Saturday, November 4, 2017

Musical nostalgia

I mentioned in a post last year how I discovered, unexpectedly, that music helps me to write. I say “unexpectedly” because I had many times tried writing with music on in the background, and always found it a distraction.

The difference was ... headphones.

Ambient music = distraction. But put on headphones and the music suddenly becomes a shield, a cocoon walling me off from the outside world.

At the time that was a new and surprising discovery, but it seems to be consistently true, not just a passing phase. Music has since carried me through many productive writing sessions, even when the going got tough and the words just weren’t co-operating.

Many writers use music to set the mood. They make up playlists that in some way reflect the writing. It’s not a mood thing for me. Regardless of what I’m writing, the music is simply my productive setting, like absolute silence is for some people, or their cozy writing den, or an inspiring landscape in front of them. For me this means the music has to be fairly loud, rhythmic, melodic, and not too demanding. Classical music would kill the muse.

I started off with recent artists like Taylor Swift (yes, I happen to like her music, don’t judge!) and Mumford & Sons because they were already in our family iTunes library.

Along the way, this started to turn into a bit of a nostalgia trip. I’ve been seeking out artists I remember from my university days. I found loads of early Genesis albums on iTunes, and am currently listening to The Stranglers.

Remember when punk horrified nations with its iconoclastic break from sugary pop blandness?
What a difference a few decades makes! In a world of rap and hip hop, some of that early rock and punk today sounds remarkably lyrical and I wonder what all the fuss was about.

What about you? Does music help or hinder your artistic endeavors. And is there any particular music that brings back powerful memories?


  1. Hi Ian - unfortunately music isn't one of the things I was gifted ... sometimes I have something on-but usually work in silence - well some traffic and the waves coming in and out - cheers Hilary

  2. I've always listened to music while writing. (And at work I do use headphones to drown out co-worker noise and babble.) I don't use headphones at home because I can crank it. Never a playlist, but always something fast.
    Punk seems so tame now, doesn't it?

  3. Hilary, I am not musical either, but I do enjoy listening.

    Alex, who'd have thought punk would ever be called tame? :D

  4. When I paint I have classical music on the radio. I can't write if the radio is on.

  5. I wish I was a writer inspired by music! Nice that you realized how headphones help you create that bubble where you can write more effectively.

  6. Stephen, that's a bit how I was. Music on for painting, but not for writing. I guess they engage the brain in different ways - either complementary or conflicting.

    Karen, I am glad I made that accidental discovery.

  7. You know, sometimes I can do music, and sometimes I can't. I've got an audio hypersensitivity...probably based on the fact there's never true silence in my head. I'm always listening to a soundtrack. When I can match that soundtrack with external forces, it's fine. When they clash, well, it's not a pretty picture. They clash more often than I'd like. I used to listen more than I do now. Personally, I think that's because I've trained my brain to instantly jump into writing mode without prompting. (Aka music.)

  8. Crystal, that kind of brain training is useful. I guess I'm not quite there yet :)

  9. In general, I love music playing in the background when I'm doing mindless things, but not while I'm writing. I like to get completely absorbed in the words I'm writing, and that's really hard for me to when I'm lost in the music. (No self-discipline at all!)

    Have a super weekend!

  10. Susan, I think that is why I have to choose the right kind of music for this purpose. Something demanding too much attention would defeat the objective.


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