How We Find the Best Music to Write By

Recently, I compiled a post for Pub(lishing) Crawl about the writing tools we couldn’t survive without. I was really surprised by how many people (both Pub Crawl gals and readers who commented) listed music among their essential tools. Up until I put that post together, I’d always been a write-in-silence type. I envied those who had whole playlists of music to write by. (Leigh Bardugo posted a great piece about how we use music in our writing here.)

So after that tools post, I began to realize that there might be something to this idea of having music to write by. My problem was that I had no idea how to go about discovering the music that would work best for me. (For one thing, I knew I couldn’t write to music with lyrics, so I believed (falsely) that my search would be a difficult one.) I asked my fellow Pub Crawlers to give me some ideas for discovering the best writing music, and they gave me some fantastic ideas to explore:

  • Youtube

Jordan Hamessley London had this advice, “I listen to ballets. In fact, right now I’m listening to Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty on youtube.  Every now and then I peek over and watch the ballerinas…  I do youtube searches for music by length. It’s a great way to find playlists and longer pieces of music – full ballets, symphonies, etc.”

Amie Kaufman also endorsed youtube as a source of music to write by. “I tend to just grab classical music from youtube and listen to it on loop!”

  • Soundscapes

Erin Bowman raved about “The website just loops audio of a thunderstorm, but something about it is so soothing and calming. It helps me get in the perfect mood for writing.”

  • Apps

Leigh Bardugo recommended Shazam. “I use it to identify music I hear in cafes (yup, I’m that idiot holding her phone up in the air) or in commercials or tv shows.” (I’ve already taken Leigh’s advice and used Shazam to identify a song by Langhorne Slim in a commercial! No more searching Google for the snippet of lyric I managed  to memorize during the 30 second clip. )

  • Spotify, Pandora, Songza, etc.

Susan Dennard gave me some great ideas about what can be done with Spotify. “I use Spotify and make GIGANTIC playlists. I was late jumping on the bandwagon for that program–but now I’m as addicted as everyone else. As a movie score lover, I can simply find a composer whose scores I enjoy, and then shuffle through ALL of their compositions (or all the compositions Spotify has available). Spotify will also recommend other artists/albums I might enjoy, so I try those out too. I have discovered so many new movie scores, video game scores, and composers through this program–and when I hear a piece I really love, I’ll add it to one of my playlists. What I like best, though, is that I can share parts of the playlists with friends and fans!”

  • And finally, the tried-and-true ways of discovering new music

Sarah J. Maas had this advice, “I wish I had some super-cool way of discovering music, but… I usually listen to movie scores, so I find most of my writing music by (*drumroll*)….watching a lot of movies. I’m also a classical music junkie & a balletomane, so I discover new stuff by 1) Going to performances 2) Listening to the radio (or Pandora), or 3) Just browsing through the music of composers I love on iTunes. …Pretty lame, huh?” (Not lame at all, Sarah! I’m so glad you thought to mention the value of seeing live performances as a way of discovering new music!)

So many great ways of finding the sounds to suit our writing! How do YOU discover new music to write (or work, or edit) by? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!


25 Responses to How We Find the Best Music to Write By

  1. PK Hrezo Feb 6 2013 at 6:22 am #

    I usually prefer silence also, but if that’s impossible, input my earphones on and listen to holographic Naturespace on my iPhone. They have everything from rain to Sci-fi to trippy peyote sounds. It’s amazing. Otherwise I do have certain songs for certain high intensity scenes that I listen to while I’m writing or just before to put me in the story zone. It really works like nothing else. Pandora has introduced me to a ton of great music that I use regularly. Ill have to check out Spotify!

    • Julie Eshbaugh Feb 6 2013 at 9:21 am #

      Hey PK – thanks for the tip! I’ve been using Songza to find ambient music, so I will definitely take a look at Naturespace. 🙂

  2. jeffo Feb 6 2013 at 6:36 am #

    I don’t generally discover ‘new’ music to write by. I’ll either live stream one of my favorite radio stations or, more commonly, stream a 2-1/2 to 3 hour Grateful Dead show from the Live Music Archive. That’s worked pretty well for me so far.

    • Julie Eshbaugh Feb 6 2013 at 9:25 am #

      Hey Jeffo, I envy your ability to write with lyrics playing! Sounds like you have what works best for you all worked out. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  3. Annie Feb 6 2013 at 9:36 am #

    My favorite way to find new music is through tv shows. Because then the music comes pre-packaged with emotional resonance. But that’s just looking for new music – not writing music. Because I don’t always want it to have that pre-existing emotional connection. Sometimes I do, but sometimes I want just the root of emotion in the song and then to let my story define it.

    That’s when I pull out movie scores that are thematically what I want but blank enough not to have strong emotional connection. Like, I could never write to the score from Robin Hood with Russell Crowe even though it’s gorgeous. But I can totally write to the Tuck Everlasting score. And personally I like to mix in some songs with lyrics because the emotion in the vocals can drive the emotion into the story really well.

    • Julie Eshbaugh Feb 6 2013 at 9:47 am #

      HeyAnnie! I totally get what you mean about not being able to write with a score you have a strong connection to. I love to work to the soundtrack of Downton Abbey, but I can’t write with that playing. Thanks!

  4. Diana Feb 6 2013 at 9:40 am #

    I can write with lyrics–in fact, sometimes it helps me too. More often, though, I use my playlists not to write by, but to compost with. I’ll curl up on my bean bag with my iPod and just…listen and think. When it comes to new music, I pretty much use Pandora. When a song catches my attention for a particular work, I jot it down. Eventually I’ll have a list of twenty or so songs where the lyrics/mood really fits my work. Then I use Grooveshark or FIQL to create a playlist. Unless I have all of the songs on my iPod, which is rare. It works for me, though.

    • Julie Eshbaugh Feb 6 2013 at 9:48 am #

      Love these ideas, Diana! Especially the “composting” idea. *Makes note of FIQL* Thanks!

  5. Rowenna Feb 6 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    This is me being a huge nerd anyway, but I always have the classical music station playing in my kitchen. With a notepad next to it, so I can write down ensembles or composers I discover! For me it’s also less about lyrics/no lyrics than it is about whether the music can fade into the background for me–I enjoy instrumental music so much that it’s sometimes hard to write to, because it distracts me.

    I’ve also got Pandora stations set up for three of my favorite instrumental sub-species–film scores, baroque (I set it up under Vivaldi) and liturgical music (set up under Josquin Desprez). Between the three there’s usually music for any writing mood.

    • Julie Eshbaugh Feb 6 2013 at 1:53 pm #

      Hi Rowenna! I love your Pandora sub-species! I think I may try that myself. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  6. Meredith Anderson Feb 6 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    I definitely go through a lot of music. A lot of how I’ve been finding music lately is trial and error. I got to the library and look through some titles that sound interesting. Also, like Sarah, I use a lot of movie soundtracks. Lately I’ve needed a lot more songs with lyrics to suit my contemporary WIP. I think listening to the radio and pandora help a lot with that but from how Sooz described Spotify, I might need to jump on that bandwagon!


    • Julie Eshbaugh Feb 6 2013 at 8:04 pm #

      Hey Mer! I am definitely going to try out both Spotify and Pandora for searching soundtracks. For some reason, I just never thought to use them that way. I can’t wait! Thanks for commenting! <3

  7. Roz Morris Feb 6 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    I love the idea of a website that loops thunderstorms. Feel that energy crackling! I’ve always written to music, and now I’ve been hosting a blog series from other writers who do I can rely on them to give me ideas for new inspirational tracks. Look out for The Undercover Soundtrack! And any of you writers who would like to do a post for me, come and give me a nudge.

    • Julie Eshbaugh Feb 6 2013 at 7:55 pm #

      Hey Roz, Yes, is awesome! I listened to it all day at work today. 🙂

  8. JQ Trotter Feb 6 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    PANDORA I’ve been in love with Pandora since college, when I used to make playlists to do homework by, to write papers by, to study for exams by — it’s just such a wonderful program. You can make a station based on bands or songs or genres that you like. by giving songs thumbs up or down, the station morphs into what you want. I make a station for every book I write. It really helps me get in the mood and when I find a song that I particularly like, I’ll go to itunes and get it. You can use pandora on your phone or computer. It’s such a great program.

    • Julie Eshbaugh Feb 6 2013 at 8:00 pm #

      Hey JQ, I have tried Spotify but not Pandora (yet). Your glowing endorsement has convinced me to try it out! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  9. Lily Feb 7 2013 at 2:57 am #

    I’ve been keeping an eye (ear) on London based producer Ludwig Amadeus for a while now and I’ve never heard anything quite like it. 2013 will be his breakthrough. You heard it here first 🙂

  10. Alexa Y. Feb 7 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    I adore this post, and basically just want to give it a hug. I never really thought about what I listened to as I wrote, but I would oftentimes find inspiration to write in songs (especially back in the days of fan fiction…)

    • Julie Eshbaugh Feb 7 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      Hey Alexa! I completely relate to finding inspiration in songs. One of my earliest novel attempts was completely inspired by cryptic lyrics to a song I really love. 🙂

  11. Chloe Feb 10 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    I love 8Tracks ! It’s a website ( and a free app. You can search music by keyword, like “classical” or “study”, and then you can listen to user made playlists. You can also make your own playlists. This website helped me so much through my summative projects and exam time!

  12. lemon law indiana Mar 12 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    Undeniably believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason seemed to be on the net the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while people consider worries that they just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks!

  13. Hamed May 18 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    That was new!
    I’m not a writer- obviously- but I’m a massive reader. I read like go go go go and for that I need a monotonic tune. Something that floats freely in the air and yet it should be like a ninja; makes you believe you’re alone and when it’s show time, BANG! All the noises are cold deal.
    I found “Broken Social Scene” and very helpful but my music of choice is mostly fished out of the movies like Babel or ,my favorite, “Sur le fil” by Yann Tiersen from the movie Amélie.
    Thank you for the post and روز و روزگار ت خرم

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.