R.S. Hunter

Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

Category: Music

Book Playlists and Why They Don’t Work for Me

Science fiction wallpaper, blue planets and blue star field

The other day I saw a fun conversation going around about author’s creating playlists for each book they write. It was fascinating because I love hearing about others’ writing processes. It took me to Delilah S. Dawson’s fantastic post. (Seriously, go check it out) But it got me thinking: I’ve never created a playlist for any book I write. Why is that?

I opened up the ol’ Spotify and tried to put together a playlist for my current WIP. Right away, I ran into a problem: what sort of music works with a secondary world fantasy novel? An orchestral score of some kind? That’s not really my jam. I knew the mood of the book I’m working on. It’s a sword and sorcery novel starring an older woman who’s been around the world a time or two, who’s struggling to figure out what’s next, and how to do what’s best for her found family. And what happens when what you think is best doesn’t line up with what your family members think is best? Oh yeah, and there’s some political intrigue, some magic, annnnnd fantasy equivalents of weapons of mass destruction.

K. Cool. I got all that in my mind. How does that translate to music?


Fuck if I know.

Now to be fair, I gave into one of my worst habits: stopping when hitting a minor wall. I stopped trying to come up with a playlist for my WIP.

Now to be unfair (and let me rationalize), after I did that I saw down to analyze why the exercise was so difficult for me.

One: Spotify is overwhelming.

Spotify is great when you have a starting point in mind. You go to an artist (or an artist from an already existing playlist) and then you can explore the “Related Artists” and then just keep going. Plus Spotify shows you an artist’s top songs. Once you got a starting point, an initial artist for your book playlist, it should be relatively easy to keep adding to it.

But what if you don’t know where to start? You could potentially try searching some keywords and see what other user-generated playlists come up? But that just seems overwhelming. You could crowdsource this and ask social media? Again that just seemed overwhelming to me.

Okay, but that’s kind of a surface level rationalization. It’s one that with sufficient time and willpower, I could overcome.

But then I went a little deeper.

Two: I am a visual learner

I’m a much better visual learner than an auditory one. When I read something it sticks in my brain much better than if I’d listened to it. I don’t know why that is. That’s just how I work. If I need to learn something I like to read it or watch somebody show me how to do whatever the thing in question is.

How does that connect to writing and music and playlists?

I like to construct scenes visually as I write them. Sometimes I go so far as to draw out diagrams or blueprints of how a place looks and how the action occurs. That’s just how I process the information, and it helps me get it onto the page.

I love listening to music as I write, but! I do it more as a distraction. Strike that. Distraction’s not the right word. It’s more of a certain noise (pleasant noise! though some might call death metal unpleasant) threshold I like to have while working. Words or no words, the music gives me that background buzz.

It doesn’t matter what kind of scene I’m working on. I don’t connect the music to it. Sometimes I even put my headphones in and forget to turn something on. Just that slight dampening of real life helps me get into that creative space.

To Each Their Own

And now the thousand dollar question: should I try to connect my music to my writing more?

This is a bit of a cop out, but fuck if I know.

Part of writing is learning what process works for you and when to try shaking it up. If I was starting a new project or felt like I was in a creative rut, that feels like it could be the right time to try and change how I use music with my process.

But now? In the middle of a WIP in the middle of a series with one entry already done*? It doesn’t feel like the right time.

Maybe when I finish this draft and start on a brand new sci-fi novel I’ll try to find some killer synthwave music to work as a soundtrack.

Right now, I got some tunes to jam to and some ink to sling.

How ‘Bout You?

Writers, authors, heck even painters, illustrators, and other artists: how do you use music as part of your creative process? Does it help you find a mood for whatever you’re working on? Or is it more of a “block out the world” kind of thing? A combination of both? Or do you not listen to music while you create at all?

Oh and if you’re curious about what I’m listening to (please don’t judge me), I’m here on Spotify. And here is my greatest playlist.

Enjoy. Remember, no judging.

Some of My Favorite Writing Music

I love listening to music while I write. That’s just how I work best. If it’s too quiet my mind tends to wander. Some writers I know say they don’t like music with words when they’re putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys, I suppose is more likely). I vary back and forth. Some scenes come easier when I’m listening to music with lyrics, while other times I just want some nice instrumental stuff.

As I Lay Dying's Tim Lambesis

So what do I listen to? I’ll give you a small sampling of some of my favorite writing music. I’ll also share what projects each song goes with–for the ones I can remember that is!

Fight Scenes in The Exile’s Violin and Terraviathan

Heavy metal is my favorite type of music to listen to while writing action-heavy scenes. At the moment some of my favorite bands include As I Lay Dying, Parkway Drive, Mastodon, In Flames, and All That Remains. In case you’re not familiar with them…they’re of the–how do you say–screaming variety. Metalcore, death metal, all those subgenre labels. I love it most of it, especially the bands that use some melody in their choruses.

According to iTunes, some of the songs I’ve listened to the most while working on fight scenes and the like in my steampunk novels include:

Pretty much anything by Strung Out. They’re my favorite band and the inspiration behind my only (so far) tattoo. These guys write some amazing music that flirts back and forth between metal-tinged punk and straight up SoCal skate punk. They’ve been around since 1989, and if you’ve got that kind of longevity, you know you gotta be doing something right.

Dark Days music video

“Sleepwalker”, “Dark Days”, and “Boneyards” by Parkway Drive. I like the environmental message in “Dark Days” especially. That’s part of the music video up there in gif form. I also “sing” along to those three songs a lot during my commute. I’d like to think that I can keep up with Winston McCall pretty well.

“A Greater Foundation”, “Forsaken”, and “Parallels” by As I Lay Dying. Even though their a Christian band–a religion I don’t subscribe to–most of their songs aren’t overtly religious. Plus they rock. Really damn hard. Those three songs are from three different albums spanning from 2007 to last year. As I Lay Dying has always been in my musical writing rotation since about 2003.

A few other songs and bands: “Oblivion” by Mastodon, anything by Coheed & Cambria, any of Thrice’s hard rock/post-hardcore songs.

Mood Music & Non-Screaming Bands

But what about the times when I don’t want lyrics? When I’m either editing and revising or world-building it’s really hard for me to focus while listening to the kind of relentless aural assault my favorite metal bands bring to the table. What then? Break out your Flock of Seagulls haircut, your Gameboy, and your dial-up modem from 1994! We’re going to listen 80s pop, chiptunes, and dubstep!

The Cars, A-ha, Simple Minds, New Order, OMD, Eddie Money, Genesis, Eurythmics, Tears for Fears, and more. The synth-ier, the poppier, the cheesier the better. Wham, Kenny Loggins, pretty much every one hit wonder you can think of. I listen to it all. I love it. There’s something about catchy 80s pop that really keeps me going when I don’t feel like writing.

Illusive Man Mass Effect 2

And then I have a set of songs that I listen to whenever I want to set a mood. If I’m writing science fiction–especially anything cyberpunk or space opera related–I’ll flip on the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack, the soundtracks from the Mass Effect series, or something from the From Alpha to Omega album by Destructoid community member Alphadeus. All that music really gets me into a sci-fi state of mind.

Occasionally, I’ll log into Pandora and turn on my “Dubstep Station”. I think the music is kinda hilarious-bad, but at the same time I like it. I can’t name any of the artists to save my life, and half the time it sounds like a Transformer and a dial-up modem are getting it on in a blender, but for some reason, I find it really easy to write to dubstep.

The same goes for chiptunes and videogame soundtracks. I have a playlist set up in iTunes that has almost 2000 tracks of just electronica, chiptunes (music made with the sounds and musical effects from 8-bit and 16-bit videogames), and videogame soundtracks. Some of my favorite songs include: anything from any of the Zeldas, a metal cover of the Skyrim theme song, an album of big band renditions of F-Zero, and the Double Dragon Neon soundtrack.

Seriously. That song right there is ridiculously catchy. It’s videogame music and faux-80s pop all in one! How can I resist?

There you have it dear readers! Probably more than you ever wanted to know about what music I listen to while writing. What about you? How many of you authors listen to music while you’re writing or editing? Or do you need to have it silent while you’re working. Let me know! I find hearing about peoples’ creative processes fascinating!

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