music writing & publishing

The Best Soundtracks For Writing (Reprise)

Several months ago I made a list of the best soundtracks that I liked to listen to while writing.

Listening to music helps the process of writing, but sometimes it’s better not to have anything featuring lyrics. Words being hollered in my ears interferes with my creative juices. I do not want to hear Lady Gaga warbling her kitsch electropop when I’m getting to a crucial scene. Likewise I do not need Tom Waits’s whisky-soaked grumbling when I’m striving to write something epic. Thus the humble soundtrack is often required.

The more I thought about this (and the more soundtracks I bought), I realised how important film scores were to the act of creation, and that many of them were suitable for various different scenes. So, since the last post, I’ve found some more very fine soundtracks and I thought I’d list them – because I’m a nice chap really. It’s worth having a listen on iTunes to get the full impression of what they’re about. Don’t forget to share your own suggestions if you have any.

The Eagle. I’ve not seen the film yet – though immediately bought the soundtrack when it appeared on iTunes recently. The music is wonderfully atmospheric and with a whole host of subtle world music influences, as well as that evocative, Celts versus Romans vibe – what’s not to like? It’s just the kind of thing you need when you’re plotting out your empires, setting up a huge battle, or politicking.

Being Human. This isn’t a bad TV series at all (do you US readers have this over there?) but I’ve not managed to watch much past the first season. However, the soundtrack has some great moments – very dark, nicely varied, reasonably intricate, and very non-invasive. Perfect for dark scenes in corridors, late-night shenanigans and moving your characters through the cityscape.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I haven’t played the game (I don’t dare buy a console for fear of missing deadlines), but this is yet another fine soundtrack by the hugely talented and prolific Hans Zimmer. There are some fine Middle Eastern influences (as you’d expect from a composer like Zimmer) and strong beats for what is a great game soundtrack. It’s absolutely perfect for carving up a city or for sending your beloved characters into battle.

The Ring / The Ring Two. Another Zimmer-inspired soundtrack, it only seemed to become available well after the films (and is, on iTunes, available as two-in-one). This is wonderfully creepy, intricate and delivers some delightful Tim Burton-esque images in my mind. It’s also quite an inward-looking soundtrack, the kind of thing that almost hints at insanity for your characters. Recommended to horror writers for all those nasty little moments. You know the ones I mean.

The Sanctum. I understand this film wasn’t all that good, but David Hirschfelder’s score is very evocative. There’s a mix of African influences here, and some effects that make it seem rather otherworldly, and this is generally great music to evoke far-off lands. Suitable for worldbuilding or general quest tomfoolery, not to mention some underwater action.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. An old film, but a wonderful one; and it’s really worth revisiting the soundtrack. I never recalled quite how beautifully orchestrated and detailed it is. It possesses a wonderful range of emotions and styles; it’s deeply evocative stuff, ideal for any quieter pieces you have to write: conversations, intimacy between characters, or even contemplating strange yet pleasing landscapes.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

23 replies on “The Best Soundtracks For Writing (Reprise)”

I love these posts. I really like Clint Mansell (You had The Fountain on your previous post). He scored Moon too, worth a listen.

I can imagine the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack by Bear McCreary would be good for getting the pulse racing.

I’m a total Hans Zimmer addict too. All the Batman stuff and Inception are like catnip for me. The Solaris soundtrack is good too, very minimal though.

And then there’s Daft Punk…

I’ve mainly been using existing soundtracks as I’ve been editing, but aside from more Doctor Who soundtracks, two new ones that have been used extensively for chapter rewrites:

Tron: Legacy by Daft Punk. Maybe too electronic for fantasy (but otherworldly enough it works for me). Either way a cracking soundtrack. Up there with Inception and Invincible for THE soundtrack of 2010.

Also recently picked up Battle: Los Angeles by Brian Tyler. First of his soundtracks I’ve bought but this one is really, really good. Military and slightly melancholy, this sits in with the Transformers soundtracks. I rewrote most of the final battle scene chapters to my novel listening to this.

If you’re looking for middle-eastern / african influences, look at Black Hawk Down by Hans Zimmer

Some good new soundtracks there. Hadn’t considered the Being Human one. It’s a great series, you should watch the rest as it has just been picked up for a 4th season. An American remake has also just started, so it has a fairly similar setup, but of course with their TV seasons being much longer I’m curious about where they will go with the characters.

I second Den’s comment about the BSG soundtracks. Really good stuff. Another couple I listen to, The Green Mile, for those slower and more thoughtful scenes and also scarier and creepier moments. Same goes for The Shawshank Redemption. The Inception soundtrack is also excellent for fast paced stuff.

Thanks for sharing! I’m with you on listening to music without lyrics while writing. Less room for conflict between what I’m working on and what’s happening in the music that way.

Yes, the one for Crouching Tiger is gorgeous, no small thanks to Yo-Yo Ma. It is ridiculous how beautiful he plays. And nice, Call of Duty. It’s amazing how far the music quality in video has come along.

Some of my favorite soundtracks are from Lust, Caution (haunting and beautiful), The Bourne Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum series (dark, brooding and adventurous) and, of course, all of the Battlestar Galactica soundtracks by Richard Gibbs and Bear McCreary—the last of who I think is genius in his unconventional mix of instruments. (I mean, who else could have gotten away with using both bagpipes and tribal drums for an outer space sci-fi soundtrack? Inception is awesome, as well.

Also, the music to the MMORPG Guild Wars: Factions by Jeremy & Julian Soule was just stunning (Jeremy is the reason I started listen to game soundtracks).

Lastly: yes, we’ve got Being Human here in the U.S., too, though frankly I haven’t thought to go near it, lol.

I have never written better material than some stuff I wrote to the humble soundtrack of some random indie movie called the “Goddess of of 1967”. However I found it to a case of creative juices flooding, not flowing. The music was simply that evocative.

Current novel being written to James Newton Howard’s ‘The Village’ and ‘Batman Begins’, which is of course co-written by Zimmer. I flit between the two depending on the pace I’m looking for. ‘Dark Knight Returns’ is also useful, though I used that for a previous book, so can’t go back. Once I marry a soundtrack and story, I can’t usually convince myself to repeat.

I have another novel that I’m pecking away at to Ben Foster’s ‘Children of Earth’, which is extremely kinetic.

I’ve never even heard of the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack. I’m going to have to check that out.

I’ve pretty much got everything by Zimmer that’s available on iTunes – been a big fan of his stuff for a few years now. I’m amazed how many other people are writing to his scores!

Any TV score recommendations? I’ve got HBO’s Rome soundtrack, of course. I bet the Game of Thrones stuff is going to be pretty decent, too.

I’ll have to check these out, my writing tracklist needs some new blood. 300, Iron Man and Blackhawk Down (another Zimmer) have given me good service amongst many. Not a soundtrack per se, but I have written some of my best scenes to The Ring (without words) by Wagner… For something a bit eerie, Nosferatu and/ or The Name of the Rose is a good bet. I also have a somewhat guilty pleasure/ soft spot for the title tracks from Pirates of the Carribean and The Rock.

There are lots of the BSG soundtracks by Bear McCreary. There were 4 season of the new TV show, plus a couple of TV movies, so there’s lots of choice there to choose from. Oh, how about The Human Target, its what McCreary moved to after BSG.

Thanks for the recommendations, just added Being Human to my Netflix queue (so yes, it is available here in the US). I love the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon soundtrack, been listening to it on and off since the movie came out.

Another older one worth mention is The Mission soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. It’s lush and atmospheric, but also melancholic and then at times agitated. I don’t think anyone has mentioned Morricone yet, but he’s scored tons of films. He did a bunch of Westerns, including The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. That’s going back more than a bit, and maybe too dated now for writing, but still worth a listen.

A bummer it is not available, but I listen to the soundtrack of The Orange Thief – in my head. Don’t know why they don’t release it, but you can always rent the movie, I suppose. If you don’t know Sicilian, then it might work.

I agree that anything by Hans Zimmer is great. I especially like Gladiator’s soundtrack with Lisa Gerrard.

Thanks for the list.

Hi Mark,

This is a great blog! I too am a fan of soundtracks, and there have been many times when I’ve had them playing while writing. I like what you’ve chosen to mention here. They sound great!

Some soundtracks that come to mind… The moody, lovely classical-sounding music from THE OTHERS, written by the young fellow who wrote and directed the film. I’m very fond of the music from SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and the music used in CAPTAIN AND COMMANDER, THE FAR SIDE OF THE SEA. The music in GHOST STORY introduced me to French film composer Philip Sarde, who has done quite a range of things. Most lovely of his works, in my opinion, is that written for Fort Saganne, a French movie from 1984. It’s so beautiful that I had tears in my eyes the first time I played it. He also did the lovely, at times intense music for Polanski’s haunting TESS. I could go on and on, I suppose, but I did want to mention a few of my favorites.

Scott – good to hear from you! I will certainly have to check out some of your suggestions. And that’s lovely to hear of another strong composer of film music – it really is a unique art form, and difficult to find those who excel at it.

My all time favorite film soundtracks to write to would have to be “Last Of the Mohicans,” by Trevor Jones & Randy Edelman as well as several of Mel Gibson’s films: “Braveheart,” “Apocalypto,” and “Passion Of the Christ.” It would also be an injustice not to mention “Blade Runner” by Vangelis and “Sorcerer” by Tangerine Dream. Others that come to mind are “Baraka”, “Samsara,” “Last Tango In Paris” (just try not to think about butter!), “Dances With Wolves”, and “Body Heat.” I’m sure I’m forgetting plenty more but hope this serves your palette nicely! 🙂

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