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Fun Friday: Music to Write By

Friday, October 15, 2010

I can’t stand absolute quiet. You see, I have a constant high-pitched whistle/ringing in my ears which, when there is no other noise to offset it, drives me to the brink of psychosis. So I like to have music playing when I’m working—and even at night when I’m sleeping (that started back when I lived in a duplex with noisy neighbors who were up at all hours of the night and I needed something to drown them out).

However, I get easily distracted. So my “working music” is all instrumental.

I grew up with a father who loves classical music, so I do, too. But even though I love Bach and Beethoven and Vivaldi and Schubert and Brahms and Chopin and Mozart and find that kind of music relaxing, it doesn’t quite hit all the right notes for me when it comes to music to write (or edit) by.

Stand-In Groom
My first experience with using specific music for inspiration when writing came when I was writing Stand-In Groom, which should come as no surprise, as music plays such a large role in the book. In fact, a couple of years ago, when I did my 500th Blog Post contest, one of the prizes I gave away was a CD I made of all of the songs I mentioned in the book. This book is the only one which truly has its own soundtrack, separate from everything else I’ve written:
Ain’t That a Kick in the Head—Dean Martin
Mona Lisa—Nat “King” Cole
The Coffee Song—Frank Sinatra
Memories Are Made of This—Dean Martin
Come Fly with Me—Frank Sinatra
Volare—Dean Martin
Unforgettable—Nat “King” Cole
I’ve Got You Under My Skin—Frank Sinatra
I Can’t Give You Anything but Love—Dean Martin
It Had to Be You—Harry Connick Jr.
I Get a Kick out of You—Frank Sinatra
That’s Amore—Dean Martin
Someone to Watch Over Me—Frank Sinatra
Return to Me—Dean Martin

Menu for Romance and A Case for Love
Music takes a backseat to the movies of John Wayne in Menu for Romance, though there are a couple of songs I do mention specifically in the book:
True Love, as sung by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in the movie High Society, which is the song for Anne and George’s first dance at their reception. (They all also dance to “That’s Amore” and “It Had to Be You.”)
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, the theme song from the John Wayne movie by the same name, taken from a Civil War era marching song.

In A Case for Love, whenever I needed music to transport me into the story, it was usually waltz music or clips of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing.

What I did listen to while writing these books was a playlist of some of my most favorite instrumental music in the world: movie soundtracks. Some of my favorites:

I think one of the reasons soundtracks work better for me than classical music is because there’s emotion tied to this music—even if just on a subconscious level. When done right, music and story go hand-in-hand, and even though most of these soundtracks have absolutely nothing to do with the type of stories I write, the emotional resonance is the same.

The Ransome Trilogy
But when working on the Ransome Trilogy, I realized that not only could I find music with emotional resonance for what the characters are going through in the story, I could actually target those emotions with music that called to mind images of ships and the ocean and sea-faring adventure and men in Royal Navy uniforms or pirate costumes. So I came up with a playlist of soundtracks specifically for the Ransome series (and the best thing about Amazon’s MP3 download store is that I could pick and choose just the tracks I wanted):

The Matchmakers
While I pretty much just have my Soundtracks playlist running as I’m writing these days (and the above is by no means an exhaustive list, just prime examples), I did add a couple of soundtracks when writing Love Remains, based on Zarah’s love of Civil War/American history (in fact, I even mention track #28 of The Civil War in the book!):

Do you like to work to music? Do you find certain types of music help you with certain tasks?

  1. Friday, October 15, 2010 5:51 am

    Kaye, you always have the coolest, most interesting posts…with lots of great pictures! I have trouble listening to music with words while I write, so I listen to alot of classical music. I have found that Il Divo works for me, since the words are in other languages. That’s not distracting…though picturing them singing is very distracting for me! lol

    I found Pandora this summer, so I’ve been creating lots of different types of stations. Here’s a few of mine:
    Il Divo
    Natasha Bedingfield
    Carrie Underwood
    Epic Soundtracks
    Corinne Bailey Rae
    Thriller (MJ songs)
    Explosions in the Sky

    It’s a great way to listen to similar types of songs. And it’s FREE! 🙂


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 11:59 am

      (See my full comment below about Pandora).

      I have discovered that it’s a decent place to go sample new-to-me artists to get more than the 30-second clip they usually have on Amazon.

      I do have a “1980s Memories” station that works pretty well for me because that’s not so much about hearing a few particular artists but the sound of the 1980s music that I want to hear. (Air Supply, Bon Jovi, Journey, Queen, Robert Palmer, Hewy Lewis & the News, Bryan Adams, REO Speedwagon, etc.)


  2. Debra E. Marvin permalink
    Friday, October 15, 2010 6:47 am

    I really appreciate your list of soundtracks. I’ll have to make note of them. What’s really worked for me is Pandora. I put in a couple suggestions (started with the composer for the Keira Knightley P&P), and it starts to suggest tracks for me. I give a thumbs up if I really like it or a thumbs down if I don’t and Pandora continues to adapt to my preferences. I do have to have instrumentals when I write and there are a myriad of amazing soundtracks that I’d have missed without this online service.

    My favorite soundtracks include Becoming Jane, Last of the Mohicans and Braveheart. The aforementioned P and P is probably number one.

    Hey, Thanks Kaye!

    Loved your mix for Stand In Groom! Ain’t that a kick in the pants?! So many of the chick flicks use songs from the 40s and 50s because of just such appeal.


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 12:03 pm

      They just don’t write love songs the way Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, etc., did back then . . . mostly because for the first half of the 20th century, that music was written for Broadway/stage plays or movies, so they had to help tell the story. And they just had a way with words/turns of phrase that have become part of our vernacular (and the lyrics were clean—though occasionally suggestive—and, pretty much no matter who was singing it, you could still understand all the words).


  3. Friday, October 15, 2010 7:13 am

    Don’t leave out claire de lune and Michael Buble, 🙂 I love this music as well. I have not ever worked while listening to it though. I will have to try this soon! I like Pandora, as Sherrinda and Debra have suggested, but again I have never tried to incorporate it with my work. I have stuck with the iTunes and iPod lately. I must expand my horizons. Thanks once again Kaye for sharing and inspiring.


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 12:05 pm

      I have a couple of Michael Buble songs. He gives a GREAT concert (I went with Ruth and another friend of hers a few years ago when he came to Nashville). But other than a few tracks, I’ve never really felt compelled to listen to his music (my favorites: “Save the Last Dance” and “That’s How it Goes”).


  4. Leah permalink
    Friday, October 15, 2010 8:46 am

    I love Pandora!
    I listen to it a lot when i’m on the computer for a while, when i’m painting, or writing.
    I also like to listen to my MP3 player.
    which has so many songs i don’t even listen to a quarter of them. i like classical and country and christian contemporary. I think my all time favorite is country though.


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 12:14 pm

      I grew up listening to country music—first groups like the Oak Ridge Boys and Statler Brothers, and the classic country musicians like Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, etc., because that’s what my parents listened to occasionally; then, once I could choose my own music, it was the current artists like George Strait, Randy Travis, Tricia Yearwood, Alabama, the Judds, Restless Heart, Sawyer Brown, Shenandoah, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

      Though I diversified what I was listening to in the late 1980s, and only listened to country music occasionally, I stopped listening to it completely in 2004, when Gretchen Wilson and the group known as the “Nashville Mafia” came onto the scene. I’d already started getting disillusioned with the themes and language in much of the music I was hearing, but they pretty much ruined it for me. Plus, now it doesn’t really sound much different than other pop music. Pretty much the only country musician I’ll listen to who wasn’t around in the 80s and 90s is Brad Paisley. LOVE his music!


  5. Friday, October 15, 2010 9:24 am

    I don’t write to music. I wear foam earplugs in a silent house when I write. There has to be zero intrusion, which makes for me being chained to my desktop, alas. But I do love to dream my stories and characters to music, usually while I’m in the car on a drive to or from the mountains. For that… usually an instrumental or music sung in a language I don’t speak (anything other than English). Movie soundtracks or Ken Burn’s documentary music is good for this. The soundtrack to Lewis & Clark is a favorite right now. I’m partial to Last of the Mohicans too.


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 12:17 pm

      See, if I were to wear ear plugs, all it would do is intensify the whistling/ringing in my ears. And I think my ear canals must be shaped funny. I’ve tried the foam ear plugs when I’m sharing a room with someone and trying to block out the snoring, but they won’t stay in no matter how hard I squoosh them down in there. So I take my earphones and leave my laptop on all night, playing music for me whenever I have to share a room with someone. (And when I’m traveling alone, I don’t bother with the ear phones, just leave the laptop on, playing music.)


  6. Friday, October 15, 2010 9:59 am

    Writing my WWII stories was fun to do with swing music (mostly instrumental). Funny, though, whenever I would put on Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman to help transport me back to that era, my characters would turn on the radio and/or start to jitterbug…


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 12:19 pm

      That’s kind of how the scene in Stand-In Groom developed where Anne and George dance to “That’s Amore.” I kept listening to Dean Martin over and over (and only had one or two CDs of his music then) and every time that song came on, I’d start waltzing around the room. So it seemed only fitting I’d have my characters, for whom he’s their favorite musician, do the same thing.


  7. Friday, October 15, 2010 10:46 am

    I found this post so interesting! I loved reading about the different music you listened to for each individual book.

    I usually have music playing throughout the day. Especially when I’m doing housework and need something to get me moving.

    The only time I usually turn the radio off is when I do my personal devotions and at dinner time. Both times I want to have my complete focus on what I’m doing.

    Have a great weekend!


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 12:20 pm

      I have music playing almost all day too. But there do come times when, no matter how soft or unobtrusive the music is, any kind of noise will hinder me from being able to focus.

      Of course, I’m the kind of person who has to turn the music in the car off when I’m trying to find an address when I’ve never been somewhere.


  8. Friday, October 15, 2010 10:48 am

    The P & P soundtrack is one of my favorites, in addition to the soundtracks from Far and Away and Forrest Gump. Oh, and when I want to listen to instrumental music not associated with a movie, I listen to Michael W. Smith’s instrumental CD called Freedom…excellent music! 🙂


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 12:22 pm

      I’m thinking my next soundtrack purchase is going to be The Young Victoria. It’s a little more classical than true soundtrack, but that’s okay, I still like it.

      That’ll be the interesting thing if my new historical proposal sells and I end up writing something set in 1851 in England. What music will I listen to?


      • Friday, October 15, 2010 6:10 pm

        Oooh. I haven’t looked for The Young Victoria Soundtrack yet. I keep looking for North and South with no luck. Let me know if any of you find it!


        • Friday, October 15, 2010 6:54 pm

          You can download the tracks from North & South here:

          Scroll down to the end of the list, where you’ll see North & South. Right click on the title of each song (I tried the “All Songs Download” which downloads as a Zipped–compressed–file, but my computer wouldn’t unzip it) and choose “Save Target As” (or “Save link as…” if you’re using Google Chrome instead of Internet Explorer, which I highly recommend doing).


  9. Friday, October 15, 2010 11:31 am

    I can’t listen to music while I’m writing, not so much because it distracts me (although that’s true somewhat), but because I really love my music and I like to concentrate on it when I listen. But I definitely gain inspiration from it, especially film soundtracks. I’ve often pictured a scene in my story playing out to a certain piece of film music. I wonder why soundtracks seem to do it for us more than just ordinary classical music? There isn’t that much difference. Maybe it’s because we subconsciously remember that film music was intended to underscore action in the first place.

    I scored a big hit with film music recently when I was trying to find an instrumental version of the Civil War song ‘Lorena’ (I’m writing a post-war historical novel). I found a suite from an obscure TV adaptation of Mark Twain’s story ‘The Private History of a Campaign That Failed,’ and it was so perfect it might as well have been the score for a film adaptation of my novel! The different cues and themes suited my characters and the subject matter perfectly.


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 12:24 pm

      That’s what I meant when I said there’s more emotional resonance tied to soundtrack music than classical music—we like the music because it reminds us of the story that made us feel a certain emotion. (“Nearer My God to Thee” from the Back to Titanic soundtrack plays in the background as I type this—talk about emotional resonance!)


  10. Judy Migliori permalink
    Friday, October 15, 2010 11:37 am

    The love story I’m writing is about second chances. When I am writing a scene requiring lots of emotion I go onto you tube and find Torn Between Two Lovers by Mary McGregor. This song tears me up and is perfect for my story.


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 12:28 pm

      Dean Martin’s “Return to Me” worked that way for me with Anne and George in SIG—which was why I had to include it in the last scene, because it was the song that made their emotional moments work for me.

      If I had to pick a themesong for Meredith and Major from Menu for Romance, it would be this one:


      • Friday, October 15, 2010 3:35 pm

        I’ve got the original version of ‘At Last’ by Glenn Miller and his orchestra on my mp3 player. Actually it’s the film soundtrack version (from Orchestra Wives) because I like the trumpet solos. This one:


  11. Friday, October 15, 2010 11:50 am

    Oh, I have a Pandora account. I find it frustrating though . . .

    For example, I set up an “Enya” station. I added Enya, Celtic Woman, Charlotte Church, Josh Groban, and the individual members of Celtic Woman. Guess whose music I never hear. It’s not that I mind hearing similar artists—I mean, how am I supposed to learn who’s out there doing similar stuff?—it’s just that if I ask to hear certain artists, I want to hear those artists the majority of the time. And it seems like Pandora goes out of its way to NOT play the artists I’ve requested. (I can’t tell you the last time it’s actually played something by Dean Martin on my Dean Martin station—not that I really need it there when I already own most of his music). And I think they have too loose a definition of what “similar” music is—they started playing Lady Antebellum and a few other “Country” groups on that Enya station before I got completely frustrated and gave up on it. (And yes, as someone who grew up in the era of George Strait and Randy Travis, I don’t consider what’s being produced today to truly be Country music, which is why that was in quotation marks.)

    When I’m working, I don’t want to have to be constantly trying to train Pandora as to what songs I like and what songs I don’t like (plus you only get a certain number of skips, and then you either have to give up or refresh it every time they play a song you don’t like). And if you don’t go over to that window and click on something or like/dislike a song, after an hour or two, it stops playing just to see if you’re still listening. SOOOOO annoying. I just want to turn the music on and let it play without having to think about it again.

    Slacker Radio is another one that was recommended to me, but I haven’t figured out how to customize a playlist without paying for a subscription, and they seem to play commercials every third or fourth song.

    That’s why it’s worth it to me to go ahead and purchase the music I know I’ll like.


  12. Friday, October 15, 2010 1:06 pm

    LOVE this post, Kaye! Music is so critical to writing for me. I listen to much of what you’ve listed here. But right now I seem to be stuck on N&S, partic. Northbound Train and Thornton’s Walk. It just fits for some reason.
    Have been thinking of you and praying about your deadlines. Can’t wait for your next book…


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 2:10 pm

      Thanks, sweetie! Pray some energy for me . . . it seems like I’ve been going through the last two weeks half asleep—and not being able to sleep less than ten or twelve hours at night. I know most of it is due to inactivity in getting two novels edited for my freelance job in the span of two weeks and then trying to force myself to get ART written, so I’ve been getting no physical activity other than walking from room to room occasionally in my tiny house, or out to the mailbox once a day (probably not 30 feet from the house).

      I was running low on quick-fix foods (bread & sandwich stuff, soups, heat-and-eat breakfast meats) so I went to the grocery store this afternoon. Hopefully that will help a little bit with the energy level, but it’s awfully hard to write when all I can think about is crawling back into bed. If my undergraduate college’s library (which is only five minutes from here) didn’t close at 6 p.m. on Friday nights, I’d go out there to work this afternoon/evening, just to get away from the comfy recliner and the bedroom.


      • Sunday, October 17, 2010 10:15 am

        Oh wow…I can’t remember the last time I slept 10 or 12 hours. Praying for energy and inspiration for you!


  13. Lissie permalink
    Friday, October 15, 2010 2:13 pm

    I love the music for Lord of the Rings and Sense and Sensibility! I know you don’t particularly like the movie Pride and Prejudice with Kierra Knightley , but the soundtrack is absolutely gorgeous! That might be good inspiration for the Ransome Trilogy. I love that series!


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 6:56 pm

      Well, I’m already finished writing the Ransome Trilogy, but I’ll check it out when/if I start writing my next historical series!


  14. Audrey permalink
    Friday, October 15, 2010 4:54 pm

    I HAVE to have music while I do almost anything: during my morning walk, baking, cleaning, dusting, sleeping, playing a computer game…I can’t stand silence. Maybe it’s because back in Jr. High my English teacher used to play classical music in class lightly in the background while we did our exams or did individual classwork and it really helped. It helps to stimulate brain waves my teacher always said.

    What kind of music depends on the activity. Sometimes I can have a mix of slow and upbeat, but for my morning walk, it has to be 95% upbeat (I do insist on some slow, like Josh Groban or some Celine Dion be in my playlist for walking – they are my two favorites- Josh – because I never hear him on the radio unless it’s christmastime and I just loooooove him (and his voice isn’t half bad either ;)).

    There isn’t much non-lyrical music I like (maybe some from Disney soundtracks and Disney parks themes), but a good semi-upbeat and semi-slow music for me to listen to for anything is the Lord Of The Dance soundtrack.


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 7:02 pm

      When I posed the question about listening to music while working on Facebook a few weeks ago, my sister, the prayer coordinator for the association of Southern Baptist Churches in the Baton Rouge area, made a very interesting point:

      “Music is never in the background to me. If I hear it, I’m singing along in my mind, critiquing the arrangement, noticing if a singer was early/late, flat/sharp, etc. One of the things I tell people when I give seminars on prayer is to please be sensitive to poor souls like me and consider whether playing music during their group prayer time might be distracting to some.”

      So, Audrey, I’m with you—it’s stimulative for me, but annoying for my sister when trying to focus.


  15. Friday, October 15, 2010 6:35 pm

    Love these, Kaye!

    I don’t necessarily have a song for each story, but each character “gives” me a song that is about them. I use them a lot when I am doing character sketches or when I need to get into their heads in a situation. I’ve found that, if I don’t have a song for the character, I can’t write the character. I guess I just don’t know them well enough.

    As for general “getting in writing mode,” for some reason, Norah Jones (or the Pandora Norah Jones station) does it pretty much every time.


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 7:07 pm

      I’ve never been able to pinpoint why, but I don’t really like listening to most female singers. At least, not for more than a song or two. There are a few whose voice quality I do like: Diana Krall, k.d. lang, and Bonnie Raitt . . . and I’m really liking Cindy Lauper’s new acoustic sound. But other than that, I pretty much just stick with male singers.


  16. Friday, October 15, 2010 8:23 pm

    I just purchased and downloaded the soundtrack to Up. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any of Dug’s dialogue—squirrel!—but it is by Michael Giacchino who has become one of my favorite composers of late. And it was only $5.99 on Amazon.

    And one of the things I adore about Michael Giacchino’s soundtracks (which bunches of reviewers of them hate) is the titles he gives the tracks. If nothing else, click on the LOST soundtracks and read the titles of the tracks, especially if you’re a LOST fan.

    Oh, and for LOST fans, talk about continuity of sound/themes when it comes to composers—listen to this track from Up and tell me it doesn’t sound like something from LOST:


    • Friday, October 15, 2010 8:32 pm

      Okay, talk about emotional resonance . . . all it took was the title of this track and the first few notes to bring a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat—and I’ve only seen this movie ONCE!


  17. Friday, October 15, 2010 8:47 pm

    Amazon has the soundtrack of the newest version of Emma available for MP3 download for only $6.99:


    • Sunday, October 17, 2010 10:15 am

      Oh, thanks for posting that link – I thought the score to the new miniseries was just gorgeous!


  18. Pamela Reese permalink
    Saturday, October 16, 2010 11:50 pm

    For instrumentals that really evoke ‘place’ emotions (many of them elicit wonderful visuals of the ocean) try music by Tim Janis.

    Like you, I love my music when I am writing. I write fantasy, so my needs in music may differ somewhat from yours–although I see a lot of overlap as well 🙂 Lots of Celtic flavor–Celtic Thunder, Celtic Woman, Enya. In fact, I was absolutely thrilled when to discover the Celtic Woman song “The Call” because that is not only the title of my current book but absolutely fits with the protagonist! Always a surprise and a delight when that happens.
    Josh Groban, of course. His voice is so gorgeous you just have to listen to him. And I love the soundtracks to all of the LOTR. I also have some Native American tracks I love.

    Music is such a universal language.
    I look forward to seeing how you use it in your next series.


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