Background Music–Inspiration for Writing

12 Apr

When I’m really serious about writing – when I want to completely become one with the page – my headphones are the resource I utilize first.  There is something about the lull of music that makes the writing process easier, allowing my imagination to soar and dive and rise again.  Of course, I can’t write to just any music; I can’t, for instance, lose myself in prose if the music has lyrics.  Words from other sources invariably conflict with my own (although I have been known to play Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” from time to time and it hasn’t unduly affected my output).

Classical music works, too, particularly from the Russian masters of the 20th century.  I’m speaking now of Prokofiev and Shostakovich primarily.  But perhaps some of you already know what these two geniuses have in common…?  The answer is that in addition to symphonies, concerti, and oratorios they also wrote soundtracks for Soviet films.  Prokofiev’s music from “Alexander Nevsky” has in fact become a concert staple, though it was first written as an accompaniment to Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 film masterpiece.

My first choice for music that helps me to write is always movie soundtracks.  They are always highly colored, they run the gamut of emotions, and are written to go under a scene, to punctuate the film’s intent, as well as to make clear what at times the dialog and action cannot.

My first choice is always the music of Alex North.  His magnificent score for Cleopatra – which was released in its entirety about a decade ago – will instantly put me into the writing mode.  As the playwright Arthur Miller once said, “Alex North can break your heart in three notes.”  What’s also interesting is the fact that North studied under Prokofiev when he went to the USSR in the thirties.  At times he is jarringly dissonant, at other times lyrical.  But he never becomes sentimental or gauche; his supreme intelligence always shines through.  His music is everything I want to accomplish with my prose.  I’ve written many a page to his wonderful music, and I heartily encourage you to listen to all his works.  Perhaps you’ll be inspired, too.

In fact, one of my favorite tasks at the beginning of every new novel – a task that I liken to hurling myself down a well and painfully climbing back up to the light again – is to choose the novel’s music.  Each new work has its own primary background music (though I mix it up with others.)  Lately, the music of the Italian composer, Ennio Morricone, has come to my aid.  Though he’s mainly known as the composer of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, he is easily as insightful and intelligent as Alex North.  For my latest novel, The Chronicles of the Sanguivorous, I have chosen his score for Franco Zeffirelli’s “Hamlet”, which starred Mel Gibson and Glenn Close.  It’s reliance on folk song motifs is both haunting and tragic, particularly in the music he has composed for Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s themes.  The music seems to fit the hunter and gatherer culture which I depict at the beginning of the novel, for it is both simple and rural at the same time.  Another of his scores, the one for “Days of Heaven” is another great score which accompanies my forays on the keyboard.

So what music inspires you to write?  Send me your own suggestions, because I’m always desperate to discover ways to make it easier.  I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.

18 Responses to “Background Music–Inspiration for Writing”

  1. Vikki (The View Outside) April 13, 2012 at 12:08 am #

    I have to have total silence when I write. I just wish I could use music to inspire me *deep sigh*


  2. Dawn Pisturino April 13, 2012 at 12:36 am #

    It depends on what mood I’m in and what I’m trying to write. It could be anything from acid rock to classical opera.

    • Brad Geagley April 15, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      Opera?! That would drive all my words away! Now, mayber the overtures…

  3. fooddrinkandbooks April 13, 2012 at 2:00 am #

    Was it Morricone who scored ‘The Mission’? That is a beautiful soundtrack to listen to.

    • Brad Geagley April 15, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      Yep – another fab score by the fab Mr. Morricone. I don’t have it, though – I should get it again. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Kate Terence April 13, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    Lovely article,Brad, I always head towards any Rachmaninoff and John Barry, of course, in reference to the cinematic way of writing. You made me look forward to sitting down and getting on with my novel, thank you, Kate x

    • Brad Geagley April 15, 2012 at 9:37 am #

      Ah, yes – I forgot to mention the sublime John Barry. His “Lion in Winter” is one of my all time favorite scores.

  5. Candice Nolan April 13, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    I can listen to anything -thrash metal to soft rock, if just fills the space in my head that makes me get distracted so I can get on with writing !

  6. Fay Moore April 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    No suggestions for you now. I have to ponder that one. I use music a bit differently: I use it to energize me when house cleaning. The more that needs done, the harder the beat and the louder the music needs to be. I painted a boring hallway once to the sounds of Kid Rock. Being a “Cowboy, Baby” got me through a tedious job. I usually write in silence — it let’s me hear the characters speak. I’ll have to try music. Maybe they’ll dance through every chapter. . . .

    • Brad Geagley April 15, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      Well it works for me. And being an historical/mystery writer, my characters usually murder their way through every chapter. Thanks for writing!

  7. rayworth1973 April 13, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    I usually don’t when I’m writing because my wife has the TV on in the other room. However, lots of music has inspired me. Though I’m 60, the music I listen to is not always what most my age might consider music. Death metal, heavy metal, hard rock usually. However, I grew up on acid rock and psychedelic. I have a lot of that in my head. It is always either playing there or on CD, LP or on the XM radio. Clear Light, Lothar and the Hand People, Bubble Puppy, Blue Cheer, original Alice Cooper band, Fever Tree, Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart, The Frost, early Grand Funk (before they sucked), just to name a few from the early days. Bolt Thrower, Celtic Frost, Cannibal Corpse, Nightwish, Finntroll, Cradle of Filth, Venom, Bathory, Motorhead, Carpathian Forest from more modern era. Those bands and many more provide my soundtracks. I’ve skipped so many I can’t possibley do this justice.

    • Brad Geagley April 15, 2012 at 9:35 am #

      Wow, seeing this prompts a confession. We’re the same age but even when I was young I rarely went in for rock music – I was hooked on soundtracks even then! (I grew up in Nerdville, if you haven’t noticed.)

  8. rayworth1973 April 15, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    The only soundtracks I remember listening to were the music from Zorro and A Hard Days Night. No problem though. We all have out individual tastes. My wife and I like a lot of the same music, but out tastes still diverge at a certain point!

  9. christieadams23 April 15, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    You really hit a note (Sorry couldn’t resist it!) with me…I can only write with music playing, and as you say I much prefer the ”non lyrics” variety when trying to immerse myself in a larger word count…thank youfor dropping by our blog too

    • Brad Geagley April 16, 2012 at 8:20 am #

      What kind of music do you listen to…? (And you’re welcome. Thanks for dropping by mine.)

  10. nrpramik April 18, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    Listening to music actually helps me no matter what I’m writing. Call me crazy but I actually create playlists on my iPod (a writer’s best friend!), calling them after the novel/story I’m working on. I fill it with usually lyrical music that either inspired a certain character/scene or seems to fit with a certain character or central theme. Most of my playlists contain hundreds of songs, all mixed in genre (except for country, which I detest). I do occasionally borrow from movie scores but I actually like it better when I hear a song, think “That sounds like something *[a character] would say/do,” and then into the playlist it goes. For the record, British alternative, rock, and trance are my genres of choice. Great post! By the way, I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award: 🙂

  11. Owen & Diana April 18, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    Last of the Mohicans OST for serious writing. For comedy writing, cheesy pop usually works.

  12. Shannon April 27, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    I love to listen to jazz music when I write: John Coltrane’s Ballads, Love Supreme, Blue Train, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, and just about anything by Wynton Marsalis.

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