Do you listen to music while you write? If not, you may be missing out. Science has shown that music can inspire higher brain functioning, but many writers still find it to be too distracting. The key to unlocking your productivity may come from the latest blockbuster.
Movie soundtracks make for awesome writing music. Listening to them inevitably makes me itch for a pen in my hand. When I play a soundtrack while I write I find my thoughts flowing in line with the music, helping me streamline my concentration and often lead me to take the plot and characters in directions I never would have thought of without the music to guide me. Because the tracks are designed as the backdrop and accompaniment of a scene, listening to the music alone encourages your mind to fill in the blank spaces where the movie is supposed to go. Don’t take my word on it—try it for yourself.
Here are my top eight instrumental soundtracks from movies that came out in 2016, labeled by whatever genres they’re best suited to write to. I chose soundtracks with beautiful, emotive music, and weeded out the ones which I found to be too distracting to write to. Each video is a single song from the soundtrack, to give you a taste of what to expect from the whole.
Even if you’re a fan of writing in inviolable silence, give these a try; your word count may thank you at the end of the day!
The Invitation – Theodore Shapiro
Good for writing: Thriller, Horror, Suspense
An excellent score for an excellent film. Sinister strings over a gritty, atonal beat set the mood perpetually off-kilter. Like the movie itself, this music radiates a perpetual sense of something terrible creeping closer with every passing second; the perfect way to get into the mindset of a horror story. Very reminiscent of Mica Levi’s soundtrack for Under the Skin.
Kubo and the Two Strings – Dario Marianelli
Good for writing: Fantasy, Adventure
This soundtrack is full of energy and heart, with a lot of delightfully unexpected instruments—such as the Shamisen featured in the movie itself. The sound design reflects the movie’s setting in ancient Japan, which make it a unique listen compared to a lot of the other soundtracks this year. There are a lot of lighthearted songs to enjoy here, but also many full of drama and power worthy of writing any battle scene.
Nocturnal Animals – Abel Korzeniowski
Good for writing: Drama, Romance, Thriller
This is one of two movies on the list which I haven’t actually seen, but I believe the soundtrack speaks for itself. Korzeniowski brought us the soundtrack for A Single Man, and you may recognize the same soaring strings and brooding melodies in his work for Nocturnal Animals; but where A Single Man is undercut with sadness, Nocturnal Animals has a much darker undertow. This score is wonderfully tense, building in gravitas and underpinning darkness until you can hardly take it anymore.
Track 2 does contain a background of breathing which might consider it NSFW, so if you’re listening to this at the office, maybe leave that one off your playlist.
The Handmaiden – Various Artists
Good for writing: Romance, Drama
Out of all the soundtracks listed here today, this one is simply the most beautiful. The piano is to die for. It rises and falls and ripples over you like rain. Rich and layered without being overpowering, there’s so much emotion contained in these instrumental tracks, just waiting to be tapped into. There’s a great variety of tone between sad and uplifting, a perfect backdrop for whatever kind of narrative magic you’re cooking up.
Arrival – Jóhann Jóhannsson
Good for writing: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror
Eerie, unsettling, out of this world. It’s hard to this soundtrack listen without feeling like you’re walking on the surface of a lonely alien planet, and not necessarily a friendly one. If you’re looking for something with atmosphere so thick you can cut it with a knife, look no further than Arrival. It’s strange, it’s intense, it’s quiet until it’s not. Excellent for writing dark spec-fic.
Midnight Special – David Wingo
Good for writing: Sci-Fi, Suspense
Midnight Special’s soundtrack leans heavily on its electronic elements, and is all the better for it. The bristle and hum of electronic effects is occasionally undercut with a lovely piano melody, or the driving beat of drums. There’s a tenderness and a beauty to this soundtrack that is perfectly balanced with its tension.
Distance Between Dreams – Junkie XL (aka Tom Holkenborg)
Good for Writing: Action, Thriller
From the sound wizard who brought us the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack comes this gem. As much as I love the Mad Max soundtrack, I find it better to run to than to write to. All that energy makes me want to jump out of my seat rather than delve deeper into a scene. But the soundtrack to Distance Between Dreams has a lighter touch, more reminiscent of the Tron: Legacy soundtrack than the intense drums and guitars of Fury Road. It features a fast electronic beat which is driving but not wholly overpowering.
Honestly, I just love music so much. I owe a lot of my productivity to a good movie score. I hope you find them useful as well.
Did I miss your favorite soundtrack from this year? I’d love to hear about it!