Music has the right to fiction: some writerly soundtracks

image by Bethan Phillips

I’ve been kicking some short story-writing into high gear again as I shelve a couple of longer projects for the time being, and that means that the amount of time I spend writing every day has increased a bit. One of the things I’ve found most helpful in pushing me through longer working stretches – keeping me inspired, keeping me motivated – is music. So here are some of my favorites and reliable go-tos, especially for anyone who might be looking for the same.

I tend to stick to instrumental music or music with very mixed-down vocals. This is because I have a very auditory writing process – I almost “hear” the words I’m writing down in my head. So hearing words externally can be very distracting.

So here’s a short list:

  • BT – Just about anything, but my favorite – and in fact arguably my favorite album ever – is his electronic-classical masterpiece This Binary Universe. It’s emotional and atmospheric and just incredibly lovely. Makes you want to make correspondingly lovely words. A close second: his score to the film Monster. Actually the first thing I ever heard by him and it’s still just fantastic.
  • Jon Hopkins – Again, just about anything, but my favorites of his are Insides and Contact Note. He’s similar to BT but more ambient, though Insides makes a little bit more of a deal of itself. Also worth checking out: his score for the film Monsters (hey, what a coincidence).
  • Trent Reznor and Atticus RossThe Social Network. I love this album so damn much for so many reasons. It’s definitely not music to write soft things to but when you want something with an edge it’s perfect. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo isn’t as much a preference of mine but of course it’s also good – softer and more introspective.
  • Solar FieldsMovements and Leaving Home. Recent favorites. Perfectly atmospheric without being intrusive.
  • Oneohtrix Point NeverReplica. Like Trent and Atticus, a little weirder and a little more aggressive; great for darker and stranger writing. I’ve heard that this album was heavily inspired by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and you can totally hear it. Along those lines:
  • VangelisBlade Runner. Duh.
  • Cliff MartinezTraffic. I love Cliff in everything he does but Traffic was my first exposure to him and it’s still my favorite. Of everything on the list it’s probably the most spacey. There’s something about it that’s very eerie and lonely.
  • Boards of CanadaThe Campfire Headphase and Music Has the Right to Children. Not really very much like anything else on here. Brisk and bright and occasionally moody. I find it has a sharp quality that works well for more descriptive/eventful writing.
  • H.U.V.A. NetworkEphemeris. One of the guys in H.U.V.A Network is the guy behind Solar Fields, and some of this is reminiscent of that, but it’s much harder and darker than most Solar Fields. Again, good for darker writing.

There are others, but these are some of the big ones. Anyone got any recommendations of their own? What works for you, if you use music to write with?

One thought on “Music has the right to fiction: some writerly soundtracks

  1. ctanwriter says:

    I’m like you: background music with words gets in my ears and makes writing harder, so I stick with instrumentals and soundtracks.

    Two of my recent favorite albums are Dean DeBenedictis “Salvaging the Past” and Patrick O’Hearn “Glaciation”. “Beautiful World” is good too.

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