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Mood Music

Emotion is a critical component of writing. While this is more obviously true for fiction, it’s just as true for non-fiction. After all, I’m not talking about the emotion of the writing itself, I’m talking about the emotion of the writer. If you feel like crying yourself to sleep, it might not be the best time to write that upbeat human interest story about adorable puppies that make rainbows when they poop. And, of course, a person giddy about everything might find it tricky to write about how all those puppies also give off enough radiation that they gave cancer to an entire kindergarten class and strike the right tone for the article.

Writing is acting, to an extent. The writer needs to be able to evoke images and impressions in the reader. They must communicate emotion through the page. A writer who can’t put themselves into a particular mindset will have trouble doing so. A writer unable to wrap their mind around human tragedy is a writer who will turn drama to melodrama. It’s not particularly easy to get into a mood, though. Actors can have the benefit of costume and set and actively, physically being in a role to generate the mood and find the right tone. A writer that dresses up in medieval garb and constructs a castle fort before writing… well… I don’t think I need to explain what’s wrong with this picture immediately. How best to get into a mood? Consider giving yourself a soundtrack.

Music is the perfect tool to set a mood or focus your mind in a very effective and very surreptitious way. Music can make you wistful, get the adrenaline pumping, remind you of a time or place, describe the feel of an era or just plain help you concentrate. In my own daily work schedule, I’ve found that when I’m not listening to music, I’m far more likely to have my mind wander and engage in a lot of wasteful behavior. When I’ve got something in the background to listen to, its as if that occupies all the little parts of my brain that tell me I should be doing 18 things at once. Those bits are listening to the music, and the main brain is at work on my task.

Music can be tricky, though. Lyrics can really crowd out what you’re trying to bring to mind. If music with lyrics is what it takes to get your mind flowing, then it might be best to queue up the track you want, take a listen and then set down to write immediately after, while whatever the song conjured is still in your head. I find its best to listen things that are more instrumental or atmospheric when writing, though. Classical music is always a great choice for concentration, sophistication and period pieces. Serious and moody and maybe a bit angry goes well with some of Nine Inch Nails’ latest (the Ghosts albums – available for free here).

Regardless of your preference regarding lyrics (perhaps you can tune out the lyrics better than I), music communicates ideas in much the same ways that writing attempts to. If you want to express something, there is music to help. Some Fiona Apple for wordplay and introspection on love. Some Mars Volta for surrealism. Michael Buble for some classic romance. Green Day for some indignation. I could keep going, but you get the idea, and doubtless if I go on too long I’ll list some artist I should be embarrassed to have on my playlist, if I haven’t already.

Having access to a ton of music isn’t something that everyone has, though. It’s something you can have pretty easily, but I don’t want to advocate going out and exposing yourself to the chance for some ridiculous RIAA lawsuit. Despair not! I have three sites for you.

Pandora – Pandora is the byproduct of the Music Genome Project. The goal of the project was to uncover the composite pieces that makes up each piece of music. You enter a musician, and Pandora will create a playlist of music from that artist and others that fit the same profile.

Musicovery – Musicovery is more to the point I’m illustrating here. You can select, from a variety of genres, music that fits somewhere with the bounds of four parameters: from dark to positive, from calm to energetic.

Sourcetone – Sourcetone offers the same sort of concept as Musicovery, but with greater granularity of mood selection. Here you have four quadrants. One covers from Aggressive to Restless, another from Ecstatic to Pleasant, another from Somber to Melancholy and the last from Tranquil to Calm. You can also favorite and ban music according to your tastes.

So get out there and find your musical muse.

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