10 Film Scores to Listen to While Writing
Silence is the enemy.
When I write, I need sound in the background otherwise my brain starts cracking. I’m unable to focus on just one thing at a time. My best bursts of creative energy happen when multiple things are going on at once. I know some people who write best while watching movies. I wish I could be someone like this. I try all the time. The problem is, I usually get too obsessed with what’s going on in the movie, and by the time the credits start rolling I’ve only written a couple hundred words at most. I’ve tried watching movies and shows I’ve seen a dozen times already, but it still doesn’t work. The only exception to this rule seems to be Mad Men. I write like a crazy person when I’m watching that show. I have no idea why. I try not to question these things.
But still. Silence is the enemy. And since movies don’t work as well as I want them to, I often resort to blaring music through headphones as I write. I’ve asked a lot of writers what they prefer, and the majority of them also prefer to listen to music, but music without lyrics. They fear the lyrics might sneak into their prose. Personally, I don’t mind listening to music with lyrics as I write, if it’s music I’m already well-familiar with. If it’s new music, I can’t seem to write well while listening to it, because I am focusing too hard on deciphering the lyrics and analyzing what I’m hearing.
However, what works best—after Mad Men, of course—are film soundtracks. I don’t mean compilations of pre-existing songs like the phenomenal Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 1. I’m referring more to original scores composed specifically to accompany the film. Soundtracks like the ones below.
[Disclaimer: Two of the albums on this list belong to television shows, but "10 Film and Television Soundtracks to Listen to While Writing” is a bit too long of a title. If this outrages you, please leave an angry note in the comments and we will issue you a refund immediately.]
10. ‘Midnight Special’ by David Wingo
The opening track of this album, conveniently titled “Midnight Special Theme”, is so magical, I can barely stand it. I mean that in a good way. As soon as it starts my body falls into these strange convulsions. The song initially inspires me to abandon my keyboard and go for a long drive in the middle of the night, which maybe seems counterproductive for what I’m aiming to achieve, but hear me out. I do my best thinking when I’m driving, especially at night. Some of you are the same, some of you are different—thus, the great miracle of the human race. What the Midnight Special soundtrack accomplishes so well is deceiving my brain into believing I’m on a long night-drive while I remain behind my desk trying to write, which consequently heightens my inspiration.
09. ‘The Social Network’ by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
When I heard there would be a movie about the dork who created Facebook, I laughed and thought it was the stupidest idea. Then I learned not only was David Fincher directing and Aaron Sorkin writing it, but Trent friggin’ Reznor of Nine Inch Nails was composing the soundtrack. The movie did not disappoint, and the soundtrack also predictably kicked major ass. It’s a dark ambient stream of utter coolness. For a movie about focusing and getting shit done, it makes sense that the soundtrack would inspire its listeners to follow suit.
08. ‘Stranger Things’ by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein
Most people are already familiar with the opening theme music for the Netflix-original horror series, Stranger Things, but I’m not so sure how much they’ve listened to the entire soundtrack. I’ve dived into it a couple times over the last week and let me tell you something, this soundtrack was designed to motivate horror writers. It’s a perfect blend of John Carpenter, Goblin, and Tangerine Dream. Considering Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein are the musical geniuses behind the band, Survive (often spelled S U R V I V E), this really is no surprise. I can’t wait to see what they come up with for season two.
07. ‘Under the Skin’ by Mica Levi
Listening to this soundtrack is like living with a mental illness. It fucks your mind up big-time, but in a way that opens you up creatively. It distracts the critic inside you and frees the artist to go wild. Play this one loud and scream your lungs raw as you type for the full experience.
06. ‘Neon Demon’ by Cliff Martinez
Cliff Martinez composes some of my favorite soundtracks. One of his newer albums, the soundtrack for Neon Demon, is Martinez at the top of his game. The movie itself is far from good, but what saves it are two things: it looks pretty, and the soundtrack is spectacular. It’s good music both for writing and eating eyeballs. Your choice. Feel free to choose both.
05. ‘Penny Dreadful’ by Abel Korzeniowski
I recommend listening to this album as you write gothic horror fiction illuminated by candlelight and fueled by ancient wine. The Penny Dreadful soundtrack is a time machine. Let it take you away.
04. ‘Creepshow’ by John Harrison
If you ever had a shithead for a father who often confiscated your comic books, the Creepshow soundtrack was composed just for you. It’s also legitimately creepy and a good way to spook trick-r-treaters on Halloween night. I wrote a good 5,000 words last October 31st sitting out on my porch blaring this album with a bowl of candy at my feet and a laptop in my lap, which is a crazy, unpredictable place to rest a laptop.
03. ‘Suspiria’ by Goblin
Goblin is an Italian rock band known for their collaborations with the great Dario Argento. When they get together, magic happens, and the evidence has never been greater than with Suspiria. Everything about this movie is perfect, especially the music. When I listen to this soundtrack, it’s like I’m a kid bicycling under falling autumn leaves on a deserted street. Everything feels majestic and right in the world, and the words spill from my brain like water from a faucet.
02. ‘It Follows’ by Disasterpeace
Arguably one of the best horror films of the last decade and one of the best OSTs, as well. This one starts with a bang and kind of drags you sleepily through its middle before jolting your ass awake again. The opener song, “Heels”, is of another world. So fucking good.
01. ‘Lost Themes’ by John Carpenter
When you think of great film composers, the first name that pops into your head better damn well be John Carpenter. He is without question the best of the best. Just take the original Halloween soundtrack a spin if you have any doubts. He is the king. Which is why I’m cheating with this last entry and including an album that’s scored for a film that doesn’t exist. Lost Themes is actually Carpenter’s debut studio album, meaning it’s a stand-alone piece unlike his many other film soundtracks. Lost Themes is the perfect writing soundtrack because it invites you to write the story that accompanies the music. There are no pre-existing visuals to contaminate your vision. Here’s what Carpenter had to say about the album:
Lost Themes was all about having fun. It can be both great and bad to score over images, which is what I’m used to. Here there were no pressures. No actors asking me what they’re supposed to do. No crew waiting. No cutting room to go to. No release pending. It’s just fun. And I couldn’t have a better set-up at my house, where I depended on Cody [Carpenter] and Daniel [Davies] to bring me ideas as we began improvising. The plan was to make my music more complete and fuller, because we had unlimited tracks. I wasn’t dealing with just analogue anymore. It’s a brand new world. And there was nothing in any of our heads when we started other than to make it moody.
What are your favorite soundtracks to write to?
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