OK, so I could have titled this “Music By Which To Work,” but then would you even be reading it? No, you would not, because you’d figure it was some scholarly essay on how music affects your brain or something similarly tedious, and you’d walk away and go crank up The Beatles and start shaping some clay.
I, in fact, have The Beatles in my head this week. And last week. And, seriously, for a while now. Well, not all The Beatles. Just John, singing “Imagine.” Or rather, John singing little snippets of “Imagine” over and over and over. A couple of weeks ago I started stitching the lyrics on a white linen top/tunic sort of thing, and I’ve been working on it ever since, and so of course every time I pick it up, the song starts in my head. Since I don’t sing and have a lousy memory, the lyrics are reduced to a line or two OR the particular words I’m stitching right at that moment. It’s very odd, and having a couple lines of a song play over and over and over in my brain is kind of irritating. It’s the reason I don’t listen to music while I work (writing, planning projects): a little bit of it will get stuck in there, and it makes it impossible to concentrate. I do sometimes listen to music while I’m sitting and stitching, but if I do, 99.9% of the time, it’s instrumental only. No vocals. I made the mistake of that once and had Mick singing “Beast of Burden” in my head for a week. Yeow.
In the morning, with a cup of coffee and the current stitching project, I like to have Pandora radio playing in the background, on Classical Solo Piano. It’s perfect, except of course when, at least once a day, it slips in some film score and I yell, “What part of ‘solo’ and ‘piano’ is so difficult for you to understand?!!”
Anyway, knowing how subjective a thing music is, I asked my friends on Facebook what they listen to when they’re working. I was thinking I’d just make a couple lists here. You know: Upbeat Tunes and Mellow Jam and Meditative Flow Music. But people had such interesting comments about why they listen to what they listen to, I wanted to include those. So instead of a list, here’s a conversation about the music that plays in studios in cities and towns all over the world. And also some studios where the only sound is that of ideas pinging around in the artist’s brain. As Cherol explains, not everyone listens to music when they work; she says, “I’m an intuitive artist and music sways my creation, so I do not listen to anything at all when I am painting. I don’t want anybody else’s word or mood to influence my core language.”
For others, like Lisa, it’s a mixture: sometimes silence, sometimes not. She says, “Usually I’m quiet, but when I need some tunes I either crank anything by Dave Matthews Band, Blue October, John Mayer, Phillip Phillips—’cause I can sing with all those. Or listen to The Pulse on SiriusXM.” Debbie adds, “Being a printmaker, there are times I do some mindless printing of an edition so I watch The Food Channel, but when I am creating I am usually in silence. But then sometimes too much silence makes me batty, so I crank up the Beatles and that makes my brain happy. Or the Lumineers, Ingrid Michaelson, Pink, Jake Shimabukuro (no vocals) …. Mainly upbeat music.”
LorieMarie adds, ” Sometimes I want it quiet with no music at all. But when I do want music….I turn Pandora on to ‘Pink.’ Up beat tunes that make me wiggle in my chair!” Lois likes Andrea Bocelli, and Angie says, “I can’t really tell something that will benefit anyone because I listen to a CD of my husband’s piano music. But he hasn’t made them to be sold yet. But it’s just beautiful! Otherwise, I work in silence.” Erin listens to “Upbeat, vocals and instrumentals, from the ’80’s, the Mama Mia soundtrack, Robert Palmer, Wham, Tears for Fears, etc.” Jennifer says, “I love folk music, folk rock and ‘indie’ singer/song writers. Artists like Chris Pureka, Chris Knight, Joe Purdy, Damien Rice, Lisa Hannigan, Kate Tucker….” Some of us, like Patti, prefer old-school, like her go-to guy, Glenn Miller: “No vocals, only fast-paced stuff.” And Jodi, who says, “When I paint… I ALWAYS listen to Aaron Copeland …his music inspires and takes me to uplifting places where I feel power and strength…. when I sculpt, I like jazz and Big Band (Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie)… they motivate and move my soul …”
So there are some names and titles to get you started. Check them out, see what you think, put a few in your own rotation and see how it affects your studio time. And then come back on Friday for Part II, in which we share some of our favorite Pandora stations. Free music, right there on your computer or phone. What could be better?
Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.
For more thoughts about creativity by creative people, check out The Pulse of Mixed Media by Seth Apter.
MORE RESOURCES FOR MIXED MEDIA ARTISTS