Saturday, December 28, 2013

Staying Sane part 3: Music

Frost* - Hyperventilate

I've always played music while I work. Some writers need silence and the slightest noise can break their train of thought. I've always taken the opposite view: a well-loved piece of music that you're familiar with is no more distracting than wallpaper. Maybe it's because I've lived and worked near busy roads with a steady stream of human traffic as well as noisy buses and lorries rumbling past. The familiar music drowns those distractions out for me.

My trick is to play music while I'm writing and listen to comedy, drama or feature material while I'm working on artwork because the bit of your brain used for writing is also the bit of your brain you use to interpret other people's words. A few years ago, while I was working on an introduction to a book, I managed to play an hour and a half radio drama based on an Agatha Christie novel, but I was concentrating so hard that, when it finished, I had no idea who had been murdered, let alone who had done it.

If you find yourself distracted by words, soundtracks to movies or classical music will do the trick.

Being an old Prog Rock fan, I often drift back to that while I'm writing as there are often long musical interludes. Looking at the number of plays on my iPlayer, I find that my most popular album of 2013 is Big Big Train's English Electric Part 2. If you're new to BBT, they have been around for over twenty years but are going through something of a golden age at the moment which started with the release of The Underfall Yard in 2009 and the EP Far Skies, Deep Time (2010). There next release was a two-part album, English Electric which works best as a single, double-album unit, with tracks ranging from joyful and lively to the melancholic.

The two albums have recently been released in a two-CD pack under the title English Electric: Full Power with four extra tracks, the latter also available on a separate EP, Make Some Noise (the title track of which can be heard/seen at their official website). You can also download the full 23 minute title track from The Underfall Yard for free.

Being a freelance writer means that you spend a fair amount of time broke, but there are plenty of options available to legally listen to stuff. Here in the UK you have access to dozens of radio stations: every BBC or commercial station broadcasts in digital these days and live streams over the internet. Take a look at the stations available. . . I'm sure you'll be able to find one to suit your tastes.

If that doesn't suit you and you want to be able to pick and chose your music, why not try Spotify. It's free as long as you don't mind the occasional advert and you can always subscribe if the adverts get too much. They're pretty good at picking up on new albums and have a huge back catalogue (recently added to with the arrival of Led Zeppelin). Dig around and you'll discover a lot of obscure bands that you might enjoy.

If you like something a little more off the beaten track, you could do worse than try Jamendo, which includes hundreds of independently produced albums and tracks. I've found some very interesting musicians over the past couple of years. My favourites are SaReGaMa, who have released a handful of albums; if you want to try one of their instrumental tracks, here's a nice one to start with, Clouds Fly As I Smile.

Another set of instrumental albums has been produced by Zero-Project—actually a Greek guy called Nikos—who composes electronic ambient music. It makes excellent background music. . . and all for free unless you want to donate something.


  1. Interesting to hear your take on this subject. Personally I've found music gets in the way during the "creation" phase of a project but is great during the "mechanical" phase. So I want silence when I'm writing or pencilling and I want music while lettering or inking,

  2. Different strokes for different folkes. I agree that there are times when I like the silence - usually when I'm just starting something off and faced with a blank page. Once I've settled in, the music, or documentary, or podcast, can be safely turned on.



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