Do you like to listen to music while you write? I know some find it simply too distracting, while others need some background noise in order to focus. I’ve even come across folk who like to write in loud, busy environments like coffee shops or trains or planes, but I can’t imagine trying to concentrate with other people’s conversations going on around me. Personally, I do like a touch of music when I’m writing, but not while I’m editing. When editing, I need to completely focus on the words, and I find music, particularly music with lyrics, stops me from taking in every sentence and analysing it to the nth degree to check that it reads right.
When I’m hammering out a first draft, however, I love having music on. I find that it helps me to maintain momentum, and it shuts out distractions that would take me away from the world or characters I’m building. It needs to be very specific music, though; relaxed, but with a constant rhythm that matches the flow of my typing. I don’t mind lyrics, but I find it easier if they’re lyrics I already know so that my brain doesn’t strain to understand verses and choruses that are new to my ears.
I’ve found myself coming back to the same few albums, time and time again, when I want to blast some music while I write. I’ve created a Spotify playlist for them just in case anyone is looking for some new soundtrack inspiration for their own writing time. And, because I’m a bit of a nerd who likes to write about her favourite music at any opportunity, I’ll give a quick rundown/review of each album.
Aventine, Agnes Obel
Agnes Obel’s music is hauntingly beautiful. It features pretty but ominous piano and delicate vocals which make the hairs on your arms on end. Each track makes you feel a lot of feels – sad, hopeful, nervous, soothed – all of it, all at once. I love this album for moments when I’m writing sad or poignant scenes and need to melt my icy heart just enough to let some emotions come out. (Y’know, I say this, but I’m actually a highly sensitive emotional wreck who is almost always a few seconds away from crying, whether through happiness or sadness or anger or… literally any emotion. But I guess this music kind of helps me to control my emotion into some kind of semblance?) ‘Dorian’ from this album was featured in last week’s Stories that Sing, so maybe go and read that to see what weird stuff my imagination conjured up from Agnes’ gorgeous music.
Endtroducing, DJ Shadow
This album is perfect for moments when you have a bunch of ideas floating around in your head and you need to get them out as quickly as possible before you forget them. It’s upbeat but atmospheric and with steady, catchy drumbeats to help you type away like a madwoman. I’ve listed to this album so much while writing that it now gets me in the headspace for writing, so if I’m feeling uninspired I’ll whack up the volume, having a tiny (terrible) dance, then crack on with some manic writing.
Turn Blue, The Black Keys
I’ve been a Black Keys fan for 10 years (wow, that makes me feel old), and personally I always loved their older stuff; the raw, basic, unapologetically heavy blues rock from their Thickfreakness era. Their later stuff – El Camino and Brothers – I enjoyed but didn’t love. Until Turn Blue came along. It’s chilled, but it has so much feeling, probably due to Dan Auerbach’s slinky, bluesy vocals. The whole album flows so smoothly that it’s like a journey. It’s whimsy and beautiful and it’s like being wrapped up in a big, musical hug of happiness. I don’t know why exactly I love to listen to this album when writing, but I think it’s because it’s amazing background music, but also perfect for a little singsong when you need a short break from the type-type-typing. I just love it. The Black Keys are one of my all-time bands and this album is perfect.
Lonerism, Tame Impala
Now, I could listen to pretty much any Tame Impala album when I write, but there’s something about ‘Be Above It’, the opening track on Lonerism, that pumps you up and makes you ready to GET THAT SHIT WRITTEN DOWN. And the lyrics are very apt. “And I know that I gotta be above it now / And I know that I can’t let them bring me down.” For me, “them” are the dumb thoughts in my head that question my ambitions to write and make me think I’m useless. I’m not gonna make this all mushy and sentimental, but that song – the whole album – just peps me and makes me want to do my thing. Plus, when I feel like stretching my legs, I can just get up and dance. With the curtains drawn, naturally, so my neighbours don’t see. You can’t help but dance when Tame Impala are playing, right?
II, Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Sticking with the theme of cool Australian psych-rock bands, I can’t ignore Unknown Mortal Orchestra, particularly II. I love this album because its lyrics are so painfully melancholy, but the music is so insistently cheerful. I haven’t really blogged about my mental health at all and this isn’t the time to get into it, but let’s just say it’s always been rocky (understatement of a lifetime). This album is for the days where I’m all like: “Haha, I’m so depressed it’s almost funny, but it’s okay! It’s all okay. This will pass.” For writing, it’s that same thing of being chilled out but upbeat and it lets me bop along while bashing out a few thousand words like its nothing and like I’m not crippled with self-hatred and loathing 89% of the time.
This album is moody and atmospheric, it’s got some catchy tracks that make you want to move, and offers vocals that give me goosebumps from time to time. It’s just… it’s… I love this album. The opener, ‘3WW’, puts me in the frame of mind for writing those surreal, magical, fairytale kind of scene. Then by the time ‘Deadcrush’ comes around I’m just totally in the writing flow and loving life. And, obviously, singing those really high “You’re my Dee-ee-ee C oh Leeee oooh” parts really obnoxiously and making dogs bark for miles around.
The Seldom Seen Kid, Elbow
I couldn’t do a writing playlist without including Elbow, but to be honest any Elbow album would do. Elbow need no introduction, right? Beautiful songs, beautiful lyrics, beautiful everything. Guy Garvey’s voice instils a bizarre sense of calm in me, which is something I need in my life a lot. Seldom Seen Kid is probably my favourite album of theirs because it was my introduction to Elbow. Plus, it always reminds me of my Dad and makes me picture him cheering on my writing ambitions, glass of whiskey in hand, from whatever weird afterlife he’s hanging around in.
Melody AM, Röyksopp
Barely any lyrics, repetitive beats, catchy melodies, ooh-ing and ah-ing bits to sing along with – you couldn’t get a better album to listen to when writing. That’s all I really have to say about it. If you’re new to Röyksopp, you’ll probably recognise many of the tracks from this album from a tonne of fancy car adverts and moody documentaries. It’s just great.
Liquid Skin, Gomez
I’m going to see Gomez live in April and I couldn’t be happier about it. Liquid Skin was the soundtrack to my long days in the library at university, and it will always remain an album I throw on in the background while I’m trying to block out other noise and focus on writing. It’s cheerful, hopeful, heart-warming and relaxing. It’s a big bowl of tomato soup on a cold day. Comfort music. I mean, almost every Gomez album is comfort music for me, but Liquid Skin just wins out, if for nothing more than hearing Ben Ottewell’s gravelly screaming of “BLUE MOON RIIISING” which, yes, is another part I like to sing aloud and torture the neighbourhood dogs with.
Check out the full playlist
So, there we have it. Listen to the full playlist if you fancy, or if you think my taste in music is pure trash… well, that’s just like, your opinion, man. But tell me in the comments and give me some suggestions! My ears are always open for new music.