Reading and Writing: Books have soundtracks, too!

Movie soundtracks are pretty popular. In fact, many soundtracks are worth listening to even when you’re not watching the movie. And there are quite a few films that wouldn’t be nearly as good without the score underlying the drama.

But books don’t have soundtracks. Everyone watches a movie at the same speed, but different people read at very different speeds. It’s a completely separate experience from watching a film. And then there is the logistics of trying to match a soundtrack to events in a book.

Despite all that, many writers I’ve spoken to listen to music while they write. And it’s not uncommon for there to be a specific selection of tracks that tend to be repeated more often than others while an author is working on a particular book. I’m certainly no exception to this.

Music often helps to set a mood, to put someone into a mindset in which the writing just seems to flow onto the screen. And if you know the music to which the author was listening while writing a novel, hearing a few tracks might help you get an even more immersive experience while reading.

I’ve been curious about what various writers have listened to while writing novels I particularly enjoyed. But this information is pretty hard to track down.

So this week, I’m going to list the music that was a major influence on my mood/mindset while writing my novels. Note that I never made a conscious choice beforehand on these bands. Rather, I just found myself selecting them over and over without really thinking about it. It wasn’t until each book was nearly finished that I realized how much a particular band had been played throughout that book’s writing process.

The Tower of Dust

This was my first published novel, and I really wanted to get into the feel of Ythis. Let’s face it, the city is a pretty dark place, full of people with questionable morals and dubious intent. Demons follow the commands of dark and twisted sorcerers, and the Church is full of madmen who sacrifice innocent lives to their alien gods.

While I’ve really enjoyed Ozzy Osbourne’s solo career, I have to admit that early Black Sabbath really didn’t do much for me. My taste in heavy metal ran in different directions. But when Ozzy left and was replaced by Ronnie James Dio, Sabbath put out two fantastic albums. The first was Heaven and Hell and the second was Mob Rules. Unfortunately, a falling out among band members saw Dio leaving after Mob Rules, and so that was it for this era of Black Sabbath.

But while writing The Tower of Dust, those two albums played almost continuously on my iPod. There’s a certain darkness, a certain thickness to the music that really helped me envision the city of Ythis, and the eponymous Tower of Dust itself.

The Severed Oath

My second novel was a different experience than the first, and I wanted a different feel. That last thing I wanted to do was simply repeat my first book, and so I found myself naturally changing the type of music I wanted to hear while writing it.

For this book, I found myself selecting Wolfmother as the band of choice. Now, Wolfmother has a very different sound from Black Sabbath. That thickness that I used to describe the Sabbath albums is now replaced with a thinner, more raw feel to the music.

At the time I was writing The Severed Oath, I only had Wolfmother’s first two albums, the self-titled Wolfmother and Cosmic Egg. Many tracks on Cosmic Egg, in particular, captured the essence of what I was trying to create with The Severed Oath.

The Witch’s Path

This novel was significantly harder to write than either of the first two. I’ll be honest here and say that it was a less pleasant experience than my other books, and there were times I really struggled to put what was in my head down onto the page. It’s a different style of story, and I wasn’t entirely ready to write it when I started.

Befitting a different style, my music choices changed to a different style of band. Ultimately, the band Queensrÿche ended up providing my soundtrack for this book.

(Note that above link takes you to the official Queensrÿche website, but my personal opinion is that it’s not really Queensrÿche without singer Geoff Tate. His voice is an essential part of the music the band created.)

I find it interesting that this became the music that I most wanted to hear while writing The Witch’s Path, because reading up on the band itself, I discovered they had a lot of struggles as well, including line-up changes and a lawsuit over the use of the name of the band. Without knowing it, my selection reflected the struggle I had bringing this book to life.

For The Witch’s Path, I mostly listened to the early Queensrÿche albums, including the first self-titled mini-album, The Warning, Rage for Order, and a couple of tracks from Empire. As much as I love Operation: Mindcrime, I didn’t listen to it during the writing process as I felt that album already has its own story and so I couldn’t pretend that this music was written just for my book.

The Soldier and the Slave

After completing The Witch’s Path, I wanted to return to a more familiar feeling with The Soldier and the Slave. I had a need to listen to something pretty heavy, with a hard beat and pretty fast songs.

Thus, Disturbed was my band of choice.

The albums Believe and Ten Thousand Fists were easily the most heavily played on my iPod while I was writing. The particular sound of David Draiman’s vocals just seemed perfect for the feel of the novel, and there were times I literally pictured scenes in the book as movie shots with Disturbed’s music as the soundtrack.

Other than the pairing of The Tower of Dust and Black Sabbath, this was probably the closest marriage of what I was trying to write and the music I was hearing of all my novels.

The Traitor and the Thief

Finally, we get to the novel in progress. This new book continues the story begun in The Soldier and the Slave, and so I still feel the need to listen to something fairly heavy. But I’ve moved on from Disturbed to a band that I’ve been a huge fan of since the early 1980’s when I heard The Number of the Beast for the first time.

Yes, the soundtrack for this novel is provided by Iron Maiden.

Right now, I’ve been listening to a mix of old and new. Piece of Mind is one of my favourite Iron Maiden albums, along with Live After Death (in my opinion, one of the greatest live albums of all time). But I’ve also been playing The Book of Souls heavily—it’s a great album—and I even enjoy The X Factor (mostly for its really dark tone, and despite the lack of Bruce Dickenson).


So there you have it. I’m obvious a big heavy metal fan, but I also listen to all kinds of other music. My iPod had a wide selection of music styles on it. But the reality is, when I’m sitting down to write a novel, my music choice tends to go back to heavy metal automatically. It just seems so appropriate for the stories I’m trying to create.

Of course these are just my selections. I know many people who listen to music in the background when they’re reading books, and those music selections are probably very different from what the writers were listening to when the books were being written.

Do you listen to music while reading—or writing—a novel? If so, what kind of music works best for you? Is there any particular pairing of writer and band that you feel matches really well?

Let us know in the comments.

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