Set the Mood and Set the Stage: Instrumental Music for Writing

If my Spotify account could tell you anything about me, it would say that I really like playlists. I have 361 of them. (Wait, what? I didn’t realize how many I had till I counted them all.) It’s a little like an archeological dig from my high school years up to my current playlists – junior year of undergrad. I could listen to music with lyrics while I wrote papers in high school, but once the 16-page research pages started popping up in college I found I needed to switch to something that helped me focus on the writing, while keeping the creative part of my brain entertained. Before I started looking into instrumental music, I thought it must all be that boring classical stuff (sorry, classical fans) my grandmother always listened to in the car. The last few years have proven me wrong, however, and I’ve collected a good number of playlists that I’d like to share with you all. Instrumental music is great no matter what kind of material you’re writing – fiction, poetry, essays, research papers, or something else entirely; there’s always something out there to fit your style and mood. Here are some of my top picks, based on what I listen to each artist for.

Music for Conquering Anything

I listen to instrumental music most when writing academic papers. I often don’t find them too interesting, so I need to hear something motivating. Hans Zimmer is one of my favorite composers, and I find that listening to an exciting movie soundtrack like “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Sherlock Holmes”, or “The Dark Knight Rises” makes a daunting paper feel like a great adventure. There’s a reason Hans Zimmer has close to 3,000,000 monthly listeners on Spotify alone!

Music for That Specific Scene

A new favorite artist of epic proportions is the composting team of Nick Phoenix and Thomas J. Bergersen, who call themselves Two Steps from Hell. Their music is featured in film trailers, video game soundtracks, and other media. Each of their albums has a different feel to it, which can be very useful if you need to set a specific mood for your writing. I could go through and tell you what my “feel” of each of the albums is, but if you’re looking for something to put you in the mood to take on a specific scene, it’s best to test some out for yourself. The albums “Invincible” and “Archangel” are my favorites, though they even have a – truly unsettling – album called “Halloween”, if you ever find yourself in need of a soundtrack for writing a thriller.

Music to Write Deep and Introspective Things

If you’re looking for something calmer, maybe for a more contemplative piece of writing, Explosions in the Sky is my suggestion for you. Mostly electric guitar and drums, this group lands more on the experimental indie rock side of the musical spectrum. With albums titled “The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place” and “How Strange, Innocence” and songs in the eight to ten-minute range, Explosions in the Sky expose an incredibly dynamic emotional landscape within each song.

Jessica Born Music for if You’re Still Unsure about Instrumental Music

Still thinking that pop or rock music is much more your speed? Give Lindsey Stirling a try. Trained as a classical violinist, Lindsey Stirling throws her years of training in a blender with dubstep, dance, and hip-hop influences. While some of her songs have guest vocalists like Lecrae, Lzzy Hale, and Christina Perry, her instrumental tracks also have unmatchable energy. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun writing than when I’m dancing in my chair to Lindsey Stirling. I might even get my classical-loving grandma to like it someday!

More Playlists

Want all of these great suggestions in a playlist? I made one for you. It’s called “Set the Mood & Set the Stage”. Here is the link on Spotify. Want to explore more instrumental music? Check out these other Spotify playlists for good focus music: “Deep Focus”, “Intense Studying”, “Perfect Concentration”, “Mellow Beats”, and “Brain Food”. I hope these suggestions will give you many motivated writing sessions, and a starting point to discover all the great instrumental music that is out there. Happy listening and happy writing!

 -Jessica Born

3 thoughts on “Set the Mood and Set the Stage: Instrumental Music for Writing

  1. Explosions in the Sky are definitely a great recommendation for introspection due to the build ups in their songs. I personally listen to instrumental music when I read more than when I write. Philip Glass is a personal favorite as far as consistent patterns of piano and orchestration that melt into the background and vary from soft meloncholy of Metamorphosis to the urgency of In the Upper Room Dance VIII. Great post!


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