Writing Soundtracks

Most of you out there know that, aside from being a writer, I’m an incurable music fan.  Not a day goes by where I’m not listening to some radio station or some new album I downloaded that week.  I laugh at polls that ask if I listen to music more than a few hours a day–it’s more like all day long.

This includes my writing time.  I’m one of those writers who prefers to have some sort of music going while I’m writing.  What I listen to actually boils down to whatever project I happen to be working on.  I’m currently working on Walk in Silence, so the music of choice has been strictly 80s alternative.  For the most part I’ve been listening to the 1st Wave channel on our Sirius XM setup, where Swedish Egil and Dave Kendall have been providing me with tasty retro goodness for the last few months.  This is perfect for this first draft, as I’m not focusing too much on specific albums and songs at this time.  The second draft will focus more on that, so my soundtrack will focus more on my own mp3 collection.

The evening writing sessions down in the Belfry that produced The Phoenix Effect from 1997 to 1999 and the Bridgetown Trilogy from 2000 to 2004 had their own expanding soundtrack; the former contained a high amount of the free cds I got when I worked at HMV, and the later contained many of the titles I bought during my weekly journeys to Newbury Comics back when it was in Amherst.

Was the writing influenced by the music I bought?  Well, yes and no.  I didn’t go out of my way to look for the perfect song that would fit a specific scene, nor was I writing and editing a scene to a specific song in a Miami Vice-like manner.  I’d grown out of that habit a long time ago.  I merely found myself gravitating towards the moods the music created when I listened to them, and used that as a mental anchor when I needed it.

When I was writing a number of scenes that needed personal and emotional tension, I would often throw on Dishwalla’s And You Think You Know What Life’s About.  If it was an epic action scene, it would be Failure’s Fantastic Planet.  Global Communication’s two albums 76:14 and Pentamerous Metamorphosis fit the bill perfectly when I was writing about the world of Trisanda.  Trip-hop like Massive Attack and Sneaker Pimps worked good when I was writing about the seedier areas of Bridgetown.  I also had certain go-to bands whose entire discography worked, like Porcupine Tree.

I always made a conscious effort never to let the music interfere with the story; I tried not to write scenes that lost their energy when the music wasn’t playing.  If anything, the music served as an anchor, giving  me something to focus on, something to aim for.  Failure’s epic album closer “Daylight” served as the audio anchor for the final scene in A Division of Souls–I needed something desperate and angry and with a hint of fear that would mirror what was going on during those final pages, and I think that it paid off.

Now that I’m working on a project that’s specifically about music, I have every reason to listen to whatever I like.  Whatever my next writing project is, will I have the same listening habits during my writing sessions?  Who knows, but I’m pretty sure something will be playing.

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