Midweek Thoughts: Working to Music

A typical work soundtrack for me.

A typical work soundtrack for me.

A few days ago, our writing center colleague Scott Whiddon posed some questions to his Facebook friends about the relationship between music and work.  As a lifelong music/music journalism fan and as a scholar interested in writing process and workflow, I was eager to answer the questions myself (and of course we all know now that I’m prone to breaking out into Fleetwood Mac lyrics in the middle of blog posts). So, here goes:

  1. Do you listen to music when you write? Yes, all the time. I have for years, probably since I was in junior high and Smashing Pumpkins and The Juliana Hatfield Three soundtracked my school papers.
  2. Do you listen to certain kinds/genres of music when you write? Yes. I do writing-related work pretty much all the time, and I listen to music every time I write, so 85% of what I listen to is “work music.” My work music is chilled, downtempo electronica, usually indie-ish. SomaFM, an Internet radio station that I love, has a stream called “Digitalis” that they describe as “laptop rock.” Digitalis plays bands such as Lali Puna, The Go Find, Four Tet, Washed Out, Sigur Rós, The Notwist…it’s close to my ideal work soundtrack.
  3. Do you need noise, of some sort, to think about writing? I’ve been writing with music for so long that it’s hard for me to work in silence anymore. When I’ve tried to do it, it just seemed uncomfortable and wrong, or like I wasn’t “really” doing any substantial work. I can’t deal with just any noise, though. Coffeeshop noise isn’t terrible, but I usually listen to music there, too. Television noise completely interferes. I always end up paying attention to the show and not what I’m working on, so any attempt to work in the same room with a TV on is a waste. My fiancé, however, is one of those people who can watch an exciting football game on TV while simultaneously grading a towering stack of papers–and do both of them quite well. I guess we’ll have to have separate home offices.
  4. Do you listen to music at certain parts of a composing process (say, early drafting, listmaking, drawing) more than others (for example, line editing or substantive drafting)? Not sure. I think when my writing tasks vary in intensity, the music I listen to changes. When I was doing my exams, I listened to a Milwaukee post-rock band called Lights Out Asia, whose vast soundscapes were perfect for very-late-night drafting (I even posted to their Facebook page that they were invited to my dissertation defense, and though they didn’t come, their guitarist accepted my friend request).

What about you? Care to answer Scott’s questions? Post a comment below.

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3 thoughts on “Midweek Thoughts: Working to Music

  1. Maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by so much noise (3 kids, yo) that I long for silence these days. I often write in silence, but I have to admit that I’m the opposite of you in terms of TV as well. I can’t write to any TV; it has to be a show I’ve seen A LOT. Law & Order is really ideal–particularly SVU.I think it’s the formula that works. I can glance up and know that at 20 minutes in they think they had the perp but they’ll be wrong. And, at 40 minutes in, they find the right person but still have to prove it. Perfectly predictable and mildly entertaining. Great background writing visual and aural noise.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s seldom that I can listen to anything if I’m reading/grading papers, and I need monastic levels of silence for writing. (That’s probably why my best writing gets done before dawn.) Sometimes I can listen to instrumental music or have sports in the background if I’m doing something like revising assignment sheets or grading grammar exercises, but that’s dependent on my day. Del Bel’s album Oneiric and Zuill Bailey’s cello suites are thus far the only consistently pleasing, undistracting listenables I’ve been able to find. For my creative process, though, music is still incredibly important–it leads to a lot of breakthroughs during the commute and at the gym. …and one time I wrote a composition handout based on a Cake album because it was the only thing I listened to for the entire four hundred mile trip from home to Athens, OH.

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  3. For writing, I need relatively quiet music. I have many, many Spotify playlists that I’ve put together that involve quiet Americana & alt-country (the sad bastard kind). Lots of Jason Isbell, The Civil Wars, etc. For grading or other kinds of work, I gravitate towards funk & neo-soul. I finished out last semester listening to Trombone Shorty & Big Sam’s Funky Nation. In either situation, I like to have headphones on, whether the environment around me is loud or quiet. Something about the headphones makes me recognize, hey, it’s time for this work to be DONE.

    I can often work with a tv show/movie in the background, as long as it’s something I’ve seen many times. Sometimes even football (which is good, given my husband’s love for the sport).

    I can’t work in silence, though. Time slips by too quickly and unproductively when I do.

    Liked by 1 person

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