The discourse on the impact of music on the quality of writing and productivity of a writer has yet to bear a conclusive end. Regardless of what you think about that, the truth is, music plays a part when writing; it might be before the writing starts, during the writing session, in between the session, or after writing.
After all, music is the undeniable universal language and motivator.
This article is for those who are like me, those that use music as their hype man and use it to get and stay motivated.
It is for writers who turn to music for inspiration and who believe that they’re most creative when their favorite tune is playing.
Maybe you are into Metallica like Stephen King—who, actually, had his own band, The Rock Bottom Remainders—or you are more of a Gabriel García Márquez, who “put the Beatles on loop when he was writing One Hundred Years of Solitude in Mexico.
Before we get started, let me talk about the relationship between music and productivity.
Does Music Improve Productivity?
In a general sense of productivity, the simple answer to this question is yes. But when it comes to writing, the answer would be that it depends.
Sometimes, music boosts creativity and productivity, but in some cases, it’s nothing but a distraction.
First, let me tackle the broad discourse of productivity. Studies have shown that music improves both productivity and cognitive performance, particularly in adults.
The right kind of music can help people control their anxiety, feel inspired, and stay productive.
The connection between music and productivity isn’t a simple causal relationship, some factors lead to music affecting productivity.
Let’s take a look at how music influences productivity.
Music Improves Your Mood
This is one of the best reasons we love music and by helping boost our mood, music can improve our productivity.
A study of how music affects productivity found increased mood and concentration on a reading task while listening to Baroque music.
Music Makes Repetitive Tasks More Bearable
A study published by the JAMA Network Publication, an international peer-reviewed general medical journal, found that surgeons dealing with repetitive tasks outside the operating room performed better when they worked whilst listening to music. Researchers determined that individuals performed better because listening to music alleviated some of the monotony associated with repetitive jobs.
There have been a couple of scientists (including Daniel Levitin, the neuroscientist and author of This Is Your Brain on Music) who concurred with the study’s conclusions.
However, all the studies on the effect of music on productivity haven’t been clear-cut on all issues regarding the topic.
How to Use Music to Enhance Your Writing
Now that we know that there is a link between listening to music and productivity, how can you harness the power of music when writing?
Should you listen to music between tasks or during your breaks?
1. Listen to Music in Your Pre-Writing Routine
As I said in the introductory section, music can act like your hype man; whether before, during, or after your sessions.
Therefore, you should consider having music therapy before you get down to the business. First, play the music that raises your spirits then gradually alter the music until you reach the desired mood.
The songs at the beginning are not the ones that will get you the ‘climax,’ but will help get you there.
So, the type of music to start with should be peaceful to awaken the spirits in you.
If you feel that the music you start with is enough, you don’t have to play any other type. But if you feel like the curtain raisers haven’t gotten you to your beast mode, you can up the tempo (in its literal meaning).
Switching to a fast-paced song is also called switching to your “power song.” This power song is used to motivate you and increase productivity.
Having a power song is not only important for those who listen to music before writing, you can also use power songs to activate you during a writing session. It’s a good idea especially when you think you’re running short of ideas and you want something to get into a place where you are more motivated, creative, and energetic.
Starting with a power song before you listen to any other playlist or song isn’t a bad idea either. What you should know is that any writing tip that is offered (especially in blogs) is never a ‘one shoe fits all’ type of advice.
2. Make sure that Music isn’t a Distraction
Music should be a productivity booster, not a distraction. People who work well whilst music is playing can do that because the music that is playing is not drawing their attention away from the work.
So, choose music that is less likely to distract you and helps you maintain focus while writing. You have to look at things like genre and lyrics. If you know the lyrics to a song, it is likely going to distract you.
You can’t be foolish enough to believe that you’re going to be 100% focused with your favorite tune playing in the background.
Although it is important to listen to music that suits your taste, some genres are more distracting than others.
For example, a couple of studies on the effect of background music in the workplace have found that instrumental music can boost the workers’ output in the short term.
3. Be flexible with yourself
Music should be incorporated into your writing routine to add fun, not to make writing hard.
Rather than burdening yourself with trying to look for the perfect playlist; rather, you have to let your playlist grow organically.
Try out new things and get rid of songs or genres that aren’t working for you anymore.
Once you start building the playlist, you’re likely going to hear a song that will feel just right for your playlist.
That will happen over and over, and some of the songs will even offer you inspiration for your work.
4. Mind the Volume
The law of diminishing returns does not spare the benefit you get from music.
Not only is it relevant in terms of the length of the playlist but the amount of volume too. There’s a lot of science related to how loudly you play your music and how that can affect your work.
If you intend to use your music to drown out more distracting things, play it at a volume just loud enough to do that but low enough not to distract you.
If you play music very quietly or medium-high, it is likely going to help you boost your focus and creativity, but if you turn the volume all the way up, it will probably distract you.
5. Consider Your Own Personality
Listening to music whilst writing or reading isn’t for everyone, personality—and other things—play a huge part in this topic.
Some people can’t stand any type of noise while they write or read. Most introverts will tell you that listening to music and working isn’t their thing.
A research article published in the Applied Cognitive Psychology Journal in 1997 (Music while you work: the differential distraction of background music on the cognitive test performance of introverts and extraverts) concluded that there was a more detrimental effect on immediate recall on the memory test introverts compared to extroverts.
This means that being an introvert is an adequate factor to be considered when deciding whether or not to include music in your writing routine.
6. Don’t Force Things!
You cannot just play music during every writing session that you have.
Sometimes, before deciding on the music, you have to consider the amount or type of concentration needed for the writing session you plan to work on.
Some projects require a lot more concentration than others and music might not be what you need while you are writing.
Rather than playing the music during the writing session, play the music in between tasks to boost productivity.
50 Best Songs, Albums, and Playlists for Writing
- Matt Ryder – Escape
- Eli and Fur – Something Was Real
- Klyne – Still Not over You
- Jasper Tygner – FTLOG
- Tourist – Someone else
- Ghosts – Catching Flies
- Nathan Ball – Blindside
- Max Cooper – Perpetual Motion
- Rocky G – Lovestruck
- One Republic – West Coast
- Enya – Only Time
- Hrói – Looking For You
- Orcful – Better Off Alone
- Cautious Clay – Wildfire
- Birdy – Take My Heart
- Adele – Easy on Me
- Philip Glass – Etude No. 2
- William Duckworth & Silas Bassa – Time Curves Prelude No. 17
- David Borden, Nurit Tilles, & Edmund Nieman – Double Portrait
- Morton Feldman & Aki Takahashi – For Bunita Marcus: Mm. 1270-1372
- Jean-Michel & BUFFLO – Nostos
- Nils Vigeland & Jenny Q Chai – 5 Pieces No. 1
- Barbara Monk Feldman & Ski Takahashi – Soft Horizons
- Howard Skempton & John Tilbury Quavers 5
- Paco de Lucia – Entre Dos Aguas
- Oscar Lopez – Classical Soul
- Gipsy Kings – Volare
- Govi – Andalusian Nights
- Vicente Amigo – Treci Notas Para Decir Te Quiero
- Buena Vista Social Club – El Cuarto de Tula
- Gipsy Kings – Moorea
- Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, & Paco de Lucia – Mediterranean Sundance
- Peder B. Helland – Sunny Mornings (Album)
- Keys of Moon Music – The Epic Hero
- Savfk Music – The Travelling Symphony
- Miguel Johnson – Good Day To Die
- Ehrling – Typhoon
- Ikson – Verge
- Evan King – Titan Striker
- Electro-Light – Symbolism
- Kenny G – The Moment
- Peter White – Love Will Find You
- Yellowjackets – Local Hero
- Feel so Good – Chuck Mangion
- Herb Alpert – Rise
- Grover Washington Jr. – Soulful Strut
- Kim Waters – Love like this
- Ronny Jordan – Heaven
- Roy Orbison – Oh, Pretty Woman
- Earth, Wind & Fire – September
- The Beatles – Hey Jude (Album)
- Rod Stewart – Have You Ever Seen The Rain
- Elton John – Your Song
- Phil Collins – Another Day In Paradise
- Jimmy Buffett – Margaritaville
- Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way
- Darius Rucker – Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It
- Kenny Chesney – Never Wanted Nothin’ More
- Cole Swindell – Ain’t Worth The Whiskey
- Tim McGraw – Indian Outlaw
- Mindy McCready – Guys Do It All the Time
- Luke Bryan – Roller Coaster
- Kip Moore – Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck
- Tim McGraw – Felt Good On My Lips
Classical Music for Writing
- Le grand cahier: IV. Nos études
- Sibelius – Andante Festivo
- Beethoven Romance for Violin and Orchestra no 2 in F major
- Saint-Saens : The Swan (Le Cygne) – Carnival of the Animals
- Brahms – Hungarian Dance No.6
- Rachmaninov – Symphony No. 2 Op. 27 III. Adagio: Adagio
- Essential Mozart: Flute and Harp Concerto in C
- Haydn – Cello Concerto No. in D major, Hob. VIIb: Op.0: II. Adagio
Music is more than some background noise or something that drowns out background noise. It has been shown to improve both productivity and cognitive performance and can help writers boost their creativity during writing.
The right playlists help us manage anxiety, become motivated, and stay productive. However, listening to music while writing can also ruin our productivity and creativity if the music becomes a distraction.
I hope the playlists I compiled are more motivating and will spark a few ideas to make your own playlists for your writing sessions.