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  • JL Rothstein

The Influence of Music

For those that plan on reading my book, you may want to skip this blog post as it has some spoilers in it!

When I write I can’t listen to music, if I do, I’ll suddenly find myself writing the lyrics to the song. I can listen to instrumental music while I write, but most of the time I write with no music or tv playing. I find a quiet spot in the house, I re-read the last chapter I wrote so I can pick up exactly where I left off. At that point, the voice in my head almost becomes a narrator and I let it all flow out onto the page.

Even though I prefer silence when writing, it doesn’t mean that music isn’t a big influence on my writing, it absolutely is. Before COVID 19, when I was commuting to an office in the city for work, I would listen to music on my drive. Despite only being forty miles away, the commute would be over an hour in the morning and closer to an hour and half in the evening. That’s close to three hours of commute time to fill, music was obviously a big part of that. When people ask me what I miss about the pre-COVID world, I jokingly tell them not the commute.

Satellite radio came free with my car a few years back and I loved it so much I ended up paying for a subscription. If you are in the car for as much time as me, then being able to listen to music with minimal commercials is preferred. I listen to lots of different types of music, but just like reading, I am a mood based listener. Sometimes I’m in the mood for classical and then other times I want to hear heart pounding rock. I have multiple books on my Kindle at the same time because sometimes I’m not in the mood for a romance novel or a thriller, and I end up reading something self-help instead. I read both fiction and non-fiction and I sometimes like reading stories I wouldn’t typically pick up in a store. I feel like it stretches my boundaries, makes me enter a world that is unknown, perhaps even uncomfortable. I believe we learn more about ourselves in those scenarios then in all the other scenarios combined.

Music has a way of touching us in a such a unique way. There aren’t too many other art forms that can penetrate our psyche in such an intense way as music. Think about it, the average song runs two to four minutes. The average classical piece runs five to six minutes. In that short timeframe the musicians must tell us a funny, emotional, or gripping story that we’ll not only feel, but we’ll remember, and want to listen to again and again. That is an unbelievably difficult task, but when done right we know it the moment we hear it.

There are exceptions to the storytelling, when a band puts together a melodic catchy tune that we can’t get out of our head for instance. The song She Bangs by Ricky Martin is one such example. It was made more famous by a contestant on American Idol, but I’m not even sure what the lyrics are. However, I know the song and when I hear it and I have a hard time shaking it from my mind afterward. Summertime music playlists are filled with songs like these, but iconic songs go deeper. They tell penetrating stories, that you immediately relate to. As a writer, you may even associate the songs with characters that you’ve written. Below are some examples of how music affects me when I write.

For those that read my first book Atonement, when I wrote the scene where Kelly meets Death in the Vatican Library, I associate that moment with the song Blur by Mo (featuring Foster the People). When I heard that song I was like OMG, this is what’s happening in that scene. When she sings “Let me out, I’m lost in the words. Don’t know how I ended up here, trapped in a blur.” Or the line “Too much in my head, I shoulda seen the bad signs.” Everything from the mood of the song, to the beautiful lyrical lines, to the catchy beat, helped me finish that chapter in my story.

The first book centers on Genevieve and the pain she has endured for forty years not knowing what happened to her husband, Gabriel. When I think of a theme song for my book (and I think we all do). I think of Missio’s Bottom of the Deep Blue Sea. “The sweet surrender of silence forces me to live alone. Locked and loaded, where the hell is peace of mind? I wait on you inside the bottom of the deep blue sea.” The music to this song is best described as haunting. The artist has this sort of banging/clapping sound that the song starts out with as if he is warning you, listen to me. something’s coming, it’s a foreboding. The mood is dark and desperate as if the narrator is dragging you down to the bottom of the ocean with him. It’s brilliantly and beautifully produced, everything about it encompasses Genevieve’s state of mind when we first meet her.

The second book in the trilogy is Deb’s story. Her favorite private spaces throughout the story are around the ocean. The Lumineers wrote a tension filled gem called Salt and the Sea. The mood is introspective, the piano lilting up and down throughout makes you feel like you’re in a fantasy novel. His voice rising and shredding just adds a more mystical quality to the song “I’ll let the darkness swallow me whole. I need to find you, need you to know.” There are few words to this song and somehow that is what makes it extraordinary, each verse a well placed strike to the heart.

These are just a few samples of how music can affect your writing, make you think, push you to feel something perhaps you didn’t know you needed to experience. I’m always interested to know how other artists find inspiration. Follow me on Twitter @jlrothstein1 and let me know what music has done for you and your creative works.



Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash.com




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