I often think of writing fiction as primarily a visual art. Of course, it’s far different than drawing or painting, but when I’m writing, there seems to be a film running in my head. I visualize the characters in the setting, their clothing, even their expressions – and that film always has a soundtrack.
The music that creative people use to motivate and inspire their works has always been of great interest to me; I seldom write or draw without music playing and I’m constantly adding songs to my playlist every time I take a break. Different music will set a different mood and can help to create associations or links to other images that I’ve seen in films, animation or art. Because I write and record music as well, I’m also concerned with trying to create those moods for others.
I searched online for “music while drawing” and “music while writing” and found that opinions differ widely as to whether listening to music is a good idea when you’re working creatively. Some think that it’s a distraction, others wouldn’t work without it. I’ve heard some people say, “You can’t listen to heavy metal when drawing a landscape…”, but I’ve done it; I don’t seem to feel that heavy music necessarily makes me draw aggressive scenes. But then again, I grew up as a punk rock skater kid, so maybe I’m just used to it.
I do a lot of my writing work inside Emacs (an old-schooly text editor for those of you who don’t know), and I use EMMS (the Emacs Multimedia System) to listen to various streaming radio stations. It’s cool because I’m not just listening to tracks from my favorite bands or composers, I’m hearing stuff that’s new to me and discovering new artists. I keep a file open and if I hear a really compelling track, I’ll jot down the artist’s name and then look that artist up later.
A great source of music to listen to while you’re writing or drawing is Radio Rivendell. This streaming radio station specializes in fantasy music. You know, like the powerful classical scores you hear in movies like The Lord of the Rings or even like John William’s work in Star Wars. The music generally ranges from dark classical to more whimsical medieval tracks, but they play a wide variety of innovative soundtrack style productions as well. The great thing about Radio Rivendell is that many of the tracks are from “young and unknown artists”, so you can discover styles and musicians that aren’t in movies yet.
Although I often listen to really heavy or aggressive punk music while I’m working, I also like to listen to soundtrack style pieces by Bear McReary (Battlestar Galactica, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) , Hans Zimmer (Inception, Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, King Arthur), and of course, John Williams. There are also many traditional classical compositions that set great epic moods. My favorites are Beethoven (too many to list!) & Wagner (excerpts from The Ring Without Words). A great modern composer is Joaquin Rodrigo.
There are times that I want a more cyberpunk mood and I’ll listen to the Blade Runner soundtrack or tracks from The Matrix or the Terminator theme. I think because I can easily visualize the sets and scenes from those movies, it helps to prime my visual library and inspires me with ideas. (I had some cyberpunk streaming stations in my playlist but they weren’t current. If you know of any, let me know.)
One of the greatest attractions of anime is the music, and there are streaming radio stations devoted to anime soundtrack music. AnimeNfo, freeanimemusic.org, and Extreme Anime Radio are just a few. Because it usually has Japanese lyrics, this music may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there are a few particularly great musicians that stand out. The great Yoko Kanno, who did the music for Ghost in the Shell, has also composed a large number of themes that are worth looking up. Another one of my favorite anime soundtrack artists is Shirō Sagisu, who did the soundtracks for Evangelion, Bleach and, more recently, Attack on Titan.
I almost didn’t mention Pandora, because I figured most people probably already knew about it, and because I don’t really use my Pandora account that often. But Pandora is really a great way to find out about new music, and if it wasn’t for the ads, I would probably still use it. There are also a ton of YouTube videos that pop up if you search “epic music”. These are usually electronically sampled playlists running over a static image, but a lot of them are pretty epic.
Feel free to comment and let me know what you listen to while creating or if you have suggestions or recommendations for epic mood music.