Mood music (to get you in the mood)

Anyone listen to music when writing? Maybe you put on a particular piece to get you in the right frame of mind. If so, what do you listen to?

As an example, at the minute I’m listening to Rubycon by Tangerine Dream. It’s pretty long, about 40 minutes in length, and has a weird, creepy, sci-fi vibe to it. It fits with what I’m writing at the moment.

I’m interested if any of you listen to classical music, and use that when writing? And also if there’s anything you can recommend for a particular mood.

Film or film-ish music for me, Zimmer and Vangelis particularly. Or classical: Sibelius for the climaxes, Prokofiev for drama, Gorecki for the (very) downbeat parts and the Russians for romance (natch). All at just above comprehension volume.

I try to avoid words, on the grounds of distraction, although a quick burst of Billie the Vision and the Dancers at the end of a session is a great pick-me-up.


I always write with music, at least to get me in a mood. I don’t chop and change tracks either, so particular tracks will always remain associated with particular scenes or characters.

My current 2nd-draft novel follows a 15 year old girl on a road trip across post-apocalyptic Japan. Her soundtrack consists of angsty pop and trip-hop, while she herself listens to sugary-pop from a Japanese band called “Capsule” (check them out, they’re pretty good). The opening of the novel was written to Hybrid Sound System (specifically the track “Blackout”) and a new artist called Juliet (I don’t think her album is out yet).

My other 500-page work-in-progress would have a thumping soundtrack (it’s pure hip-cyberpunk - if it were a film, it’d be an anime!), I think… but I’ve not settled on thematic music yet.

I’m a big fan of Hybrids electronic film soundtracks, but I’m a sucker for ‘big’ John Williams/Danny Elfman pieces too.

I listen to one of four things while writing: Mogwai (or post-rock, generally), Sigur Ros, instrumental jazz or occasionally classical (preferably choral) music.

I like the way sound shuts out the outside world, but I need it to have no discernible lyrics. I tried writing to trance (160 bpm) but it’s hard to stay focused at that level.

Very close to my own choices. I’d add the Bach cello suites for deep introspection, and one of the Kodaly folk-dance collections for quick burst of energy. And if I really need to rattle the walls to wake up in the morning, the Dies Irae from Verd’s Requiem. [Caution: not to be used if neighbors are not already awake.]


I’m much the same. I listen with music with lyrics before I write, to get me in the ‘right’ writing mood. When I’m actually writing, I’d find lyrics far too distracting. I can’t write in a room with a TV on, for example, even if I can’t see the screen.

Most music just demands too much of my attention for it to aid productivity. It’s very potent. The first ten seconds of Rach’s 3rd piano concerto will pitch me into another universe. So I generally only listen to it as a sole activity. I pull out my headphones, turn off the lights, maybe inhale, and disappear for an hour or two into a sonic world.

But sometimes the world can be loud and distracting—so I’ll put on some stuff in the background. Post-rock is good, as long as it isn’t too epic, which rules out Godspeed and Evpatoria Report, or I’ll just end up blissfully staring into space for sixty minutes. Generally I do not like lyrics to be sung while writing, but I do make one exception to that with Coil, a genre-defying experimental group that is sadly no longer producing material since the death of the lead. Most often I listen to very subtle “lowercase” as they call it, which often resembles very soft field recordings or structureless ambient drones. It’s good for blocking out the background without being too demanding. When I need a boost, ¡¡NOISE!! (you can’t just say that word, it must be at 105 decibels), from the likes of Merzbow, Daniel Menche, and Aube.

My wife has hooked me on video game music for writing, particularly from Shin Megami Tensei games like the Persona series and DIgital Devil Saga, but also some from the Xeno Saga and Suikoden series, and the various FInal Fantasy games. The instrumentals are generally specifically designed to set a mood without being overly distracting, and I’m right there with most people on the no discernable lyrics front, so it helps that many of the lyrics to the non-instrumentals are in Japanese.

I mean, put on some Ramones or Ida Maria or some Combichrist (excellent industrial band) and I may be just a tad bit distracted singing along to “Beat on the Brat,” or “This S*** Will F*** You Up.”

I generally prefer it at very low volume, too. Our parakeets also provide some nice background noise to write by with their wide range of vocalizations, most of them soft. As long as the cockatiel doesn’t chime in with, “LOVE ME!” every two seconds for an hour and a half. (Actually it’s just “peep,” but that’s how I interpret it. She has the run of the living room, but usually prefers to be on one of our shoulders preening us, or receiving scritches about the head and face–Unless I’m typing, in which case she must, must, must perch on my hands or walk on my track pad and keyboard.)

Oh, and we also have an upstairs neighbor who’s quite a good quitarist and who provides a nice instrumental soundtrack. Our upstairs neighbor before him was a harpist. We leave the windows open in the summer to hear them better unless it gets just unbearably hot. The joke in Lawrence is that it’s not really part of Kansas, and that to find the number of bands here, you take the population and divide by four.

And I’m procrastinating, huh?

I’ll put something on as noise canceling, but not classical. I tend to focus on the music too much (especially if the conductor does something that isn’t in the score or the performance is bad.) As to what, anything but country. :wink:

SMT/Persona/Digital Devil Saga are great games. I should actually finish Persona 2 one of these days…

NIN’s “Ghosts I-IV” has been getting a lot of playtime lately. Freaking brilliant album.

Amen. (Or as we Pastafarian BSG fans say, “RAmen, and So Say We All.”) There are a few country artists I like, but those are mostly old-school or old-school-sounding ones, like Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakum, and so on. And although I don’t know as much as I’d like about classical, if I put on something like, say, Fur Elise (complete with the umlaut I’m missing here), I’ll get lost in that instead of writing.

The only console RPGs I have so far completed (or even really played) are Persona 3 and Dragonquest 8. I mostly watch my wife play, largely because I know that when I do play, I end up spending waaaaaay too much time on the controller.

I’ll have to check out Ghosts. Pretty Hate Machine is still my favorite NIN album to date. What kind of music do you compose?

Okay, old country I can deal with. New stuff doesn’t do anything for me. And old country has a really interesting history, since a lot of songs can be traced back to folk music in England/Ireland/Scotland. If memory serves, the Lomaxes found purer forms of songs in Appalachia than in modern-day England. I wrote a blog post awhile ago connecting Johnny Cash to the Dropkick Murphys for my nieces.

I’ve composed just about everything. I got my start in jazz, but did straight-up classical for my Master’s. I got heavily into computer music for my doctorate, which is where I’m more active now. (I primarily use csound and LISP to program in.)

Yeah, without traditional music from the British Isles, there’d be no such thing as country, nor, by extension, any of the genres it influenced. Including rap. I maintain that rap is the direct descendent of square-dance music. “Grab your partner, do-see-do, pop a cap right in that ho’…”

Overall, although I am of course more partial to some genres over others, so far I haven’t been able to discount any of them completely. Sure, I’m partial to bands like Huffamoose, David Bowie, The Replacements, and the Psychedelic Furs, but I’ve also got Weird Al, Duke Ellington, Billy Holiday, The Dust Rhinos, and some trip-hop like Supreme Beings of Leisure in my playlist (which reminds me–The English theme to DDS2 is an awesome trip-hop tune). Oh, and when Lucia Popp(sp) sings that one piece from The Magic Flute it gives me goose bumps.

Have any links to any publicly-available samples of your work that you’re especially proud of? I tried my hand at being a musician and writing collaboratively with a band (“composing” is probably too dignified a term for what we did–My own contributions sometimes had more in common with composting.) for a while, and still occasionally force my friends to listen to old clips, so I figure that someone who actually makes their living at it might have the odd link floating around, as well.

Asserting this in a public place will get you shot from both ends of the family tree.

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Writing music’s like writing prose. Just got to do it to get better. (I write prose as a fun thing…I find writing something I don’t care about helps me from getting creatively constipated.) Or as Wuorinen said, you have to write about 30 years’ worth of shit before you produce anything good.

I’m not sure rap/hip-hop has anything in common with folk music? I was under the impression they think it’s from West African music by way of reggae and disco. The political influences on each are pretty distinct, as well. (hip hop used to be more about politics than bling.)

I find music way too distracting when I’m doing anything that requires concentration. Maybe it’s the way my brain’s wired, but when music’s playing, I have to listen to it.

Mahler used to write his magnificent symphonies in a hut in the middle of nowhere, and had to silence the bells on the nearby cows so he wouldn’t be distracted!

The only music I might consider while writing would be something minimalist, like Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians. Even then I’d probably get caught up in its ever-changing patterns of sound and rhythm!

Melbourne, Australia

I prefer instrumental music when doing any major writing. However, sometimes I tune into anything by the group Muse (the irony - I know) or other alternative groups with funky beats. I’ve been known to listen to some classic Broadway tunes. Seems my music choices are all over the place much like my writing!

Welcome aboard the leaky, creaky old pirate ship, Scrivener.
With a moniker like WifeyWoman, you’re obviously an arch feminist , like myself (human in your case, feline in mine), and a good thing too, given that the male members of the crew are mostly (RMCDOMs), rampant male chauvinists and/or dirty old men.

As for mood music, the sound that inspires me to greatness, is the sound of my human RMCDOM preparing my, Poisson dans le Plat (Fishy-in-the-Dishy), it’s his only redeeming quality.
Take care WifeyWoman

I’ve recently become a fan of Disquiet, a blog that features ambient and electronic music daily. Lots of great field recordings that provide a great background. In a similar vein, I love Philip Glass’ solo piano works, which are minimal yet powerful.

I’ve also been a fan of soundtracks my entire life, so anything that is BPM-appropriate generally suits my workflow. Williams, Shore, Horner, Zimmer, and O’Donnell/Salvatori are some of my favorite composers. Star Wars, LotR, Avatar, Inception, and anything from the Halo universe makes up my usual playlist. Add a dash of Harry Potter and music from Braid for flavor. I could go on and on. My final thought is that I also love Celtic music of all kinds, and love me a good Pandora station with lots of fiddles and bagpipes.

For the same reasons many others have stated here, anything with lyrics (or words in general) is out. The day I find a way to write and listen to podcasts at the same time (because podcasts are the medium of choice of many of my favorite writers), I’ll be in heaven.

Until then, the music I listen to while writing must be very good at being loud without being overwhelming. Somebody suggested Zimmer and Vangelis. Those definitely work. But lately, I’ve found myself going back over and over again to this one album I have, called Duo. It’s by a Belgian artist named Didier François, who plays a traditional Swedish instrument called a nyckelharpa. If anyone is curious, you can check him out, sample some of his music, and maybe even buy his music online, at

I tend to find one piece of music and loop it endlessly, until I can’t even hear it properly anymore. At the moment, it’s Bear McCreary’s “Passacaglia” from Battlestar Galactica. For me, this thread might also be titled “How To Absolutely Ruin Music You Love.”