Sounds of the Soul

Sounds of the Soul

I’ve always needed noise in the background. There are rare occasions when I prefer silence, if I can get it, but I’ve always found music best way to block out the buzz of life. Not only does music sharpen my focus, it inspires me. Random song lyrics trigger character or plot ideas. Epic background music paints vivid pictures in my brain. As with pens and pencils, different music serves different purposes. The right tool for the right job. Here are my favorite ‘types’ of music and the way I use them when I’m writing.

Epic Orchestral
When I use it: While writing and editing.

This category includes anything from classical orchestral music to modern rock arrangements of traditional classics (Vivaldi, Beethoven, Pachelbel’s Canon). It also includes modern music arrangements that either don’t include lyrics or include an epic choir which sings in another language (usually Latin). Most of this music is composed for the background of movie trailers and there’s a ready source of it here. Sometimes this also includes soundtracks of movie background music.

Music of this kind is a relatively new discovery for me. It’s useful because the people who composed the music already intended to paint a certain type of picture in your head, especially in the case of movie background music. I like to find music for trailers and movies I haven’t seen, so I can paint my own picture while I listen. They’re great for battle or action scenes where your characters are moving and the dramatic tension is high. Best of all, the lack of lyrics doesn’t distract me from what I’m doing. I’m usually okay with writing and editing through songs with non-English lyrics, but English lyrics occasionally steal my focus, especially while I’m editing.

Favorite Groups: E.S. Posthumus, Immediate Music, Two Steps From Hell

Heavy Metal
When I use it: Inspiration, planning, outlining and sometimes while writing.

Any fan of metal knows there are different types (there was actually a quiz floating around for this at one point). There are types of metal where people scream and growl through the whole thing. That isn’t the type I like. I prefer what fans refer to as “epic” metal. I like my metal to tell a story; and much heavy metal music is based on classic literature or built around the concept of an epic fantasy or sci-fi story the band wishes to tell. The type of metal I like often includes a heavy instrumental cascade for the background, lyrics which tell a story and a decent singer. (Iron Maiden’s lead singer is exceptionally phenomenal, as are the vocals for Demons and Wizards). I’m okay with a little yelling and not all that great singing, as long as the ‘singers’ aren’t howling. I have a soft spot for metal which includes an epic chorus for background vocals.

Ironically, heavy metal is the genre I listen to most frequently. When I was young, I hated it. I suppose I was one of those people under the mistaken impression that metal music had a lot to do with anarchy and devil worship. My husband used to listen to Iron Maiden in the car every time he drove me around (back when we were still dating) and one of their songs interested me every time it played. Pretty soon I was listening to entire Maiden albums and picking out which novels they were based on (Brave New World, Out of the Silent Planet, Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner) so that I can read them (to better understand the songs, of course). Like a gateway drug, Iron Maiden opened the door for me discovering other heavy metal bands. I’ve found entire albums devoted to The Lord of the Rings (Running Wild) and also the Dark Tower Series (Demons and Wizards).

Unfortunately, while metal music often sets the scene for what I’m trying to write, the lyrics can be distracting, especially since half my love of the genre comes from the creative and interesting lyrics. While I often listen to metal during the planning stages, I don’t always listen to it when I’m writing, unless it uniquely suits a particular scene.

Favorite Groups: Iron Maiden, Iron Savior, Running Wild, Rhapsody, Demons and Wizards

Hard Rock
When I use it: Inspiration, planning, outlining and sometimes while writing.

Hard Rock is a musical genre I’ve listened to all my life. Bon Jovi and Meat Loaf were among the first CDs I ever owned. I don’t want to start an argument over musical classification (some of Bon Jovi’s early albums were classified as Heavy Metal when they were sold in stores, though many metal fans reject that classification, and I’d agree, they’re on a different level). Heavy metal has this epic sense to it, the overpowering drive of guitar and drums. It’s a wall of music, it’s hard and heavy, that’s where it gets its name. Hard Rock, on the other hand, has the power ballad. The songs are most often about love, romance or just plain sex, and also often include drinking and getting into trouble. But it’s ‘softer’ and and ‘easier’ on the listener. Also hard rock tends to feature talented vocals, which is not always a requirement for heavy metal.

But I digress. This was the music I grew up on. The songs we blared at our high school dances. The songs we turned up and stood on the bed and belted out at sleep overs. The songs which played at my wedding. And when I listen to these songs now, a lot of them suit my characters or situations I want to put my characters in. So like metal, I listen to it a lot during the planning and outlining stages. It’s rarer for me to listen to this type of music when I write, but I do tend to pull it out for romance scenes or anything particularly emotionally gut-wrenching (this genre is good for that).

Favorite Groups: Bon Jovi, Meat Loaf, Matchbox 20, Guns’n’Roses, Evanescence

Nostalgic 80’s
When I use it: Inspiration and planning, sometimes before writing to get me in the mood.

I was born halfway through the 80’s; I’ve listened to its music all my life. I should have been born sooner, so I could enjoy the 80’s properly. There are times when I like to look up old 80’s music videos on Youtube just to laugh at the hair and the way they dressed. My the 80’s were an interesting and special time. There’s a lot of nostalgia in this music for me. I used to fall asleep listening to the radio as a kid. A lot of times I’ll locate an old song, not recognize the title, but realize I recognize it after listening to a few bars.

All forms of music inspire me, but for some reason I turn to these nostalgic tunes whenever I want to get in the mood for writing. If I’m feeling a bit low on motivation or feeling I might give in to the temptation to slack, I’ll flip open youtube and watch a few old 80’s music videos to put me in the creative mood. Of course I have to be careful it doesn’t backfire… then I end up on an hour long trip down memory lane…

Favorite Groups: Styx, Duran Duran, Genesis, Billy Joel, Journey

Character Lists
When I use it: Inspiration, planning, outlining and sometimes while writing.

This is less a type of music and more a way that I organize music for myself. I have a lot of playlists, partly because I create one for each of my major characters. Some of them have grown quite extensive soundtracks over the years. The purpose here is pretty obvious; whenever I’m brainstorming or writing for a certain character, I flip on their soundtrack to inspire me or set the mood for the particular scene I plan to write. This is most often when I listen to music with lyrics while writing, because the lyrics actually help me focus on the emotions I’m trying to express. These lists tend to be pretty varied, especially depending on the character. Often if I hear a song (new or old) and think it reminds me of a certain character, I’ll add it to their list the next time I turn it on. Sometimes songs are on multiple lists because every now and then a song will remind me of several of my characters (though usually in different ways).

It’s interesting how our inspiration becomes a tool of the creative process.

4 Replies to “Sounds of the Soul”

  1. I’m really happy to see E.S. Posthumus on your list. I’ve been a huge fan of their music for years now and was so sad to hear that Franz had passed away and there would be no more music. I have their Unearthed and Cartographer albums – I haven’t gotten my hands on Makara yet – but the two I have both have a permanent home in my CD player for writing purposes!

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