Music has always been an influence in my life. Not one to be restricted by genre or popularity (or lack of), I listen to it all, from new age to hip hop, metal to folk, classical to electronic, and many of them have had some form of influence on me creatively.
The first list I wanted to create was for instrumental music, both traditional and contemporary. I go to these albums a lot when I’m writing, and have returned to some of them for many years. I’ll compile a list of more traditional singers later, but for now I wanted to share these artists, with links to their sites and Bandcamp page (if applicable). I’d love to hear about what you’re listening to as well. What albums get you thinking, feeling, and writing a story in your mind before your hand ever starts working?
Musician Stefano Musso of Italy creates an incredibly layered and immersive experience. With his use of quiet, distorted sounds, plaintive, incoherent voices, and soft whispers of instruments he manages to create a world alien to ours. Summoning to mind images of palaces hidden within deep waters, vast drifts of icebergs beneath diamond laced skies and forbidden woods full of poison plants, I find myself putting this album on when wanting to write of night and mystery, visions and vague magics. While only three tracks long, the album lasts over an hour, and each song has its own distinct feel while still tying it together as a whole.
Wow, do not start this album out loud unless you already know what you’re in for. From the first seconds of the opening track (First Person Shooter) you know you’re in for a ride. A heart pounding drive through a cybernetic wasteland littered with abandoned metropolis and machines that have become monsters. If this album doesn’t help you write that sci-fi fight scene, I don’t know what will. Artist Klayton creates a beast of an album, with driving guitars, pounding bass, and an industrial sound that kicks your heart into high gear and gets you ready for anything. Standout tracks include “Senorita Bonita” and “Shutemdown”.
Full of down tempo beats and luscious violin, musician Ryan Avery created two delightful albums, full of world beat influences and electronic notes. Bringing to mind the work of Hanz Zimmer in Black Hawk Down and fellow violinist’s Lindsay Sterling and Damion Escobar he’s created a world ripe for writing in. I like to go to these albums when I’m working on more contemporary stories because it brings to mind spies in dress attire, going from a sparkling gala to stealing a prize possession in a matter of moments. His music works for Milan or Morocco, Portugal or Prague. Favorite tracks include “North of Nowhere” and “Everlusted”.
Artist: City Girl
Album: Time Falls Like Midnight
Gods above I love City Girl. Everything about her aesthetically appeals to me, her album art is perfect, her music is perfect, and she is probably perfect as well. Based out of Los Angeles, City Girls creates the most atmospheric, evocative, and wistful chill-hop I have ever heard. The quintessential soundtrack for moody summer nights, quiet rainy days, cafe reading sessions, studying, sleeping, reading, being alive. Her music is a great way to start the day or wind down at its end. Dreamy saxophone, ukulele and quiet guitars weave their way through slow beats. Often with the subtle sounds of the world hidden beneath, passing cars, crickets, waves crashing, and even the chirping of birds are all incorporated to create a delicate, beautiful album that I love to listen to when journaling or writing short stories set in urban environments. My favorites songs on this one include “Runaway” and “Shop Windows and Amber Reflections”.
Artist: David Arkenstone
Album: The Fairy Garden
Website: Official Site
In the 1990’s New Age music really took off, and despite enjoying the genre extensively, it wasn’t until David Arkenstone appeared on a Pandora station last year that I became aware of him. His website refers to his music as “soundtracks for your imagination” and I couldn’t agree more. This album brings to mind some of my favorite moments in World of Warcraft or Dungeons and Dragons. Think caverns lit by blue crystal, jewel branched willows, moonlit markets, dragon song, and fairy rings. He’s my go to artist for more traditional magic stories and fairy tales. He has an extensive discography, including albums inspired by Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, and his official site doesn’t do it justice. Check him out on Amazon for the full list of albums available. Favorites from this album are “Pools of Moonlight” and “The Enchanted Cave”.
Artist: Derek and Brandon Fiechter
Album: Eyes of the Forest
Boy are these two prolific! If there’s a setting you need to write for, it’s likely these two have put out an album to meet your needs. Eyes of the Forest follows a more traditional fantasy music path, bringing to mind elven processions and royal hunts. Like a journey all its own, every song invokes a different setting, a map of a world created through song. It’s great to listen to when working on a fantasy world or creating a mood while reading a good book. I also think a lot of their music would be great for role-playing, upping your immersion levels to new heights with albums that span time and space. They have albums inspired by carnivals, anime, ancient civilizations, Christmas, the tropics, pretty much anything or anywhere.
Artist: Derek Duke
Album: Warcraft III OST
Website: His IMDB
You guys, this soundtrack… I haven’t even played Warcraft III (though I have played World of Warcraft extensively), but this fucking soundtrack demands expletives. The fourteen minute long “Cinematic Suite” alone is worth the trouble of tracking down this album. From the first peel of war horns, alien and haunting on “Arcane Echoes” to the final fading beat of “The Calm”, this soundtrack is alien, beautiful, and epic. Piled in a friends living room in 2003, I heard this playing from a nearby computer and demanded to know its identity, even as I got knifed in the back in Halo. Derek Duke has been composing music for Blizzard games for many years, and it was evident from the beginning that he has a talent for powerful, grand scores. Best track is the aforementioned “Cinematic Suite”, it has it all; full choir, church bells, horns, war drums. He was doing Moria before Howard Shore got there, and I love Howard Shore’s work.
(On a side note, I think my neighbor is having their carpets cleaned and it sounds and feels like they are playing hockey next door. I am thrilled.)
Initially I got into this album for a very specific reason, it reminded me of Chrono Cross, namely “Time’s Scar”, which is one of my favorite songs of all time. The violins in Soon it will be Cold Enough are beautiful, wild, and full of yearning. A distant sound heard through fog and wind, a warm light sparkling in the distance. But that’s not all there is to the album, there’s great chill beats, gentle vocals akin to Psapp, and soft electronic layers. This album feels like bare-limbed trees and snow lined roads, like pulling into town well past sundown, and the lights of home glimpsed in the distance. It is beautiful and carefully majestic, and I like to put it on when I’m writing more melancholy and cold tales, or when I’m walking the streets on grey winter days. Favorite tracks include “Eve”, “With Rainy Eyes”, and “Good Knight”.
Four guys from Texas got together and made some of the most emotive rock and roll I have ever heard in my life. No lyrics, just bass, keyboard, guitar and drums. If you’ve ever seen Friday Night Lights then you have probably heard at least one of their songs- their most famous likely being “Your Hand in Mine”. It brings to mind the town I grew up in, gravel roads and open fields and little streams. It sounds like coming home after a concert, like your first kiss, like fireworks and lost love. At times gritty and a little distorted, other times a soft as a lullaby, it’s great for dreamy sci-fi or One Tree Hill style drama. Stand out tracks include “Infinite Orbit” and “The Esctatics”.
Alright, so there’s round one- I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with more recommendations. In the mean time, I’d love to hear what you listen to for inspiration. I am always on the hunt for more mood inducing music.