need something really spectacular to change my mood and kick start my Muse. For me, music gives me that kick.

Let the Music Play

I’ve found that I have to be pretty particular about the music though. Like Kiersten, I typically need music to be so familiar that I can ignore it if I choose to. But I actually need a little more than that.

I need to not be distracted by vocals. I have a hideous tendency to sing along with whatever it is I’m listening to. More than once I’ve put on unintentional performances for my coworkers at my day job. Thank goodness I don’t sound like a complete goober when I sing. My mom taught the church choirs I was in as a kid and strong-armed me into taking music classes as electives during my primary education before college. The kicker here is that, with a very few exceptions, traditional classical music just doesn’t do it for me when I need to write. Orchestral, will do it, yes, but classical, no.

I need the music to work together thematically. This isn’t something as simple as putting together a playlist of songs I’ve plucked randomly from the music ether. Unlike many writers who swear by this method, I’m terrible at it and my OCD is bad enough that not being able to organize it drives me batty. I find myself stopping songs or skipping them if the feel of them is too different from the previous one. Having to pay too much attention to changing out songs or skipping them is hardly efficient while I’m writing. The terrible thing about this is that unless I work really hard over the course of time, Pandora doesn’t work for me. The music is just too random for me. I need more predictability.

I need the music to move me emotionally when I do pay attention to it. Kiersten’s take on this in her guest post of part one of this special yesterday is a little bit different from what works best for me. Like her, I do have issues with writing the smexy times to music that’s too melodic (I actually prefer silence for those scenes). But she also said she had trouble with songs related to any “emotional resonance has ripped my heart from my chest.” I need that. I crave it.

There Can Be Only One (Maybe Two, Possibly Three)

Movie soundtracks and scores, along with a handful of television and video game soundtracks are really the only music that consistently meets these needs. Unlike a lot of people, I’m specifically not looking for those random collections of popular songs that make it onto a film in the theatres. I like popular music as much as the next girl and some of those have great soundtracks; they’re just not ones I can write to.

While I’m always on the look out for new kinds of soundtracks and scores, I can tell you that there are several types of movie music that I gravitate towards when I’m writing.

I listen to music from movies and television shows that I’ve actually seen and enjoyed. If I didn’t enjoy the show it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be out buying the music any time soon much less listening to it over and over as I write. This music always delights me, never bores me, and serves as the kind of background music I can listen to no matter what I’m writing, be that blog posts, fiction, or technical documentation and process control statistics. What’s on the top of my list in this category? iTunes says that honor right now goes to the Game of Thrones – Season One soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi followed closely by the TRON: Legacy soundtrack by Daft Punk. But it changes throughout the year and sometimes other movies move to the top as mood and fancy strike.

I listen to music from movies and television shows that I have specifically not seen and have no plans to. A lot of people ask me how I can stand to do this and I have no good way of answering. I think sometimes I’m half afraid to see some of these movies because I love the music so much that I don’t want some pesky storytelling to get in the way of what my imagination has already put into place. Other times I think it’s because I love the music even when other people have specifically said they hated the movie and I don’t want to ruin it for me. What’s at the top of this category? iTunes tells me this time it’s a tie between the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams and The Social Network by Trent Rezznor and Atticus Ross (props to fellow martial artist JA for turning me on to the second one).

I listen to music that’s been in TONS of movies. This is that category of music that has it’s own kind of genre outside of the soundtrack categorization that you’ll see in stores and online. Fans of this kind of music will sometimes call it “position music” or “epica.” This is that really familiar theme music that opens an action sequence or the sweeping saga music that takes the military teams up the hill and crashing down into the enemy forces in battle. I listen to this when I need to be excited about what I’m going to be writing. It doesn’t have to be action sequences that I’m writing at the time, but sometimes I just need to get my blood pumping. iTunes tells me that the top honors for this category rest firmly on a single album: Invincible by the group Two Steps From Hell. A distant second to this are a trio of works by musicians known for their movie trailer themes specifically: Kerry Muzzey’s Trailer Music 2 and volumes one and two of Position Music – Orchestral Series (Action/Adventure/Suspense) by Tom Salta and James Dooley respectively.

So what one album is on near-marriage-ruining constant rotation while I’m writing? All you gamer geeks out there will be happy to know it’s Assassin’s Creed Revelations (Complete Recordings). Duties for this soundtrack were split, with Danish composer Jesper Kyd composing the music for the elements of this soundtrack that are used for gameplay while Scottish composer Lorne Balfe (with producer Hans Zimmer) scored the music for cutscenes. And no, I don’t play the game (thanks to the Assassin’s Creed wiki for that tidbit, btw).

What’s at the top of your playlist, folks? Do you have any songs or music types that get played so often they risk your marriage or your relationships?

PS: I have a separate playlist that’s just the Harry Potter soundtracks. I’m sure Kiersten will be horrified when she finds out.


5 thoughts on “Kickstarting the Muse with Music (Part 2)

    • Thank you. Sometimes the blessed silence really is welcome too, though. I’m lucky enough to be able to have the window open in good weather. On those days I’ve been known to simply listen to the sound of nature and our pond’s waterfall burbling in the background.

  1. It really depends on what I’m writing. Music tends to lend to the mood of my writing. When I wrote the novel about Bosnia, I listened to what I was listening to while I was in country. Rage Against The Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, Danzig, Henry Rollins. When I started on “Curve Of The Earth” I listened to a lot of Matt Nathenson, Mark Knoffler and Indie music. When I’m writing articles or stories, I tend toward Pink Floyd.

    • I have to smile about your choices, Adam. The first set from your Bosnia days is what MrMr calls my “cleaning” music. Your Curve of the Earth Choices are what MrMr calls my “puttering” music. It’s so painfully obvious to me we grew up in the same era. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Movies that Move My Muse | Teatime Romance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s