Here’s yet another writer who writes with the accompaniment of background music.
I can’t do it. Music–any music–is too distracting. My brain tries to process it, when what I want is the enjoyment of working with words on the screen. I do listen to music, of course. I have a large collection of music videos I’ve downloaded that span the decades from the 1940s to the present day, and I steal a few minutes from work when I need to hear the song in my head (which reminds me, I have to listen to John Gary a little this afternoon), but I never listen to music when I’m writing. Concentration is everything.
Do musicians listen to music when they’re composing? I don’t know, but I tend to doubt it. The miracle of composition is like every other miracle on the planet: it’s sui generis. None is exactly like any other, even when the composer is deliberately taking elements he knows already exist in a prior piece of music. Even takes of the same composition in the studio will be different. I once owned a take of Jay and the Americans‘ sixties tear-jerker, “She Cried,” wherein one could hear the producer and the musicians talking to each other the instant before they actually began a brilliant performance of the song. Somehow, I lost that version of the song, and have never been able to find it again, no matter how many versions of the song I listen to.
Concentration, as I say, is everything in art and performance; yet the best kind of concentration is relaxed, almost effortless focus. Athletes have for generations called it being “in the zone,” a state wherein he or she isn’t even aware of what he is doing. Everything proceeds by exquisite muscle memory, training, and even instinct. It is said by those who favor it that music fosters the creative process, but it must also be equally true that writers who are writing well on a particular day are not even aware of the music around them, be it a tune or background noise, unless it be that splendid, soundless wave in our heads that allows us to express exactly what we sense about the music of the world.