There are thousands of articles about writing and music. Here’s another one. I don’t think writing to music makes me any better at it. Often enough I write in silence, but sometimes the right music can enhance the experience. A bit like alcohol or coffee: neither improves me, but both create a certain experience I enjoy while I write.
I find it hard to plan those moments where I’m swept away on a hailstorm of music and words coming to me hard and fast. Sometimes when I load up my favourite bands, or any music that’s worked for me before, it just doesn’t happen. Other times, discovering a good mixture of what I’m writing and what’s on the stereo can be incredible.
I don’t do playlists for characters because I always end up cheating – they listen to what I know about, and what I know about is what I listen to. Some authors get something from creating lists of music they don’t personally like just because a certain character would. I’ve never had that work for me. What I do like though is finding songs that I feel could have been written about what I’m writing about. A set of lyrics written by someone who doesn’t know me or my work but who made something click in my head to a tune I liked. All pretty abstract stuff. I try not to explain my love affair with writing to music much. That’s about as close as I can get.
So, the bands, the musicians, the composers…..I’m probably writing this because today I got my hands on a copy of Prog magazine all about Rush’s 40th anniversary that had ‘Everything you need about the most important band you ever heard’ on the front cover. That’s what I think about Rush to the letter. Those three guys are my absolute homeboys. I can’t go wrong writing to their music, hence the title I chose for this post. It helps to have a favourite band, collect their discography (even better when they have as many albums as Rush do) and make it part of the writing ritual. Dream Theater are a band I’ve done countless hours of writing to. The Smashing Pumpkins are probably a close third place. My neighbours are probably wishing I’d go visit another planet, if only because it would stop me listening to Gustav Holst so much. Ever since my friend gave me The Karma Collection 2003 I’ve had a thing for a good chillout playlist. I’ve never found one I liked as much as those two discs, but I continue to chase it.
I’m a guitarist in my spare time. I’ve got some pretty good quality equipment, and a good stereo to match. Playing guitar is a good way to dump stories from my head when they won’t leave me alone and I’m either tired from writing or hopelessly frustrated. I’m yesterday’s child in that I don’t use Spotify or any of the other streaming services, because I prefer CDs and vinyl. I sometimes use iTunes because I like the backup features and the shops don’t always stock what I’m after, but ever since I was a kid I promised myself a decent sound system and a huge collection of CDs and I now have it. 600 odd albums and counting. My favourite place to write is still in the room that contains them all.
Someone once told me that creating a playlist of other people’s music can actually be a brilliant expression of yourself, even though you’re using things that other people created. I agree. What sometimes separates a good record from a great one is the order of tracks. A good nightclub DJ will make the playlist flow and the songs compliment each other somehow. Putting favourite songs or indeed ANY songs in an order that plays well is difficult. Rather like ordering the scenes in a novel sometimes, or thinking about the pace or the balance between loud and soft. Saturating the reader isn’t so different from saturating a listener.
I do like what Steve Vai wrote on the inner sleeve or Fire Garden (my favourite album of his), telling listeners that he’d packed as much on the CD as was possible and some people might prefer to listen to it in bursts, whereas some (me being one) would prefer to ‘devour it whole.’ Perhaps that’s just like the books you can’t put down and complete in one or two sittings and the ones that take longer.
So, some playlists I’ve created that I like….if you own a copy of these songs, try my order, or if you want to try buying something new, here are some of my choices for your consideration. I’ve written something to just about all these songs, and indeed the first list was a rough idea of many of the themes in The Talent Show, from my large first draft back when I just wanted to write one epic rather than a series. (You won’t get spoilers, I’m pretty sure of it.)
List 1 – ‘Shadow’s Jukebox’
1: The Smiths – Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before
2: Yes – State of Play
3: Shed Seven – On Standby
4: Idlewild – Live in a hiding place
5: Wishbone Ash – Blowin’ Free
6: Joni Mitchell – Down to You
7: The Smashing Pumpkins – Thru the Eyes of Ruby
8: Clannad – Sirius
9: Clannad – Second Nature
10: Metallica – Astronomy
11: Pearl Jam – Unthought Known
12: Crosby, Stills and Nash – Haven’t we lost enough?
13: Yellowcard – One year, six months
14: Shed Seven – Ladyman
List 2 – ‘Inspirations’
1: Rush – Kid Gloves
2: Owl City – Deer in the Headlights
3: Prefab Sprout – Life’s a Miracle
4: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – ‘Jupiter’ from Gustav Holst’s The Planets
5: Joe Satriani – Starry Night
6: Steve Vai – The Moon and I
7: Genesis – The Cinema Show
8: Iron Maiden – Coming Home
9: Dream Theater – Goodnight Kiss
10: Dream Theater – Solitary Shell
11: Joe Bonamassa – Sloe Gin (Live, Royal Albert Hall version)
12: Guns n’ Roses – November Rain
List Three – ‘Traveller’
1: Dream Theater – Take your fingers from my hair
2: Owl City – Hello Seattle
3: REM – Wake-up bomb
4: Crash Test Dummies – In the Days of the Caveman
5: Black Country Communion – Midnight Sun
6: Radiohead – Subterranean Homesick Alien
7: Eric Johnson – Rain
8: Grateful Dead – Wharf Rat (Live, Hartford ’77 version)
9: Steve Vai – Being with You (Alive in an Ultra World version)
10: The Smashing Pumpkins – Muzzle
11: Owl City – Tidal Wave
12: The Verve – One Day
13: Guns n’ Roses – Estranged
Disc 4 – ‘Virtuosity’
1: Eric Clapton – Badge (Live, 24 Nights version)
2: Fleetwood Mac – You make lovin’ fun
3: Eric Johnson – Camel’s Night Out
4: Crosby Stills and Nash – Shadow Captain
5: Rush – The Camera Eye
6: The The – Slow Emotion Replay
7: The Darkness – Love is not the answer
8: Alter Bridge – All Ends Well
9: Alter Bridge – Watch over you
10: Garbage – Parade
11: Eric Johnson – Pavillion
12: Eric Johnson – Venus Reprise
13: The Darkness – I can’t believe it’s not love
14: Led Zeppelin – The Rain Song