How I Find Inspirational Music to Write By
GUYS, A Darkness Strange and Lovely hits stores tomorrow! I am...just...wow. Excited. Anyway, last week, a question about music arrived in my inbox, and I thought would be fun to answer here. We discuss music pretty often on Pub(lishing) Crawl--plus, I know I share music a lot on my personal blog, as do a lot of the girls in Pub Crawl. And we've discussed in QOTM form WHERE we get our music, but that doesn't quite answer this girl's question, which has more to do with the "how" of music discovery.
I just LOVE the musical posts you do, and I uber-loved the playlist for A Darkness Strange and Lovely that's up on the publisher's site. Where do you find all this great music?
Music plays an incredibly, incredibly important part in my writing process (as it does for many writers). In fact, as I describe below, there's often ONE PIVOTAL PIECE that will inspire an entire story. Lots of other songs will then go into the shaping and crafting of that story, but the initial spark and drive are all thanks to a single, usually orchestral musical composition. In fact, here are a few songs and then the WIPs (works in progress) that sprang forth from those pieces. Something Strange & Deadly version 2.0 was inspired by this piece of music from Alice in Wonderland. I BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW THAT. I'm not sure I've ever shared it online...
But yeah, I had just seen the newest Alice in Wonderland movie, which I did not enjoy at all...but whose music, I adored. At this point, I had written a bad first draft of SS&D, but I knew it was bad...and I knew I wanted it to be better. Then I heard this piece of music and imagined Eleanor sitting at a train station when the Dead arrive. Then, as if a movie was playing out before my eyes, I saw Eleanor being thrust into a world of corpses and ghosts from which she wasn't sure "how to find her way." And so, the version of Something Strange and Deadly that you all know was born. :) My never-ending WIP Screechers was sparked by "City of Rome" from the Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood soundtrack...
Like with SS&D, this was version 2.0 after I'd written a first draft that I knew was all wrong. I wanted to show a big, sweeping world, and I wanted there to be more depth to the culture, to the people's lives, to the monsters, and to everything else. With this music, I could suddenly imagine a new opening scene (in a totally new world with a totally new main character) that felt RIGHT. This music by Hans Zimmer led to version 4.0 of A Dawn Most Wicked.
Up until I heard this music, I'd been writing crap and not feeling super moved by any particular song on my playlist. In my constant scan for new music, I stumbled across "Zooster's Breakout" from (of all things) the Madagascar soundtrack. And BAM! Suddenly a bustling New Orleans port appeared in my mind, with Daniel, pushing his way through a dense crowd and being towed along by some headstrong, brown-haired girl. My most recent WIP Truthwitch was set off entirely by "El Dorado" by Two Steps from Hell.
I could vividly see two best friends getting into some WILD shenanigans that would come back to bite them in the butt. I saw pirates and sword fights and magic! All in this one piece of music. It was, actually, as I fell into "El Dorado" that I finally started to really understand how vastly important music really is to my process. I realized that I need that One Song to get the ball rolling. For Truthwitch, "El Dorado" was that song and I had it from the moment I even started to brainstorm...and for the first time EVER--seriously, ever—version 1.0 was actually good. I actually managed to get a first draft RIGHT without any rewriting or major revising. And that was how I realized that I have to have The One Song to write a book. There must always be at least one piece of music that sets off all my ideas—it's like the match needed to ignite the dynamite. Once I hear The One Song, I see—and more importantly feel—how the story opens...and then everything falls into place from there. Obviously, there's more than just The One Song needed to produce a book. There's a metric crap ton of daydreaming and brainstorming and then the actual writing. But it's always this perfect storm of things: a thousand ideas swirling around, the right character surfacing within those ideas...and then The One Song. With that combination, the story just bursts from my heart and I simply have to get it onto the page as quickly and coherently as possible. So clearly, I spend a lot of time searching the Internet for new music—trying to find The Song that moves me. Where do I search? How do I search? First off, I got Spotify last fall. It's free and amazing and I don't know how I ever lived without it. Moving on. In general, I listen to three kinds of music:
Video game scores
Epic music/trailer music
I find that people often forget about video game scores, but when you consider the fact that even huge names like Hans Zimmer or Danny Elfman compose for video games, then you might realize how much you're missing. I highly suggest simply googling "Best Video Game Soundtracks" because you'll get a LOT. Also, try out video game soundtracks by Jesper Kyd (all the Assassin's Creed, Hitman, and others), Lorne Balfe (I love Skylanders), or Inon Zur (Fallout 3 is brilliant, as is Dragonage). Also, because epic music is starting to get "cool" and super popular, you can find it pretty easily. Spotify has a TON of albums from groups like E.S. Posthumous, Audiomachine, Two Steps from Hell, or Fired Earth. And of course, we can't forget film and movie scores. Beyond the greats (e.g. Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Harry Gregson-Williams, John Powell, etc.), you've got a ton of "lesser known" composers (though they're definitely getting some love these days!). Ramin Djawadi (Fright Nightcomposer, Game of Thrones, and now Pacific Rim) is one of my favorites, along with Ilan Eshkeri (Stardust), Bear McCreary (Battlestar Gallactica), Michael Giacchino (Star Trek, John Carter), or Trevor Morris (The Tudors, The Pillars of the Earth). Basically, I start my search for new music (a search that happens at least once every two weeks) by googling all my favorite names from above. If those guys don't have something new (they usually don't), I start browsing through what Spotify recommends. For each artist, Spotify (or iTunes or Amazon) will offer suggestions of "similar artists" or "listeners also bought." I might spend hours just moving through video game soundtrack after movie score after epic music mix. I usually sample a song, and if I like it enough, I add it to a big playlist (ah, the beauty of Spotify--no money wasted). Then, while I work, I listen to that playlist. If a certain song pops out at me while I'm working, I add it to a more permanent playlist. If the song doesn't even register on my brain as I work, then I delete it. In fact, I was listening to all of the non-public Two Steps from Hell albums (they have them available on YouTube), and as I worked without paying much attention, this one piece just EXPLODED into my brain. I listened to it over and over and over...
It kind of kills me that I can't buy this song or listen to it on Spotify. But YouTube will suffice. ;) Ughgggasdfsdfssd,, I just LOVE it—especially from the 0:58 point on. And no, in case you're wondering, I don't have a story to go with "Magika." Yet. But it's definitely the kind of music that will help drive a specific scene (something climactic, I think, where the hero finally makes it through all the epic awful). You tell me: How/where do you find new music? Or do you even listen to music when you create?