“The right song at the right moment can make you feel invincible.”
A dear friend once told me that over almost a decade ago, and I knew what she meant instantly. I think she was meant to be paraphrasing something from Perks of being a wallflower, although I have neither read the book or have seen the film, so I’m not entirely sure. As it stands, music can change everything about my day. If I’m experiencing a nervous walk to a commitment my anxiety is warning me about, the sometimes my phone will know exactly what to put on shuffle next, to soothe me. Sometimes you might have a song rattling in your head all day, only for it to appear serendipitously on the radio at work. Music matters.
So, how can we channel that into inspiration?
Never a simple answer, of course, brains work differently after all. Here are some subjective, personal tips that I utilise, that work wonders for me when I’m writing, or planning a story.
My favourite method, but possibly a bit convoluted for some people. When it comes to creating, I find my thought process incredibly visual. My ability to day dream is unparalleled, and I can visualise stories and worlds with my eyes wide open, but it seems all so clear to me. I would find myself walking to and from school alone quite frequently, with only my dad’s walk-man (I’m not that old, I swear) to keep me company.
I would listen to hard, angsty rock and metal on those journeys, and I found I could use each track to tell a story, as it was a scene from a film. When each track began, the scene would begin, then they would end, and the next track and the next scene would begin. I would imagine action set pieces that correlated to whatever idea that excited me at the time. I would listen to them so often that each frame and scene was tied to each beat and cue in the songs.
Eventually I reached the modern age, and I was given an MP3, than I bought an Ipod, and I sought to expand from angsty rock. Taking the same idea, I instead downloaded numerous film and video game soundtracks that I enjoyed, added them all to a playlist, a big mix and match, and play shuffle. I still find myself on frequent walks by myself, and I when I don’t feel tired and downtrodden, I can play this playlist, and I try to imagine whatever idea it is I’m working on. I try to imagine each track as a scene still, and how they correlate within each other.
It’s not an easy thing to explain a persons thought process, especially when that person is as erratic as I, so this may not make much sense to some people, but I know I’m not the only one who has used this method. It’s about imagining a story come to life with the music you’re hearing, like miniature custom made music videos that you’re in complete control of.
Either a peculiar one or an obvious one, depending on your outlook.
There’s a reason action scenes almost always have intense, fitting music in movies. Your life shouldn’t be any different. Rather than jumping into a shoot-out with mobsters, I would advise going for a run, or participating in a sport you enjoy, and allow the music to build the action within.
Of course, if you do anything that active, chances are you listen to music already, or maybe you just don’t like to be distracted like that. I used to love running at night, and I have great memories of David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel coming on just as I was setting off, giving me a jolt of energy, and as I was struggling up a hill, Christina Aguilera’s Fighter compelled me to the top (Also don’t judge me on that, I have eclectic taste I guess).
I have great memories of playing our home-town’s Lazer-Tag equivalent, where the employee’s would put on early 2000’s alt-rock, and I remember being weirdly energised by the likes of Linkin Park and Papa Roach as I blasted my way through the dark corridors.
One thing that fascinates me is how music can resonate with football lovers, of which I am not. One person told me how much he loved John Newman’s Love me again, solely because of the adverts for the Premiership League would come on, and he would be filled with a pure excitement, that he could only replicate when he heard that song. A friend of mine, who predominately listened to rap, loved Shipping up to Boston by Dropkick Murphys, because that was the song they played as his team came onto the field. My best friend told me he used to listen to Lose Yourself, before every match by himself in the locker room, and allow himself to be transported into the zone. Finding that intensity through your own discovery, and transporting it to the page can yield rewarding results.
The right place at the right time
Serendipity. That’s what we’re looking for here. Grab your music device, and go for a casual walk to beautiful places. Beauty can be subjective, of course, that’s why you need to open your eyes. We all utilise headphones to get from A to B, and a long commute can force you into tunnel vision, where you see the same the same buildings, the same crossings, and equally busy people. Take your time though, and keep your eyes open to the world around you, and you’ll begin to see a world beneath that.
Azure skies, sun glinting off of windows. Urban architecture that blends into nature. Hundreds of characters, stepping in and off of your stage. Notice the shape of buildings, their jagged edges or symmetrical grooves. Vibrant oranges, reds and greens that hang off trees, colourful lights and beautiful sunsets. The world we inhabit is infinitely beautiful, and it can inspire us in unexpected ways.
Of course that’s the visual side. Finding the right song as you stare at misshapen clouds and towering spires is not always easy, but you will know you’ve hit the jackpot when you have. I like to play serene, calming songs as I wander aimlessly through woods or stare out across lakes. I imagine the music is non-diegetic, as if I am watching the opening to a film. I imagine how the camera may pan down the river I’m standing at, as the song swirls in front of me, and suddenly I have the beginning to a story.
Something I can attest to as I write this, is that music makes many kind of work easier- providing you’re setting your own playlist and don’t work in customer service roles throughout the Christmas period, that is.
Listening to your favourite songs as you work on a project of some kind can be a double-edged sword, on the one hand you obviously get to hear the music that you want to, but it can also be distracting, leading to dancing in place or singing obliviously loud. When i set down to work at something, I try to listen to my favourite video game or music soundtracks. More often than not, these are designed to be heard, but not to distract your conscious thoughts, enabling concentration, but also working to relax and soothe.
Utilising this thought can also lead to inspiration, if done correctly, say, if writers block stops you mid-paragraph. Utilising concentration music and the visualisation technique from before, we can react as we type or work. Take a breather, close your eyes, listen to the beautiful sounds before you, try to visualise the scene you want to convey in tandem to the music. Let the world be drawn around you, as the music fills in the gaps. Listen to the tone, and watch how that effects the details in your mental image. A slow and sombre song could convey sadness, rain or dilapidation, whereas other songs inhibit visions of sunlight and warmth. When the minute details present themselves like that, the clearer your image can become, becoming it easier for you to conduct to the audience.
If you’re stuck, allow yourself to take a step back, and let the music paint an image for you. It can be worlds around you, or simply how a character moves, talks or reacts to other characters. If you allow it to, it can overtake your consciousness and paint scenes without any real input from yourself.
These are a few techniques I use, and they all have worked in different regards. Of course, our brains all work differently. Do you have any techniques or experiences using music to create ideas or battle writers block? Do you have any playlists or soundtracks you would recommend to others? Lets talk about it!